Monthly Archives: November 2013

Path to Gratitude

On Monday I posted about  the book that most influenced me for the lesson it taught about optimism: Pollyanna, written by Eleanor H. PorterYou can find that post here.

Did you see this coming? Today is Thanksgiving, a day to give thanks and show gratitude.

Even more than optimism, Pollyanna (the character, the book, and the movie) teaches a path to gratitude.  The focus on finding something to be glad about makes us find something to be grateful for:

Miss Polly actually stamped her foot in irritation. “There you go like the rest,” she shouted. “What game?”
At last Nancy told her all about the story of how the crutches arrived instead of a doll, and how Pollyanna’s father had taught her that there was always something to be glad about.
Miss Polly couldn’t believe it. “how can someone ever be glad of crutches?” she demanded to know.
“Simple” said Nancy. “In Pollyanna’s case, she could be glad she didn’t need them!”

Pollyanna’s father taught her to be grateful that she was healthy and had full use of her limbs. After all, that’s more valuable than any doll. Later, when Pollyanna learns that she can’t walk, we are reminded of this earlier lesson as Pollyanna has to learn to use her powerful positive attitude in the face of worse odds than she ever had faced before.

While the book has a Christian context, I think it’s valuable for all people. What is the point of being unhappy or, as Pollyanna points out in the story, merely breathing? Living in the fullest sense is so much more important than just existing–and to do that we have to find reasons to be grateful. The path to gratitude is built of many steps, and each step is a point at which the traveler chooses to be grateful for a trouble.

PollyannaAs I sarcastically mentioned in my last post, that’s the problem with The Glad Game  or The Path to Gratitude: it’s a never-ending path. You have to stay the course your whole life. It’s like any exercise, though, do it often enough and you get better and better at it ;)!

Happy Thanksgiving!! I hope you find much to be grateful for today!


Filed under Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing

The Glad Game, or Happy Birthday, Pollyanna

The best contemporary children’s literature is usually not preachy. If there are good lessons in the book, they are natural byproducts of a good story. That’s how we best absorb what they have to teach us.

A book that most influenced me for the lesson it taught about optimism was Pollyanna, written by Eleanor H. Porter. Published in 1913, the book is 100 years old this year. Happy Birthday, Pollyanna!

Pollyanna didn’t teach through preachiness, although there is a preacher in the book. While it is sentimental, the characters, especially Pollyanna herself, are vital and memorable. I also fell in love with the beautiful dresses Aunt Polly bought for her niece, with the crystal prisms at Mr. Pendergast’s mansion, and with my identification with Pollyanna herself.

My first introduction to the story was the Disney movie starring Hayley Mills, which I saw the summer before I started school. I read the book a couple of years later when I found my mother’s old copy at my grandparents’ house. There are many sequels to the book, written by various writers. I read my mother’s copy of Pollyanna’s Jewels, by Harriet Lummis Smith, which is about Pollyanna’s children. This was eye-opening to me that a happy, independent girl like Pollyanna could turn into somebody’s mother. But I digress . . . .

1943 edition of 1913 book

1943 edition of 1913 book

A few weeks after I saw the movie and near the end of the summer, my mother was working in the kitchen, while I sat at the table, finishing my lunch.  Mom handed me some Ovaltine in a coffee cup and said, “I have exciting news.”

“Is it about school?” I said, staring down at the murky liquid.

“No, but it is exciting that you are going to start kindergarten, isn’t it?”

Winter resistance? That sounds scary!

“Ye-es.”  The idea of starting school thrilled and terrified me at the same time.  My hands got gooey just imagining the experience.  Mom had raised my suspicions by serving me Ovaltine right at this moment.  It was supposed to be a chocolaty treat, but in truth, it tasted like molasses and made me gag.  Mom always said I had to swallow it down because it was good for me.  What if school turned out to be like that?

“You’re going to love school, LuluBelle.”  Mom nodded at me.

I raised my shoulders and brought them down heavily, sighing just loud enough so that I wouldn’t sound too dramatic.

I thought of Pollyanna.  What would she think about school? Whenever something bad happened, Pollyanna played The Glad Game to make herself and other people feel better. This game is merely a positive attitude and a determination to find something good in the midst of something bad. A silver lining, so to speak. Pollyanna’s deceased father taught her the game and she eventually teaches it to the citizens of her new town.

I struggled to come up with the reason to be glad about starting school when the idea made me anxious. “Ooh!” I said, as a happy idea came into focus.  “I’m glad I’m starting school because I’ll get to take the school bus with all my friends.”

Mom changed the subject.  “My news is that I got a job!  I’m going to be the personal secretary to an important man at The Upjohn Company.”

“That’s good.  Right?”

“Yes, it’s very good.  Kindergarten is half day, so you will be staying with Grandma before and after school.”

“I love them!”  Even as I said that, anxiety flickered at my hands and feet, fluttered across my stomach.  I loved Grandma and Grandpa Zuidweg and Aunt Alice and their house, but especially Grandma.  What I didn’t love was Aunt Alice’s English Springer Spaniel Sandy.  Not that he and I had had any run-ins to my memory, but when he was near me, people rustled me away from him, with panicked admonitions of “Don’t go near the dog,” and a whispered story about a jealous Sandy biting off my eyelid when I was a baby.

“Yes.  It also means you’re going to go to kindergarten at McKinley school because it’s across the street from Grandma’s house,” she explained.

“Is that where Debbie and Judy and the rest of them go to school?”  I listed the neighbor kids in my mind.

“No, they go to Gull Road School.”

There went the buoyancy of the latest gladness I’d invented, popped like a birthday balloon by a pin.  Now I had to find a reason to be glad to go to some school where I didn’t know anybody.

That’s the problem with The Glad Game. You have to keep playing it–over and over and over again.

Just my little dose of sarcasm for the day!


My good friend and foe Wikipedia lists some interesting facts about the influence of this story on popular culture:

“When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will find it.”

Although a quote similar to this was attributed to Abraham Lincoln and inserted by the director into the 1960 Disney movie version of the story, it is actually, as written here, from the original book and not attributed.

The novel’s success brought the “Pollyanna principle” (along with the adjective “Pollyannaish” and the noun “Pollyannaism”) into the language to describe someone who seems always to be able to find something to be “glad” about no matter what circumstances arise. It is sometimes used pejoratively, referring to someone whose optimism is excessive to the point of naïveté or refusing to accept the facts of an unfortunate situation. This pejorative use can be heard in the introduction of the 1930 George and Ira Gershwin song But Not For Me: “I never want to hear from any cheerful pollyannas/who tell me fate supplies a mate/that’s all bananas.”

The word “pollyanna” may also denote a holiday gift exchange more typically known as Secret Santa. This term is used in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas of Pennsylvania. It can instead mean a gift exchange rotation in which several families each give gifts to one other family in the “pollyanna” each year. This is often done when siblings in a large family begin to have children of their own.[2]

Pollyanna is still available in reprint editions. At the height of her popularity, Pollyanna was known as “The Glad Girl”, and Parker Brothers even created The Glad Game, a board game. The Glad Game, a type of Parcheesi, was made and sold from 1915 to 1967 in various versions, including: “Pollyanna – The Glad Game”; “Pollyanna – The Great Home Game”; “Pollyanna – Dixie”; and “Pollyanna”. The board game was later licensed by Milton Bradley but has been discontinued for many years.

“Glad Clubs” appear to have been popular for a while; however, it is questionable if they were ever more than a publicity gimmick. Glad Clubs may have been simply a means to popularize The Glad Game as a method for coping with the vicissitudes of life such as loss, disappointment, and distress.[citation needed] Nevertheless, at least one “glad club” exists today, in Denver, Colorado.[3]

In 2002 the citizens of Littleton, New Hampshire unveiled a bronze statue in honour of Eleanor H. Porter, creator of the Pollyanna books and one of the town’s most famous residents. The statue depicts a smiling Pollyanna, arms flung wide in greeting. Littleton also hosts a festival known as “The Official Pollyanna Glad Day” every summer.[4]

The vocalized version of the song “Pollyanna” for the video game Mother characterizes a cheerful girl that believes in fairy tales and optimism, but disregards any comments towards her sanity. The girl rejects the negative opposition against her and the mockery that comes with it, saying “You can call me ‘Pollyanna’/Say I’m crazy as a loon”. The name of the song, and that of the girl in the song, is most likely a direct characterization of Porter’s character. Another theory is that the name is based on Ana, a character in the game.

The celebrated American science fiction writer Ray Bradbury described himself as “Janus, the two-faced god who is half Pollyanna and half Cassandra, warning of the future and perhaps living too much in the past—a combination of both”.[5]


Filed under Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing

Mom and Kennedy, Part II

(Part I is here)

Dad went to work the morning of the funeral. I could have bet he was at his hangout, the donut shop, watching the news on the old TV in the corner. He would sit at the counter, with his coffee, his glazed donut, and his Marlboros. Dad and the owner talked politics all the time, mostly complaining about Kennedy. On this day I imagined that they were commentating on the funeral.

It was a Monday, but school was cancelled. I was watching TV when Mom said, “The President’s funeral is going to be on, so you need to go play outside now.”

“I want to watch it, too.”

“You’re too young for funerals. Go on out.”

“What about Teddy?”

“He’s a baby. Go. NOW!”

I threw myself on the couch and kicked the cushion with my feet, but Mom hauled me up and rushed me out the door. As I slowly stepped down the front steps, I heard the living room drapes slap shut behind me.

For a while I stood in the front yard and stared at the front door. I looked down the street, to the older houses down at the end. I looked up the street, past my friends’ houses, and on up past the haunted house toward Gull Road. The neighborhood was totally empty of people. The gray sky helmeted me in gloom.

Around the back of the house, I noticed the basement window covered up for the bomb shelter, then peered into the one over the laundry room. All I saw was dark.

Out front, I kicked a stone across the street and then back again. Even the neighbor’s chow was not outside today. I wondered if it might rain. If it did, would Mom let me back inside? I prayed for rain.

It must have been hours that I crouched on the curb, waiting. The rest of the planet was inside, watching the Leader of the Free World being buried on TV, but I sat outside on my driveway, throwing pebbles at the hopscotch pattern Dad had painted on our driveway.

The design of my hopscotch court

The design of my hopscotch court

I got thirsty and knocked on the door, but Mom wouldn’t let me in. The temperature dipped, and I shivered inside my thin jacket. “Not yet,” she said. Her face was wet and messy and she dabbed a Kleenex at her nose. She wouldn’t let me in until the show was over and dusk had settled around me.

The day had felt like loneliness given substance. My mother’s sense of menace manifested itself in her over-protection. She was terrified of a world where our president could be killed and didn’t realize how much I needed to understand the world around me.

I finally saw the caisson on the evening news after Dad got home: Wikipedia image

I finally saw the caisson on the evening news: Wikipedia image


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing

Mom and Kennedy, Part I

Part I

Fifty years ago, I was in third grade. I had no idea that I would remember that one day so well all these decades later.  The following story, which I’ve broken into two parts so that it’s not too long, is about the Kennedy assassination from my 8-year-old self’s viewpoint without much adult reflection.


The weather was warm for November in Michigan, maybe sixty degrees. The end of the day bell rang early. That was unusual, but we were used to doing what the teachers told us to do. Valerie* and I walked to the bus loading area in front of the school with our jackets over our arms.

Her brother rushed over to us with a transistor radio pressed to his ear. His excitement radiated from his body like heat waves. “Wait til you hear what happened!”

Valerie looked at her brother sideways, as if she didn’t trust him. “What?”

He seemed about to burst open with the words. “The president’s been shot!”

Valerie and I looked at each other. “Nuh uh,” she said. “Bob, you’re such a fibber.” I was speechless at his whopper.

Bob insisted, “No, really, I heard it on my radio. President Kennedy’s been shot.” Bob climbed on the bus, telling one kid after another that the president had been shot.

Valerie and I rode home at the back of the bus, while Bob spread the lie through the front. “Why doesn’t he shut up?” Valerie frowned at the back of his head.

“I don’t know. He’s your brother. “

“Yeah. I’m lucky,” Valerie said, but she didn’t mean lucky.

“If I lied like that, I’d get my mouth washed out with soap,” I said.


As I walked into the house, I heard a weird noise as if the tiny people called The Borrowers were having a party in the wall. Eyeing the coat closet door, I took a deep breath and pulled it open.

Mom stood inside the closet, with my knit hat crooked on her head. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and she was sniffling and rubbing at her eyes with mittens on her hands. I’m sure my eyes were goggling out of my head like Daffy Duck at finding a crying mother in the coat closet.

Pulling off the mittens, Mom stepped outside the closet. She didn’t say how she ended up wearing the stuff she was sorting, and I didn’t ask her.

“Something very important happened today. I want to talk to you.”

I dropped my belongings down on the armchair, then followed her as she walked into the kitchen. “I was cleaning the closet out and listening to music on the radio. They interrupted the song and the announcer said that three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade.” It was typical of my mother to tell me a story in her own sweet time. I didn’t explain that I had already heard about President Kennedy. My knees started to wobble.

We sat at the kitchen table listening to the radio. The man’s voice said Mrs. Kennedy’s pink suit was blood-soaked with the president’s own blood. He said a bullet had entered the president’s head. It sounded like in The Manchurian Candidate, the movie I was supposed to sleep through at the drive-in. I hadn’t slept. Now I remembered the big hole in the middle of the man’s forehead.

Mom said, “We could be watching the television,” and she walked into the living room and turned on our set. She adjusted the rabbit ears when she saw Walter Cronkite’s face zigzagging. “The President is dead.” The President is dead, I thought.

The President was dead.

Mom answered the phone on the kitchen wall. “Jean, yes, I’m watching television. Did you see her? . . . So elegant. . . . All that blood and confusion. . . . She has a lot of class. And those poor little children.” Mom talked and cried and emitted little giggles every so often. She pulled on the phone cord and wrapped it around her hand. She didn’t sit down, but sort of paced, tied to the phone by its leash.

By the time the Kalamazoo Gazette was thrown onto our front porch, Dad had come home from work. Both my parents acted bewildered, as if they were robots from a science fiction movie. Mom made pancakes for dinner.

*The names Valerie and Bob have been changed.


The Kennedys arrive at Dallas: note the pink suit

The Kennedys arrive at Dallas: note the pink suit


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing

What Do Your Memories Look Like?

Maybe they look like scraps.  Mine do.

Have you found Anneli’s Place yet on WordPress? She showcases the work of writers on this site. She was so kind to showcase a little piece which introduces Scrap, the memoir I’m working on.  Please check out “Memory Patchwork” for an image of what structures my book.

And then drop over and read Anneli’s other blog, too: Words from Anneli.


Filed under Blogging, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Photographs, Vintage American culture, Writing

The Rice Exercise

I plunge my left hand into the bucket of short-grain rice.  It’s not an actual pail, but a lidded Tupperware container I once stored Lay’s potato chips in, and the rice feels dusty, malleable, offering some pressure, as if my hand bathes in a giant stress ball.  I breathe in the starchy scent, envision bread dough. 

After I saw the rheumatologist three years ago, I bought several bags of rice at Albertsons and poured the contents into the Tupperware.  When the grains first sifted and slid onto themselves they were alabaster white, but after three years, exposure to air and my body oils have withered and darkened some of them.

As I begin to move my fingers through the rice, I wonder if the new bone Dr. E, my orthopedic oncologist, created eight years ago in my right foot has aged like the rice (story is here).  Since the tumor—a Giant Cell Reparative Granuloma—had eaten away the meat of the central bone of my foot, as well as one end piece, he had had to build a navicular bone from scratch, using bone harvested from my hipbone.  I’ve seen pictures of Dr. E’s creation at each visit to him.  X-ray and CT films clearly show me the bone.  At first, it looked fresh as a new bag of rice.  By the last visit, the bone had been fired in the kiln of time.  It no longer changes.  It’s as good as it is going to get.

Not long after I had mostly recovered from the surgery, I noticed my hands.  It’s not often that I take the time to notice anything about myself.  I certainly don’t shave my legs until the hairs on both calves war with each when I put my legs together.  But I caught sight of my hands when I was washing dishes, and that glimpse gave me pause.  They were starting to look like my mother’s.  I could see the beginnings of the gnarled and knobby persimmon tree look of my mother’s arthritic fingers.

Dr. H, the rheumatologist, recommended that I fill a bucket with rice and perform hand exercises twice a day, using the rice.  And so every day I do what I am now doing.

I grasp a small imaginary ball in my left palm–clenching and unclenching ten times.  Then I pinch the ball between my fingers and my thumb another ten times.  The third part is waving the hand upside down in the rice ten times.  I switch hands and repeat.  Then I perform the whole series one more time.

I tried to teach my mother to use the rice to exercise her hands, but her crooked hands are too weak and rigid.  She can’t push the weight of the rice with her fingers.  When I pull my right hand out of the bucket at the end, both hands tingle with energy.  They buzz with joy at their own movement. If I keep working the rice every day, I hope to keep them just this way, as if I can ward off the aging of my fingers indefinitely.

I wiggle my fingers to feel their increased flexibility, a looseness I used to feel in every joint after jazz dance class.  In that freedom, the endorphins used to diffuse throughout my body like shooting stars saturating a movie screen.  This experience is only left as a memory because Dr. E says I can no longer dance or exercise on my feet because the re-created bone is fragile, formed by accident with bumps and crevices, even gaps.  I imagine that it has aged like the dry rice hulls in my bucket.  But I can’t see it hidden inside the bent and stiff foot.  This foot can no longer arch in a soft leather dance shoe, but rests inside its magic shoe, the New Balance W992.  This shoe and the orthotics the elves at Swiss Balance build keep the foot moving throughout the day.  Inside, Dr. E’s creation holds the other foot bones in place as the spine does the limbs of the human body.

My left hand is the opposite extremity from this healed foot.  The fingers connect to the palm, and framing the palm, the pads are firm and even.  I’m not sure, but think that the fingers seem straighter than they did three years ago.  I snap the lid on the rice bucket and shove it back into the cupboard.  Then I walk to the computer and open up a blank page on Word.  My fingers begin to move along the keyboard, marking the choreography I create for them.


Writing prompt: describe a daily ritual you perform.


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

The Love Factor of Dolls

(Cross-posting this on The Family Kalamazoo under a different title)

Thanks to a comment by Robin (be sure to check out the stories on her blog), I was reminded how handmade doll clothing can be more meaningful than the dolls themselves. Sewing doll clothing for me is how my grandmother Marie stirred my love of dolls. Grandma was the Head Fitter of the 28 Shop at Marshall Field’s flagship store in Chicago for years and an artist with a needle.

From the time I was born, Grandma sewed me beautiful dresses. But I first paid attention to her sewing on Christmas the year I was four. As we opened gifts, Grandma leaned down toward me, with her pearls swinging, and handed me a huge box.  The blue eyes of a doll my size stared back at me when I pulled up the lid.  I named her Bonnie, after one of my favorite records, “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.”

Grandma handed me another large, but more beautifully wrapped, box.  I untied the grosgrain ribbon and discovered she had sewn an array of beautiful dresses trimmed in selfsame bows and flowered beads.  The beret Grandma created for Bonnie matched the pink satin-lined pale blue velvet coat.

Bow on back of Bonnie's velvet coat

Bow on back of Bonnie’s velvet coat

Pearl button closures on Bonnie's velvet coat

Pearl button closures on Bonnie’s velvet coat

When I was eight, Grandma sewed me a glorious trousseau of clothes for the imitation Barbie (Miss Suzette) my parents had given me.  My doll didn’t have the requisite zebra-striped swimsuit or the Enchanted Evening gown and fur stole, but she had a copper satin cocktail sheath covered with a copper rose point lace outer skirt.  Both were trimmed in copper seed beads.  The wedding dress of white satin was heavily beaded with real seed pearls. A lace trimmed slip fit underneath and the veil was matching lace and beaded with the pearls.  I looked for stitches to see Grandma’s tricks, but they were invisible as all good magic.

When I was away at college, my mother gave the Barbie clothes away. While Bonnie has always sat on a chair in my bedroom, for a long time I kept Bonnie’s clothes in a small suitcase in my closet, away from dust and sunlight, and reveled in the knowledge that I had preserved these treasures.  After moving to my last house, I decided to put them away more securely.

Then I forgot where I put them! For years I thought they were lost. Finally, last year, I found the clothing. The only piece missing is the velvet beret.  All I have left of the Barbie clothes are the memories as I don’t have a photo of them.

All these years later, my parents have given me my grandmother’s German porcelain doll and the clothing she made for her.

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These doll clothes represent all the beautiful clothing my grandmother designed and sewed over the years. Clothing, Art really, which is long gone.


My recent doll posts:

The Creep Factor of Dolls

The Historical Factor of Dolls


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Dolls, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Photographs, Vintage American culture, Writing