It take courage to turn grief into triumph

There’s nothing like a Raggedy Ann or Andy doll to bring a smile to my face. And just for today, I have three of them visiting my office.
A big Raggedy Ann–more than two feet tall–smiles from her perch by my copy machine. And a pair, sitting close and snuggling in a child’s rocking chair, bring back pleasant memories–and sometimes almost tears–of a mother who made 400 of the heirloom dolls before her death in 1985.
I didn’t have a Raggedy Ann doll growing up. Although I could have, for the popular dolls were designed and patented in 1915–well before my childhood.
But the truth is, I was already an adult with children of my own when my talented mother discovered how much fun it was to make the rag dolls. Needless to say, she had no trouble selling them as fast as she could turn them out.
Big wide grins and embroidered eyes–to make sure no little child would swallow the buttons. Red yarn hair and red and white striped legs. Royal blue outfits and a white apron. And most important of all, an embroidered red heart on their chest.
Over the years, we’ve had a lot of fun with Raggedy Ann and Andy. Birthday napkins. Books. Stickers. Gift wrap. But most of all, dolls.
And when the beloved grandmother died, it was Raggedy Ann and Andy who best highlighted the poignant mix of grief and joy that had made up her life and ours together. We knew that the flower piece on her casket had to be designed around Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls.
But what I never knew until last week was how integral that poignant mix of grief and joy was to the very being of Raggedy Ann and Andy.
To begin with, Johnny Gruelle was a political cartoonist and creator of the Sunday comic “Mr. Twee Deedle.”
Legend has it that one day as Gruelle worked on his comic strip, his vivacious young daughter, Marcella, came into his studio dragging a battered and faceless rag doll.
The father picked up his pen and drew a whimsical face. Designated a shoe button for the missing eye. And reached for a book of James Whitcomb Riley’s poetry to find a name.
Two poems caught his attention–“The Raggedy Man” and “Little Orphan Annie.” And he asked little Marcella, “What if we call your new doll Raggedy Ann?”
Sensing the importance of his creation, Gruelle applied for a patent immediately. The long-awaited reply came in November, 1915.
But the triumph was bittersweet. For in that same month, Gruelle’s beloved daughter Marcella died of an infected vaccination. In her final days, the father and daughter turned to the adventures of Raggedy Ann for comfort.
Later, he would immortalize the little girl by making her a character in the Raggedy Ann and Andy books. And in 1929, even created her own volume–“Marcella: A Raggedy Ann Story.”
It takes courage to continue with life after a loss like that. But fortunately, Johnny Gruelle found that courage and thousands of us have benefited from his bravery.
Life is always a poignant mix of grief and joy–with the joy being too short and the grief too long. It would be easy to give up when the grief comes but it wouldn’t be wise.
With enough courage, each of us will find that we can indeed turn grief into triumph.

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