This past weekend I got to experience another world– somewhat like living inside a book, immersed with other folks in the imagination of a writer… the people, places and events she created. It wasn’t a re-enactment, but we were in a little sensory time-warp bubble. The author was Maud Hart Lovelace, the books were the Betsy-Tacy series, and the world was “Deep Valley” (as she dubbed Mankato, Minnesota in her books) and the years were 1892 – 1917. I was in Mankato for the Betsy-Tacy Convention.
Maud wrote about her childhood and early adulthood growing up in Mankato in these books– they are based on her life, but she maintained they were ficitonalized. She changed names and locations and situations; she created stories based on some reality; she embellished. When I was a kid eating up these books like candy, I wished they were real. I looked up “Deep Valley” on the Minnesota map and could never find it, so I assumed they were totally fictional. It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I discovered the reality part of the fiction.
These were books I re-read many times over the years. I loved the world Maud created, and these characters felt like my friends (yes, I did have real friends, too!). I identified with Betsy, who knew from a young age she wanted to be a writer. But until the mid-90s, “I thought I was the only one” (a catch-phrase of Betsy-Tacy fans). For brevity, I’ll keep it short… but I discovered an email listserv of Betsy-Tacy fans, two societies working to promote the books, and I have been a part of all of these groups for 17 years now.
Going to Mankato this weekend for another B-T Convention (we’ve had them every few years) is as much about seeing the many people I’ve come to know and love online, and in the societies, as it is about seeing the actual historical sites. We have become a close-knit community, and that made the convention extra special.
But there are also the actual houses of the real Betsy/Maud and Tacy/Bick that have been bought and restored, and many historical places to visit in the town. Living inside the Betsy-Tacy books this weekend also meant: listening to speakers, some of whom corresponded with Maud, a young adult author panel, a costume parade, a legacy panel of descendants of the series’ characters, a sing-along, touring Minneapolis since one of the books takes place here, a trivia contest, socializing and drinking, and much more.
I feel really, really lucky to have come across this community of fans– it’s brought me friendship and fun, shared experiences and many great book recommendations. People sometimes look at me strange when I talk about these books, the people I meet because of them, and how excited I get about all of this. But I feel grateful to be able to live inside these books, and have a weekend like this one where it all becomes even more real. After all, I can whisper to my childhood self, “guess what? You’re not the only one!” 🙂