According to the journals she left behind, with strict instructions not to publish until “no living person would be hurt” by her comments, Lucy Maude Montgomery always knew she’d be famous one day.
“I believe in myself,” she wrote. “And I struggled on alone, in secrecy and silence. I never told my ambitions and efforts and failures to anyone. Down, deep down, under all discouragements and rebuff I know I would “arrive” some day.”
That day came on June 20, 1908 with the publication of her wildly popular book, Anne of Green Gables.
The book, about a poetic, plucky orphan, brought recognition and financial security to both the author and the island she loved and on which she set her series of stories.
I thought about that as we traveled through Prince Edward Island last week. Tourism provides a lot of revenue to PEI residents, who proudly celebrate their relationship to the literary character that made them famous.
Tributes to Anne Shirley and Montgomery pop up everywhere.
But, PEI would have been just as fine without the adulation as well.
Blessed with fertile soil and breathtaking landscapes, the island is a sturdy mix of potato farmers and fishermen with a beautiful, safe, friendly, walkable capital city. People live on PEI for generations.
I popped into an Irish bar one evening in Charlottetown to listen to some live music and had a great time bantering a little with musicians Robbie Doherty and Rob Reid.
“Flyin’ solo, are you eh?” Robbie said from up on the stage.
I told him I was from Wisconsin and he said he knew a guy from there.
“You bring the cheese and I’ll bring the potatoes!” he said.
He told the crowd he’d spent his whole life on PEI and I realized most of the people I’d met had done the same.
I can see why.
Montgomery referred to Prince Edward Island by its ancient name when she wrote about it in a 1939 essay.
“Peace, you’ll never know what peace is until you walk along the shores or in the fields or along the winding red roads of Abegweit on a summer twilight when the dew is falling and the old, old stars are peeping out and the sea keeps it nightly tryst with the little land it loves. You find your soul then and you look around in the dimming landscape of haunted hills and long, white sand beaches and murmuring ocean, of homestead lights and old fields tilled by dead and gone generations who loved them. Even if you are not Abegweit-born, you’ll say, ‘Why, I have come home!’”