Heidi by Johanna Spyri for German Literature Month (A Guest Post by my Mother)

front cover

Today I picked up a worn old book that I read 73 years ago. Yes, I was seven. My namesake aunt had gifted it to me for Christmas. Because it held a great fascination to me I have dragged it through many moves, college days and then our homes and more college days. I didn’t read it again, until today. Instantly I was put in touch with a lodestar that has truly affected my life. Once again I was meeting the invincible, courageous girl I meant to become. “She understands what she sees, her eyes are in the right place,” remarked the grandfather to himself.

dedication from Aunt Maddie

From the moment Heidi’s life with grandfather begins she bustles around happily. She makes her bed out of hay, drinks the goat milk, time passes, as she learns to appreciate and listen. “…then the wind began to roar louder than ever through the fir trees; Heidi listened with delight to the sound, and it filled her heart so full of gladness that she skipped and danced around the old trees, as if some unheard of joy had come to her.” Maybe this is why I hear the wind and love it so.

Table of Contents

After the first day on the mountain Heidi tells her grandfather, “It was so beautiful. The fire and the roses on the rocks, and the blue and yellow flowers, and look what I have brought you,” as she empties her apron of the wild flowers she had picked. “Oh, Grandfather, what has happened?” His reply was classic grandfather. “They like to stand out there in the sun, and not to be shut up in an apron.” The life lessons never end though my little self never knew I was reading life lessons. Be gentle and kind to animals, respect your elders, be obedient. Help those in need like the grandmother in the tumbling down house. Make real friends like Peter and give him half of your lunch if this pleases him. When her happiness on the mountain with Grandfather is cut short, she never gives up knowing she must get back to him. And, when after great hardship she returns to the mountain, its beauty fills her heart so that she impulsively puts her hands together when she reads to the grandmother,

“Joy shall be ours, In that garden blest, Where after storm, We find our rest – I wait in peace – God’s time is best.”

Very simple words that did not diminish the joyful emotion that filled Heidi as her life on the mountain was put back into order. Happiness for her was found in the small and simple ways that Grandfather had taught. The story continues with working out the details of Heidi, her grandmother and the Grandfather and Peter all finding new stability. Even the Frankfurt family that brought grief and separation to Heidi is smoothed out, renewed and rediscovering the simple life. Clara, Heidi’s playmate is taken from luxury to simplicity. She marvels that, “As long as I remember I have only eaten because I was obliged to…now I am longing for Grandfather to bring the milk.”

Chapter 1

Heidi rejoices clinging to her grandmother saying, “Hasn’t it all come about, grandmother, just like the hymn I read to you last time? Grandmother responds, “Yes, Heidi, and many other good things too which God has sent me.” And the book actually concludes with this theme. “Heidi, read me one of the hymns! I feel I can do nothing for the remainder of my life but thank the Father in Heaven for the mercies He has shown us.”

Flyleaf

I closed the book pondering its meaning for me. I turned back to the frontispiece and note the publisher was the GOLDSMITH Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. A long way away from this little girl receiving this book in the small city that was called Fort William, now Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.

This is the message of my life, taught to me by parents and grandparents. To live thanking God for small and great mercies. To realize I live in a glorious world my Heavenly Father meant me to enjoy. When suffering, darkness, despair and evil frighten me, I must lift my eyes up to the proverbial hills and find refuge. Find the wonder in the wind, marvel at a tiny seed’s germination, listen to the jenny wren sing, cherish my family, hold them as dear as life. Always remembering each wind call, every seed and birdsong, all of the family is a great mercy – given to me as a gift. Thank you, thank you, thank you, forever, my great and holy God.

 

(This book was read in conjunction with German Literature Month hosted by Caroline and Lizzy. Thank you for sponsoring the event, and thank you, mother, for sharing this book with me since I was a little girl.)

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23 thoughts on “Heidi by Johanna Spyri for German Literature Month (A Guest Post by my Mother)”

  1. It’s so interesting to have read this book as a child, then to reread it again as an adult. So many of the books of my childhood were formative in a very intense way; I, too, felt that they suggested who I would become. Or, at least whom I wanted to emulate. I remember Heidi as a story of great courage. She doesn’t put up with Clara’s whining or spoiled ways. Her determination and optimism help those around her, as almost a life giving force. Where are those books today?

    I had forgotten how much faith Johanna Spyri presented in her “little” book. It is a little book with great power, particularly for our family, as it resonates the faith on which we have established our lives. It is almost like Grandma Smit speaking to me in certain passages.

    I’m so glad that you introduced me to this book as a child, and that you shared your reflections about it now. Thank you for the tremendous impact you have given me through literature in my life.

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  2. I loved this book when I was a girl – the contrast between mountains and city especially resonated with me when I was laid up in bed for weeks with a broken leg in a flat in the city centre (we had previously lived in the suburbs with lots of green all around). I felt I couldn’t breathe and just reread Heidi over and over.

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    1. I can totally relate to what you are saying about feeling trapped (my words, not yours) in a city centre when your heart longs for countryside. Mountainside. Seaside. Just anywhere that isn’t congested with people and trucks and buildings. Those things don’t give me any amount of peace whatsoever. I’m sure that Heidi was a lovely respite, at least for your mind.

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    1. Isn’t it a beautiful book, Stu?! I remember reading it as a child, but when Mother suggested I take it home to reread, I cringed at the thought of it becoming damaged in my care. (We have a 91 one pound English Cream Lab at home, who’s not too particular about what he chews on.) I don’t remember ever seeing Heidi on a television show; I think the only movie I’ve seen of it is the one with Shirley Temple.
      Heidi does seem to bring childhood memories to so many of us, though.

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  3. Reading this gave me goosebumps! I got Heidi from my grandmother when I was a child. My edition is very special to me, not only because of the wonderful story, but also because it was published by a dairy company after WWII. Their dairy products came with pictures that kids would cut out and glue into the book. My grandmother said that for a good long time she didn’t have to badger my father and aunt to drink their milk. 🙂 I think I will take it out tonight and read over Thanksgiving. I think that would be great timing. Thank you so much for reminding me of this.

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    1. Oh, your edition sounds so special! I wish I could see it, as I’ve never heard of such a copy. Your plan to read it over Thanksgiving sounds delightful, a perfect escape. Thank you for your lovely comment.

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  4. What a beautiful post. I also remember reading Heidi when I was little (although, I couldn’t have been too little). What I remember most vividly is the bread and cheese Heidi and her grandfather ate for all their meals. I used to think it sounded so delicious – I still do! Sometimes I think we should just eat bread and cheese and see what happens. 🙂

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    1. It’s so funny that you mention the bread and cheese, because that is one of the most distinctive memories I have of this book, too. (Strangely enough, I often think of the Lord of The Rings books including lots of that meal as well.) It makes me hungry for the good European bread, and I can only imagine how fresh the cheese must have been. No Kraft singles for Heidi!

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  5. Oh, this was lovely; it’s been so long since I read Heidi. I must remember to find my old copy the next time I visit my parents! Rereading childhood favourites as an adult is always such a mixture of nostalgia and new realisations.

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    1. I was so very disappointed in an edition I specially ordered from Puffin Classics. I was going to write a post about it, but now I wonder if I will…at any rate, the translator wrote Uncle Alp (!) for Alm Uncle, and I just couldn’t get past page 4. It was so very trite.

      My mother and I have been talking about how books of her youth, and mine, were never considered too difficult for children. We just read them, and if we didn’t understand every word, oh well, we still carried on. I am frustrated about the dumbing down of literature; it loses so much of its power to me.

      Sometimes, I think I’d like to take a whole segment of time and just reread childhood favorites. I do indulge myself with them as read alouds to my class of third graders, so I often revisit the Little House books and the Chronicles of Narnia.

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      1. Isn’t it interesting how that has changed? There were definitely many aspects of certain books I read as a child which I didn’t fully understand, and words which I had never learnt before, but these were still books I loved to read over and over again! I always think one of the great things about those childhood favourites which maybe had some slightly tricky words or themes for children is that, with every reread, we are able to notice something new or appreciate the narrative in a new light.

        When I need a bit of comfort reading, I quite often will turn to the childhood favourites on my shelf. The Chronicles of Narnia and the Winnie the Pooh stories have been some recent rereads. Actually, my housemate and I reread Winnie the Pooh together one evening when we were feeling particularly nostalgic. It was great fun!

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      2. I am pretty sure that the edition I read as a child, a rather elderly Puffin, was translated by the same person and I cannot say that Heidi was one of my favourites as a child (although I do remember fondly the fresh milk and sleeping in the hay and always hoped to do both). I wonder if other translations are available, because I’d like to read it to my daughter some time…

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  6. I enjoyed reading your Heidi posting! I reread the book not so long ago, having read it a few times in my childhood, but remembered very few details. Rereading the novel was a wonderful experience. Thanks for your thoughts. Cheers, MDC

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  7. This is one of my all time favorites. I read it so many times when I was younger, and just realized that I actually don’t own it. I can’t remember what happened to my copy, but as a flighty (often whacky) young girl, I’m sure I lost it – or maybe I dropped it in the bathtub or pool. Whatever the reason, I’m going to run out and grab a new copy this weekend. Thanks for reminding me of a much beloved story!

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  8. Such a beautiful review! I haven’t heard of this one but it’s going on my TBR. How wonderful to reread a book that you read ages ago and to find it just as vivid and amazing!

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  9. What a wonderful post by your mother! Love the edition of the book too. Gosh makes one want to go out and get & read Heidi again right away. Do you all still live in Thunder Bay area?

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