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November 27, 2009

Suzan Colón on HEIDI

Posted by admin

Suzan Colón, author of CHERRIES IN WINTER, thinks back to the special relationship she shared with her grandfather, and the parallels between her own life and that of Johanna Spyri's titular character, HEIDI.

When I was about eight or nine, our black-and-white television set broke, and Mom announced that we didn’t have the money to fix it. I was a latchkey kid, an only child with a single parent; after school, the TV kept me company until my mother got home from work. I stuck my bottom lip out for a while, and when that didn’t produce any results from Mom, I demanded to know what I was supposed to do until she got home. “Go to the library,” she said, in a tone of voice that indicated the end of me giving her lip of any kind, “and get a book.”

I did, and I became a voracious reader. I went through books quickly, and when I was at my grandparents’ house, I’d feast on their reading matter, which was a lot like the food they served: simple and typical of the sixties and seventies. I was raised on meatloaf and mashed potatoes, Little Golden Books and Reader’s Digest. (I was also exposed to Jacqueline Susann’s ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH, but I had the good sense to wait until Nana and Grandpa were asleep to leaf through that purple-covered potboiler.)

I don’t remember which Christmas it was that I got a copy of HEIDI as a gift --- I know it wasn’t the one when I was hanging ornaments and Nana’s tree, with its all-white boughs and lights in primary colors, fell on me. It was probably around the time I turned seven, and Nana died, and I read the book several times in a row. The story of a little girl who goes to live with her grandfather, a gruff widower, suddenly seemed very important to me. Heidi was an orphan; I was a kid whose mother worked long hours, who saw her biological father and his new family once a week, and whose Nana had been serving our lunch on doll plates one weekend and had gone to heaven by the next. Heidi’s grandfather, though he had a reputation for being something of a grumpy bastard, doted on her; my grandfather, who I’d heard from whispering adults in the kitchen could be the b-word on occasion, adored me. Heidi’s grandfather gave her fresh milk and cheese from the goats he kept. My grandfather caught bluefish for me from the inlet we lived on. I read --- and re-read --- the story, relieved every time to see that Heidi’s grandfather never left her.

Of course, my grandfather would eventually leave me. But fortunately, not for many more afternoons of the two of us eating toasted cheese sandwiches together --- just like Heidi and her grandfather did.

-- Suzan Colón

Tomorrow, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich shares a touching anecdote of just how far loved ones will go to make you happy --- the Christmas spirit at its finest.