Sunday, July 28, 2013

Gilbert Blythe, How I (Still) Love Thee

imageIf you had any part of growing up in the 80′s, I pray you did not miss the Anne of Green Gables phenomenon. Maybe there was only a cult-following in my small-Christian-school-neck-of-the-woods, but when I say that I grew up with Anne and Diana as my wanna-be best friends, Marilla and Matthew as my surrogate grandparents, Rachel Lynde as my own snarky neighbor, and Gilbert Blythe as my personal high school crush, I’m not kidding. My girlfriends and I were ob-sessed. I’m not exaggerating.



We were introduced to Anne in 7th grade by Miss Harner, our English teacher. She tortured the boys and reeled in the girls by showing us the full four hours of Anne of Green Gables. And that set us off on a course that literally shaped my growing-up years. We would quote it in the hallways, we would watch it (the full eight-hour mini-series – we were beyond excited to discover there was more – Anne of Avonlea) at just about every sleep-over, we would shout lines to each other during our softball games (Our Tom-Hanks-League-of-Their-Own-coach could not understand at allwhat Anne of Green Gables possibly had to do with softball. What’s not to get???)

As I matured past junior high and high-school (yes, we loved it all the way through high school), my friends in Avonlea slowly got put on the shelf, not unlike Woody and Buzz in Toy Story. However, old friends like that will always resurface.

The first resurgence happened last summer. Another former English teacher is now a friend, and he bought a summer house in none other than Prince Edward Island. And he invited us to visit. So last summer, while we were vacationing in New Hampshire, since we were in the ‘neighborhood’ (only 15 hours away as opposed to 24 – so close!), I begged my husband to go, and he agreed, although he did not know what the fuss was all about:

Was Anne real? Did she really live there?’

‘Well, no, she’s not real – but that is where the story is set. The author lived there. Some places in the story are based on real places.’

‘Well, is Green Gables really her house?’

‘Well….no…. they built a house based on the movie.’

‘So they filmed it there?’

‘Ummm….no. It’s just a model.’

‘So, we are going to a house that was built for a girl who does’t exist. A whole museum for a character in a book…This is a scam.’

‘James, if you ruin this for me, I will never forgive you!

Anyway, like I said, James agreed gave in, and we went. And driving through the island, I seriously felt like I was transported to Avonlea. It looked so familiar, like a home that I had never lived in but was mine all the same. I dragged James to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s house, to the shores, to the ‘fake’ Green Gables. There were even a few places that the movie used in their actual filming like the Haunted Forest and Lover’s Lane.

James thoroughly enjoying his visit to Green Gables.

James thoroughly enjoying his visit to Green Gables.

The farmhouse we stayed at

The farmhouse we stayed at

The real Prince Edward Island

The real Prince Edward Island

The 'fake' Green Gables House

The ‘fake’ Green Gables House

(Spoiler Alert: I was somewhat devastated to find out that the movie was filmed in Toronto; the cast never stepped foot onto PEI, although some scene shots were filmed on PEI. I was crushed to know that I was not walking the same hallowed steps of Anne, Gilbert and Diana.)

That trip took me down such a special nostalgic, reminiscent journey of my growing-up years. Anne had the feistiness that I wish I did; Gilbert became the prototype for what every girl wanted in a man; Diana and Anne as ‘bosom friends’ became the model for my relationship with my girlfriends. ‘Kindred spirits’ became a standard term in my vocabulary. I don’t think I realized it then, but Anne of Green Gablesbecame an intricate part of the fabricate of who I was – and probably on some level, who I still am. I even walked down the aisle to a beautiful harp version of the theme music at my wedding.

When I left, my teacher told me that we could visit again – and that I could bring my sister (she is 15 months younger than me, and equally obsessed.) And that got my wheels spinning…my sister has two girls – ages 9 and 7, close in age like Diana and I are. Wouldn’t it be great to take a road trip back to PEI one summer with Diana and her girls? I loved the idea, told Diana, and she loved the idea. However, there was one catch – the girls had to watch Anne of Green Gables before the trip. No exceptions.

Last summer, they were a little to young to appreciate it. This summer, my sister got the DVDs from the library and gave it a go. They loved it. Emilee (age 9) has been calling my sister ‘Carrots’ all week! This week, my sister brought the girls to the island (Long Island, where I live, not PEI) for a visit this week, and she planned to spend a night as well. I immediately told her, “Bring Anne.” So, she did.

As I watched the movie, the unintentionally memorized lines came rushing back and the door to my childhood burst open with forgotten memories: the Lake of Shining Waters, Matthew buying Anne the dress with “puff sleeves,” the sinking of the Lady of Shallott – and Gilbert’s heroic rescue, of course. And when Gilbert gave up the Avonlea school for her? It does not get any more romantic than that! And when I saw Gilbert Blythe appear on the TV screen for the first time in years, I felt like I was being reunited with a long-lost-love from my past. Sigh…

The Lady of Shalott

The Lady of Shalott

Gilbert's rescue of Anne

Gilbert’s rescue of Anne

It’s a crazy and silly obsession from the outside, but for those who were sucked in, you know exactly what I mean. You and I are kindred spirits who just haven’t met, because our common bond with Anne. Outsiders don’t get that.

In the classes I teach, sometimes there will be a literary connection to Anne of Green Gables. I’ll ask to see who has seen it, and my jaw drops when I see no hands. None? No one? Not one of you have taken advantage of the opportunity to be transported into this magical world? On occasion, I’ll see one or two (and those students instantly become my new favorites). It seems like such a shame that this generation is missing out on amazing piece of the feminine culture!

I’ve thought about forcing my students to watch it (I know they would LOVE it if they gave it a shot!), but unfortunately I can’t really justify an eight-hour movie based on a Canadian author’s book in my American Lit class – nor could I afford the time with these ridiculous assessments I have to prepare them for (Soap Box Interjection: Curses on NYS Regents and CCSS!)

However, I am doing my small part in brain-washing favoring a small remnant of the next generation with the sheer pleasure of being invited in the world of Green Gables and Avonlea: of allowing my nieces to sprinkle their childhood with memories of Anne, Diana, Marilla, Matthew, Rachel Lynde – and not the least of all – Gilbert Blythe. Why should they be denied the privilege of falling in love with Gilbert? That, I will not take away from them!

Ah, Gilbert Blythe, after all these years…you still have my heart (Sigh.)


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