In my family, there is a book that is as significant as a Bible. It is The Melendy Family by Elizabeth Enright, first published in 1941. Before I was born, my sister, Jan, was the first child to snuggle next to our mother as she read aloud the adventures of the four Melendy children: Mona (girl, 14), Rush (boy, 12), Randy (girl,10), and Oliver (6).
As Jan remembers, she burst into tears when our mother finished reading the last paragraph. Jan was so distraught that Mom turned back to the first chapter and started the book again.
“It would have to rain today,” said Rush, lying flat on his back in front of the fire. “On a Saturday. Certainly. Naturally. Of course. What else would you expect? Good weather is for Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday; and rain’s for Saturday and Sunday, and Christmas vacation and Easter.”
For me, that first line is more evocative than the March’s “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.”
Mom loved reading aloud, so I got the Melendys next. She was sad when I became an independent reader and wanted to read on my own. My cousin, Patty, only two months older, was also a Melendy lover. Together we acted out Melendy stories in our fantasy play. I know I read the book at least ten times before I turned eleven. Years later, I read The Melendy Family to my daughter. She has continued the tradition, reading the book to her two girls.
The Melendy Family actually contains three smaller books: The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, and Then There Were Five. In The Saturdays, the Melendys are living in New York City during the beginning of World War II. Mr. Melendy works for the government in some unspecified capacity. In the first chapter of this book, the children decide to pool their allowances so that each child can do something special on his or her Saturday.
It amazes me now, that eighty years ago, a ten-year-old child, Randy, was allowed to wander around New York City alone. Eventually, though, it is decided that the children should all go out together.
The Four-Story Mistake begins with the family moving upstate. I have wondered many times whether the Melendy’s relocation to a quirky house near a small Hudson Valley village drew me to live in a similar place.
I was pregnant with my second child when we landed at my husband’s family farm. The Melendys had a brook on their property. I had the Wallkill River below the house. Later, after a couple of moves, I bought a house with a nameless creek in the backyard. There, my daughter met up with a luna moth, echoing Oliver’s infatuation with the very same creature.
For the past few days, I’ve been rereading The Melendy Family. It’s a joy to reconnect with the book, but also a revelation. Enright is a fine author. Her prose is clean and lyrical, and she knows children. For example, here is Rush getting ready for his Saturday adventure:
After lunch, Rush had to hurry. Randy came in as he was furiously combing his hair and trying to make it lie flat.
“What have you put on it now?” asked Randy, sniffing curiously.
“On what? My hair? Oh, some of Mona’s face cream,” grinned Rush. “I thought maybe it would make it straight. But I guess it won’t.”
“Mona will kill you if she finds out. You’d better go before she gets a chance to smell you.”
I have often thought that, when I’m quite senile, I will confuse my own stories and family with the Melendys. Without a doubt, author Elizabeth Enright and The Melendy Family shaped me as a writer for children.