Thursday, September 08, 2011

Sorry To Be So Cheerful (1955) - Hildegarde Dolson

Hildegarde Dolson (1908-1981), you're just all right with me.  I adore you, and I have since I discovered We Shook the Family Tree.  Even though you've been gone 30 years, I want you to become a breakout author.  Rediscovered with relish. I want your hometown, Franklin, Pennsylvania, to be blanketed with scholars on fire to research your life and work.  In my own small way, I can help get the party started by rhapsodizing about my very favorite of your books, Sorry To Be So Cheerful, a collection of short humor pieces written over 20 years.

I left my  copy of STBSC back in the US, and I'm cursing myself for not at least getting a picture of the cover of the book.  I made some mad handwritten notes, (mostly titles) that I'm trying to decipher.  Consequently, the pieces I'll mention here are not in any particular order, especially not Hildegarde's.  Miss Dolson's.  Oh, damn.  I'm having that awkwardness about what to call authors that I love too much.   I'd better press on.  One last thing:  Imagine a female James Thurber, and you'll have an idea about Hildegarde Dolson's writing style.

"Proletariat with Duncan Phyfe Legs" - As a young copywriter, Hildegarde gets a job working for a department store in New Jersey.  The head of advertising, a woman named Freda, teaches Hildegarde how to write about furniture.  "Women want facts about the furniture they're buying."  Hildegarde's blank look quickly gives away the sum of her knowledge: "Mahogany is reddish brown.  Oriental rugs have designs on them and broadcloth doesn't.  A long stuffed thing is a sofa."  Hildegarde is a quick study, noting that her instructor has "splayfoot" like the legs on Duncan Phyfe furniture.  Once Hildegarde has a firm grasp, Freda begins to prostletize about the Communist Party.  Hildegarde mistakenly thinks that  Freda is  just telling interesting stories about history. When Freda is hungover, the effort is too much: "Go fly away to Heaven.  I'm drunk, and your goddam beaming hurts my eyes."  Finally, she surrenders in disgust when Hildegarde announces that she has a date with a guy who works on Wall Street.

"Beast of Sea" - During the war, Hildegarde's friend, Hobart is stationed on some remote island in the Pacific and wants a recipe featuring Chinese sea slugs called "Beche-de-Mer." Determined to do her patriotic duty, Hildegarde practically turns NYC upside down looking for this culinary delight.

"Spilling Tea with Emily Post" - Hildegarde interviews the etiquette maven who makes her a nervous wreck about her behavior.  After all of her precautions, her friend Arthur finds a way to finish off her reputation entirely.

"Myopia, My Own" - Nearsighted Hildegarde gives a whole new meaning to the term "blind date"

"Say 'Hemlock' and Flop" - Going through a bout of insomnia, Hildegarde gamely tries out all the cures her friends come up with.  This is my own personal favorite piece in STBSC.

"Tap the Centers and Snarl" - Hildegarde goes to an unconventional massuesse from Croatia who aligns her chakras by engaging in a snarling contest with her.

"One Assassin, One Soft-Boiled Egg" - Traveling back to her hometown of Franklin, PA for Easter, Hildegarde finds her likeness on display in a store window as a painted egg along with Franklin's other most famous (temporary) citizen, John Wilkes Booth.

"Wait and Be Stung" - Vacationing in a warmer climate for her health, Hildegarde cracks under pressure at a dude ranch in Arizona when she discovers that there are scorpions everywhere.

"Shipwrecked in Central Park" - Arthur gets a romantic notion to take Hildegarde around the lake in Central Park, which she finds odd since the two of them are "both pushing 40 backwards".  Also, Arthur has no clue about how to row and Hildegarde is a less-than-promising navigator.

"I'm Saving My Hair for a Second-Hand Car" - A hairdresser assures Hildegarde that her darkening blonde hair is "true drab blonde" and convinces her that she's got tresses worth a pile of money under her hat, perhaps enough to buy a car.  But how will she fit "true drab blonde" into that tiny space for hair color on the driver's license?

"Let's Fall in Love" - Hildegarde unearths an 1896 tome called Our Social Manual for All Occasions.  In it, she finds out how men should go about writing the proper proposal letter, which goes light on the love talk and heavy on talk about providing creature comforts as well as the proper references.  'Deliberate fully, for this is a life affair," the prospective groom is supposed to counsel the future bride.  Hildegarde remarks, "There's a letter you could read without a tremor in any courtroom.  For that matter, you could even read it in private without a tremor."


Anonymous said...

I think you should start a Hildegarde campaign and encourage people to name their daughters after her. If ever there was a name ready to make a comeback...

Bybee said...

Good idea! Even though it's a long name, I enjoyed typing it every single time.

Citizen Reader said...

I MUST get this. Anyone who's "all right" with you is bound to be "all right" with me too!

Nan said...

Thank you! She sounds wonderful. Humorists just don't get the attention and credit they deserve.

Anonymous said...

I loved this book too! I was 10 when I read it, and even though I had no idea who Duncan Phyfe was, I *did* have insomnia and I still think about counting e's even now, when I'm almost 50. I read the book more than once...there was definitely something about her.