WeWriWa—Thanksgiving food for the littlest guests

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

This year’s Thanksgiving excerpts come from Chapter 4, “Thanksgiving 1959,” of Little Ragdoll. Set from 1959–74, it takes protagonist Adicia Troy from age five to twenty. Here, Adicia and her four closest sisters have gone to dinner at the Bowery Mission with their surrogate mother Sarah, a live-in nanny and maid whom their black-hearted blood mother barely pays.

They’ve just been served a mouth-watering Thanksgiving feast, and Adicia can’t help thinking about how the rest of her family is missing out. 

                       

Her parents and brothers don’t know what they’re missing, though she does feel sorry for Allen. He probably would come to eat with them, but feels an illogical need to appease their parents and go along with their lifestyle. Emeline says Allen’s a Gemini, the astrological sign of the twins, Pollux and Castor. One of the common characteristics associated with Gemini is acting like two different people, a pull in two different directions.

Adicia doesn’t understand some of these things Emeline knows so much about from all her prolific reading, but she does know she feels very sorry for Allen, stuck in the tenement with their horrible parents and the insufferable Tommy. Mrs. Troy didn’t have to be so rude and mean to him just because he dared to ask for some turkey meat. Adicia hopes Tommy eats so much of that leftover turkey from the garbage that he chokes.

Sarah is holding Justine on her lap and feeding her a bottle of Enfamil when one of the mission volunteers brings more food. The volunteer squeezes Justine’s little hand and smiles down at her. Justine’s blue eyes light up at the extra attention.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow.

“If you’d like, we can bring some baby food to your little girl. We have food even for the littlest guests who come to our tables. You don’t want to only drink baby formula on a big holiday, do you, sweetie?”

Sarah doesn’t correct her. As it is, the four middle girls are fellow brunettes, and she goes out with them more than their own parents.

“Our baby’s named Justine Anastasie,” Ernestine volunteers proudly. “Our dad’s French, so we all got at least one French name. She’s gonna be nine months old next week, since she was born on March second. March to December equals nine months.”

WeWriWa—Served a proper feast

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

This year’s Thanksgiving excerpts come from Chapter 4, “Thanksgiving 1959,” of Little Ragdoll. Set from 1959–74, it takes protagonist Adicia Troy from age five to twenty. Here, Adicia and her four closest sisters have gone to dinner at the Bowery Mission with their surrogate mother Sarah, a live-in nanny and maid whom their black-hearted blood mother barely pays.

                       

The scents of delicious food are overwhelming when they enter the dining hall. Adicia eagerly rushes over to a table with five available chairs and place settings, making sure it’s near the end of the table so they have space for Justine’s stroller.

“Do you mind that you never eat kosher meat, Sarah?” Emeline asks as they’re being served.

“You eat what you can when you don’t have money. Besides, I wasn’t from a religious family. Most German Jews weren’t religious. My family wasn’t anti-religious, but we weren’t Orthodox either.”

“Judaism has different denominations like Christianity? I haven’t read many books on world religions. I don’t even know what denomination my family’s supposed to be, just that we were baptized some type of Protestant.”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow.

“I don’t know either,” Lucine says. “Why did our parents bother having us baptized if we only go to church on major holidays?”

“There are four major branches of Judaism,” Sarah says. “Then there are many different communities in the Orthodox world, and small branches like Karaites. We can look for a good book about it next time we go to the library.”

Adicia practically inhales the feast set before her. Roast turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, yams, vegetables, pumpkin, pecan, and apple pie, applesauce, and piping-hot rolls. The volunteers and mission workers are very special for buying, preparing, and serving all this food to so many people, and then cleaning up it all up.

The Bowery Mission, Copyright Beyond My Ken

WeWriWa—Mean Girls at Woolworth’s

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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.

WeWriWa—Subway Trip

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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 new opening pages of Little Ragdoll, the contemporary historical Bildungsroman (growing-up saga) which will be released on 20 June. It’s my imagined story of a poor Manhattan girl who could’ve been the one who inspired The Four Seasons’ famous song “Rag Doll.”

Five-year-old Adicia Troy, her four best sisters, and their surrogate mother were on their way to the Lower East Side Woolworth’s when they ran across Adicia’s two older brothers. Allen, the only sympathetic Troy brother, slips Adicia four quarters for round-trip subway fare and says the youngest members of their party ride for free since they’re so young.

***

After the short walk to the station, she takes Lucine’s hand and makes her way underground.  Once they’ve gotten to the front of the line, Adicia stands on her toes and slides the coins across the counter in exchange for six tokens, three for the trip there and three for the trip back, plus a dime in change.  Then they wait in line again at the turnstile.  Lucine has to help Adicia with pushing it around, while Sarah hands Justine to Emeline and hoists the stroller over before going through.  Adicia stays close to Lucine as they press through the crowd before the doors can close.  They’re lucky to find seats instead of having to stand and hold onto poles or straps.

Adicia takes Emeline’s hand when they reach their destination in the Upper West Side.  The subway lets them off near the Museum of Natural History, by Central Park, so they have to walk about two blocks east to get to the Woolworth’s at the corner of Broadway and 79th Street.

***

Originally, the Troy sisters were just going back-to-school shopping at some unnamed big department store in the Upper West Side, but when I reworked the first chapter and made it Woolworth’s, I did a bit of research on the store’s locations around Manhattan. I found one by 5th Avenue and 39th Street, which seemed like a good possibility, but then I discovered there was one on the Upper West Side, by Broadway and 79th Street.

At the store, the girls still run into some of their classmates and their mothers, who had the same idea about getting out of the Lower East Side and patronising an uptown store to look good.

WeWriWa—Meet Adicia

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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 new opening pages of Little Ragdoll, which is set from 1959-74 and inspired by the story which inspired The Four Seasons’ famous song “Rag Doll.” It’s my imagined telling of the growing-up story and happy ending of someone who could’ve been that real-life young girl.

It’s early September 1959, and Adicia, her four closest sisters, and their surrogate mother Sarah are getting ready to walk to Woolworth’s for some back to school supplies. On their way there, they run across the two oldest Troy brothers. When rewriting the first chapter recently, I decided to introduce them a bit earlier, and gave Allen speaking lines this time to establish the fact that he’s the good brother.

Though the Troys live on Avenue A, that was still part of the Lower East Side in 1959. The so-called East Village didn’t secede till the mid-Sixties, but the northern part of the LES was already gentrifying by the Fifties and trying to distance itself from the remaining historic poor and working-class population. The major intersecting street, Houston, is pronounced HOUSE-ton in New York City, not like the city in Texas.

***

“You do what you must when you have no choice,” Sarah tries to soothe her, in the distinctive German accent she still has after twelve years in America. “I had to walk so many miles in tight wooden clogs and no socks, every day for weeks, before the soldiers rescued me.”

Adicia sighs and pulls on her socks and shoes, then takes Emeline’s hand as they begin the perilous flight down the crooked, broken, rotted staircase, which is missing a number of steps.  Despite this tenement having been built in 1920, it’s still not as safe or modern as some of the residences up by Tompkins Square Park.  The landlord’s family abandoned the building years ago, leaving their comparatively large living quarters just in time for the Troys to move in.

Sarah puts Justine in her old, worn-out, hand-me-down stroller, and they proceed down Avenue A.  After they cross Houston Street about a block later, Avenue A turns into Essex Street, where Adicia’s two older brothers are leaning against a dilapidated old storefront and smoking marijuana.  Sixteen-year-old Carlos, who’s also taking swigs from a bottle of vodka, pays them no regard, but fifteen-year-old Allen smiles at them.