Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A CHRISTMAS GIFT


As usual, I received a “gracious plenty” of gifts this Christmas. My favorites were two treasures popular with me during my childhood – a facsimile of the original Raggedy Ann doll and an edition of Raggedy Ann and Andy stories given to me by my youngest daughter, Elizabeth.

Approximately 15 years ago, the series of Raggedy and Raggedy Andy books from my childhood was complete when I transported a boxful across country headed for California and the home of my grandchildren, only to have them stolen out of a locked van in Albuquerque, NM. I’ve avoided that city ever since, and the loss of those treasures remains an unpleasant memory. To assuage the memory of that loss, Elizabeth, the purported recipient of the books, gave me the doll and book on Christmas Day.

These children’s books were read aloud by my mother for years, beginning when I was three years old. Each Christmas I would receive a new adventure of the rag dolls from my aunts, or my grandmother, or my mother. Johnny Gruelle, the creator of Raggedy Ann, birthed the doll when he retrieved an old rag doll from his attic in 1915 and painted a face on it for his daughter Marcella. He then sent a hand-drawn illustration of the doll to the U.S. Patent office and three years later, P. F. Volland Company, published Raggedy Ann stories, a series about this doll (and, later, her counterpart, Raggedy Andy) who came to life in the nursery after Marcella went to bed each night. The stories were fanciful and featured a doll imbued with qualities of kindness, generosity, friendship, and love. Raggedy Ann bore the legend “I love you” painted on her chest, but the original doll contained a heart made of candy.

Raggedy Andy, on the other hand, was mischievous and adventuresome, downright impish at times, and I have to say, a bit more entertaining than his sister. The adventure stories of these two dolls are peopled with a Camel with Wrinkled Knees, Hookie the Goblin, Uncle Clem, The Snitzdoodle, Snoopwiggy, and other colorful characters who made our bedtime reading a time of fun and fantasy. My mother was probably more enchanted with the stories than any of us – as I wrote about her in “Their Adventurous Will: Profiles of Memorable Louisiana Women,” she flew in the heavens long before Mary Poppins opened her magical umbrella and levitated!

Johnny Gruelle also worked as a journalist and cartoonist, and his illustrations appeared in “McCall’s,” “The Ladies World,” and other notable publications, bringing him fame throughout the world. I’m among those whose childhood was graced by the rag doll stories during a time when we were easily enchanted by a doll with cheerful mien and a disposition toward kindness and love.

Here’s a poem I wrote about the enchanting dolls in “Grandma’s Good War,” published this year by Border Press:

RAG DOLL MORALS

On winter evenings when we came indoors
from playing games of “Tin Can” and rubber gun wars,
my mother would tell us to bathe and dress
in flannel pajamas for her nightly address,
the “read aloud” hour with Johnny Gruelle’s latest book,
a wartime luxury brought home from Claitor’s nook,
the adventures of two rag dolls, Raggedy Ann and Andy,
whose hearts were made of delicious red candy
with “I love you” inscribed upon them
and who spent each night creating nursery mayhem
when Marcella, their owner, settled them for the night,
and upon her departure would stand upright,
raid the pantry, smearing jam across their faces,
forgetting to wipe their mouths of all traces
and hearing Marcella approach, would scramble away,
leaving crumbs, spilled cream, and jam along the way.
Marcella would soap the dolls down until smiles became dim,
hang them out on a clothesline where they became grim
listening to her advice: “Never take anything without asking
what you can always have just for the asking.”
She’d set her own tea table with sugar cookies and lemonade,
take down the dolls and feed them, undismayed;
Always the morals with their deep impressions,
my mother reading stories as if they were lessons,\
platitudes for us to follow toward goals easily reached,
modeled by rag dolls practicing what Marcella preached.
The strongest lesson the cotton-headed dolls did impart:
“be unselfish, reflect sunny music in your heart,”
my mother’s voice resonating with a final chime:
“The heart’s music will make your lives sublime.”
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