Therefore, she decided that her leaving home would not be just running from somewhere but would be running to somewhere. To a large place, a comfortable place, an indoor place, and preferably a beautiful place. And that’s why she decided upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
I grew up in a very small, rural town. The nearest stoplight was 45 minutes away, and the closest mall 45 minutes farther. Taking a trip to the mall was a special treat. We’d wake up early on a Saturday and spend the whole day there.
“I’ve picked you to accompany me on the greatest adventure of our mutual lives,” Claudia repeated.
Our first stop was to the bookstore, where I’d get to pick out a new book. Shopping was interspersed with my other favorites: the food court (Sbarro, holla), the candy store, and the fountain in the middle of the mall. My mom never forgot to bring pennies, and my sister and I put a lot of thought into what our wishes would be when we threw our pennies in.
Claudia answered, “Of course. Wearing shoes all the time is one of the tyrannies you’ll escape by coming with me.”
I think that’s why From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler struck such a chord with me and my sister (I should give her a name, shouldn’t I? Let’s call her Dee). When Claudia decides to run away, she doesn’t pick some obscure location. She doesn’t go to her friend’s house, or to the woods. She decides to go to the Met.
“Come along, Sir James. To our bath. Bring your most elegant pajamas. The ones embroidered in gold with silver tassels will do” “Where, dear Lady Claudia, dost thou expect to bathe?” “In the fountain, Sir James. In the fountain.”
Dee actually has a lot in common with Claudia. Not the more annoying traits. Claudia’s independence and self-sufficiency always reminded me of Dee. Dee would never have considered running away, but if she had, I think she would have chosen a place like the Met. And if I had left the house and traveled with Dee to a huge city at ages 9 and 12, I’m certain she would have not only kept us alive and together and fed, she would also have found a way to keep us clean.
“I’m curious to know how you managed.” I was curious, and you know that I can be absolutely charming when I want information.
If there was ever any chance that Dee and I wouldn’t be absolutely enchanted by The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, it went out the door when Claudia and Jamie bathed in the fountain at the Met and realized they could replenish their spending money with the coins in the bottom.
After that, whenever we tossed a coin into the fountain at our mall, we envisioned two kids running to the big city, surviving on their wits and the wishes of other children.
So today, in honor of E.L. Konigsburg’s birthday, go find a penny. Make a wish, jump in a fountain, and seek out your next daring adventure.
P.S. Happy Birthday E.L. Konigsburg!