Susan's Thursday morning note March 1, 2012
Maggie-Now by Betty Smith "That's all relative" conversation between a mother & young child
Good morning!! March. Tulips. Baby on floor in yellow with fat chubby feet sticking out. Cat pushing on my papers trying to distract me. Coffee filler with just the right amount of coffee inside. Tattered used book on my left that I loved…ready to write for you!!!
This week I read “just for the fun of it” – Maggie Now by Betty Smith. This author is best known for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This is a story about Maggie – daughter of an Irish immigrant…growing up in Brooklyn. (Maggie-Now nickname coming from being told constantly as a toddler, “Maggie, Now don’t touch that…Maggie, Now stop that”…and then for fun her family began adding “Now” to her name). Melancholy because of the realities of the poverties in her neighborhood, but enjoyable for her personality and the conversations between characters. One of my favorite conversations took place between Maggie as a young girl and her mother on the phrase, “that’s all relative.”
The growing years of Maggie-Now were not unhappy ones. She always had enough to eat, although the food was plain. She had warm clothes in winter even if they were not beautiful. She liked her school days although she didn’t like to study. She loved the Sisters who taught her although they were very strict in their discipline.
She was well adjusted because she knew where she belonged in the social setup of her small world. She had a friend who had a hair ribbon for every day in the week. Maggie-Now had but two – one for Sunday, one for weekdays. On the other hand, another friend was too poor to have any hair ribbon. Her hair was tied back with a dirty shoestring. Maggie-Now was sorry she didn’t have seven hair ribbons but she was glad she didn’t have to use a shoestring to tie back her hair.
As she grew older, she gave some thought to poverty and riches. Her mother had asked her to read Little Women, explaining that it was a book about four girls who were very poor but happy just the same. Maggie-Now read the book and took issue with her mother.
“How can they be poor,” she asked, “when they can waste hot potatoes to put in their muff. And I ain’t…haven’t a muffin. And then they have a servant and their father has money to go away on.”
“To some people who are, say, used to three servants, to have only one servant is being poor. Poverty is relative.”
The word “relative” puzzled Maggie-Now. How could “poor” be a relation, she wondered. She didn’t probe further into the meaning of the word because she was anxious to go out to play. The word came up later, in another conversation.
“I came from a small town,” Father Flynn was saying. “Everyone seemed the same. No one was rich and no one starved. I had an idea, then, that poor people wore colorful rags and had rosy cheeks and danced all night to the music of a concertina. Those were my Franois Villon days. Later, I thought poor people lived in cellars and had lice and lived on hard crusts of bread which they stole from each other. I was reading the Russian novelists in those days. Why, I was quite mature before I knew that poverty, like so many other things, was relative.”
“That word again, thought Maggie-Now.”
The next day she asked her mother: “Why are some people rich and other people poor?”….”I mean like: Florry says we’re poor. Bea thinks we’re rich.”
“Florry’s father makes much more money than your father. Naturally, she thinks you’re poorer than she is. But Beatrice’s mother has to go out scrubbing for a dollar a day. Of course, she thinks that you, with a father who has a steady job, are richer than she is.”
“It’s all relations, then.”
“Relations?” asked Mary, puzzled.
“Relations. But different than my Boston cousins are relations.”
“Oh, you mean relative. Yes, like everything else, I suppose it is relative.”
“Well, say a man has only one dollar in all the world. Somebody gives him a hundred dollars. Another man has a hundred dollars. He’s always had a hundred dollars. Someone gives him a dollar. He’s just as poor as he was before. Now both men have one hundred and one dollars. But one is rich and one isn’t. That’s relative, I suppose.”
“You’re just talking, Mama. You’re not telling me.”
“To tell you the truth, I don’t know how to tell you.”
“Did you live in a rich house when you were a girl?”
“Oh, dear!” signed Mary. “Well, people who lived in crowded tenements thought we had a rich house. But the Mayor’s wife thought our house was poor compared to hers.”
What did you think, Mama?”
“I didn’t think one way or the other,” said Mary, trying not to get irritated by the incessant questioning. “I lived there.”
“Don’t be silly. I lived there because I was born there – because my parents lived there.”
“Did you like it?”
“Of course. I didn’t know about any other home, you see.”
“Did that make it relative?”
And the conversation continues…throughout the book after her mother died Maggie smiles slightly when she has the thought, “It’s all relative” having a flashback to these conversations. I just enjoyed that chapter and thought you would, too! Another favorite chapter she visits her aunt she’d never met in Boston. She meets her cousins with this introduction by her aunt…
“This is Rose, the oldest, this one is Violet, the thumb sucker is Daisy and Lily’s the baby. She’s two…I call them my bow-kay.” She was pregnant with a fifth, and having a boy named him Joe.” Maggie-Now’s response was, “Why, oh why, didn’t she ask me? I would have told her to call him Chris…Chris is short for chris-san-thee…you know what flower I mean, Mama. Then he would have fitted in the bouquet.”
And, with those conversations, I’ll hit “go” on this note to you. Baby has now pulled all the books off of the shelf where he could reach, been handed every single thing I could think of off the table so I could keep typing, fallen onto his face staring at the floor, whined, cried, and is now down for his nap…I knew I should’ve worked on this last night!! Have a great week! Thank you for letting me enter your Thursday again! Thank you for you constant encouragement and business in our store. Let’s remember today – “relative” – keep all in perspective on eternity…what matters? What will matter in 5 years and 10 years rather than what we are thinking of too much today – “relative” – I love that! Tonight we will have a chance to mentally put on stone our epitaph of the moments we will lose today. Will we make them worthy of carving? Moments. Gifts. Let’s keep all “relative“ – are we looking into each other’s eyes and smiling? Will those that meet us today remember us as putting the right moments into perspective? The dust on the fan above me, or the time to sit and be with someone I love? Our choices. Relative. Perspective. What will we be glad we did when we look back in 5 years? Susan
Latin for this week:
todo es relativo - "it's all relative"
Smith, Betty. Maggie-Now. New York. Harper & Brothers. 1958.