Book #174: A Time to Keep

A Time to Keep -- CoverIt’s Vintage Friday again, and I’ve been thinking about Tasha Tudor’s understated watercolors these days. Anyone remember Tasha Tudor?  She illustrated about a hundred books during her lifetime (1915-2008) including the nearly ubiquitous cover of The Secret Garden. If you’ve ever stepped into the children’s section of any bookstore you’re bound to recognize this famous image.

The Secret Garden -- cover

Her work is marked by muted tones, soft colors, and borders of flowers, plants, or fruits, all delicately and accurately rendered.  The images in her books hearken back to days gone by, when life appeared simpler, more serene, pastoral. A Time to Keep was published in the seventies, but most of Tudor’s work represents life a hundred years earlier, with idyllic scenes of children playing in their homespun clothes enjoying traditional games and eating delicious food. Anyone over forty who had a relationship with Tasha Tudor’s books will look back on her illustrations with great fondness and nostalgia.

A Time to Keep -- bugle & kids

A Time to Keep opens with a little girl at her grandmother’s knee asking, “Granny, what was it like when Mummy was me?” The grandmother then goes on to describe the festivities of every month of the year, with New Year’s celebrations in January and sap collecting in March.  “…we ate dinner at the sugarhouse and had sugar on snow for a treat,” Tudor writes. In May the children danced around a Maypole and for Midsummer’s Eve there were homemade marionettes and scenery for puppet shows. The book depicts a time very different from today — very different from the author’s own time too — when simple folks did without radios or washing machines or refrigeration. They certainly seem better off for it, too.

A Time to Keep -- floating cakes

These books aren’t an easy sell today, though. There are too many swiftly-flying computer games and television shows for most children to be able to sit down and pore over these detailed pictures, let alone relate to them. But I bought a used copy anyway in the hopes that Ray will pick up the book from time to time. I shared my enthusiasm for the idea of making one’s own candles or putting on a historical play, and he listened with interest. So much of the joy of reading is brought on by the parent. Sometimes I’m exhausted and it feels like a great burden to share in the joy of the details. But the other day in the car Ray said, “Mom, tell me a story from  your youth (he pronounces it use).  And even though there are no marionettes or birthday cakes with glowing candles floating down the creek, I did talk about how we used to play for hours outside without adult supervision. And how my mother would shout that dinner was ready five houses away, and my sister and I would perk up our ears, and then run.

Tudor’s four children are apparently embroiled in an ugly lawsuit surrounding her two-million dollar estate in rural Vermont. She was estranged from at least one of her children at the time of her death. So life wasn’t always as idyllic as her illustrations, perhaps.  But most of us are blissfully unaware as we look back on this lovely book. We see only baby goats prancing, July picnics, or the party favors made from walnut shells.  We feel happy.  ABZ

Tasha Tudor -- painting



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