Presented by the four libraries of Cape Ann, the group exhibit, Once Upon a Contest: Selections from Cape Ann Reads, featuring original children’s picture books, is on display at the Rockport Public Library until February 29, 2020. Rockport is the 5th and final stop and hosting a reception on February 29th at 11am. At each venue, a Cape Ann Reads participating artist was invited to create a special temporary installation. Betty Allenbrook Wiberg is the Cape Ann Reads Invited Artist for Rockport. The show is made possible with support including the Bruce J. Anderson Foundation.
BETTY ALLENBROOK WIBERG
Pine needles, foam, playhouses and gnomes – custom family toys, miniatures and games from the artist’s archives and attic spanning 1969-2019
The Invited Artist for the Rockport stop of the travel show Once Upon a Contest: Selections from Cape Ann Reads is Betty Allenbrook Wiberg, a long-time Rockport artist and resident and former Bearskin Neck gallery owner. Wiberg has installed original toys she’s made over 50 years inside a display case and Children’s Room at the Rockport Public Library. Made by hand with love out of common materials found at home and in nature– like paper, foam core, seeds and acorn caps– these personalized toys were inspired by her children and grandchildren’s favorite books, hobbies and changing interests. In particular she chose examples of characters and worlds brought to life from the pages of books. Wiberg hopes the menagerie of custom toys for those dear to her will engage young and old alike and inspire ideas to try at home with any ready materials at hand.
As Wiberg placed acorn cap people within the display case, she explained how she was aiming for fanciful “haphazard” children’s worlds as when kids play. The red gnomes and stylized forest might blend together with the world of air dry, clay acorn figures, boundaries or not. Painted sculpey villagers parading past tiny painted blocks, a stand in for Bearskin Neck in Rockport, might stop for tea at an outdoor blue chairs circle. An interior scene inspired from Beatrix Potter books is draped with sculpey play food and housewares, set atop tables and hutch, dining seats and floor. Wiberg can’t help but design family directly into these captivating scenes. (The Allenbrook and Wiberg family trees are steeped in the arts.) Charming ephemera associated with loved ones, or expressed as figures and actions, are intrinsically dispersed and personal. A few of the acorn capped musicians were inspired by her son-in-law, a performer and musician. Her mother and daughter Kristy are painted waving from the window of the teeny Bearskin Neck home. A Lilliputian trophy was hers when she was a little girl.
In preparation for this installation, with help from her daughters pulling boxes from the attic and dusting off these cherished family toys, Wiberg recalled a favorite book from her childhood, Maida’s Little Shop (by Inez Haynes Irwin*), and how much she wanted to have a toy shop like the one in that story. With so many creative toys adapted for kids and grandkids spilling across every surface imaginable unearthed and under consideration for this installation, her family didn’t miss a beat. “You do have a toy shop!” they laughed.
“This show has me remembering books,” Wiberg stated. “I’ve never forgotten that that little book arrived in a bushel of books delivered as a gift by artist friends of my parents. Perhaps they were from a library sale. To this day I tend to give other children books, because they’ve had such an impact on me and my daughters.”
Betty Allenbrook Wiberg illustrated the children’s picture book, Little One, written by her eldest daughter, Kirsten Allenbrook Wiberg, which they submitted for the Cape Ann Reads contest. Little One is about a small elephant that struggles with growing up, encounters danger, but survives to live a long life. The story is illustrated with 13-14 pages of Betty’s stunning, full-size black and white images of African wildlife focusing on the small elephant and his/her family. Little One earned a Cape Ann Reads Gulliver Award. Kirsten Allenbrook Wiberg, eldest daughter of Betty, lives in Gloucester where she has maintained her therapeutic body-work practice since 1991.
In addition to the children’s picture book, Little One (included as part of the Once Upon a Contest group show), and these personalized toys she’s shared in public for the first time, examples of Wiberg’s still life and portrait fine art are also on view.
About the Artist
Betty Allenbrook Wiberg was born in London and moved to the United States as a child. She received a fine arts scholarship to attend Boston University, and she completed her formal training at Massachusetts College of Art. She continued to study under her father Charles T. Allenbrook, a well-known portrait artist who resided and worked in Rockport and Florida. In 1957, she married Lars-Erik Wiberg and they settled in Rockport, Massachusetts, where they raised three daughters. Betty created designs for George Caspari Cards, designed fabrics for Bagshaws of St. Lucia, served as an artist in Federal Court, provided artwork for the Hoosac Tunnel documentary, and operated a gallery and studio on Bearskin Neck. Wiberg recalls bags she created for the Rockport Public Library toy check out and drawings of England, local freelance work for the Lions Head Tavern menu at King’s Grant Inn on Rt.128***. She presently maintains a home portrait studio in Rockport. See her artist statement below.
*** bonus photos north shore fun fact: King’s Grant Inn Lion Head’s Tavern menu that Betty Allenbrook Wiberg illustrated
Betty Allenbrook Wiberg artist statement, Feb. 2020
As a youth my family lived in New Rochelle, New York. I remember drawing and painting from an early age and assisting my father at the local art association. We visited Rockport for vacations when I was a child and my father painted the local landscape.
My parents, Margaret and Charles T. Allenbrook bought “the Snuggery” in 1952 on Bearskin Neck and opened Allenbrook’s portrait studio. It had living quarters in the rear and upstairs. When I became more serious about my drawing, I would go out in the studio and draw portraits from my father’s models as they posed for him. This was the way I became comfortable drawing before others. Sometimes I would entertain the children so they would sit better for my father. I used masks and other toys to accomplish this or read them a book. When I was around seventeen I started doing painted silhouettes for a dollar and that was exciting to be earning something with my own efforts. I also helped with framing my father’s work. My father would give me advice and instruction on my efforts and I assembled a portfolio of my work which won me a scholarship to Boston University.
In 1954, I met my husband Lars-Erik Wiberg outside my father’s Rockport studio while he was working on a car. Yes, in those days one could park there. We married in 1957 and lived at the Fish House, 27 Bearskin Neck while I transferred to U Mass Art. After school, I opened a gallery in our home on the Neck. I did silhouettes and sold my fanciful drawings, block prints and other handwork. Later, we expanded the Fish house and had two daughters, Kristy and Margaret. When our third child, Brenda was on the way, we moved to larger quarters at our present location.
My husband made the children a large puppet theater* which sparked a series of handmade puppets of various sorts and materials. The children were eager art explorers and we had costumes and other creative materials ready at hand. We were regular visitors to the local library. I made cloth bags for toys which became a part of what could be borrowed from the Rockport Public Library.
I started doing commission work part time and also did volunteer work. In the 1980s this expanded to part-time work for the TV studios which brought me into another world since I was sketching in courtrooms. Once, I ended up on the sidewalk finishing a sketch, while the reporter waited to grab it and take it into the truck for transmission. It was hastily done and later when I viewed it, I saw they had zoomed in for a tight shot. I was embarrassed to see how careless the work appeared. It was an unnerving experience at times because the culprits were sitting right near the artists while we heard testimony of their serious misdeeds. I had a tongue stuck out at me by one of them and heard others’ lives threatened. My work exceeded the art budget of the TV station during the Angelo trial which went on for over a year.
This all changed when my father passed away in 1988 and I joined my mother at the studio on Bearskin Neck. I was happy to be working closer to home and sometimes could walk downtown to do portraits. It was very nice to spend more time with my mother and be drawing people and children who posed for me instead of trying to catch them from a distance as in the courtroom. Our daughter, Brenda later joined me and drew animal portraits from photos after she graduated from U Mass. art school. We worked together for about three years until 1996 when my parents’ studio was sold and we moved the studio to my home on South Street. Our daughter, Margaret, an art graduate also exhibited her art work and handmade jewelry with us. Over several years, we have had open studios and invited family and visitors to see our endeavors. Lately, this has been dormant but with grandchildren also creating their own art we are considering another open studio. It is a grand way of connecting with others who enjoy creating with various materials and share ours.
Thinking further about this show at the library, and Rockport, I was President of the Friends of the Rockport Library years ago, and also did some art work for them. And I spoke before the local rotary about my courtroom work long ago.
I would very much like to thank Catherine Ryan who has encouraged and inspired me to bring forth my art efforts through the Cape Ann Reads project she created with the local libraries. It has been far more of an adventure then I anticipated and brought many local artist and writing talents to the public through an exhibit at the Cape Ann Museum and the Libraries. I’ve had the opportunity to do a paper craft workshop at the Cape Ann Museum and hope to give one at the local library. Stay tuned in! – Betty Allenbrook Wiberg, February 2020
Betty Allenbrook Wiberg is the Invited Artist for the Once Upon a Contest: Selections from Cape Ann Reads travel show at the Rockport Public Library venue, February 2020, presented by the four public libraries of Cape Ann with support from the Bruce J Anderson Foundation | The Boston Fund.
~large puppet theater gifted to The Waldorf School
Installation views Once Upon A Contest: Selections from Cape Ann Reads
at Rockport Public Library February 2020
Enjoy ” Seek and find” activity sheets you can photograph to bring with you to the show or print out. (There are copies on site as well.) The first one is harder and may take longer. The mini one is geared to the youngest visitors.
*Inez Haynes Irwin (b. 1873 Brazil – d. 1970 Massachusetts) author of Maida’s Little Shop, was a renowned early 20th century, award-winning Massachusetts author, suffragist and feminist. She attended Radcliffe. Her parents were from Boston. Haynes married newspaper editor Rufus Gillmore in 1897; they later divorced. She married William Henry Irwin in 1916. She wrote fifteen books in the Maida series beginning with Maida’s Little Shop in 1909, first published by American publisher B.W. Huebsch**, and concluding with Maida’s Little Treasure Hunt in 1955. Haynes was the first fiction editor for The Masses. She served as Vice President and President of the Author’s Guild of America. In 1924, she received an O. Henry Award her short story, The Spring Flight. Her aunt, Lorenza Haynes (1820-1899), was the first public librarian in Waltham, Massachusetts, then one of Massachusett’s first three ordained female ministers. The aunt’s assignments began in Maine, where she also served as Chaplain to the Maine House of Representatives and Senate. Her ministries included two in Rockport: the First Universalist Church on Hale Street (1884) and the Universalist Society, Pigeon Cove. (“She was an acceptable preacher and did good work wherever her lot was cast.” Universalist Register, 1900. Scroll up and down – fascinating to compare the complimentary entries for the male pastors in these pages. For a more detailed entry see this nutshell on Lorenza Haynes ). Inez wrote about her aunt and big family in this major essay. In it she corrects the record that her aunt left posts because of unfair pay, not her frality as reported in biographies.
Artist Betty Allenbrook Wiberg did not know that the little Maida book she recalled so fondly was part of a series or about its author or the aunt’s ties with Rockport. “I haven’t thought about that book until I worked on this show. It’s almost providence at work when you hear connections like these!”
**About Inez Hayne’s first publisher, B.W. Huebsch– His eponymous firm sponsored writers and was credited with building interest for Joyce, Strindberg, DH Lawrence, Sherwood Anderson and others. His imprint was a 7 branch candlestick with his initials BWH. Later, he merged his firminto a nascent Viking Press and continued at the helm as editor in chief. According to the NY Times obit he was a leader in the A.C.L.U.
Read Chapter 1 Maida’s Little Shop:
Inez Haynes Gillmore/Irwin Maida’s Little Shop, Chapter 1
Four people sat in the big, shining automobile. Three of them were men. The fourth was a little girl. The little girl’s name was Maida Westabrook. The three men were “Buffalo” Westabrook, her father, Dr. Pierce, her physician, and Billy Potter, her friend. They were coming from Marblehead to Boston.
Maida sat in one corner of the back seat gazing dreamily out at the whirling country. She found it very beautiful and very curious. They were going so fast that all the reds and greens and yellows of the autumn trees melted into one variegated band. A moment later they came out on the ocean. And now on the water side were two other streaks of color, one a spongy blue that was sky, another a clear shining blue that was sea Maida half-shut her eyes and the whole world seemed to flash by in ribbons.
“May I get out for a moment, papa?” she asked suddenly in a thin little voice. “I’d like to watch the waves.”
“All right,” her father answered briskly. To the chauffeur he said, “Stop here, Henri.” To Maida, “Stay as long as you want, Posie.”
“Posie” was Mr. Westabrook’s pet-name for Maida.
Billy Potter jumped out and helped Maida to the ground. The three men watched her limp to the sea-wall.
She was a child whom you would have noticed anywhere because of her luminous, strangely-quiet, gray eyes and because of the ethereal look given to her face by a floating mass of hair, pale-gold and tendrilly. And yet I think you would have known that she was a sick little girl at the first glance. When she moved, it was with a great slowness as if everything tired her. She was so thin that her hands were like claws and her cheeks scooped in instead of out. She was pale, too, and somehow her eyes looked too big. Perhaps this was because her little heart-shaped face seemed too small.
“You’ve got to find something that will take up her mind, Jerome,” Dr. Pierce said, lowering his voice, “and you’ve got to be quick about it. Just what Greinschmidt feared has come—that languor—that lack of interest in everything. You’ve got to find something for her to do.”
Dr. Pierce spoke seriously. He was a round, short man, just exactly as long any one way as any other. He had springy gray curls all over his head and a nose like a button. Maida thought that he looked like a very old but a very jolly and lovable baby. When he laughed—and he was always laughing with Maida—he shook all over like jelly that has been turned out of a jar. His very curls bobbed. But it seemed to Maida that no matter how hard he chuckled, his eyes were always serious when they rested on her.
Maida was very fond of Dr. Pierce. She had known him all her life. He had gone to college with her father. He had taken care of her health ever since Dr. Greinschmidt left. Dr. Greinschmidt was the great physician who had come all the way across the ocean from Germany to make Maida well. Before the operation Maida could not walk. Now she could walk easily. Ever since she could remember she had always added to her prayers at night a special request that she might some day be like other little girls. Now she was like other little girls, except that she limped. And yet now that she could do all the things that other little girls did, she no longer cared to do them—not even hopping and skipping, which she had always expected would be the greatest fun in the world. Maida herself thought this very strange.
“But what can I find for her to do?” “Buffalo” Westabrook said.
You could tell from the way he asked this question that he was not accustomed to take advice from other people. Indeed, he did not look it. But he looked his name. You would know at once why the cartoonists always represented him with the head of a buffalo; why, gradually, people had forgotten that his first name was Jerome and referred to him always as “Buffalo” Westabrook.
Like the buffalo, his head was big and powerful and emerged from the midst of a shaggy mane. But it was the way in which it was set on his tremendous shoulders that gave him his nickname. When he spoke to you, he looked as if he were about to charge. And the glance of his eyes, set far back of a huge nose, cut through you like a pair of knives.
It surprised Maida very much when she found that people stood in awe of her father. It had never occurred to her to be afraid of him.
“I’ve racked my brains to entertain her,” “Buffalo” Westabrook went on. “I’ve bought her every gimcrack that’s made for children—her nursery looks like a toy factory. I’ve bought her prize ponies, prize dogs and prize cats—rabbits, guinea-pigs, dancing mice, talking parrots, marmosets—there’s a young menagerie at the place in the Adirondacks. I’ve had a doll-house and a little theater built for her at Pride’s. She has her own carriage, her own automobile, her own railroad car. She can have her own flying-machine if she wants it. I’ve taken her off on trips. I’ve taken her to the theater and the circus. I’ve had all kinds of nurses and governesses and companions, but they’ve been mostly failures. Granny Flynn’s the best of the hired people, but of course Granny’s old. I’ve had other children come to stay with her. Selfish little brutes they all turned out to be! They’d play with her toys and ignore her completely. And this fall I brought her to Boston, hoping her cousins would rouse her. But the Fairfaxes decided suddenly to go abroad this winter. If she’d only express a desire for something, I’d get it for her—if it were one of the moons of Jupiter.”
“It isn’t anything you can give her,” Dr. Pierce said impatiently; “you must find something for her to do.”
“Say, Billy, you’re an observant little duck. Can’t you tell us what’s the matter?” “Buffalo” Westabrook smiled down at the third man of the party.
“The trouble with the child,” Billy Potter said promptly, “is that everything she’s had has been ‘prize.’ Not that it’s spoiled her at all. Petronilla is as simple as a princess in a fairy-tale.”
“Petronilla” was Billy Potter’s pet-name for Maida.
“Yes, she’s wonderfully simple,” Dr. Pierce agreed. “Poor little thing, she’s lived in a world of bottles and splints and bandages. She’s never had a chance to realize either the value or the worthlessness of things.”
“And then,” Billy went on, “nobody’s ever used an ounce of imagination in entertaining the poor child.”
“Imagination!” “Buffalo” Westabrook growled. “What has imagination to do with it?”
Next to her father and Granny Flynn, Maida loved Billy Potter better than anybody in the world. He was so little that she could never decide whether he was a boy or a man. His chubby, dimply face was the pinkest she had ever seen. From it twinkled a pair of blue eyes the merriest she had ever seen. And falling continually down into his eyes was a great mass of flaxen hair, the most tousled she had ever seen.
Billy Potter lived in New York. He earned his living by writing for newspapers and magazines. Whenever there was a fuss in Wall Street—and the papers always blamed “Buffalo” Westabrook if this happened—Billy Potter would have a talk with Maida’s father. Then he wrote up what Mr. Westabrook said and it was printed somewhere. Men who wrote for the newspapers were always trying to talk with Mr. Westabrook. Few of them ever got the chance. But “Buffalo” Westabrook never refused to talk with Billy Potter. Indeed, the two men were great friends.
“He’s one of the few reporters who can turn out a good story and tell it straight as I give it to him,” Maida had once heard her father say. Maida knew that Billy could turn out good stories—he had turned out a great many for her.
“What has imagination to do with it?” Mr. Westabrook repeated.
“It would have a great deal to do with it, I fancy,” Billy Potter answered, “if somebody would only imagine the right thing.”
“Well, imagine it yourself,” Mr. Westabrook snarled. “Imagination seems to be the chief stock-in-trade of you newspaper men.”
Billy grinned. When Billy smiled, two things happened—one to you and the other to him. Your spirits went up and his eyes seemed to disappear. Maida said that Billy’s eyes “skrinkled up.” The effect was so comic that she always laughed—not with him but at him.
“All right,” Billy agreed pleasantly; “I’ll put the greatest creative mind of the century to work on the job.”
“You put it to work at once, young man,” Dr. Pierce said. “The thing I’m trying to impress on you both is that you can’t wait too long.”
“Buffalo” Westabrook stirred uneasily. His fierce, blue eyes retreated behind the frown in his thick brows until all you could see were two shining points. He watched Maida closely as she limped back to the car. “What are you thinking of, Posie?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing, father,” Maida said, smiling faintly. This was the answer she gave most often to her father’s questions. “Is there anything you want, Posie?” he was sure to ask every morning, or, “What would you like me to get you to-day, little daughter?” The answer was invariable, given always in the same soft, thin little voice: “Nothing, father—thank you.”
“Where are we now, Jerome?” Dr. Pierce asked suddenly.
Mr. Westabrook looked about him. “Getting towards Revere.”
“Let’s go home through Charlestown,”Dr. Pierce suggested. “How would you like to see the house where I was born, Maida—that old place on Warrington Street I told you about yesterday. I think you’d like it, Pinkwink.”
“Pinkwink” was Dr. Pierce’s pet-name for Maida.
“Oh, I’d love to see it.” A little thrill of pleasure sparkled in Maida’s flat tones. “I’d just love to.”
Dr. Pierce gave some directions to the chauffeur.
For fifteen minutes or more the men talked business. They had come away from the sea and the streams of yellow and red and green trees. Maida pillowed her head on the cushions and stared fixedly at the passing streets. But her little face wore a dreamy, withdrawn look as if she were seeing something very far away. Whenever “Buffalo” Westabrook’s glance shot her way, his thick brows pulled together into the frown that most people dreaded to face.
“Now down the hill and then to the left,” Dr. Pierce instructed Henri.
Warrington Street was wide and old-fashioned. Big elms marching in a double file between the fine old houses, met in an arch above their roofs. At intervals along the curbstones were hitching-posts of iron, most of them supporting the head of a horse with a ring in his nose. One, the statue of a negro boy with his arms lifted above his head, seemed to beg the honor of holding the reins. Beside these hitching-posts were rectangular blocks of granite—stepping-stones for horseback riders and carriage folk.
“There, Pinkwink,” Dr. Pierce said; “that old house on the corner—stop here, Henri, please—that’s where I was brought up. The old swing used to hang from that tree and it was from that big bough stretching over the fence that I fell and broke my arm.”
Maida’s eyes brightened. “And there’s the garret window where the squirrels used to come in,” she exclaimed.
“The same!” Dr. Pierce laughed. “You don’t forget anything, do you? My goodness me! How small the house looks and how narrow the street has grown! Even the trees aren’t as tall as they should be.”
“Now show me the school,” she begged.
“Just a block or two, Henri,” Dr. Pierce directed.
The car stopped in front of a low, rambling wooden building with a yard in front.
“That’s where you covered the ceiling with spit-balls,” Maida asked.
“The same!” Dr. Pierce laughed heartily at the remembrance. It seemed to Maida that she had never seen his curls bob quite so furiously before.
“It’s one of the few wooden, primary buildings left in the city,” he explained to the two men. “It can’t last many years now. It’s nothing but a rat-trap but how I shall hate to see it go!”
Opposite the school was a big, wide court. Shaded with beautiful trees—maples beginning to flame, horse-chestnuts a little browned, it was lined with wooden toy houses, set back of fenced-in yards and veiled by climbing vines. Pigeons were flying about, alighting now and then to peck at the ground or to preen their green and purple necks. Boys were spinning tops. Girls were jumping rope. The dust they kicked up had a sweet, earthy smell in Maida’s nostrils. As she stared, charmed with the picture, a little girl in a scarlet cape and a scarlet hat came climbing up over one of the fences. Quick, active as a squirrel, she disappeared into the next yard.
“Primrose Court!” Dr. Pierce exclaimed. “Well, well, well!”
“Primrose Court,” Maida repeated. “Do primroses grow there?”
“Bless your heart, no,” Dr. Pierce laughed; “it was named after a man called Primrose who used to own a great deal of the neighborhood.”
But Maida was scarcely listening. “Oh, what a cunning little shop!” she exclaimed. “There, opposite the court. What a perfectly darling little place!”
“Good Lord! that’s Connors’,” Dr. Pierce explained. “Many a reckless penny I’ve squandered there, my dear. Connors was the funniest, old, bent, dried-up man. I wonder who keeps it now.”
“What are those yellow things in that glass jar?” Maida asked.
“Pickled limes,” Dr. Pierce responded promptly. “How I used to love them!”
“Oh, father, buy me a pickled lime,” Maida pleaded. “I never had one in my life and I’ve been crazy to taste one ever since I read ‘Little Women.’”
“All right,” Mr. Westabrook said. “Let’s come in and treat Maida to a pickled lime.”
A bell rang discordantly as they opened the door. Its prolonged clangor finally brought the old lady from the room at the back. She looked in surprise at the three men in their automobile coats and at the little lame girl.
Coming in from the bright sunshine, the shop seemed unpleasantly dark to Maida. After a while she saw that its two windows gave it light enough but that it was very confused, cluttery and dusty.
Mr. Westabrook bought four pickled limes and everybody ate—three of them with enjoyment, Billy with many wry faces and a decided, “Stung!” after the first taste.
Billy Potter started. For a moment it seemed as if he were about to speak. But instead, he stared hard at Maida, falling gradually into a brown study. From time to time he came out of it long enough to look sharply at her. The sparkle had all gone out of her face. She was pale and dream-absorbed again.
Her father studied her with increasing anxiety as they neared the big house on Beacon Street. Dr. Pierce’s face was shadowed too.
“Eureka! I’ve found it!” Billy exclaimed as they swept past the State House. “I’ve got it, Mr. Westabrook.”
Billy did not answer at once. The automobile had stopped in front of a big red-brick house. Over the beautifully fluted columns that held up the porch hung a brilliant red vine. Lavender-colored glass, here and there in the windows, made purple patches on the lace of the curtains.
“That little job of the imagination that you put me on a few moments ago,” Billy answered mysteriously. “In a moment,” he added with a significant look at Maida. “You stay too, Dr. Pierce. I want your approval.”
The door of the beautiful old house had opened and a man in livery came out to assist Maida. On the threshold stood an old silver-haired woman in a black-silk gown, a white cap and apron, a little black shawl pinned about her shoulders.
“How’s my lamb?” she asked tenderly of Maida.
“Oh, pretty well,” Maida said dully. “Oh, Granny,” she added with a sudden flare of enthusiasm, “I saw the cunningest little shop. I think I’d rather tend shop than do anything else in the world.”
Billy Potter smiled all over his pink face. He followed Mr. Westabrook and Dr. Pierce into the drawing-room.
Maida went upstairs with Granny Flynn.
Granny Flynn had come straight to the Westabrook house from the boat that brought her from Ireland years ago. She had come to America in search of a runaway daughter but she had never found her. She had helped to nurse Maida’s mother in the illness of which she died and she had always taken such care of Maida herself that Maida loved her dearly. Sometimes when they were alone, Maida would call her “Dame,” because, she said, “Granny looks just like the ‘Dame’ who comes into fairy-tales.”
Granny Flynn was very little, very bent, very old. “A t’ousand and noine, sure,” she always answered when Maida asked her how old. Her skin had cracked into a hundred wrinkles and her long sharp nose and her short sharp chin almost met. But the wrinkles surrounded a pair of eyes that were a twinkling, youthful blue. And her down-turned nose and up-growing chin could not conceal or mar the lovely sweetness of her smile.
Just before Maida went to bed that night, she was surprised by a visit from her father.
“Posie,” he said, sitting down on her bed, “did you really mean it to-day when you said you would like to keep a little shop?”
“Very well, dear, you shall keep a shop. You shall keep that very one. I’m going to buy out the business for you and put you in charge there. I’ve got to be in New York pretty steadily for the next three months and I’ve decided that I’ll send you and Granny to live in the rooms over the shop. I’ll fix the place all up for you, give you plenty of money to stock it and then I expect you to run it and make it pay.”
Maida sat up in bed with a vigor that surprised her father. She shook her hands—a gesture that, with her, meant great delight. She laughed. It was the first time in months that a happy note had pealed in her laughter. “Oh, father, dear, how good you are to me! I’m just crazy to try it and I know I can make it pay—if hard work helps.”
“All right. That’s settled. But listen carefully to what I’m going to say, Posie. I can’t have this getting into the papers, you know. To prevent that, you’re to play a game while you’re working in the shop—just as princesses in fairy-tales had to play games sometimes. You’re going in disguise. Do you understand?”
“Yes, father, I understand.”
“You’re to pretend that you belong to Granny Flynn, that you’re her grandchild. You won’t have to tell any lies about it. When the children in the neighborhood hear you call her ‘Granny,’ they’ll simply take it for granted that you’re her son’s child.
“Or I can pretend I’m poor Granny’s lost daughter’s little girl,” Maida suggested.
“If you wish. Billy Potter’s going to stay here in Boston and help you. You’re to call on him, Posie, if you get into any snarl. But I hope you’ll try to settle all your own difficulties before turning to anybody else. Do you understand?”
“Yes, father. Father, dear, I’m so happy. Does Granny know?”
Maida heaved an ecstatic sigh. “I’m afraid I shan’t get to sleep to-night—just thinking of it.”
But she did sleep and very hard—the best sleep she had known since her operation. And she dreamed that she opened a shop—a big shop this was—on the top of a huge white cloud. She dreamed that her customers were all little boy and girl angels with floating, golden curls and shining rainbow-colored wings. She dreamed that she sold nothing but cake. She used to cut generous slices from an angel-cake as big as the golden dome of the Boston state house. It was very delicious—all honey and jelly and ice cream on the inside, and all frosting, stuck with candies and nuts and fruits, on the outside.
The people on Warrington Street were surprised to learn in the course of a few days that old Mrs. Murdock had sold out her business in the little corner store. For over a week, the little place was shut up. The school children, pouring into the street twice a day, had to go to Main Street for their candy and lead pencils. For a long time all the curtains were kept down. Something was going on inside, but what, could not be guessed from the outside. Wagons deposited all kinds of things at the door, rolls of paper, tins of paint, furniture, big wooden boxes whose contents nobody could guess. Every day brought more and more workmen and the more there were, theharder they worked. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, all the work stopped.
The next morning when the neighborhood waked up, a freshly-painted sign had taken the place over the door of the dingy old black and white one. The lettering was gilt, the background a skyey blue. It read:
MAIDA’S LITTLE SHOP
Excerpt above thanks to the complete book (later edition published under “Irwin”) digitized here: Project Gutenberg EBook of Maida’s Little Shop: Table of Contents