One day, when I was about ten, I browsed the shelves of my parents floor to ceiling bookshelves that now span the entire eastern wall of our study, looking for something to read as per usual. I peeked behind and around the double stacked, and in some places triple stacked books, looking for something to replace the freshly devoured To Kill a Mockingbird. As was true then and is still true now, I was lost in a sea of miscellaneous, unclassified and unknown literature ranging from P.D. James to Gore Vidal to some book on sex and family dynamics in the age of the cottage industry (I swear to God that book exists, even if I can’t find it on Amazon). I needed guidance.
“Moooooooooooooom, I need something to reeeeeeeeeeeeead.”
She thought for a moment, walked over to the involved shelving and like she had gone through years of training, effortlessly pulled An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott out from behind one of Anne Rice’s post- Interview With a Vampire works. It was love at first read. The March sisters never charmed me, but Polly Milton, the outcast who grew up slowly, loved her family and had a strong sense of morals, became my kindred spirit. As I grew, the book grew with me; it’s hard cover sneakily appropriated and comfortably resting in my crowded but easily navigated bookshelf. Passages I identified with at ten gave way to different passages at twenty as my life events and perspective evolved through time. Nestled in with the one-hundred pounds of lugged brought from California, a pocket paperback edition complete with cheesy cover, journeyed with me to college and was placed on my shelf between Price and Prejudice and Ella Enchanted, and only a few books down from my course readers full of Nietzsche and Greek Tragedies.
One of the things I love about loving An Old Fashioned Girl is that my love is hereditary. My mom also took comfort in the pages of Polly, Tom and Fanny, but not the same pages that I did. For basically as long as I can remember (or as long as I have known An Old Fashioned Girl), my mom has been in search of a copy of the edition she had as a child.
“It has beautiful ink drawings” I’ve been told over and over again. Finding the book was more of a yearning than an obsession, resting quietly in the back of my mind each time I entered a used book store or a library. I casually browsed catalog after catalog — or often in lieu of a catalog, rows and rows of shelving. I remember my mother once anticipatorily ordering a hopeful prospect off eBay, only to open the cover and find Polly and Tom depicted as cherub children with fat rosy cheeks and big curls. Needless to say, the book was returned (at least I think it was. It’s entirely possible that it’s still wedged in a corner of my house un-loved).
Today, I logged onto Etsy.com as I always do when I’m procrastinating and realized that if I could find a million different pairs of Oxford shoes, princess cut coats and stationary galore, why not look for the elusive book. Low and behold, there are three different vintage versions of An Old Fashioned Girl on Etsy. Or should I say, there are now only two, because when I causally emailed the links to my mom, the last one was a hit. I am so completely and entirely ecstatic to have found this treasure for my mother. Even through email, “oh you lovely lovely child,” made me laugh and smile until I cried.
Upon arrival, I expect the book to be whisked away, not lost in the sea of shelves and disorder, but instead santified in my mother’s roll-top desk upstairs, resting with the complete works of Jane Austen, my mother’s own writing and other items of the utmost venerability.