Peter and I recently drove to Concord,
Massachusetts, where we visited Orchard House, one of the homes where
Louisa May Alcott grew up. Alcott’s most famous book, Little
Women, was loosely based on true stories of her life there with
her parents and three sisters, Anna, Lizzie and May.
Louisa May’s father, Bronson Alcott, founded –
and reluctantly closed – numerous schools supporting his
transcendentalist ideas. He tried innovations such as giving children
time for recess and allowing them to ask questions in class.
ahead of his time resulted in appalled parents pulling their children
from the schools, and the Alcott family having to move somewhere else
and try again. They moved twenty-eight times. Despite that, they
still managed to live at Orchard House for twenty years.
Ms. Alcott was able to partially vindicate her
father’s progressive ideas about education, by having her
characters Jo March, and scholarly husband, Friedrich Bhaer
incorporate his methods in their Plumfield School.
I’ve seen three film versions of Little Women
and have read the book many times. Katherine Hepburn, June Allyson
and Winona Ryder all played Jo March, the character patterned after
Alcott. Jo was a powerful character – she was a writer, a
director/actor in home theater productions, and longed to join her
father on the front-line with the Union army during the Civil War.
She eschewed traditional women’s duties in favor of courageous
adventures. I strongly identified with Jo as a child, and felt a deep
reverence for the world Ms. Alcott created with her books about the
March family. Thus, I was nearly moved to tears when we parked our
vehicle in front of Orchard House. I felt that we were visiting
After touring the house that day, I knelt down
near a young apple tree and took a pinch of dirt from the ground.
Round my neck I wear a small glass vial on a string that has a tiny
space inside that unscrews and can hold a teeny amount of something,
such as sand or powder. I placed the bit of soil in it and began to
wear it as a sort of talisman around my neck.
A week passed, and then an odd occurrence
transpired. We were in New York City on business. Before leaving the
city we decided to take a cab to Greenwich Village for a quick
breakfast but we had no idea where to go. I searched on the Internet
to find a good place. The Cafe Reggio, which opened in 1927 on
MacDougal Street, was highly rated with stars and raves on Trip
Advisor. It claimed to have served the first cappuccino in New York
City too! (By the way, if you're ever in a position to eat there, we
highly recommend the Norwegian Eggs Benedictine with smoked salmon,
or the Cafe Reggio Crepes with spinach and three-cheese filling.
Ironically, directly across the street from the
cafe is a brownstone at 130-132 MacDougal Street that was once owned
by the uncle of Louisa May Alcott. She lived there in 1868, and used
to sit at one of the windows writing. Legend has it that she finished
writing Little Women there.
Before breakfast, I sat on the steps of the
brownstone, struck by the co-incidence – that we had visited
Orchard House only seven days before, and now here we were in front
of another significant home where Louisa May dwelt. I was intrigued
by the juxtaposition of events, and wondered if it meant something.
Perhaps the message was: ‘to write’.
I have long admired Ms. Alcott and am glad that
she took the time to write her books and verse. I noted that she was
younger than I am now when she died.
How many people benefit when someone called to art
fulfills their calling? The world has been evolving since she lived
and died, but despite that, her books and their emotional impact on
millions has been profound. Our lives seem like the wink of an eye,
but how much can we accomplish in that wink if we will?
Image(s) from Wikimedia Commons
Image of Louisa May Alcott, Public
Other photographs by Peter and Kim Brown