Friday, April 24, 2015

Maida Revisited

It had been eighty years – at least – since I last read “Maida’s Little Shop.”  Invalid child wishes she owned the penny candy shop she sees near the school, in a quiet neighborhood of Boston.  Famous, fabulously wealthy father buys it for her, sets her up in disguise to run the shop and live in an apartment above it.
     A friend lent me her copy recently.  The copyright date was listed as 1909.  In the early 1930s I had probably read a later edition, maybe this one.
     Back then, the story was full of things that were so much like my own neighborhood  I could lose myself in the story.  At eight or nine I took for granted, hardly noticed, that the children picked up horse chestnuts to play with, that the basement under Maida’s shop included a coal cellar, that the little girls played the singing game “In and Out the Window” at recess.  And went home every day for lunch.  And bought little china dolls for a penny.  And hung May baskets on each others’ doors. 
     A sloping street near the shop was blocked from traffic so the children could coast  – I remember that. Crepe hung on a door announcing a death – I remember that.  A child died from diphtheria – I remember that also.  
     The book was written before World War One, and the kindly doctor who cures cripples comes from Germany.  I would have remembered Jo March’s Professor – back then Germany was a cliché for wisdom and learning.  And -- how come it never struck me in the 1930s, when all the kids were afraid of the Truant Officer – that no one thought it odd Maida wasn’t in school, or that her crippled young neighbor, who stayed home to care for his baby sister, hadn’t ever learned to read?
     But it was gratifying, these days when so many things are hard to remember, to find that at least eighty years on, I had no trouble understanding the children’s secret language.  Maybe you remember it too?
     ig-Pay atin-Lay.


  1. I'd never heard of Maida or her shop before your post--and I must confess that most of the things you mention were already bygones by the time I came along. (I remember only "In and Out the Window" and Pig Latin. Might remember horse chestnuts and streets blocked off for sledding if I'd grown up north of the Mason-Dixon Line; they weren't features of my Tennessee childhood.)

    Also, I'm pleased that you mention Jo's Professor Bhaer positively, since he happens to be one of my favorite characters in Little Women and I've always thought Jo made exactly the right choice. I was shocked that a TV adaptation of Little Men some years ago actually killed him off.

  2. Thanks for the remembrances. Wasn't the Little Shop the start of a series, Maida's Little Island and the like? Love.