Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. The names roll off my tongue as readily as the names of my sisters and me, Jean, Betty, Sally. I have no idea how or when I first met Minnesota author Maud Hart Lovelace and her stories of Betsy Ray. The first one recounts the meeting of the two five-year-olds, Betsy and Tacy. It was published in 1940, two years before I was born. And by 1955, the year I was in 8th grade in Indiana, I had read all ten in the series and seen Betsy married to Joe. And I have reread all ten every few years over the last five decades. Why?
The books offered my first lessons on social justice. The Ray family was properly midwestern and middle class. Best friend Tacy came from a packed Irish household, and Tib belonged to a wealthy German family. Class and privilege questions infused their escapades; yet girlhood friendships blurred the parental boundaries. And then there was Nadia—a gypsy girl they befriended, moving outside small town proprieties.
The books taught me that girls are adventuresome—and even be a bit naughty. The plots, projects, and plans they envisioned were endless, including one very wonderful upset of a downtown women’s meeting. While abiding by the general rules of small town culture, the three still managed to have their way and have fun doing it.
The books reassured me that growing up, while pretty scary, was going to be alright. Betsy was the ring leader, urging others on. Betsy was the little sister, emulating the older girls. Betsy was the big sister, watching out for the baby. Betsy’s head burst with ideas. Sometimes they didn’t work out. And sometimes she worried a bit. But along with her friends, she could make anything happen. She just kept imagining.
On more than one occasion during my Duke career, I would imagine what Betsy would do—and do it.