[I asked Sandy, “Did you dress like her? Buy a notebook and scribble in it? Sneak into places you shouldn’t have?” She wrote back:]
YES to all of your questions, Faith. but i was always more chicken than Harriet, and would stick mainly to public places like Noland’s and Cox’s, the local grocery stores, or our Quaker church, or spying on people i knew from school. i’m lucky my notebooks were never found, because i could be quite the little snark, following Harriet’s ways. i guess i didn’t learn that “lesson” from the book!
i think i first read Harriet the Spy in 3rd grade, and the other two books later on. i started keeping a spy notebook around the same time, and playing Spy with my best friend. i am attaching a picture of one of the small notebooks, as well as some (i think) pretty hilarious examples of my “spying.” the last page tells about an incident i remember well, when my friend rachel and i went into a 7-11 wearing our usual get-up of jeans and hoodies and the lady at the counter wondered if we were boys or girls. it was pretty exciting to us, a small coup in some way. when i read K.T. Horning’s essay on Harriet the Spy, it reminded me of this day. at the time, i wasn’t consciously “dressing like a boy” and i don’t think Harriet was either. we were dressed like we wanted to be. but it had never occurred to me until i read her essay, that girls at the time the book was written didn’t usually wear jeans (it still surprises me!). so it does seem like part of the reason i idolized Harriet was that she did what she wanted, how she wanted to – which was the way i wanted to be. subconsciously, she was a queer hero for me, like for K.T.
i also remember copying the way Harriet wrote, saying “Check on this” or “remember that” about things i didn’t quite understand. i just wanted to BE her. i felt some kinship with Beth Ellen in The Long Secret, too. and also with Sport, in his book. for me, that is the genius of Louise Fitzhugh’s writing: it is so easy to connect with her characters. even though i grew up in a small town in indiana which wasnt at all like the upper east side, i could totally empathize with the emotions in the book: Harriet’s frustrations at school, her bewilderment over some of the things adults did, and her her ambitions to be the best spy in the world. there were also things in the book that i didn’t pick up on until i was an adult myself, rereading the book as i do every few years. the transition from child to… a bit past childhood when Ole Golly leaves. realizing the hard way that being blunt can make your friends hate you. every time i read it, it seems fresh and relevant. my aunt, who gave me the book so long ago, also loves Harriet. we talk about what she would be like as a grown person, and that she would probably not have an easy time of it. it’s comforting.
i lend copies of Harriet the Spy to lots of friends, wanting to pass on the love, and last year i lent it to a teacher friend of mine who had a surprising reaction. she said she just couldn’t get into it, even though she trusted my opinion. she said she had started it, and gotten turned off by the main character- a rich white girl on the upper east side. wow. hearing Harriet reduced to that made me sad, but i could understand that she’s not for everyone, and yes, the cast is very white. but there’s so much more to it!!
i got my tattoo a year ago last august, for my 28th birthday. i wanted to do something meaningful to mark 20 years of living in the united states (i was in germany until i was 8), and when i thought back to that time, my obsession with spying stood out so clearly, and after i got the idea to choose an image of Harriet, i knew she was what i wanted. i’ve since googled “Harriet the Spy tattoo” and found a few other really neat ones! mine is on my left lower calf.