Nested in a desolate valley, smooshed between two un-nameable foothills and peppered with ramshackle houses somewhere in Appalachia, was a town called Dogpatch. Inhabited with a cast of characters (each as dumb as topsoil) that included voluptuous hotties, illiterate old men, weatherworn womenfolk, dim-witted muscle boys, burglars and rascals, corrupt politicians and the occasional domesticated pig.
This entirely unforgettable, and totally magical, make-believe place was home to "Li'l Abner," the forever-hunky-dashing-dufus, in the long-running syndicated newspaper comic strip by the late cartoonist Al Capp.
With Abner as her only child, the righteous yet fierce and protective "Mammy" Yokum -- the tiny, corn-pipe smoking matriarch of the Yokum family -- was also the self-declared Mayor of Dogpatch. Her husband, the pint-sized turnip farmer Lucifer "Pappy" Yokum -- lazy and lethargic, slothful and sluggish -- was "without even the gumption to scrub his own backside" and was frequently seen being publicly lathered and bathed by his rough and tumble common-law bride.
Starry-eyed, blond, buxom and beautiful, Daisy Mae Scragg was desperately smitten with Li'l Abner throughout the run of the comic strip, during which the dense-n-dumb Abner showed little or no interest in her endlessly beguiling ways.
As frustrated as Daisy Mae was over Abner's indifference, another Dogpatch resident, Miss Sadie Hawkins (hands-down the "ugliest gal in town") got even sicker of waiting for the "fellas-ta-come-a-courtin." But instead of moping and moaning, ingenious Miss Sadie had another idea: the creation of a holiday named in her honor with a declaration that on every Sadie Hawkins Day, there would be a race wherein all unmarried women would chase, jump and tackle Dogpatch bachelors, laying claim to the ones they could trap. For just that one-day, every Leap Day, the lucky Old Maids of Dogpatch were found on one knee, popping the question to their prey, after which followed a slew of shotgun nuptials.
Al Capp debuted Sadie Hawkins Day in a "Li'l Abner" strip on November 15, 1937, and it was said to take place on the first Saturday after November 9th. However, in my thirst for trivia, I discovered that another version of Sadie Hawkins Day allegedly had its origins with St. Patrick and St. Bridget in Ireland in the fifth century, and that one took place on Leap Day.
The legend goes that St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick that the ladies of the nunnery were in a twist: They, much like the ladies of Dogpatch, were also in jeopardy of becoming wallflowers while waiting for available men. With minimal arm-twisting, St. Patrick consented to the gender swicho-chango, thus allowing the women of that day to propose to any man of their choosing on every Leap Day.
The legend has its roots in reality, as over the centuries several European countries did actually allow women to propose marriage on Leap Days, in contrast to the rest of the year.
Leap Day occurs every four years except years ending with "00," and those that are not divisible by 400. (Hey...I'm a clean-freak not a mathematician. If they say it works that way, it must work!) Spinning around the sun once every 365 1/4 days, the Earth needs the extra day every four years to leap forward in order to keep our calendars on track.
In honor of those old traditions, some contemporary Americans celebrate Sadie Hawkins Day (typically with a dance) on Leap Day, while others hold to Capp's date in November.
Oh, and as for Dogpatch, in the end, thanks to St. Bridget, St. Patrick, Miss Sadie Hawkins and the invention of Leap Day, Miss Daisy Mae finally won her true but useless love, Li'l Abner. So what can we take from this history lesson? Much like Abner's "Mammy" snagging his "Pappy," and Daisy Mae snagging him -- in affairs of the heart, no matter how frightening, sometimes it's best just to dive in headfirst. Because, as we all know, "dreamboats" are in the eye of the beholder, and are usually more like diamonds beneath mountains of dirt. (And ya' know how I feel about dirt!)
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