Molly was miserable at the school in Winter Hill. In Winter Hill her classmates laughed at her… they laughed at the way she talked and the way she dressed.
Elizabeth laughed most of all which was so embarrassing to Molly that she never raised her hand to answer a question. But sometimes the teacher, Miss Stickley, called on her, so she had to say something even though her English wasn’t very good because she had only been in America a little while. When Elizabeth giggled at her mistakes, Miss Stickley would stare at Elizabeth, and then she’d be quiet. But later, in the schoolyard, she’d say, “You talk funny, Molly. You look funny, Molly.” And then she’d sing a song:
Your eyes are awf’ly small
Your nose is awf’ly tall.
Hilda and Kitty would sing the song too, and sometimes even Fay and Emma. They all liked Elizabeth best because she brought peppermint sticks to school and handed them out to all her friends at recess.
One day, Elizabeth and Hilda followed Molly halfway home singing that terrible song.
Molly started to run. When she got to her apartment, she burst into tears in her mother’s arms.
“Shaynkeit, what’s the matter?” She asked, patting her head and smoothing her hair. Her mother didn’t speak much English. She talked to her in Yiddish.
“Mama, lets go back to New York City,” Molly said. “In this third grade, there aren’t any other foreign children. I don’t talk like the other girls. They make fun of me. I hate going to school.”
“Oi Malkeleh,” Mama said, “We can’t go back to New York City. In New York, Papa had to work in a factory. We had to live in a poor tenement house. Here in Winter Hill, Papa has a good job in Mr. Brodshky’s store downstairs. And Mr. Brodsky let’s us live in this nice apartment.”
“Well, then, let’s go back to Goraduk in Russia,” Molly begged. “We only came to this country last winter. I bet we could still get our old house back.”
“Molly, we can’t go back to Goraduk. There is nothing there for us. In Goraduk, Jewish girls don’t even get to go to school. They have to grow up ignorant like donkeys. I’ll go to your school. I’ll talk to the teacher. She’ll make those paskudnyaks stop teasing you!”
“No! Mama, no!” Molly said quickly. “You don’t have to do that.” She didn’t want Miss Stickley or Elizabeth to see Mama. Her Mama didn’t talk like the other mothers. She hardly spoke any English at all. She didn’t look like other mothers either.
So her mother didn’t go after all and nothing changed. Molly just dragged herself to school day after day.
Then one day in November during reading time, Miss Stickley said, “Open your books to page one hundred.” It was a new story.
“You may begin reading, Molly,” Miss Stickney said.
Molly looked at the words…she had never seen one of the words in the title and she stumbled over it, “The First Th….Th…Th…” She shook her head. “I don’t know that word,” she said.
“It’s a hard word, Mollie,” Miss Stickley said. “Especially if you haven’t seen it before. Who can tell Molly what the word is?”
Several hands shot up. Miss Stickley called on Elizabeth. “Thanksgiving,” she announced, “I thought everyone knew that.”
“Thanksgiving?” Molly repeated. “What’s Thanksgiving?”
Elisabeth snorted. “You don’t even know about Thanksgiving? I guess you people don’t celebrate American holidays.”
Miss Stickley ignored Elizabeth. “The story will explain the word, Molly,” she said. “Go ahead and start reading.”
It was a good story. It was about the Pilgrims and how they started the holiday of Thanksgiving. Molly had never heard of Pilgrims before.
When the reading was over Miss Stickley said that this year the class was going to do something fun for Thanksgiving. She said they would make a model of the Pilgrim village at Plymouth, Massachusetts, celebrating their first Thanksgiving. “We’ll make the houses and the church and I want each of you to make the people,” she said. “You can make the people dolls out of clothespins. The boys can make Indians and the girls can make Pilgrims. If you sit in row one, two or three make a woman. If you sit in row four five or six, make a man.”
Molly sat in row two. She had to make a Pilgrim woman.
“Bring your dolls tomorrow,” Miss Stickley said. “Then I’ll show you how to make houses out of cardboard.”
When Molly got home her Mama asked like always if she had homework.
“I have ten math problems and I need a clothespin,” she said. When Mama asked what she needed a clothespin for, she told her she had to make a pilgrim doll out of it.
Mama frowned. “Nu, Malkeleh, what’s a Pilgrim?”
Molly tried to explain that Pilgrims came to this country from the other side of the ocean to be free…to have their own religion and worship God as they pleased because they couldn’t do that where they came from.
Mama’s eyes lit up. She seemed to understand. “They’re like us. We came to be free, too,” she said. Then Mama told Molly to do her ten math problems and go to bed. She said she would make the clothespin pilgrim and have it ready in the morning.
“Just make sure it’s a girl doll,” Molly told her.
The next morning, when Molly sat down at the table for breakfast, the doll was at her place. It had started out as a clothespin, but you never would have known it had been a clothespin. Mama had covered the clothespin with cloth and stuffing. She had made hair out of dark brown yarn and she’d embroidered eyes, a nose and a mouth on the face. She had dressed the doll in a long, full red skirt, tiny black felt boots, and a bright yellow high-necked blouse. She had covered the yarn hair with a yellow kerchief embroidered with red flowers.
“Mama! She’s gorgeous,” Molly choked out. “But Mama, she doesn’t look like the Pilgrim woman in the picture in my reading book.”
“No?” Mama said.
“She looks like you in the photo you have that was taken when you were a girl.”
“Of course,” Mama laughed. “I made her like that on purpose.”
“You did?” Molly asked. “Why?”
“Well you said a pilgrim is someone who came here from the other side of the world to find freedom. That’s me, Molly, and your Papa…and you! We’re Pilgrims!”
Molly was sure there was something wrong with what Mama was saying. She was not the kind of Pilgrim in the reading book but it was too late to make another doll now. All she could do was take the only one she had to school.
Most of the dolls were sitting out on the student’s desks when Molly got to school. Her doll was in a little paper bag and she put it inside her desk quickly without even taking it out of the bag.
Elizabeth and Hilda were walking up and down the aisles looking at all the dolls and whispering teach other. When they came to Molly’s desk, Elizabeth said, “Miss Stickley’s going to be mad at you, Molly for not making a doll…it was your homework.”
“I did do it,” Molly muttered.
She opened her desk and took out the paper bag. She closed the desk and set the bag on top. Slowly she pulled out the doll.
“Oh my goodness,” Elizabeth sighed. “How can anyone be as dumb as you, Jolly Molly? That’s not a Pilgrim. That looks like some kind of Russian peasant doll.”
Molly’s face felt hot as fire.
The bell rang and Mollie shoved the doll back into her desk.
After morning exercises, Miss Stickley began to walk around the room looking at each of the dolls and remarking on each of them. “Why Michael, where did you find so many feathers…Sally, she’s lovely…and Elizabeth, what beautiful gray silk…yours must be a very rich pilgrim.”
“I think mine is the best so far,” Elizabeth said.
When Miss Stickley came to Molly desk, Mollie pulled her doll out of her desk without looking up.
Elizabeth laughed out loud.
“That’s a beautiful doll,” said Miss Stickley.
“But it’s not even a pilgrim,” Elizabeth shouted out.
Molly mumbled in defense, “Mama said…”
When Elizabeth giggled again Miss Stickley put her hand on Molly’s shoulder. “Tell me what your mother said, Molly.”
“This doll is dressed like Mama…the doll is dressed like Mama because Mama said she came to America for religious freedom too, and so she’s a Pilgrim, herself.”
Elizabeth hooted and so did some of the others but Miss Stickley marched up to the front of the room. She turned and faced the class.
“Listen to me, Elizabeth.” She said in a loud voice. “Listen to me all of you. Molly’s mother is a Pilgrim. She’s a modern pilgrim. She came here, just like the Pilgrims long ago, so she could worship in her own way, in peace and freedom.”
Then Miss Stickley marched down the aisle to Molly’s desk again. “May I have your doll for a while Molly? I’m going to put this beautiful doll on my desk where everyone can see it all the time. It will remind us all that Pilgrims are still coming to America…and that we welcome them.”
Molly’s pilgrim doll sat on Miss Stickley’s desk for a long, long time…almost until spring. By that time nobody teased Molly any more…she had friends…they’d all learned that it takes all kinds of people to make a Thanksgiving.