If you haven’t read the Little House books and plan to, know that this post includes some spoilers.
“You know how Mary is always so good and just sits there?”
“Yeah because she’s blonde.”
“You remember that time they went to church and Laura wore Mary’s ribbons and Mary wore Laura’s?”
“Yeah because they were running late.”
Two little girls had just had a conversation about a Little House book in my kitchen. Not American Girl dolls they want or a TV show or a video game. A book.
I didn’t talk about books when I was a kid. When I was about nine, I attempted Little House and failed. I just couldn’t get into it. Over the past year and a half, my seven-year-old daughter and I read the series together. When we started Little House in the Big Woods, I honestly didn’t think we’d get through it. I thought my daughter would find it boring. But in the quiet of the evening, my daughter faced me and soaked it in, asking questions.
When we started Little House on the Prairie and the building of their new house is described in so much detail, I thought we wouldn’t go on, but at the end of each book my daughter couldn’t wait for the next. Neither could I. All I could think was that I was so happy I didn’t read these books when I was a girl. Reading them for the first time with my daughter has been a gift revealed page by page. We couldn’t wait to see what each night would bring. Would the wolves get into the house? Would Pa make it home? “Oh, Mom! You always stop at the good parts!”
What’s the appeal of stories about a girl’s pioneer life from more than a century ago? Laura’s many chores, danger, and solitude on the quiet prairie with few toys and comforts is more like our childhoods than we think. After all, even then it was hard for a girl to listen and sit still.
And reading the books for the first time as an adult, the books shed some perspective on my modern life.
• The Ingalls family doesn’t have much. They can take everything they own and move from place to place in a covered wagon. My family has tons of stuff. Some of it fills me with joy but I dare guess how many covered wagons it would take to move all of our things. Wagon train, anyone?
• The Ingalls family fixes what is broken. Pa wears his patched boots to walk a hundred miles for work, saving the money for something else. I wouldn’t want Pa to see my closet full of shoes. For shame, Karen.
• Oh, that mean old Nellie Oleson! If there is one thing I learned while reading On the Banks of Plum Creek, it’s that there is always a mean girl.
• We don’t control blizzards, grasshopper weather, the outcome of our crops, or the effects of illness. The Ingalls family pushes through the cold winter, Pa finds work to make money since the grasshoppers ate their crops, and Mary accepts her blindness with dignity. No one falls to the floor in a fit, whines for pity, or sheds a tear when things go wrong. Let me be clear—there is no dignity in this house in the face of misfortune.
I know the books are historical fiction, but I also know Wilder included many facts in her books. I can’t help but think the emotion is part of that.
After reading about Laura’s life, her closeness with her family, it was hard to read about her last night at home before getting married. I remember my own last night at home when the realization sunk in that things would be different and I would take on new roles. It was hard to see Laura move on. I could barely read the words to my daughter. “What’s wrong, Mommy?” Every few words I paused so I wouldn’t burst into sobs. And then my daughter knew, it clicked, and she looked at me. Tears streamed down her cheeks and we wiped our tears and laughed. “I don’t ever want to leave you!” she cried. But I know she will one day. And that’s OK.
I’ll always have memories of this time together while my kids are young, reading to them, spending time with them. In Laura’s family, Pa plays the fiddle each night while everyone gathers round. In ours, we play games together or hang out. I guess family time is something that has stood the test of time.
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