Let’s see where our characters are before the Thimble people.
Where we find Mary, in her own words:
“’Mother is never very strong, and Father had to go to California on business; and he thought wouldn’t it be nice to take Mother with him. So I’m here at my dear Grandma’s for the long summer vacation; and brother Billy is camping with the Boy Scouts; Billy is a first-class scout, you know.”
Billy’s status as a first-class scout is often mentioned in the book. It’s 1915, after all, Mary’s grandmother may be fighting for women’s right to vote and against alcohol so, as parents, one might need to justify to one’s daughter from time to time why one invests money in Billy’s summers at scouting camp but just sends her off to Grandmother’s home. The reason “He’s a VERY good Scout (and it’s about time you learn to define your worth by the positions the men in your life hold.)”
Mother writes to Mary early on to reassure her that she is missed, they live in a grand country, and remind her of Billy’s stellar scout status.
“Only twenty times has Mother read over your sweet letter. It was so dear, and brave. I am much better than I was — thanks to such a loving family — and the lovely ‘aps-mos-spere’ here, as you used to say when you were little.
What a beautiful country this is — your ‘Fatherland’ and mine. I want you to see some day the lovely view I am now looking upon: mountains rising high and peeping over this lovely stretch of country to look into the Pacific Ocean, which sparkles like that ir-i-des-cent feather in your dear Grandma’s bonnet.
Father is calling me to come for a ride, and I must drop a line to my Billy Boy — who is a good Scout, too.
Can you feel this kiss and this hug? I know you can — for what are miles to us whose love for each other flies through space?
Your loving Mother. P. S. — Thank you so much for the picture of Jubey.”
I don’t know what Mary’s mother suffers from. When she writes of the aps-mos-phere I wonder if it’s tuberculosis but I suspect it’s the more common emotional exhaustion at her husband, her children, and her place in society as a woman.
Grandma’s primary role in the book is to leave Mary alone in her house for hours at a time. There’s not much for a young girl to do. Mary early on confesses her loneliness to The Sewing Bird (much on her later. I now covet a sewing bird.)
” I was so lonely and dreary that I almost wanted to go home instead of staying here at Grandma’s.”
For the plot, Grandma MUST leave often and for long stretches. The Thimble People won’t come to life while Gran is around and have sworn Mary not to reveal their existing to others. I personally believe Grandma goes to women’s meetings about abstinence and other suffragette causes.
Mary isn’t completely alone though, for Katie is always around…but the Thimble People don’t find her existence anything to fret about, no one does. Katie’s role is never explicitly explained. She works in the kitchen, announces callers, fetches trunks, and talks occasionally to Mary.
“Katie is a wonder, Nanny,” said Mary Frances. “She was telling me yesterday about all she could do when she was little. When she was a mere child she could cook a pair of pork chops beautifully, she told me.”
“But Katie is only eighteen, now,” laughed, Grandma”
I have no recourse but to believe that Katie is Grandma’s live-in maid and cook and her life has been one of Irish indentured servitude.
And last, in Mary’s life as we start, is Angie the doll. Mary sings to Angie, a three-year-old doll, and cries as she misses her family. Mary loves Angie but fears Angie no longer enjoys being babied as much as she used to.
Mary loves Angie….until Mother’s very grand gift arrives.
Coming Soon: Angie is usurped and we never speak of her again….but first some Thimble People, Sewing in Action, and the coveted Sewing Bird.