Back in 1947 author Betty MacDonald introduced the world to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Childhood bad behavior was never the same. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is America’s Mary Poppins. By this I mean that she had a knack for dealing with incorrigible children and bringing families back to happier days.
What I remember most about this book is naughty children, a granny, there was always something to learn in the end and she could cure anything. So in honor of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle turning 70 in 2017 I thought I would read the first book in the series.
I have to admit that I am TOTALLY weirded out by Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as an adult. This proves just how much the world has changed since the 1940s. Back in the 1940s, no one was suspicious of a lovely old lady who loved little kids. The description of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle in the first chapter is, simply put, creepy. She is hunchbacked but claims her bump is “a big lump of magic”. She had a unique smell “of warm, spicy, sugar cookie smell that is very comforting to sad children”. Hello. Warning. Danger. DANGER! She allowed the kids to comb her ridiculously long hair. Grown-ups make her nervous. Bells are going off. DANGER! As an adult, I am incredibly suspicious of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. I question her angle. She convinces children that work is fun and now they voluntarily do ALL of her work. Hmm. Suspicious.
So the concept of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series is that she cures children. She comes to the desperate aid of mothers and cures their children of bad habits and bad behavior. I guess they are incapable of disciplining their own children. So much so that they resort to the strange old lady in who lives in an up-side down house (oh yes forgot to mention that she lives in an up-side down house on purpose). Each chapter features a specific child demonstrating bad behavior and habits. The mother, at her wit’s end, cannot take it anymore and seeks out help. Other mothers cannot help so they suggest the kind old lady where all the children have been hanging out lately. That’s right. Some parents did not realize that their children were spending time at an old lady’s house. In my mind, the mothers are too busy vacuuming while sipping dry martinis. “What children? I have children?” Knock back more of those martinis.
The only Piggle-Wiggle cure that I found to be ingenious was the Answer-Backer Cure. In order to cure a nasty little girl of talking back to her parents Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lets the mother borrow Penelope the Parrot. I think it is safe to say that you see where this is going. The girl soon tires of the parrot talking back to her and being impolite and begs her mother to get rid of it. Some of the other cures are questionable at best. One boy eats incredibly slow and insists on eating his mush one grain at a time. The cure for this is slowly starving the child so much that he is too tired and worn out to stop himself from falling off a horse. The Radish Cure is the most disgusting. In order to get a girl to voluntarily take baths she tells a mother to allow her daughter to stop taking baths. When the girl is dirty enough she is told to put tiny radish seeds all over her. Since it is raining season, the radishes will quickly grow. The little girl in the end eats a meal of radishes once she is freshly clean….after many, many baths.
The last thing that I want to mention is the ridiculous names that Betty MacDonald included. Coincidence that the children with the crazy names were the well-behaved children. Is this a way of saying that perfect do not exist? I think so! Two of my favorite names were Cormorant Broomrack and Paraphernalia Grotto. The terrible names would be reason enough for me to rebel.
In conclusion, the times have changed. None of the cures seem cute and fun…with the exception of Penelope the Parrot…they are cruel and dangerous. Not to mention I cannot help but think…get control of your kid! Giving a “good hard spanking” is referenced in one chapter but that is not consider a viable option. I thought that it was interesting it was suggested by a boy’s father but quickly brushed aside. Even in the 1940s a spanking was questioned as appropriate. I think I am done with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for the rest of my days. Too suspicious….