07 February 2004

Especially Gladys

I first met Gladys Taber in junior high.

Oh, not in person. She lived in Connecticut and I was just this kid in Rhode Island. But as I haunted the Hugh B. Bain library for something of interest, I found a copy of her Especially Dogs...Especially at Stillmeadow.

I was "the kid without a dog." That's how I thought of myself. Even into my teens, I didn't want a boyfriend--men required too much darn maintenance, I knew from dealing with my father and uncles--or a pretty dress. Well, maybe I wanted a bike, too. I finally got a bike in ninth grade after Dr. Sarni and I convinced Dad I wasn't going to get run over by some crazy driver. But I never got the dog because of my allergies. It would have to live outside if we had one, Dr. Freedman said, and even then he couldn't recommend it.

So I coveted everyone else's dogs and read dog books. And that's how I met Gladys Taber and her Irish setters Maeve and Holly, and the cocker spaniels Honey and Teddy and Kon-tiki and Sister and Star. While reading about her dogs I also learned something about her 200-year-old farmhouse, Stillmeadow. At some point, I did find one of her Stillmeadow books, but I wasn't quite old enough for it yet. I was still into animals and adventure, and her lyrical prose about country living was as yet too tame for me.

Yet something about her writing lurked in me for years. In May of 1998 we visited my mother and took James to Mystic Seaport. As I scanned the bookshelves in the gift shop a familiar word appeared before my eyes. "Oh, my ears and whiskers! Stillmeadow books!" James and Mom didn't get it. My heart did.

I took these paperback reprints home and devoured them. When I got done I hunted down a couple of her books at the library and realized I wanted all of them. The Good Lord gave us the internet for something wonderful: finding out-of-print books. And so I found them on Bookfinder.com and on E-bay for a few dollars each and felt rich as Bill Gates as I read Mrs. Taber's lovely prose: the hardships and happiness of country living, her lively dogs and eccentric cats, her friend Jill who shared the home with her after the death of her [Jill's] husband, the birds and other animals and also the plants of the surrounding countryside, her friendships, her views on the seasons and on life. Now with a home of my own, although decidedly suburb-bound, I was kin with her.

This essay on Gladys Taber was prompted by the fact that I picked up her novel Mrs. Daffodil in the library last week. She wrote a monthly column for the Ladies' Home Journal and later Family Circle, plus short stories--and also had several works of fiction published, none of which I had read.

What a delight to find then that Mrs. Daffodil is simply a novelization--all names filed off, of course--of her life at Stillmeadow with dogs and companion, with episodes sad and absurd...possibly so absurd that they were the reason they never made it into her Stillmeadow books. Mrs. Daffodil, like Gladys Taber, writes a monthly column called "Butternut Wisdom," shares her house "Driftway" with her friend Kay, an Irish setter and numerous cocker spaniels, greets unexpected visitors who admire her column (they always show up at the wrong time), deals with sad times in the community, her daughter's romance, endless attempts at getting hired help and starting yet another diet, and yet always, despite the disasters, finds joy in the surroundings and people around her.

For Stillmeadow fans, it's just another delight to read and enjoy.

Gladys Taber's Stillmeadow website

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