After my reading of “An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving,” I decided to dig deeper into Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag and the stories my mother cherished as a young girl.
What I thought would be just light-hearted reading has become a poignant and very enjoyable journey into the past where I am coming to know my mother as a little girl.
The first story in the collection is “Jimmy’s Cruise in the Pinafore.” It’s the story of a poor boy in Boston who has only his mother and sister Kitty. Kitty has been ill and desperately needs to get to the country so she can recover, and the family cannot afford to take her. Their mother works night and day as a seamstress. Jimmy decides to run off to sea so that he can earn the money needed to send Kitty to the country. However, good fortune comes his way: his dear friend Willy (a girl) informs him that the local theater company is auditioning children for their latest production of “H. M. S. Pinafore” and that they would pay each child $10 per week to be in the production. Jimmy’s heart leaps for joy: $10 a week! He is a good singer, often singing to his sister to comfort her. He tries out and along with Willy, gets into the production. The children have the time of their lives and Kitty makes it to the country with Jimmy’s earnings and gets well again.
This is a very sweet story. Louisa has a way of writing that really tugs at the heart. She paints Jimmy’s despair over Kitty so poignantly and it warmed my heart to see a brother’s concern for his sister.
I loved thinking about the “H. M. S. Pinafore” production as I participated years ago in another famous Gilbert and Sullivan production, “The Pirates of Penzance” (I was in the chorus).
The second story is called “The Dolls’ Journey from Minnesota to Maine” and I knew right away this story would have especially appealed to my mother as she loved her dolls.
In this story, the children send their dolls to their aunt as an adventure for the dolls, with the idea that they (Dora and Flora) would return with many tales to tell. Here Louisa really taps into the imagination as the dolls tell of their long and winding road to Aunt Maria via a mailbag on the train, and many mishaps along the way. Louisa has the letters and parcels “talking” with the dolls and that thought just delighted me. Just imagine how much a letter or parcel would have to say could they talk!
In their journey, the dolls meet with many children, one in particular being Midge, a poor child who is dying in the hospital. Again, Louisa’s writing just shines describing this poor girl and I was in tears reading about Midge’s tender care for the dolls despite her illness.
I appreciate how Louisa doesn’t spare children from the harsh realities of life, yet all the while she feeds a child’s imagination.
I haven’t read anything like that since I was a child but I sure wish I had known about these stories when I was a child. My favorite friends were the ones with the wild imaginations (one of them grew up to be the mystery writer Kate Ross). Stories like “The Dolls’ Journey” opens your mind to that kind of flight.
Louisa shows a real understanding of what make children tick even though she hadn’t received Lulu yet when she wrote these stories in 1871. I am constantly impressed and amazed at the wide variety of writing she was capable of doing.
I so enjoyed taking this journey into my mother’s young heart and head while reading these stories, and look forward to reading many more.