Imagining the Timeless Childhood of Beverly Cleary’s Portland

Fifteen months in the past I traveled to Portland, Ore., to go to the childhood haunts and houses of Beverly Cleary, the beloved and award-winning writer of greater than 40 books for kids and younger adults. I used to be accompanied by my husband and our daughter, all three of us aficionados of Ramona Quimby, us mother and father having learn all the books as kids, earlier than rereading them aloud to our child.

With an abroad transfer on the horizon, we had determined to go to the metropolis that performs its personal delicate however important position in the writer’s hottest novels: Portland, with its moody rain and splashy puddles, its streets named after regional Native American tribes, its welcoming libraries and worm-filled parks. The Oregon of Ms. Cleary’s childhood clearly impressed her creativeness — amongst her books, near half of them are set in Portland.

So in the final days of December 2019, we took a visit to the City of Roses, visiting the northeastern Grant Park and Hollywood neighborhoods of Ms. Cleary’s childhood. I didn’t know then that it could be our final household trip earlier than the coronavirus pandemic — and I couldn’t have imagined how typically I’d return to these recollections throughout the months of our confinement.


When Ms. Cleary died on March 25 at the age of 104, my sorrow at the loss of an adored writer who was declared a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2000 was coupled with recollections of our journey. Scrolling by means of the photographs of our journey, the easy scenes of Craftsman houses, verdant parks, and crowded kids’s libraries evoked a misplaced innocence.

As a toddler, I cherished Ms. Cleary’s books as a result of they didn’t condescend. Her characters are bizarre youngsters succumbing to bizarre temptations, corresponding to squeezing a complete tube of toothpaste into the sink, or taking the first, juicy chew out of each apple in the crate.

As an grownup, rereading the books aloud to my daughter, I used to be struck by their sense of timelessness — sisters combating sibling rivalry, mother and father grappling with monetary worries and job loss. The writer’s personal father misplaced his Yamhill farm when she was 6, transferring the household of three about 40 miles northeast to Portland — the “city of regular paychecks, concrete sidewalks instead of boardwalks, parks with lawns and flower beds, streetcars instead of a hack from the livery stable, a library with a children’s room that seemed as big as a Masonic hall,” she wrote in her 1988 memoir, “A Girl From Yamhill.”

I assumed of that after I noticed one of Ms. Cleary’s cherished childhood houses, a modest, bungalow close to Grant Park, on a block lined with carefully set homes. She romped with a gang of “children the right age to play with,” and their escapades made her yearn for tales about the neighborhood youngsters. “I longed for books about the children of Hancock Street,” she wrote in “A Girl from Yamhill.” In her tales, she modified Hancock Street to Klickitat Street “because I had always liked the sound of the name when I had lived nearby.”

We discovered the Klickitat Street of the books close by, together with Tillamook Street, each named after Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest. As my 6-year-old daughter raced alongside, trying to find classic hitching rings, I pictured Ramona — or perhaps a younger Beverly — on these identical sidewalks, stumping on stilts created from two-pound espresso cans and cord, or perching on the curb to observe the Rose Festival parade.

Over the subsequent few days, we discovered the writer’s former elementary faculty, a brick constructing now named the Beverly Cleary School, Fernwood Campus. We stopped by the Multnomah County Central Library, a stately brick construction downtown the place she did summer season “practice work” as a scholar librarian (and the place the kids’s part additionally bears her title). We ate doughnuts and pizza. We visited Grant Park, the place the native artist Lee Hunt created a trio of bronze sculptures depicting three of Ms. Cleary’s cherished characters: Henry Huggins, his canine, Ribsy, and Ramona, posed, as if in movement.

Credit…Ann Mah

Though it was a typical Portland winter day — moist — nothing may dampen my daughter’s pleasure when she noticed her favourite characters rendered barely bigger than life. She ran to carry Ramona’s hand, beaming, and the image I snapped shall be ceaselessly burned on my coronary heart.

For my daughter, the better part of the journey was our go to to the Willamette Valley city of Yamhill, the place we glimpsed the turreted Victorian home wherein Ms. Cleary spent the first six years of her life. We spent the night time in a classic trailer park close by, sleeping in a 1963 Airstream Overlander, as I imagined the writer may need performed together with her personal younger household. For dinner, we roasted scorching canines and marshmallows, a meal that my daughter nonetheless describes as one of the finest of her life.

These are the recollections I’ve turned to over the previous yr as the pandemic has stolen away life’s easy pleasures. A moist afternoon at the park. Warming up at the library story hour. A cup of scorching chocolate sipped at a crowded cafe. The rain beating on the metallic roof of our camper van, reminding me of the inventive inspiration that Ms. Cleary described in “A Girl From Yamhill”: “Whenever it rains, I feel the urge to write. Most of my books are written in winter.”

Before our journey, I had questioned if my daughter was too younger for a literary pilgrimage — and maybe she was, for there have been moments when trying to find one more filament of the writer’s girlhood tried her persistence. And but, although it was just a few days, our journey has captured her reminiscence. She speaks of it now with crystalline precision, reminiscing of the final days earlier than the strangest yr of our lives started.

Our final morning in Portland discovered us a weary group of vacationers as we waited to board our pre-dawn flight. We queued at the airport espresso counter for muffins and scorching drinks — however after I tried to pay, the cashier instructed me that an nameless stranger had purchased us breakfast.

“Mama! It’s just like in the book!” exclaimed my daughter. It took me a couple of minutes to appreciate she was speaking a few scene from “Ramona Quimby, Age 8,” when the Quimby household — worn down by monetary worries, household squabbles and dreary climate — attempt to cheer themselves up with a hamburger dinner they will barely afford, solely to have a kindly gentleman anonymously decide up their verify.

That second looks as if a dream now, disconnected as we’re from each other, all of us current in our bubbles. But in the future quickly we’ll meet once more and contact one another’s lives, not simply as family and friends, but in addition as strangers. In the meantime, we have now Beverly Cleary’s books to remind us.

Ann Mah, the writer of the novel, The Lost Vintage, lives in Hanoi, Vietnam.


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