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The Stories That Shaped Me: Anne of Green Gables

Now that we've hit a brand new year, I thought it would be fun to review some of the books and movies that most influenced my love of stories as a girl growing up. And since I've been rereading Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery and reading Rachel Dodge's lovely The Anne of Green Gables Devotional this month, it seemed only fitting to start with this story.

First, a confession. I didn't grow up reading this book, though my mother certainly tried to get me to read it. As a girl, I could never get past the first chapter. You know, the one that goes on and on about Rachel Lynde observing Matthew Cuthbert as he goes to town? I was an avid reader, but I was extremely picky about my books. If they didn't snatch up my attention in the first few pages, I gave up. It was only years later as an adult that I finally read all of the Anne books and understood why my mother wanted me to read them. Because Anne was a lot like me. And, as a side note, if you haven't had the chance to read the series, I would highly recommend it. Keep pushing through Rachel Lynde at the beginning. It's worth it.

Though I didn't savor Anne's written stories as a girl, I grew up watching Kevin Sullivan's TV versions of Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea more times than I could count. (Another side note: we will not speak of Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story in this post. I have to admit I was dreadfully disappointed by this addition to the series, as my college friends who watched it with me and sat through my rantings can attest. I've since blocked it out of my memory and now pretend it doesn't exist.) I loved Megan Follows' portrayal of the lonely, redheaded orphan, and saw nothing silly or dramatic about the girl I watched on screen. I understood her completely.

From Anne, I learned the joy and importance of having "kindred spirits" in my life. Like her, I felt a thrill at the beauty of nature and the pull of a good story, and I saw things through a lens of romanticism, imagination, and wonder. I also grew up casually using expressions like "scope for the imagination" and "depths of despair." And I would never think of spelling Anne without an "e."

Though I was never bold enough to break a slate over someone's head or walk the ridgepole of a roof, I certainly struggled with my temper, mostly in secret. I understood what it was like to have a big vocabulary and big feelings. And I loved my friends every bit as deeply as Anne loved Diana.

Looking back, I think both Anne's decision to become a teacher and her love for writing influenced my decision to pursue a teaching degree in college and to dabble in writing myself. It wasn't until I actually gained some teaching experience that I realized it wasn't what I wanted most. Telling stories would always have first place in my heart.

Romantically, I learned the benefit of marrying someone who was also your friend. Marilla and Anne's conversation about the folly of wanting to marry someone who "could be wicked but wouldn't" as opposed to marrying a good, kind man who would love her stuck with me. As much as I loved the idea of a typically romantic hero, I knew that finding someone kind and caring was most important.

Years later, Nathan (my very own Gilbert) and I watched both Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea together on our honeymoon. (It was his idea, for those of you who are wondering.) Like my mother, he saw the many similarities between Anne and me and said that watching the miniseries helped him understand me. And it turns out he's a hero after all: he's stuck with me for twenty-plus years of marriage!

As I grew older and had little Annes of my own, I found myself relating more and more to Marilla, which alarmed me a bit. Raising three Anne Shirleys is not always as fun as it sounds in concept. My oldest and youngest had her spunk and fire. (My youngest would definitely have broken a slate over someone's head if given the opportunity). My middle and youngest had the same dreamy, incredible imaginations. They were all full of life and endless questions and creative games of make-believe. There were times I was completely exhausted raising them, and often I'd find myself responding more like Marilla than a grownup Anne.

As I've gotten older, I've realized that both Marilla and Anne had their merits. Marilla, though sometimes a little too harsh, helped balance Anne's overly-dramatic approach to life. Anne, in her turn, helped bring wonder and levity into Marilla's severe, serious way of thinking.

The funny thing is, now that my girls are teenagers, our roles have reversed again. I'm the bubbly, imaginative one while my girls share loving but snarky remarks and roll their eyes at my unicorn collection and love of glitter. It's strange how things change. ;)

Rereading Anne's first book of adventures this month has felt like revisiting an old friend. I love the characters every bit as much as I did the first time I watched the miniseries and read the books. I'm once again finding myself longing to go to Prince Edward Island and drink in the beauty there. I wouldn't be opposed to having an awesome outfit and hair to match older Anne's, either.

As I continue to grow in age and wisdom, I hope I'm able to hold onto that childlike sense of wonder that permeates Anne's world. I never want to forget the thrill of a tree full of cherry blossoms, a lake of shining waters, or a story or piece of music that makes me feel all crinkly up and down my back. I want to cherish my dear kindred spirits, near and far, who have filled my life with such joy.

And, if I might just share a dream with all of you, someday I hope to leave behind a book or two that fills the world with the same happiness and enchantment as L.M. Montgomery's stories of puffed sleeves, raspberry cordial, and white ways of delight.

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