“Some changes happen deep down inside of you. And the truth is, only you know about them. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be.” — Judy Blume, Tiger Eyes
When I was a kid, my mother loved to take pictures of me reading books. Curled up in the recliner on Christmas morning, reading a new book while still in my pajamas; stretched out on a towel on Wrightsville Beach; laying across the floor at Grandma Hamm’s house. All with a book in my hands.
I didn’t realize just how many times she’d taken photos like this until I graduated from high school, and she gave me a present: A photo album that chronicled my life so far. All 18 years of it. And on almost every other page, I’d find these sorts of photos.
I couldn’t tell you what the book was, but I do remember the comfort, the safety, of being curled up next to my mom on a couch, reading a book. I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember—even when I wasn’t technically reading, but as I listened to her as she read us The Berenstain Bears books, my brother Jay and I on either side of her.
It started with the Berenstains. Later, we had Laura Ingalls, Nancy Drew, and Trixie Belden. And then: Margaret. Steph. Deenie. Sally J. Freedman. Karen.
If you grew up in the 70s or 80s, you might have recognized many of those names. They’re all characters from Judy Blume books. By the time I became familiar with these girls, I’d outgrown the nighttime ritual of Mom sitting at the end of my loft bed, reading me Little House on the Prairie books or her old Trixie Belden’s.
But it was because of my mom that I did get to know them. And when I say get to know them, I mean exactly that. Like so many other young girls, I devoured Judy Blume’s books—always finding something in each protagonist that I would identify with so deeply, so intensely, I’d think, How did she know? or, It’s not only me!
Then, in high school, I snagged Mom’s paperback of Summer Sisters. I fell in love with it. I fell in love with Vix, the main character. I obsessed over Caitlyn, her “summer sister,” just like Vix did—and resented her, too. It felt real.
I’ve read Summer Sisters almost every single summer since that first reading. I took it to Wrightsville Beach, the summer after Mom had died, when it was just Dad and me. I sat on the balcony of our hotel reading it, just like Mom had sat reading books so many different summers when we had visited, all as a family. Reading it was like taking a vacation from my heartbreak. I didn’t feel sad or angry or confused. Everything felt right again.
I owe my mom and Judy Blume for that gift. From my mother, I have my love of reading, a lifelong comfort. When I want to talk to my mom sometimes so badly that my chest actually hurts, I can pick up a book and feel okay again—or at least not think about it anymore. And obviously, so many women have Judy to thank for writing the stories she has, for sharing these characters that so many of us can find ourselves in, even if it’s in a small way.
She was wonderful. She was down to earth, kind, and full of joy. She choked up talking about how meaningful this story was to her. She talked about her son, Larry, who directed the movie, with such love in her voice. When the Q&A was over, even though she had made a comment about how exhausted she was from all of her traveling and weekend’s events, she still stayed and talked to the people (mostly women), who were lined up waiting to meet her. My favorite was the woman, probably my age or younger, who was standing behind me, clutching a beat up paperback of Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. She’d had her mother FedEx it to her so she could have Judy sign it.
As for me, I stood clutching Mom’s now very worn paperback of Summer Sisters. I nervously handed it to one of my lifelong heroes and asked her if she would sign it, telling her it had been my mother’s.
Judy flipped to the title page and sort of raised her eyebrow at me before she started to sign. “You must have been pretty young when this came out.” Then she laughed. “And I was 60!”
It was a quick moment, and nothing extraordinary. But to me, it was extraordinary. Like this wonderful writer (and person) wrote in Tiger Eyes, “Some changes happen deep down inside of you. And the truth is, only you know about them.”
No one but me knew that at that moment, I felt as content as I did sitting on a hotel balcony reading my mother’s old paperback. No one but me knew that for just that quick moment, meeting Judy Blume, I felt like I could almost hear my mom laugh again. Almost. And it was enough, almost.
I think of Davey, the protagonist of Tiger Eyes, so distraught over the death of her dad, but yet still so strong. At the end of the movie, she dives in the ocean and swims. You know she’s going to be okay.
Thanks to a little help from Judy Blume, so many of us know the same.