Obscurity Knocks

Earnest, empathetic, industrious, unpretentious, gay Virgo in Milwaukee with a great life, amazing friends, and a wonderful family.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Photo: Carrie, Mary, and Laura Ingalls in the 1870s.
Speaking of sentimental, this summer I read all of the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was first introduced to the Little House series in third grade when our teacher read "On the Banks of Plumb Creek" to our class. I remember many of the girls in my class getting into the whole series, but I didn't catch Little House fever as a kid.

Fortunately, Kristina at work recommended reading the Little House series, and I'm glad that she did. I would have to rank these books right up there with the Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia series. To my thinking, those are three sets of books that are at the pinnacle of children's literature.

What really struck me when reading Little House books was the fact that Laura Ingalls basically wrote about her life. Yes, I know that the books are classified as fiction, but just about everything she wrote about actually happened. Laura, who I'm proud to say was born in Wisconsin, and her family traveled from Wisconsin to what is now Kansas, back to Wisconsin, then to Minnesota, and ultimately to De Smet, South Dakota.

The books are far superior to the television show starring Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon from the late 70s and early 80s. The books document true pioneer life in the late 19th century, while the television program is the work of some not-very-talented screenwriters who never set foot on a farm.

In any event, I could not imagine living Laura's life. I get awfully cold outside in the winter even when wearing a 21st century coat, hat, scarf, and gloves. Laura and her family had to endure the brutal and incessant winds of the South Dakota prairie without the benefit of today's warm clothing. You had to literally build your own house. And to think of the chores: the cows had to be milked every day, the horses fed and watered, and other animals cared for. No days off, no vacations. They had to butcher their own meat, grow most of their food, and live hoping that the weather or grasshoppers wouldn't destroy that year's crops.

Yet Ingalls and her daughter Rose, who was her editor, are masterful at portraying a family full of love and kindness that appreciated life. In today's world of information overload, it was interesting to read about how Laura and her family had to ration their books and newspapers, reading just a little bit each day so as not to run out of new material quickly. And how Caroline's greatest wish was that her girls could go to school. And how they had to work so hard to build a church, and Laura's reaction at seeing her first Christmas tree.

Laura and Rose create a world that becomes so real to the reader. You feel Laura's excitement when Pa asks her to bring him his fiddle, even though you can't hear the music. You get scared when Almanzo gets shoe polish on his mother's dining room wallpaper in "Farmer Boy," and you're relieved when his sister is able to cover up his transgression. You can imagine running outside on the prairie and seeing the wildflowers. You can almost taste Ma's freshly baked bread and home made jam. You experience Laura's nervousness when she has to give a presentation about the first part of United States history in front of the whole town. You get hungry when you read about how the town of De Smet almost starved to death in "The Long Winter," even though we probably have no idea of the real hunger experienced by the people on the prairie. You almost feel like you're falling in love with Almanzo when Laura does.

What makes the books particularly meaningful to me, I think, is the fact that my maternal grandparents grew up on homesteads in Roberts County, South Dakota. Grandpa was born in 1920 and Grandma was born in 1922. They lived on homesteads in the hills of northeastern South Dakota with no electricity, no running water, no indoor plumbing, no heat other than from a stove or fireplace, no air conditioning, and no refrigerator or washing machine or vacuum cleaner. So the experiences of my grandparents weren't too far removed from those of Laura Ingalls. My grandparents didn't experience electricity or any other modern conveniences until Grandpa joined the army in 1942. After Grandpa met the pretty red-haired girl from down the road, they were married in 1943, and lived in town after Grandpa was discharged from the army following World War II in 1946. But for their entire childhoods, my grandparents' lives were similar to Laura's.

I look forward to reading these books with Abby when she gets older. I hope that she will love them as much as I do. It's rare for me to be affected this much by books, and I'm grateful for the gift of Laura Ingalls' writing.


Post a Comment

<< Home