The Real Miss Rumphius

An old woman ambled down a dirt road from her cottage on Christmas Cove along the coast of Maine. Hilda Hamlin was her name and she had a secret. It was a secret kept in her pocket. Now on her way back from the post office, she fumbled in her pocket for little treasures brought back from her native England. In one sweep of her hand, she cast lupine seeds to her left then to her right. A quiver of homesickness stirred inside her as she thought of Bristol, England and the life she left behind at age fifteen. Somehow the lupine made her feel at home in this land across the sea. No one had to know about this little hobby.

In early summer, lupine sprouted in her backyard and along roadsides, tall plants with blue, purple, rose and white flowers. Neighbors noticed and scooped up seeds from Lupine stalks to plant in their yards. Soon, Lupine covered the fields in this tranquil village. Hilda became known as the Lupine lady. Years later, Hilda’s story came to the attention of woman who also lived on the Maine coast.

Twenty miles down the road in Damariscotta, Barbara Cooney heard the story of Hilda Hamlin. Seeds of a story grew. Cooney, a renowned writer and illustrator, retreated to her study and began to write. A character formed in her mind. Cooney named her Miss Rumphius, an old woman who traveled the world and settled in a cottage by the sea. Miss Rumphius looked out about the sparkling waters and remembered words told to her as a child. 

“You must do something to make the world more beautiful,” said her uncle.

Miss Rumphius procured lupine seeds and trod the meadows and roadsides planting seeds. Children gathered at her feet and listened to the old woman tell of her long life and her many adventures. They left with lupine seeds in their pockets.

Barbara Cooney’s book, Miss Rumphius became a classic in children’s literature, awarded the prestigious National book award in 1983.

 Hilda Hamlin died before the publication of Miss Rumphius. I think that she would have been surprised that her little secret became known to thousands of young readers around the world, inspiring them to make the world more beautiful.

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