Sarah Smiley: It costs nothing to make someone’s day

I was genuinely surprised. Last week, at a party for my new book, “Got Here As Soon As I Could,” more people than we expected showed up.

I was genuinely surprised. Last week, at a party for my new book, “Got Here As Soon As I Could,” more people than we expected showed up.

Of course, “more than expected” was an easy benchmark to hit because I expected no one would come.

It all goes back to a Cabbage Patch Kids party I threw when I was in fourth grade. In case you were born after 1990, Cabbage Patch Kids were a line of dolls that were popular in the late-80s. By “popular,” I mean if you were a young child of the ’80s and you didn’t get a Cabbage Patch Kid for Christmas, you were probably already making plans to move out.

The Cabbage Patch Kids were supposed to be incredibly lifelike. I guess we were easy to impress back then. The dolls, except for their heads — those were made out of plastic — were made entirely out of a cloth that felt almost like pantyhose. One single stitch through the middle of the leg formed an odd, dimpled knee, and, likewise, everything from the dolls’ toes and wrists to its rear end were formed with carefully placed stitches. The doll-maker’s signature was on each doll’s butt cheek.

The strangest thing about these dolls, however, was the supposed legend about how they were found and sent out for adoption. Xavier, who in real life was the founder of Cabbage Patch Kids, was said to be 10-years-old when he discovered a magical cabbage farm, where babies were being pollinated by crystals spread by BunnyBees, which are bees with rabbit ears — just to make the “birds and bees” more confusing for ’80s children — and then born into a world where they had no real parents. Xavier took all of them to a hospital to wait for adoption.

Kids lucky enough to receive a Cabbage Patch Kid didn’t actually get them by way of a purchase; they adopted the babies and had papers to prove it. Except real moms and dads did have to shell out large chunks of money and wait in hourslong lines at toy stores to “adopt” the dolls.

I had a Cabbage Patch Kid named Toby. He was, of course, supposed to be real and one-of-a-kind, so I will stick fingers in my ears and pout if you also had a “Toby.” I spent all my allowance on real diapers and bibs for Toby. And one time, I decided to have a party for him, too.

My memory of this party is that no one showed up. My mom remembers it differently. She points to one friend, “Jane,” who came to my Cabbage Patch Kids party. It’s interesting to me that Mom is so quick to recall Jane as the one guest at the party. Was that because Jane was the only one who came? Had my mom, in fact, called Jane’s mom and begged her to come because no one else was? Now that I’m a parent, I know it’s not unreasonable to believe that.

In either case, something happened with that party. And all the years later, I’ve felt sure that no one will come to any party since.

Book signings are a bit like parties where no one comes. (Except for when everyone comes — and they did.) Society no longer values quaint readings at local bookstores, and it’s hard to get people back out — and dressed — for a nighttime event. So I prepared myself for a Cabbage Patch Kids Party Part II. In the weeks leading up to my first book signing for the new book, I envisioned me standing at a table begging passers-by to let me sign a copy for them.

Boy, had I underestimated my readers. The place was standing room only. And as I looked out at the crowd, I felt a little bit emotional. It’s hard to know (indeed, often we never know) how words on a page will affect someone else, how they can draw them out of their home — and their sweatpants — on a cold, windy April night.

One of those readers was my former college professor, Mike. You cannot hear Mike laugh without laughing yourself, and there are few people who know the history of journalism as well as he does. I treasure the hours I spent in his office talking about politics, mom blogs and the state of journalism today.

In his copy of the book, I wrote: “To my favorite teacher….”

(Don’t worry, Mrs. Katabian, my second-grade teacher. You are still my favorite public school teacher!)

About a week later, Mike and I met for coffee. He told me how much that inscription meant to him, that he never realized how much I learned from him.

And then he said, “It costs nothing to be nice and make someone’s day.”

Except, I had done the easy part. I had written words on a page. He and all the rest of you who came did the hard part. You showed up.

Thank you. I will always be grateful for that.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She may be reached at