Harriet the Spy

Picture scraped knees, elastic waist twill pants and quick-bitten nails; I was not a baby but barely a girl.  Stuck in a small farm town that didn’t have a swimming pool and whose library was just a little too far to walk alone.

I never had to beg my mother to take me to the library.  If there was one thing I could count on, it was that when I wanted to go, she would take me.  The summer before I turned nine, I discovered Harriet the Spy in that little library.  I devoured the novel, and instead of learning from Harriet’s mistakes, promptly converted the book into a How-To manual of sorts.

I set up spy bases underneath the overgrown junipers surrounding the cool foundation of our house and others beneath the neighbors’ often-open kitchen window.  Each base was supplies with snacks, sometimes pretzel sticks but usually tiny red boxes of raisins, and little pink cups from tea party sets that I would fill with metallic water from the garden hose.  I made tin can telephones that went unused, as spying is a singular activity.

My plastic binoculars were of greater value, always around my neck, even though I almost strangled myself on handlebars, slides, and branches.  I carried a small notebook to record all my newly acquired information, and I guarded its hastily-written contents seriously.

My parents observed all of this with barely contained amusement coupled with relief that I was entertaining myself all day.  I never learned anything remotely interesting that summer: no divorces, fights, repeated grades or surprise puppies.  It was a great summer as I perfected the art of being alone without being lonely.


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