In the garden this week I am pulling radishes. Weeds, too, and maybe that’s why I appreciate the small, crisp, spicy little radishes. Pulling those rosy red globes out of the black dirt makes me think of one of my favorite books from childhood: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.
I have especially vivid memories of my third grade teacher reading us the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books by Betty MacDonald. Mrs. Plano was a completely joyless teacher who should have retired eighty years before I had her. I marvel — and remain grateful — such a grim woman read us such fanciful books.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lived in an upside-down house and possessed amazing and creative ways of “curing” children of absolutely-normal-but-less-than-desirable behaviors. Mrs. Plano was always quick to notice less-than-desirable-behaviors, so maybe that’s why she picked up the books. She obviously did not agree with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s methods. Her reading was often accompanied by eyerolls. But she read us the entire series, and I remain grateful.
Book after book, chapter after chapter, frantic mothers call Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, wringing their hands about their children. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle laughs (in a nice way) at their concerns and prescribes an odd but always effective cure for the problem at hand. She then assures the anxious mother her child is delightful and all will be well. Some of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s cures involve magic, but many are just common sense…with a dash of creativity. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle herself brings out the kids’ better angels, which figures into some of the cures, as well; I always thought Mrs. Plano could learn something there.
One of my favorite Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories is The Radish Cure; hence, the memory while pulling radishes this week. This is not a story about getting kids to eat radishes — it’s much more interesting than that. The Radish Cure is about Patsy Waters’ unwillingness to bathe. The Other Mothers are of no help. (A treat of reading these books as an adult is the caricatures of The Other Mothers.) Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle counsels Patsy’s distraught mother to buy a package of radish seeds and just let Patsy go without a bath. Once Patsy was good and covered with a layer of dirt and grime, which, as every parent knows, takes very little time at all, Patsy’s mother and father sneak into her room and sprinkle radish seeds on their filthy sleeping daughter. And the radishes GROW!
Patsy Waters “awoke one morning, and there on the back of her hand, in fact on the back of both hands and her arms and on her FOREHEAD were GREEN LEAVES!” Today’s child rearing gurus would call this natural consequences. Of a sort, anyway. Patsy’s mother calmly pulls the small red radishes out of the dirt on her daughter causing Patsy to beg for a bath. “I think it had better be a shower,” says her mother.
The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books are definitely a product of their time. When I read them to my kids, stereotypes had to be explained and addressed, as did the hard and fast traditional gender-roles, which are very hard and fast. (Making it all the more interesting that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and her husband, Mr. Piggle-Wiggle sport a hyphenated last name — perhaps if they rhymed, this was okay?)
Despite the time-bound issues, the problems Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is called upon by the mothers (always the mothers) to cure are perennial: The Answer-Backer Cure, The Won’t‑Pick-Up-Toys Cure, The Tattletale Cure, The I‑Thought-You-Saiders Cure, The Show-Off Cure, The Can’t‑Find-It Cure, etc. These are the lessons of childhood then and now, are they not?
If you haven’t read them to the kids in your life, pick them up this summer — they are a hoot!