It was a miserable rainy Saturday morning. As I peered around the crisply starched organdy curtains, careful not to disturb the fastidiously fastened matching blue and white tie-backs, I saw the rain pelting furiously against my bedroom window giving no sign of slackening.
So much for the bike-ride picnic my friends and I had meticulously planned and to which the cutest boy in our eighth-grade class had agreed to come. Since “putting on a face” due to an act of God was strictly forbidden in my matter-of-fact Midwestern home, I scanned the room for something – anything – to distract me.
There it was, wrapped in the familiar ecru and red paper, tied with a red string in a one-looped bow. In my excitement of planning the day’s activities I forgot to open my weekly gift –a book – from my dad, to signal the end of the school week and the beginning of fun and relaxation. Maybe it would be the latest Nancy Drew? No.
But it was my introduction, through the vivid imagination and talented hand of Margaret Sidney ( Mrs. Harriet Lothrop), to the family known as Pepper, as I opened the pages of “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew” and began to read.
My association with this wonderful and loving group would continue for many years. I loved them dearly as any “real” person in my life. These imps became the brothers and sisters I never had.
Sidney’s homely narrative and pleasant simplicity delighted me throughout my childhood. Her books were finally packed away, reluctantly, only when I left home for college. In fact, it was there that I learned for the first time, to my chagrin, that gruel is not something hot, warming and deliciously satisfying, but quite the contrary. Sidney’s pen made it apper so that I longed to join the family for breakfast.
The years melted into decades, and the multiple moves made in my lifetime have swept away those books along with other treasures into the obscure oblivion of some unforgotten attic or unknown flea market.
Margaret Sidney died five years before I was born. But her legacy, the Pepper family (I unearthed some sequels after that fateful morning) are as alive in my mind today as they were that wonderful rainy day when we first met.
I laughed and cried with them, suffered their anguish and exulted in their joy.
I tasted every morsel they ate and bathed in the love and laughter of that large family so unlike my own and yet so yearned for by this lonely, only child.
I have made many other friends since then, Alcott, Buck, Cornwall, Doyle…but “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew” are irreplaceable. They are a part of my heart and soul forever. God bless you, Margaret Sidney. You are truly immortal!