“Then up rose Mrs Cratchit, Cratchit’s wife, dressed out
but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons,
which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence; and
she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of
her daughters, also brave in ribbons … .”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
This is my favorite Dickens quote. I’ve always wanted to write about it because, to my knowledge, it has been inexplicably overlooked. Yet the very first time I read it, it struck me deeply. In its simplicity and seemingly throwaway description of a hardworking and stoic woman waiting cheerfully for her beleaguered husband to come home so they can begin their meager, heartfelt Christmas celebration, volumes are said about the resilience of women in general.
A twice-turned gown – meaning it the skirt, sleeves, and neckline have been rehemmed more than once to hide fraying and wear – is a testament to Mrs. Cratchit’s pride, and sense of pride in herself, that she is not defeated by the poverty and appalling working conditions that typified not only her husband Bob Cratchit’s at the hands of Ebenezer Scrooge, but the conditions of workers and families in newly industrialized England itself. And, further, she adorns the gown with ribbons – cheap and pretty – that undoubtedly lifted her spirits for the celebration of the holiday that she was determined to make memorable for her family. She was indeed brave. And brave in ribbons.
I love Mrs. Cratchit. She is a minor character in A Christmas Carol, yet she epitomizes the best in women – the strength, the ability to take care of as many as need caring for in whatever situation, the ability to take charge, and the depth of the commitment they are able to show loved ones. And to occasionally look pretty while doing it all. (Which, let’s face it, makes everyone feel better.)
The year is ending. She has endured the trials and tribulations of yet another one. She is ready to celebrate. And the nicest part for me is that she has clearly even passed this on to her daughter, Belinda, “ … also brave in ribbons.”
Whatever we have been through in 2009, it’s nearly at an end. We’re still here. We’ve survived it in some fashion or other, at least for now. We tended to those we care about, and maybe even made someone happy, whether we knew it or not. We can fly our flags – our pretty ribbons of endurance. At least we should. I urge you all to just say “I did it”! It might not have been much in your eyes or the eyes of others, but I’ll bet it really was. And then put on the clothes that make you feel special, however old and worn or new and sparkly they might be.
You are brave. Now be brave in ribbons. And tell your daughters.
Photo: Hermione Baddeley, A Christmas Carol, 1951.