Monday, December 17, 2007

Reflections on Reading a Little House Book

We finished Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie a few weeks back, during our morning read-alouds, and I can't seem to get them out of my head. Perhaps because I live an ever-so-slightly similar life to Caroline Ingalls, albeit with far less day to day grind and toil: I stay home with the kids; I can; I sew; I garden with an eye to storing much of it; I do lots of cooking. Or perhaps because Laura Ingalls Wilder knew how to craft a taut story line, and I got myself good and hooked while reading it aloud to my kids. Even though we left the Little House series (couldn't get On the Banks of Plum Creek from the library in time) and read The Water Horse AND several stories from the excellent Kingfisher Christmas Stories treasury, and now are deep in Half Magic, I still think back to the Little House books, and wonder about some of the things that went on that Laura the narrator never mentioned. For instance:

Just where did that family keep their toilet? Nary a mention of anything toilet related (as the mother of two boys, believe me, I hear enough about toilets that they are on my radar whether I like it or not).

What the heck happened to Baby Carrie when the rest of the Ingalls family got malaria?

What did Caroline think each time they packed up and moved? Was she really so blithe? Did she ever get completely pissed off at Charles, or was that just the way it went back then? Did they squabble tensely and quietly when the girls went to sleep, whispering into the night, or was she a fatalist, knowing that she'd already made her choice a long time ago?

Why oh why did Laura and Mary give their Indian beads to Baby Carrie when the kid couldn't even wear the damn necklace? Ugh. The unfairness of this whole scene drove me and my kids to distraction. Really it did. Why did Ma stand by and let them do it, even? I would have said, "Sweet gesture, girls, but keep the beads. God knows you have little enough toys as it is. Carrie's a baby and we all know she'll eat 'em if she gets 'em." (yes, I suppose this is what separates me from moral stalwarts like Caroline Ingalls)

Where did the cornmeal they ate every day come from? It seemed to be an inexhaustible supply for people who'd had to squeeze all their stuff into a covered wagon, leaving so much other stuff behind.

Did the beautiful carved shelf Pa made Ma for Christmas get left behind? Seemed like it, but seeing as how the toilet situation never got a mention, maybe the shelf came along and never got mentioned either.

Was Ma really that even tempered? I guess this is where she and I really differ, because there isn't a person in my family who would ever describe me as even tempered. But Ma never seemed to shout, or tell Pa to get her a gin and tonic ("with ice, Charles!") when he went to town, or even break down when scary Indians had just left with all Pa's tobacco. She didn't appear to have glimmers of PMS, either. No snapping at Pa when he dropped the logs on her, no bitching about making endless pans of cornmeal mush. She didn't even lose it when the Indians were making plans to massacre them. Makes me feel incredibly weenie, because I quail when Richard sets his alarm for 6am.


Anonymous said...

Hey Sheila,

I think the answers to a lot of your questions can be found in "A Little House Sampler" or reading one of Laura's bios. Some are written by her daughter Rose. We made these part of our unit study. Very intersting stuff.

Pa used to trade the furs he trapped for goods like 'corn' when he went into Independence, Kansas. The ground it themselves, in something that looks like a modern meat grinder. They also used this mill to grind their wheat.

sheila said...

Aah, I'll have to check that out, thanks for the tip. Funny, I used to think these were "books for girls" but now I know better.

I liked the pictures of the girls making candles on your blog!

cheers / sheila

Andrea said...

LOL! R and I just finished reading that series last year. It had a big impact on me, too, though. Just the simplicity and the independence and self-sufficiency of it all - the things they did without and the things they made themselves....

Mothering From the Heart said...

I read all of these books when I first moved to the US as a child back in the last half of the 50's. I remember that one of the first things I learned to do in school in the US was to make butter. I grew up thinking that I wanted to live like they had in the Little House books and moved to Cape Breton to become a self-sufficient farmer in my early twenties.

As an adult rereading the series out loud to various groupings of my children I wondered how Carolyn managed all the times Pa left and they didn't hear from him for a long time. Perhaps people at that time expected more difficulties in life than we do now.

Do read the rest of the series. And especially the last book in the series - which is not edited the way all the others are. And then read the books about the Rocky Ridge years when Laura is married and has a daughter - Rose. Rose became a journalist and reported on the Vietnam war. My daughter enjoyed the Rocky Ridge books the most.