Left in Andover: ‘Harriet the Spy’ discovers a family treasure

By Susan Leader
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

When my daughters were young, they loved playing Harriet the Spy. In the words of Louise Fitzhugh’s beloved protagonist, “When I grow up I’m going to find out everything about everybody and put it all in a book.”

Growing up in rural Andover, it was, however, impractical to track neighborhood comings and goings like Harriet did.

So sometime in the 1990s I hatched the plan to go next door with the girls and case my childhood home. The then-owner, who had already moved out and emptied the place in preparation to put it on the market, gave me a heads up.

Much loved copy of ‘Harriet the Spy.’

So it was a simple matter for us to wander over, notebooks in hand, to search for mysteries. Not that I expected to uncover any — even if Harriet found them everywhere.

The girls made note: There was no car in the driveway. We slithered across the lawn and peeked in the windows for clues. Then we tested the door. As anticipated — it was unlocked! We entered the kitchen.

The built-up layers of my dad’s interior paint jobs were still detectable. The girls scribbled in their notebooks, brows furrowed in concentration. Just as they were demanding a tour of my upstairs bedroom, I came to the realization I preferred to live in my memories. I needed to get out of there, quick.

Promising a detour home by way of a fascinating abandoned yurt frame, I herded the girls toward the back door. On impulse, I grazed my fingers along the tippy top of the door frame before reaching for the knob.

To my utter surprise, I made contact with a slim metal tablet, placed there out of sight decades earlier and forgotten.

The ancestral Leader family mezuzah.

A mezuzah (singular form) is a piece of parchment upon which is inscribed a Jewish prayer taken from the Torah, enclosed within a decorative tablet. It is customary to check the lettering twice each seven year cycle. In most cases, the Hebrew letter shin, representing the mystical divine, is inscribed on the exterior of the tablet.

It is a commandment in Judaism to hang a mezuzah at one’s front door as a holy blessing and amulet of protection. The mezuzah that I unexpectedly discovered playing Harriet the Spy at Popplewood that day had been placed there by my parents decades earlier.

This particular tablet was a basic kibbutz issue version from their sojourn in Palestine in the late 1940s, before they returned to Vermont and bought Popplewood Farm.

As it turns out, a family member had rescued a matching mezuzah from the front doorpost almost a decade earlier — although the two of us did not compare notes until recently. I had never even noticed it my whole childhood, obscured as it was by my father’s famous paint jobs.

So people always ask me, “Did you grow up religious?” Even though I had never been aware of the mezuzot that guarded our home, they seem to have been effective.

Susan’s granddaughter takes up the work of ‘Harriet the Spy.’

Technically, a mezuzah must be installed at a diagonal around shoulder height on the right side of a doorpost. But in my own home I have adopted the tradition of laying that same ancestral one flat atop a prominent door frame. My now-grown spies may not even be aware of this. Someday, when one of them decides to dust, she will be in for a proper surprise.

So that was pretty much it for us playing Harriet the Spy. But I kept the book around. I had just started reading it with my young granddaughter a couple years ago, when against all odds Popplewood Farm came back into the family.

It so happens that this young granddaughter, like her mother before her, loves nothing better than a nice blank notebook. Dressing up as Harriet, she skipped across the road with me on an errand for the newest owner of Popplewood. That day I decided we would be on the lookout for anything and everything familiar.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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