One of my greatest secret ambitions was really quite impossible. I wanted to be Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables, Anne-girl, the fictional heroine of Lucy Maude Montgomery’s gorgeous imagination. Yes, I wanted to be a redheaded orphan girl, adopted by the staunch Marilla and the gloriously tender Matthew. I wanted to be skinny and a little freckled, I already talked too much. I wanted to sign my prayers “respectfully yours” and I wanted the honor of sleeping in a spare bedroom. I desperately wanted a good and sweet and faithful bosom friend with raven locks, a kindred spirit. I wanted a love story that began with slamming a slate over a cute but cocky boy’s head.
I settled for living in a world of make-believe, reading and writing stories, taking walks through the pasture of my childhood home imagining it to be the shores of Prince Edward Island. I settled for being the darling of my grandparents’ eyes and for reading too much. I settled for talking about Anne too much, so much that my mom often reminded me in a teasing tone, “She’s not real, you know.”
And she wasn’t. Isn’t. But what she and Diana and Gil gave me, it most definitely is. They gave me a reality that didn’t seem too far fetched. They gave me a hero for my penchant to day dream, they gave me my first experience with the “you too? me too!” of true friendships. I felt a little less ridiculous in my over the top passions and a little more understood in my moments of despair.
Because I know how the story ends (the real story, not that Continuing Story nonsense), I believed that beauty and love and ambition and daydreams could amount to something lovely, something worth all the hard moments of the life before.
On April 15th, Jonathan Crombie, the actor who portrayed Gilbert Blythe in the movies, died of a sudden brain hemorrhage. A few days later, his family announced his death and when I read the news, I just felt silent. Silent and still. As someone who has read and cherishes all the books, maybe he oughtn’t figure so heavily into my vision of the utterly irresistible, boyish, and totally devoted Gilbert Blythe. But, he does. And at 48 years old, he was too young to die. I am so sad for Jonathan’s family and friends. I wouldn’t ever presume my silly grief can in any way compare to their own… but there’s something about Jonathan Crombie that breathed life into one of the greatest love stories, one of the most simple and romantic tales ever told. He showed us Gilbert Blythe, the young boy who loved Anne, in all his flesh and hope and faithfulness.
And he meant something to me.
He meant goodness. He meant escape. He meant truth. He meant secret hopes. He meant happy endings, even when girls like me get in our own way.
I felt a little silly as I sat stunned by his death. But then I remembered that my grief for “Gilbert” was a true tribute to the art that Jonathan Crombie pursued all his life. He touched my heart and he stayed with me all these years and years. It’s the hope of every artist, and I hope he knew that he attained it.
Oh, Gil. In so many ways there is a part of my girlish heart that will always feel that, “There could never be anybody else for me but you…” You gave my childhood broken heart someone to pin my daydreams on, and it occurred to me that even I could be loved like you loved Anne. You were the one to inspire me with that idea, in the first place.
Thank you, sweet Gil. Because of you, I knew the deep waters of love when I saw them. And to you, Jonathan, you were a true artist. Thank you for what you gave thousands of girls like me. A slice of romance we needed more than you could ever have known.