Saturday, December 20, 2008

Beautiful Gifts

Yesterday, I watched Little Women, the more recent version with Susan Sarandon, and remembered again the personal importance of Louisa May Alcott's book. When I was a pre-teen, Aunt Sherry gave everyone a book. We all got what was considered age appropriate, I remember my younger sister and I received a book from the Bobbsy Twins series, my older sisters received, Hedi and Little Women. I guess I was book deprived. Most of my sister's were because we read everything we could, cereal boxes, packaging, directions (globes/maps). We had plenty of young children's literature in the form of Dr. Seuss; The Cat in the Hat, One Fish Two Fish, and Green Eggs and Ham because Mom ordered a subscription that came by mail. My younger sister and I would memorize the silly stories which I still occasionally recite to this day to the consternation of most listeners. Let's see..."One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. This one has a star, this one has a little car..." and "I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam I am." We also memorized The Night Before Christmas and we would recite the poem to each other and to everyone-anyone- who would listen,"Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there." One Christmas, I was thrilled with the gift, The Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes-that was before anyone thought about what underlying message they might have related to patriarchy, misogyny or violence. Up to this point, my family and much of society in general rarely realized the potential impact of a book. Do you remember Katherine Kelly's lines in the movie, You've Got Mail about how reading a book shapes identity and how it becomes a part of you? I agree with this statement only I would say that timing is important. The book has to reach the reader at the right time in her life. It was the right time for my sisters and me; we all read our books and then each others. I now realize that Little Women helped me to understand that beauty defies definition or representation, can be created or experienced, and has much to do with the way we live our lives. Viewing the movie, yesterday, I realized that the parents were transcendentalists and that all of the children have trouble living up to the highest ideal of taking responsibility to be their personal best self. They struggle with the gesture but ultimately do give up their special food so that the poor can eat, and even Beth who is the closest representation of angelic on fictional earth, is overwhelmed by the poverty of the family she visits while her mom is away. The girls try to live up to Marmme's wish that they make the world a better place. This sharing balance and the focus on what's important comes to our minds at Christmas or when viewing a classic movie such as It's a Wonderful Life-or when reading Louisa May Alcott's book, Little Women. May all the gifts we give and receive this year lift us up to our own version of our transcendentally beautiful self.

Jon Davidson, "Christmas in London", photo flickr

Thank you willow for reminding us about those lovely intangibles.


  1. I remember this movie vividly. More so, I quoted the movie in a job interview many years ago. The man,an American with an uncanny resemblance to Adolph Hitler (his mustache was a little big larger), asked me to give an example of a movie I had seen recently and liked. I mentioned Little Women because of the attention to detail, cinematography and artistic direction. The ambiance of the movie lets you indulge in the sentiments expressed throughout the movie. It is known in the literary world that Louisa May Alcott disliked children intensely. She wrote Little Women and the follow-up Little Men to the suggestion of her editor. So it is rather revealing how a writer captures, through imagery and dialogue, the essence of the nostalgia of childhood.My grandmother loved this book. She had a 1912 copy that used to belong to her sister. It had a tender dedication inside. One of my great aunts, Ernestina, was returning home from Connecticut, it was 1913. Upon arriving at the pier in Old San Juan, her brother Alfredo (my own brother namesake) presented the book to cure her of the sadness of leaving her Connecticut friends. It was already a yellow stained book, dilapidated with its green cardboard covers turning to shreds, when I took it in my hands for the first time. It somehow made me think of my ancestors from Spain, France and Germany, all those people who came before me and decided to start a new life in the New World (I am a fourth generation Puerto Rican). I lost the book in one of my many relocations or "mudanzas". The book always left a trace of old dust after you handled it. I always felt it was some magic powder that transported you to a beautiful New England winter landscape of the late 19th century. I cherish that memory.

  2. TPC, What an interesting connection memory! I'm surprised about Alcott's hatred of children. Do you think you can write such a sympathic portrayal of children if you don't understand them? Achoo! I'm sorry. Please excuse me. I'm still breathing in the dust from your grandmother's 1912 edition. Hey, that's a great movie plot idea: the character accepts the book and the dust triggers a sneeze that sends him back in time to Spain or Germany or to a New England winter landscape in the late 19th century. When he arrives...that's the part that you have to write. Thanks for sharing the memory.

  3. I think Alcott had the gift of idealizing the concept of childhood and drawing great descriptions from observation. This does not diminish her work. I bet she found the many aspects of raising a "fatherless" family in the North during the Civil War intriguing and heroic. I do believe there is a lot of the ideal of heroism in her novels.

  4. TPC, yes, idealized, but do you find any of it convincing? BTW Our little dog, Elizabeth, died yesterday. She got sick from drinking gas that leaked from a fuel line under the car. The younger dogs still chew things even though they are almost one. We're sad and still processing.

  5. Pink cowboy, did you keep your grandmother's book? well, you said that you think you lost it in one of your relocations. YOur memory reminds me of my aunt ricarda, my godmother and my favorite aunt. I used to love chatting with her about her younger years in bayamon and in san juan. I would like to write about her.


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