“Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”

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I admit I somewhat enjoy it when a story has a cryptic title. I’ve read at least two this year with strange names that provided no real clue to what the stories might be about, “The Mutants” by Joyce Carol Oates, “Kaleidoscope” by Ray Bradbury. Then, this weekend when I drew the King of Hearts from my short story deck, I was led to the J.D. Salinger story, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut.” What the heck could that be about?

A few years back, I purchased a slim paperback volume, “Nine Stories,” by J.D. Salinger. As of this morning, I’ve still only read five of the nine (this is what I tend to do, “ration” stories in a collection out over time, so as to delay that dreaded “they’re all gone” feeling when the supply has been exhausted). The collection was published in 1953, and features some other famous stories, such as A Perfect Day for Bananafish – which I read a couple years ago (and didn’t like) and “For Esme – with Love and Squalor,” which fellow blogger Dale at Mirror with Clouds posted about. When it came time to pick my 52 short stories for this year’s “Project: Deal Me In,” though, I had to include a couple more Salinger stories. This was one of them.

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***spoilers follow***
The story details a visit between two old college friends, Eloise (now married and with an eleven year old daughter, Ramona) and Mary Jane (divorced). A business errand of Mary Jane’s brings her near her old friend’s house so she stops for a visit. Once inside, they “head straight for the liquor cabinet.” Downing highball after highball (over the initial protests of Mary Jane) they begin to commiserate about how their lives have turned out. (Eloise has some harsh things to say about the male of the species too.)

Unhappy in her marriage, Eloise recalls an early love, Walt, a soldier who went off to war and was killed, though not “in action” in the traditional sense. This was a man with the right qualities, the ones that Eloise cherished anyway: a sense of humor and intelligence. It is in Eloise’s relating a story of Walt’s tenderness from their past where we learn the source of the title of this story. Walt comforts an injured Eloise by saying “Poor Uncle Wiggily.”* Eloise describes him: “Ah, God, he was nice. He was either funny or sweet. Not that damn little-boy sweet, either. It was a special kind of sweet.”

This event from the past is somehow linked to Eloise’s dealing with her daughter’s oddness (which includes an imaginary friend and beau, Jimmy Jimmereeno). Early in the story the daughter describes Jimmy to Mary Jane then later goes outside to play. After the adult women have become drunk and the child returns indoors, Eloise asks her, “What happened to Jimmy?” and Ramona replies “He got runned over and killed.”

Eloise sends Ramona to bed after checking her forehead to see if she’s feverish, but is shocked later when she checks on her in bed and finds her lying “way over on one side” of the bed (as she used to do make room for the imaginary Jimmy).

“I thought you told me Jimmy Jimmereeno was run over and. Killed.”
“What?”
“You heard me,” Eloise said. “Why are you sleeping way over here?”
“Because,” said Ramona.
“Because why? Ramona, I don’t feel like-“
“Because I don’t want to hurt Mickey.”
“Who?”
“Mickey,” said Ramona, rubbing her nose. “Mickey Mickeranno.”

Eloise shrieks at Ramona to get in the center of the bed but then finally softens and feels some sympathy for her poor, disturbed girl, holding her glasses from the nightstand and repeating “Poor Uncle Wiggily.” Somehow she has been transported to another time when she herself was a “nice girl” and capable of feeling sympathy and worthy also of receiving it. A time so distant from the present that she weeps. A sad story, but with a kernel of hope at the end(?)

Have you read this Salinger story? What was your take on it? What is your favorite from his collection,”Nine Stories?”

*I discovered in my “research” that “Uncle Wiggily” was a beloved character from a popular series of children’s books from 1910 to about 1940. He was an elderly rabbit, plagued by rheumatism, who encountered and escaped troubles by either his wits or by coincidental good fortune. I’ll have to see if I can find one of the 76(!) books in which he appears.  Have you ever heard of Uncle Wiggily? I hadn’t, but then I wasn’t alive in 1940, or 1950, or 1960, or, well… let’s just say I’m too young to have known about him.  🙂

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7 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    September 25, 2012 at 10:32 am

    I had heard of Uncle Wiggly, but for some reason I thought he had something to do with a children’s board game – an old one. I’m probably getting things mixed up. Maybe there was a board game that went along with the books. “For Esme-With Love and Squalor” is still my favorite short story this year, although there are a lot that are a close second. I have the rest of Salinger’s nine stories on my 2013 short story list.

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    • Jay said,

      September 26, 2012 at 6:55 am

      Hi Dale,
      “For Esme…” has probably been my favorite Salinger story thus far. I find I don’t always connect as well with his stories as I do some other writers, but suspect the fault lies with me and not Salinger… I’ll have a couple more of these stories in my 2013 Deal Me In project too.
      -Jay

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  2. Richard D. Boyle said,

    September 25, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Hi Jay, Yes I am familiar with Uncle Wiggley but then I was born in 1934 and it would be hard to have missed him growing up. I used to haunt the Canegie Library in my hometown when I was young and , at that time, my library card kept a record of the title of each book I read. When it was full, I would be issued a new one. I was an Uncle Wiggley fanatic and had read over 50 of his books when the librarian took a look at my card and said “I think you’re ready for something a little older”.. and she took me over to the adult section and pulled a copy of “Tom Sawyer” down off the shelf. I took her advice and gave up Uncle Wiggley for good and have never looked back.

    As to Salinger, I have, of course read “Catcher” and loved it and also tried to appreciate “Frannie and Zooie” and “Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenter” but failed to connect. I have not read his short stories but perhaps I should give them a test drive. Thanks for the inspiration.

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    • Jay said,

      September 26, 2012 at 7:01 am

      Hi Richard,

      Thanks for sharing your library/librarian story. I love those, and yours prompted me to google Carnegie Library history and… Wow! I knew there were Carnegie libraries but had no idea how many there were. I should try to put together a future post about them – if I can find where I left my scholar’s cap and put it back on.

      As I mentioned to Dale above, I feel I usually don’t connect as strongly with Salinger as some others, but the more I read the more I am coming to appreciate his talents.

      -Jay

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  3. September 27, 2012 at 11:34 am

    […] wrote stories set in the suburbs. So did J. D. Salinger (and thanks to Jay at Bibliophilopolis for his recent post about “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut;” that was one of the first stories I thought of when I wanted to write this post, but I […]

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  4. June 20, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    […] is another post on this story by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.  It’s interesting that this story was his […]

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  5. Jimmy said,

    May 29, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    Don’t you think Ramona is Walt’s child? Eloise’s related to Ramona’s relationship with imaginary Jimmy as Walt was a distant image in her own mind. Her moving on to another boy thus made Eloise mournful. This made imagination more real than say Mary Jane’s role or her husband’s. Her holding Ramona’s glasses and crying “Poor Uncle Wiggily” could play on this connection. Or, it could imply Walt wore glasses, and that he was also highly imaginative. Walt had his hand on Eloise’s stomach on the train. Thus, Eloise is least nice to the memory, ‘image,’ and person she most identifies with niceness. Therein exposes the reason behind the madness of American elite. And this I’m sure is best left unstated.

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