Over There

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 13) Last year was the centennial of Raggedy Ann Stories, by Johnny Gruelle (1880-1938). At the author’s death it had sold three million copies. He wrote and illustrated two dozen books about her, another two dozen illustrated by others.

Raggedy Ann was placed in the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2002; Raggedy Andy in 2005. They’re rag dolls. The Non-Breakable Toy Company made and sold lots of them; there were half a dozen McCall’s patterns for making them at home, there’s a Simplicity pattern now.

I bought an Ann and an Andy doll as Christmas presents for two women housemates (i.e. of each other, not me); not given yet, for various reasons, so I can’t say if these commercial versions include, as they should, on the breast inside all the doll clothes, a heart with “I love you”.

The Raggedy Ann and Andy stories are fantasy. The dolls talk and walk – when none of us are around. It would never do to let us know that dolls were really alive.

Gruelle patented the Raggedy Ann doll in 1915. His preface to Raggedy Ann Stories says she is the same Raggedy Ann his mother had played with when she was a child. His patent (No. D47789) says

I … have invented a new, original, and ornamental Design for a Doll…. Figures 1 and 2 are front and side elevations … showing my new design. I claim: The ornamental design for a doll, as shown.

Perhaps the story in the preface is true with another kind of truth.

I’m becoming a man of maxims. My grandfather was; for example, If it weren’t my fool I’d laugh. I can feel it coming over me. I’ve said The greater the reality, the better the fantasy. So, I respectfully suggest, works our field. It can be mistaken, of course; that is, mis-taken. Our Gracious Host entitled an essay “Strangers Just Like Me”. I don’t say The meaner the reality, the better the fantasy.

The stories in this first book are of 1918. In one of them,

Marcella [the dolls’ Mistress] ran out of the nursery and gave Raggedy Ann a toss…. Raggedy lit in the clothes hamper…. Dinah [a housemaid] came through the hall with an armful of clothes and piled them in…. carried the hamper out in back of the house where she did the washing…. dumped all the clothes into the boiler and poured water on them…. using an old broom handle, stirred … until all were thoroughly boiled… did not know but that Marcella had placed Raggedy in the clothes hamper to be washed … soaped Raggedy well and scrubbed her up and down over the rough wash-board…. hard work getting Raggedy through the wringer, but Dinah was very strong…. Raggedy Ann came through as flat as a pancake…. pinned to the clothes-line, out in the bright sunshine…. Every once in a while Dinah went out and rolled and patted Raggedy Ann until her cotton stuffing was soft and dry and fluffy and her head and arms and legs were nice and round again.

The fantasy had to be anchored in things the audience knew. Those are – shall we say of course? – just the kind of things which may well be unfamiliar to an audience of another time, another place. Their very inclusion, and treatment, as easy acquaintances, could irritate those of us to whom they are not.

Simon & Schuster in 2015 published a 100th Anniversary edition of Raggedy Ann Stories. In a 1993 afterword, Johnny’s grandson Kim says Johnny

not only created new, whimsical tales for children, but also created many of the still-prevailing tales about his own life. He also initiated many legends about the genesis of Raggedy Ann and Andy, weaving fanciful details into factual accounts.

He begins by observing “His books contained nothing to cause fright, glorify mischief, excuse malice, or condone cruelty.”

You could make a rag doll yourself, out of rags. Some do. You could buy a doll commercially produced to look as if it might have been made of rags.

You could buy a book of someone else’s letters. I have Tolkien’s and indeed Muriel St. Clare Byrne’s 1983 one-volume selection of Viscount Lisle’s (1480-1542; someday, I hope, her 1981 full 6-vol. ed’n; his sometimes writing his name Lyssley tells us it didn’t rhyme with isle). You could write letters yourself.

Where does craft go when met with technology? What is supersession, and for that matter revival? We fanziners write for the love of it – at least we say so: we are amateurs.

Some of us are also professional writers, but that’s the neighboring plot of land; one can be both. Terry Carr was; the other day Joe Siclari said to me, speaking as we happened to be of Robert Silverberg, “He’s as much a fan as you or I.”

What do you for the love of it? cook? dance? photograph? sew?

On Sunday afternoon the first person I saw at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox church, not counting the folks at the admissions table, or Father Prevas who happened to be standing there, was Pat Karamanougian who publishes a church-festival calendar every March.

Late spring and summer are the Greek church festival season here; she lists twenty. “I’ve never seen such weather for the St. Nicholas festival,” she said. It was chilly, raining off and on. A good day for Greek coffee and karidopita (walnut cake).

Just as the question arose of moving the Orpheus dance-troupe performance indoors (Advanced Intermediates in the annual diocesan dance, song, costume competition just before Lent –16-year-olds), the rain let up.

The Thracian chestos, men in a curved line holding one another’s belts, complicated tapping steps, energetic 6/8 rhythm, is big these days starting around this age (chestos, ch like English choose, is ornamented or full of things; a soup with lots of barley and greens and maybe meat is chestos). I’d practiced the ston topo (in place) step waiting for a train in the New York subway. The Orpheans were jes’ fine. Afterward they pulled me into a group photograph.

Earlier, in the beer-wine-and-ouzo (distilled spirit, anise-flavored, like Pernod) bar while I told a story to some of the parents and mentioned Athan Karras (1927-2010) in whose folkdance coffee house “The Intersection” I’d taught dance, cooked in the kitchen, mopped the floor, one man and his wife cried “That was our dance teacher!” Of course he was.

Monday was Memorial Day in the United States, commemorating those who died serving in our Armed Forces. President Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address over soldiers’ graves. Various Union and Confederate Memorial Days and Decoration Days had begun by then.

Maybe you wore a poppy. John McCrae (1872-1918) wrote ”In Flanders Fields” (1915) commemorating the Second Battle of Ypres; Professor Moina Michael of Univ. Georgia, under his inspiration, handed out silk poppies at a 1918 conference and later started selling them to raise funds for disabled veterans, adopted by the American Legion Auxiliary and the Royal British Legion.

Under the National Moment of Remembrance Act of 2000, people are asked to stop and remember at 3:00 p.m. Lincoln in his second inaugural address said “Let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”

4 thoughts on “Over There

  1. ISTM that wearing a poppy on Memorial Day is less appropriate. Poppies’ prominence in the shell-torn earth of the Western Front made them a symbol of remembrance after World War I, but (AFAIK) Civil War battlegrounds, no matter how shell-torn, did not produce poppies; our Memorial Day predates that symbol by half a century. I’ve never seen a single symbol offered to sum up Memorial Day, and its first causes may be sufficiently bitter and complex that a single symbol is not enough.

  2. Chip, feel free to tell the American Legion that it’s inappropriate to use poppies on Memorial Day as that’s one of the things they to to honor fallen veterans. And you can tell our local veterans organisations to stop doing so as well. Are you really sure this is an argument that you want to be getting involved in?

    PS Yes I’ve had paper poppies handed to me on Memorial Day by Veterans Organizations. And I’ve proudly worn them.

  3. @Cat Eldridge: I have never seen poppies associated with Memorial Day in any way. I don’t intend to argue with veterans handing them out; I’ve found I clash with too many of the people who make a big thing about being veterans. (cf the local parade, which was finally gotten away from the bigots quite recently.)

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