Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mr. Darling and Mrs. Wiggs

I've recently finished two books, both very satisfactory reads.

I read Julia Glass's Three Junes some time ago, and it was a splendid read. I hoped that The Widower's Tale would be equally enjoyable, and it was. The tale concerns Percy Darling (the widower), his two daughters, his grandson, and an assortment of other characters.

Percy has been widowed for thirty years, and is sliding into a contented retirement. As events unfold, we learn about his deceased wife, and watch the shifting dynamics of his family. We see Percy inexorably pulled back into the community he has managed to avoid. I liked the character development - and the characters themselves - and the feeling of being a fly on the wall of this family.

The book wasn't quite as good as Three Junes, but I recommend it nevertheless as a good read.

I've been wanting to reread this book, and finally found an electronic version on the library's ebook database. Mrs Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, by Alice Hegan Rice, was originally published in 1901. The version I first read was the one pictured here, which was published in 1962.

From my original reading, all I remembered was that Mrs Wiggs had Sunday School in her home, on wooden planks laid on chairs, and that she sang "Count Your Many Blessings." (I first heard that hymn years later, when my family started attending the Mormon church, and was immediately reminded of Mrs Wiggs.)

There is more to the story than that, of course. Mrs Wiggs is quite the character. and, notwithstanding her family's severe poverty, always looks for the best:
Well, I guess I ain't the best by a long sight, but I may be the happiest. An' I got cause to be: four of the smartest childern that ever lived, a nice house, fair to middlin' health when I ain't got the rheumatiz, and folks always goin' clean out of the way to be good to one! Ain't that 'nough to make a person happy? I'll be fifty years old on the Fourth of July, but I hold there ain't no use in dyin'  'fore yer time. Lots of folks is walkin' 'round jes' as dead as they'll ever be. I believe in gittin' as much good outen life as you kin -- not that I ever set out to look fer happiness; seems like the folks that does that never finds it. I jes' do the best I kin where the good Lord put me at, an' it looks like I got a happy feelin' in me 'most all the time.
When I was a child, we didn't have any bookstores in our area (at least none that I recall). Horne's, the department store in downtown Pittsburgh, had a book department, but we didn't get there often. I found Mrs Wiggs and the Cabbage Patch at Kresge's, at the West Hills Shopping Center. This was a "five and dime" store, the precursor to K-Mart. They had a rack or two of books, with a limited selection of children's books, along with coloring books and the like. I took a look at the selection each time we went there.

Kresge's also had a small snack bar, where you could buy ice cream. My mother and her friend Mrs Huesken would often share a sundae. There were balloons hanging at the counter, and you picked one and popped it, to see what your sundae would cost. Mom said that they always ended up paying the full price for their treat.

In addition to Kresge's, there was a Thorofare grocery store, and maybe an A&P Market, and also a barber shop and other shops. One time my sister and I lost the money Mom had given us to buy groceries, and didn't want to admit it. We dug into our savings to cover the loss, and (as far as I know) never 'fessed up.

I was trying to find a picture of the shopping center. Alas, what I found was that it has been razed, and a Walmart is going to be built in its stead. Walmart will never have the character of that old shopping center!

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