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Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Poem for Christmas 1938: Joan as the Virgin Mary in the Christmas Pageant

Joan was delighted to portray the Virgin Mary in the church pageant in 1938.

December 17, 1938.  Joan doodled different views of her in her costume.

December 17, 1938. Joan doodled different views of her in her costume.

She also drew herself on the day of the pageant, Dec. 18, 1938, by the manger.

By the manger as Mary (December 18, 1938).

By the manger as Mary (December 18, 1938). Note the ink blot.

Joan was very moved by Mary’s story and wrote several poems, imagining Mary’s thoughts.  Here is one of them she wrote the night after the pageant.

December 18, 1938                                                                                     


I do not understand

Why are they bringing gifts to my boy,

New-born.  Why in this quiet city

Should three kings lay gifts and leave?

What brought the light-faced shepherd here?

I do not understand.

Whom am I the mother of

That they should honor so?

I am only a humble maiden

Who brought forth a child in a barn.

I do not understand

The babe does not cry,

But lies in the hay, asleep.

What do they mean when they say

That he shall suffer and lie in a cold tomb?

Why are the shepherds’ sticks crossed?

I do not understand

That a babe should prosper and grow tall

And laugh, and be a man, suffer and die.

Is not this the greatest wonder of them all?

That one should grow and cells miraculously divide

And that the cells which thirty years had made

Should rest and in the cool Earth lie.

Here is the photo taken of Joan and the other young actors that winter.

Joan in the center as the Virgin Mary, December 18, 1938.

Joan in the center as the Virgin Mary, December 18, 1938.

Best wishes for a happy Christmas and a joyful holiday season to all!

Dolls and Girls in this Holiday Season: In the 1930s and 40s and Today

My daughter, Sarah, is 17, but we still receive the American Girl doll catalogue.  Imagine my shock when I saw that Molly McIntire and her English friend, Emily Bennett, were to be “archived.”  I guess that means they’ll be shelved for now.  I’ve always had a fondness for Molly since her story is set in 1944 and her home front hi-jinks appealed to me.  Yes, yes, I know how commercial it all is, but there’s a part of me that is glad girls associate historical fictional girls from the past with narrative.

Molly McIntire and Emily Bennett, her English friend escaping the London Blitz.

Molly McIntire and Emily Bennett, her English friend escaping the London Blitz.

I first encountered the American Girl doll phenomenon through two girls we knew when Sarah was very little, Jenny and Molly Odintz.  I think they had a doll or two, though they giggled over the unlikely ability of Addy, the  escaped slave, to own $30 accessories!  And they dearly wanted a Jewish doll which American Girl finally provided.

Sarah got some American Girl dolls from Joan, her grandma–Kit Kittredge, the 1930s doll, and Samantha, a girl from a “bright Victorian beauty.”  Sarah was never that much into them, but they still sit atop her bookcase.  She even has that English girl who has fled the Blitz, Emily Bennett!

The Four Fates: Emily, Kit, a doll from Poland, and Samantha.  A little stuffed bug (representing the disease 'mono') sits in front.

The Four Fates, as my husband, Jim, likes to call them: Emily, Kit, a doll from Poland, and Samantha. A little stuffed bug (representing the disease ‘mono’) sits in front.

Dolls are wonderful beings, though I think Sarah’s and my interest in American Girl dolls dissipated when we visited the actual American Girl doll store in New York City a number of years ago.  The scary intensity of the buyers with their brutal focus on consumption turned us off, though we had many a giggle over it!

Dolls are important for girls to learn to express themselves.  I often acted out stories with my dolls and stuffed animals.  In 3rd grade, my teacher let me perform little plays for my classmates using my stuffed animals and troll dolls.  I also had Barbies, though Barbies were for older girls in those days, while little girls receive the physically impossible plastic siren today.

Joan writes about wanting a doll when she is almost fifteen.

Dy-Dee Doll advertisement.

Dy-Dee Doll advertisement.

Wednesday, December 8, 1937

. . . Last week Mrs. Topping read my “Lonesome Pine” composition to the class and said it was writing at its best. Ah! Then she asked the class if they didn’t feel something good in it—so they said “no,” but Mrs. T. appreciates me—I hope. . . .

Last Saturday I went downtown and saw Santa Claus, etc. They’ve got the cutest dolls there—I want one for Xmas even if I am almost fifteen—but I want a set of O. Henry,[1] too—even more. Honestly, I’m practically a little girl when it comes to Xmas displays. I’ll stand for an hour and watch someone demonstrate “DyDee” dolls or something.

[1] An American short story writer. His most famous story is “The Gift of the Magi.”

Dy-Dee Doll c. 1934.

Dy-Dee Doll c. 1934.

A few months later, a wonderful gift arrives for her.

Age 15, Thursday, April 21, 1938

. . . Last week Vera and I went to Mary’s house and I fell in love with her ragdoll, and when the club met there Friday, I found a doll there with a card saying “To Joan Whalen [sic]—my name is Penelope and I am a platinum blonde” and Mary really had made one for me—I think that was nice of her.

Then a couple of months later…

Wednesday, June 15, 1938

. . . One girl had a Dionne quintuplet[1] doll in art and I had the best time playing with it. Everyone was teasing me about second childhood. Have I passed yet from my first? . .

[1] Canadian quintuplets born in 1934.

Dionne Quintuplet Dolls

Dionne Quintuplet Dolls

Later on that year, Joan expresses something I think all girls with dolls can empathize with.

Sunday, October 30, 1938

I wish someone wanted me. Penelope [my doll] loves me and Tristan [my plant]. Good night.

Joan even writes a poem to her doll when she is 15.

June 26, 1938                                                                                                

                                    To Penelope

                I have slept many times with you

               — How many times I have slept with you —

               Cheek to cheek and heart to heart

               My arm flung about you, rejoicing and proud

               In my possession of you.

               I have awakened at night with a great horror

               And, seeing your ever-open eye, have lain down

               Comforted in your nearness.

               But now I have grown up.  I am too old, they say

               For pleasures with you,

               My little rag doll.

I hope each girl in the world may have or receive a doll–her dearest friend.

December 7, 1941

Joan, age 18, Sunday December 7, 1941

Well, Baby, it’s come, what we always knew would come, what we never quite believed in. And deathly calm all about it. No people in noisy excited little clusters on the streets. Only silent faces on the streetcars and laughing ones in windows….Today Japan declared war on the United States….

She bombed Pearl Harbor and the Philippines while her diplomats were talking peace to Roosevelt. This afternoon at 2:30. My God, we never knew! Ruth and I went to the country.  I churned butter and went for the well water with Ruth like Jack and Jill. As I churned, I could see my image—in my red jerkin and light sweater and pearls in the mirrored curved face of the pots, in the kerosene lamp. Three images, all churning and I looked out at the peaceful frosted autumn hillside… And the earth was turning and it had happened…The cheery rattle of the dishes and our laughter and the crackle of the fire…. We went out to the pasture and brought back the horses and saddled one and rode him in turns…till we froze and came in.

            Right then most people knew. Not we. One of the fellows drove us into the city and then Ruthie and I took the streetcar and saw a bright headline. U.S. and Japan near war. And waited in a quiet tavern for another streetcar and got on and gasped to see in black placid letters as though it had been said before: “Japan Attacks U.S. We are at War….” And [we] saw two Japanese on the streetcar, gravely watching us….

United States National Archives

United States National Archives

‘Germans bombed Royces’: history, stories and the senses

Joan’s English diary “twin” comments on the bombing of the Rolls Royce plant.

Socks for the Boys!

Perhaps my biggest regret about the missing 1940 diary is the absence of Norah’s report on the string of bombs that dropped on her home village of Castle Donington in August of that year: the small explosion in the vicarage paddock, the full incendiary ‘bread basket’ on the playing fields on Station Road and a blast on Bond Gate,  the impact of which, local resident Margaret Lindner recalled, felt as if ‘our house had been lifted up and plonked back down again.'(1) In terms of physical proximity, this was the closest the war came to Norah, although as we’ll soon see, its emotional impact is another story.

In their attacks on the English East Midlands, the Germans could have been looking for any number of industrial and transportation sites: Stanton Iron Works, Crossley Premier Gas Engines, Chilwell Depot and its subsidiary at Donington Park, and Toton railway sidings, the largest in England.

But it…

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