This past Monday, I went to the sold out (in fact over-sold) conversation with Judy Blume at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library. There were a 1000 people there to give Judy a standing ovation as she entered the auditorium. Tears filled many eyes last night including mine, and I really did feel like a nine year old girl again in that room, with my I ‘heart’ Judy Blume button pinned to my blouse.
I remember being on the streetcar with my grandmother, reading Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret and turning to her to ask “what a period was”. The book explained it and I had already started hearing things at school about it, but I knew I wanted to know more. I could tell my nan was embarrassed by my question, but a week later my mother sat me down with a bunch of books and explained everything. And I do mean EVERYTHING: periods, ovaries, fallopian tubes, penises, sex, men, women, relationships, babies – it was a very thorough conversation (thank you, Mom) – and Judy Blume’s book created the opportunity for that conversation. Her books have precipitated many first conversations – about puberty, masturbation, relationships, teen sex, body image, divorce, racism, bullying and more. You need only visit the guest book on her website to see how important Judy is to so many.
After a wonderfully engaging conversation between Judy and journalist, Rachel Giese, a few brave people got up to ask questions. There was a little gushing, but for the most part the questions were articulate and thoughtful and Judy answered everyone with charm and her wonderful sense of humour. And then, one remarkable woman with a very pronounced stammer stood at the microphone to speak. She started out by saying, “Thank you for being my friend” and continued by sharing that she had grown up without many friends and that Judy Blume’s books had offered her solace when she had felt alone. And as she struggled with her words – everyone in the audience began to cry; not because we felt sorry for her, but because we all recognized ourselves in this woman. Judy Blume’s books really did and still do that for so many people, myself included. And as Judy blew out kisses to this gutsy woman, Judy’s husband George Cooper (who was just as much a part of the evening’s chat, and truly a rock star in his own right) got up and walked over to this woman to embrace her. The room exploded with cheers. We were all completely connected, in that moment, in that room.
When the questions were over, a very long line-up of eager Blumees; all waiting for their books to be signed, began to wrap itself around the room. My friend and I had a hilarious chat with a couple of women about book abuse and all the things we hate people doing to their books including: dog-earring, writing in books, breaking spines, books dropped in water, eating while reading, and who we will and won’t share books with. I later followed this up when speaking with my fella, making it clear he was not to touch my new, signed copy of In the Unlikely Event, and that yes, I would let him look at it, while I held it – from a distance (behind glass).
My friend and I also had the great fortune of talking with George a little bit (who at one point was wandering through the line-up letting everyone know that if they had any questions for Judy, he would be pleased to answer on her behalf). He shared with us that 20 years ago the two of them had been in Australia, with days and days of book signings (similar to our night of 1000), and all the writing had temporarily crippled Judy’s hand, so George sat beside her at the signing table as people came up to greet her and forged her signature on everyone’s books – and no one seemed to mind.
When I finally made it up to the table to meet her, I didn’t feel starstruck. I felt like I had been spending my Monday night with a dear old friend. As she signed my book I thanked for her words, and then she smiled at me, a full face grin – and my nine year old self smiled; an equally toothy grin, back at her.
I must say, Judy Blume is EXACTLY how I imagined her to be. She’s vivacious, confident, quick witted, very, very smart and kind – genuinely kind, with a little mischief thrown in. She and George have been on a big tour for In the Unlikely Event. Toronto was their last stop in North America before heading over to Europe for 10 days. I am sure she is tired (she said as much) and she’s not 22 anymore (she’s 77), but you would never know it. She seemed very happy to be spending her time chatting with us – and we were all thrilled she did.
It was like a fantastic evening with your crazy, fun loving aunt (and uncle), who you don’t get to see often because they live so far away and have a wonderfully adventurous life, but when you’re with them – the stories are fantastic and funny and relatable and the bond you have with them is dear, honest, nurturing and loving. Just like her books.