Monday, March 29, 2021

Down on Klickitat Street with Beverly Cleary

Frequent visitors to Carmel and Monterey Bay years ago, my mom, dad and us kids knew Beverly Cleary in a way some locals may have, as that “nice old book lady.” Sometimes we’d exchange pleasantries. Sometimes we’d have a little chat. Other times, just a wave. I never really thought much about who my parents were chatting with or waving to. In my dad and mom’s world, him as the author of many books and her as a publisher for many years, it was just normal, usual, to meet “interesting people” as my dad called Beverly.

Beverly might have taken such an interest in us kids because as she said we reminded her of characters in her books. The age difference between myself and my siblings, similar to that of Beatrice and Ramona. "You are so welcome to borrow it for, like, ten years," Beverly told my younger sister once, regarding a pen she wanted to borrow to write something down in a notebook. Another time, she whispered over a sweet treat, “The first bite tastes best.” I didn’t realize they were quotes from her books, but I do now. 


When they were little, Beverly Cleary called my sisters princesses and would always ask my mom “Are they twins?” Her face would light with delight or maybe mischief because she knew the answer by then surely. My sisters weren’t twins, even though my mom dressed them alike. Something about “Every princess needing a little sparkle” invariably came up and there’d be something to sparkle about. My sisters being dressed alike, perhaps reminded Beverly Clearly of her twins, Malcom and Marianne.

My sisters were huge Buster and Lass fans. One or the other, always carrying around one of my dad’s homemade books about the little honey bee and his lady bug friend. Often, fighting over who got to hold onto whatever book they had. Sapphire would usually win and Jasmine would usually suffer the public defeat with tears. Perhaps that was what caught Beverly Cleary’s eye and endeared us to her. I don’t know what it was for sure, but I do know Beverly thought Buster was a “hoot” and said as much, enjoying the gentle humor of the books as much as my sisters did.

Beverly was particularly smitten with my dad’s illustrations. More than once, she told him, “Keep at it young man,” and my dad did eventually go on to publish all 100 of the Bugville books that us kids knew and loved. I think my dad might have given her a small watercolor on canvas of “Super Buster.” Super Buster being something Beverly enjoyed the thought of tremendously and said as much. She seemed very insightful, chatty sometimes, at times, especially about something she was passionate about. Books being one. Twins being another. Siblings too, I guess.

Beverly seemed to connect with elements in my dad’s books and vice versa. Social issues. School bullies. Family struggles. Relationships between siblings. New siblings in the family. Growing up middle class. Learning disabilities. Reading troubles. Like Lass in my dad's books, Beverly herself had trouble reading when she was young.

My family lived in Oregon off and on in the 90’s and 2000’s, so perhaps that too was part of it. McMinnville where Beverly is from being about half way between Salem and Portland. We lived in Eugene/Springfield and Portland. Carmel and Monterey where Beverly lived most of her life is near Presidio of Monterey and the Defense Language Institute. My dad being a graduate of the Defense Language Institute in the ‘80s.

Beverly had an interesting life, lived well. She was a fun lady, with an intelligent sense of humor. I can only hope to achieve a tiny fraction as much in my own work and writing with my father.


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