David Bruce: The Funniest People in Families, Volume 3 — Christmas, Clothing

Christmas

• Brendan, the son of Beth Quinn, a columnist for The Times Herald-Record in the state of New York, had a Blankie when he was little. He carried it around and slept with it for a long time, then he kept it on the floor by his bed, and finally he stored it in his closet. Occasionally, Beth would find it and say, “Oh, look what I found. Blankie.” Brendan would reply, “I know. Leave him there.” Beth did. When Brendan was eight years old, he met Josie, his half-sister, and they bonded quickly over a shared love of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the Smurfs, and their Blankies. Later, Josie moved away, and Brendan and Beth found out that older children at her bus stop were picking on her. Upset, Brendan took action. He cut out a square from Blankie and then had Beth send it and a Smurf doll to Josie along with this message: “Here is a Smurf and part of Blankie. Keep these with you at the bus stop so no one can hurt you.” Apparently, it worked, as Josie grew up to be an adult. For Christmas of 2006, Beth restored Blankie — but left the hole created when Brendan cut out the square — to make a gift for Brendan’s soon-to-be-born daughter, Devon Elizabeth.

• While Maria Tallchief was dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, she was annoyed by a child who was playing the part of the Prince because he kept critiquing her performance out loud on stage, telling the little girl who was playing the part of Marie, “She’s kind of off tonight.” Therefore, as soon as Ms. Tallchief’s back was to the audience, she looked him in the eyes and told him, “Shut up!” Many years later, choreographer Eliot Field brought his dance troupe to Chicago, where Ms. Tallchief had a meeting with him. He asked her, “You don’t hate me?” Ms. Tallchief was surprised by the question until he explained, “I’m the little boy you told to shut up during The Nutcracker 23 years ago!”

• When Jan Berenstain, co-creator of the Berenstain Bears books with Stan, her husband, was a little girl, she had a baby doll with a delicate china head. The baby was dressed in a christening gown, and sometimes Jan pretended that she was christening her doll. Unfortunately, when she played a little too rough with her doll, she would have to wait until Christmas to get another delicate china head for her doll.

• Felia Doubrovska taught at George Balanchine’s School for American Ballet for 30 years, so she taught many famous dancers, among them Allegra Kent. For Christmas, Allegra once gave Ms. Doubrovska a present, who reminded her of the school’s rule: “No presents for teachers.” Allegra, however, ran away, saying, “There are no rules for me.”

Clothing

• Henning Mankell grew up in Sweden, but he learned the importance of dignity in Africa. Mozambique was devastated by civil war during the 1980s and until 1992. Mr. Mankell visited the north of that country in November of 1990. The country had little food, and many people had been killed or crippled. However, he was impressed by a young man whom he saw wearing rags. The young man had no shoes or even sandals, so he had gotten dye from the earth and painted shoes on his feet. Mr. Mankell writes that “in doing so he boosted his awareness that, despite all his misery and destitution, he was a human being with dignity.”

• Scientists engaged in genetic research occasionally spent time at Wood’s Hole, Massachusetts, where they both relaxed and talked science. Some scientists there, including friends James Watson and Francis Crick, who discovered the structure of DNA, for which they won a Nobel Prize in 1962, formed an RNA Tie Club that consisted of the top 20 RNA scientists in the world. Each member of the club wore a tie decorated with an illustration of the particular amino-acid chain that had been “given” to them when they joined the club.

• Mina Shaughnessy loved fine clothing, and she dressed extremely well while teaching at CUNY, although her students often faced extreme financial hardships. Critic Irving Howe once met her after she had just finished teaching a class, and he asked her if her students were ever put off by her stunning clothing. She replied, “But, Irving, my students know I dress up for them.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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