WeWriWa—Mean Girls at Woolworth’s


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, a weekly Sunday hop where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’ve been sharing from the opening chapter of my recent release Little Ragdoll, a Bildungsroman (growing-up story) spanning 1959-74.

Five of the six Troy sisters (13-year-old Lucine, 11-year-old Emeline, 7-year-old Ernestine, 5-year-old Adicia, and 6-month-old Justine) are uptown at Woolworth’s with their surrogate mother Sarah Katz, a barely-paid live-in servant who performs the housekeeping and childcare duties Mrs. Troy is too lazy and disinterested to do herself. At Woolworth’s, they’ve run into some nasty girls from the nice part of the neighborhood who also wanted to go uptown.

Now one of the mothers has something to say to Sarah, who defends herself as boldly as Lucine has been doing. Then one of the girls turns on little Adicia.


“How can you go out in public without long sleeves or a bandage covering that thing?” Mrs. Jones asks Sarah. “That’s not decent, particularly not for little children.  There’s no decent way to explain that to them.”

“Your attitude says more about you than me,” Sarah responds. “My girls know what my tattoo means, and they don’t think it’s shameful or dirty.  Are you uncomfortable to see evidence that not everyone has a life as perfect as yours?”

“Is this one starting kindergarten?” Barbara Stevens asks. “She looks like a dirty, ugly, torn-apart Raggedy Ann.”


In 1959, this really was a common attitude. Very, very few Holocaust survivors had written or spoken publicly about their experience, it wasn’t really taught in schools, people were not getting degrees in Holocaust Studies, and it made many born Americans uncomfortable to see evidence like Sarah’s tattoo. In the era of “what’s not nice we don’t show,” many survivors were told to cover their tattoos, or did so themselves, to avoid awkward questions or looks.

There’s a chapter in Livia Bitton-Jackson’s memoir Hello, America, where the rabbi/principal at her religious school tells her the parents are very upset she told their children the truth about her tattoo. He seriously thought she should’ve told them it was her phone number, even though that would’ve made her seem a madwoman.


9 thoughts on “WeWriWa—Mean Girls at Woolworth’s

  1. Good writing: you had me raging by the end of the first line.
    I don’t think I’d change anything. Just thought, it’s great the way it is, but with a bit more space (more than eight lines at least) it’d be nice to see someone from the cast acting… unexpectedly? Everyone knows this type of scene, and the characters are set pieces, so some paradoxical behaviour from one of them could maybe make it feel a bit more real and concrete (for example, one of the other mums could grab a handkerchief and wipe her son’s nose, showing a more caring side that doesn’t match her otherwise disgraceful behaviour)
    Good stuff, looking forward to more. 🙂


  2. From the distance of time we have, it’s hard to imagine, but I know the scene is very true to the era you’re writing in. I hope someone steps up and assists the girls. Excellent excerpt, although sad.


  3. There are always those who think they are better than others. This girl’s attitude is shocking but very understandable for the time. I went to see Jersey Boys over the weekend and thought of you and Adicia when they sang “Ragdoll.” 🙂


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