July 30, 2013

Blueberries and Laura Ingalls Wilder

This might be a very confusing post to you today. (AND A LONG ONE.) I have pix of blueberry picking but I'm not really writing about blueberries today. I'm writing about Laura Ingalls Wilder, because for the past week, she's all I've been able to think about.

(also I'm writing this post going under the assumption that you all reading this right now have read the books, or have some sort of working knowledge about the books, and/or know basic informational facts like Laura Ingalls wrote some really famous books about growing up as a pioneer girl in the 1800's American Midwest, and later married Almanzo Wilder (who was super hot). She detailed his childhood in 'Farmer Boy'.)

And if you haven't read the books, just.......go read the books. I'll summon up some forgiveness in THE DEPTHS OF MY SOUL, if you just go read the books. It's not too late for you, it's really not. Ask yourself this, do I really want to die not having read the 'Little House' books? (maybe your answer is, sounds fine by me.) Or ask yourself this: do I really want to disappoint Melissa in this way?? (maybe then your answer will be, I so do NOT CARE if Melissa is disappointed.) At which point I can do nothing but feel pity for you. AND SCORN.

It all kind of began when I wrote my 'Little House in the Big Woods' post. Julia and I read that one together but we're going to wait on tackling any more 'Little House' books until the fall because our library box is overflowing with over due books. The library must love it when I walk through the doors because basically, I'm a walking talking library fine.

All things Little House began burrowing their way into my head after that though, and I re-read 'The Long Winter' by myself one night. And then I re-read 'Those Happy Golden Years'. And then I began poking around (and by poking around I mean spending every spare moment looking up Laura Ingalls Wilder websites.) and I realized that I now had to read and get my hands on all the material I had once deemed 'boring' when I was a young girl reading the series of books.

Now I WANT to read her book of letters that she wrote, her biography, and the books her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, wrote. I want to know everything I can about the real Laura.

I'll get to the links for those resources in a bit.

But first I want you to think about something.

Many of you are having legitimately rough times and a hard day right now. And for you folks out there having those hard times, I wish a swift exit to those hard times. But most of us? Most of what we are thinking of as a hard time IS NOT A HARD TIME.

You know what's a hard time? Eating a few potatoes and bits of bread during 6 months of blizzards, like Laura and her family had to do, during the horrifically hard winter of 1880-81 in South Dakota.

Let me tell you, when you re-read 'The Long Winter' as an adult....all I was able to think was holy $@%!#, I can't believe they had to go through what they did. The near starvation, that kind of cold while living in a shack by today's standards...those things don't really penetrate when you read about it at age 10.

And then when I skimmed over 'The First Four Years' and began exploring some Laura forums online...I never really realized how horribly difficult Laura's adult years were, in the years immediately following her wedding.

Diphtheria. (her husband Almanzo's health is forever decimated, which leaves him unable to farm, which leaves them in debt and nearly destitute....for YEARS.)

Loss of a child.

House burning down.

Loss of livelihood. (see above, diphtheria)

They experienced one calamity after another. I never knew that! I thought everything was EASY PEASY PRAIRIE SQUEEZY until one day Laura sat down and wrote her Little House books.

I didn't know much about her relationship with her daughter Rose. I didn't know that Rose edited the books for her. (some claim that Rose wrote the stories and Laura just supplied the memories, but it appears that most authorities on the topic pretty much agree that the two worked collaboratively together, with Rose serving as an editor and story polisher, but that Laura did indeed provide the actual source material.)

Every day, for over a week, at night when I had some free time, I would sit poring over any bits of info I could find about Laura's adult life.

The good news is that when she and Almanzo arrived at middle life, they had gotten back on their feet financially and had found a place where they could settle and achieve some respite to the unbelievable hardship they had faced for so many years.

I read about how when Almanzo died (at age 92! he and Laura both lived into their nineties), Laura went and slept in his bed, (at that point they had their own twin beds, which I think is totally adorable.) the night after he died. Isn't that so sad? And so sweet? They were married for 64 years!

I won't go on and on giving a recitation of Laura's adult life, because there are varied and better sources than my wee little blog. But I just can't get her out of my head. Visiting her house in Mansfield just jumped onto the top 5 items on my bucket list.

Mostly what I want to impart in today's post is that if the only experience you've had with the Little House books is reading them as a child, well you MUST read them again as an adult. It's a totally different experience.

For example:

Laura's Ma. Um, Ma is kind of.....not a lot of kissies and loveys coming from that direction, am I right? I think Pa was the light in that household. But then again the woman prolly was sick to death of being dragged all over the country. Not sure Ma was the happiest of campers.

So, like...wow Pa and Ma got their money's worth out of Laura, huh? I know kids were expected to be worker bees from a young age in those days, but that girl really delivered.

Also. True fact. Pretty much every kid nowadays is spooooooooiled and THEN SOME compared to prairie kids. Modern kids would flip if they had to be sent to prairie life boot camp.

Also, prairie life sounds WAY HARD, and I am so glad I wasn't born into prairie life. So hard! And COLD. I was loving how a 20 below zero day was considered a great day to go out in, compared to 40 below zero.

40 BELOW ZERO???????????????!!!!!!

Those temps don't fully register in this girl-who-used-to-live-in-Hawaii's brain.

You gotta read these books as 1) a parent and 2) as an adult, my friends. It's just a wild wild ride. There are times when I think I should start throwing out many of Ma's sayings and Ma-isms at my daughter. "Pretty is as pretty does", or "Least said, soonest mended". ("least said" is a trait that has never existed in my side of the family for at least 3 generations. maybe that's why family arguments were never "soonest mended"!)

I do think this about Ma -- that lady was the epitome of grace under pressure. And she knew how do DO EVERYTHING under the sun!

Sew. Cook. Butcher. Make soap. Make cheese. Teach. Ma was pretty much a badass.

So if I've lit any kind of Little House fire inside your imagination today, let me tell you where you can find ample material to fuel a raging Laura Ingalls Wilder obsession.

First, I'm going to be checking out 'Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography' by William Anderson, as well as 'Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder' by John E. Miller.

I really want to read Rose Wilder Lane's novels, 'Let the Hurricane Roar' (which is Rose's version of 'On the Banks of Plum Creek') and 'Freeland'. The hero in 'Freeland', David, is directly based upon her father, Almanzo. Apparently this book, meant for adults, shows what was REALLY going on for homesteaders on the prairies. (basically, it sucked.)

Oh I've got more! At some point, I also want to read 'The Wilder Life' by Wendy McClure, another lady who has a Laura obsession. 

I found some great websites that discuss all things Laura related, that really you should devote all of your free time to like I did. So I won't feel like such a weirdo. 

Here they are: Frontiergirl.proboards.com and beyondlittlehouse.com. Oh and this New Yorker article called 'Wilder Women' was really brilliant. And of course there's Wikipedia's entry on Laura.

Andrew was asking me the other day what was it about these books that got me so hyped up OUT OF MY MIND. He also, upon discovering that we were totally out of bread products, cheerfully informed me that on the prairie, there probably would have been bacon and eggs or pancakes for breakfast. Ignore!

Unlike 'Anne of Green Gables' (that's another conversation for another day), Laura was a real person. And she had a bit of an attitude. And no matter what she fictionalized, or invented, or glossed over, or handed off to her daughter to edit, the fact is that she managed to produce a completely realized world describing a time that hardly anyone else wrote about with the charm, clarity and love that she did. Laura was a survivor. And beautiful! Look here and here.

What does blueberry picking have to do with all of this? Not much. Except I have nothing but respect for farmers.

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  1. Great post! Always a happy day to meet someone else who loves the books as much as I do! Welcome the club!

    1. Thanks Marie! The Laura club is one I'm happy to be in!

  2. I have the utmost respect for Laura and her fellow pioneers. They were truly brave people and endured so much. Laura's life was very harsh, especially her young adult life, but I am happy knowing she was finally able to live comfortably in her later years with her beloved husband. I adored reading her biographies and now that you post about it, it really would be a good idea to re-read them (and her books) as an adult. My son needs to read her books badly as well!!! I'll blame you for putting this on his reading list :P

    1. I can't wait to read the biographies! There's been talk of her original manuscript, 'Pioneer Girl' being published as well, I would adore to see that.....

  3. I recognize those buckets!!!!!!! My mom was born in the rural south as one of 10 kids. Being the youngest she "got" to be born at the hospital and be brought home to a house with electricity. Listening to the stories my older aunts & uncles and great aunts & uncles makes me realize what a luxurious life they've lead the last sixty years with indoor plumbing, electricity, , bedrooms (my uncles slept on the enclosed porch), etc. I love reading the LHOTP books as a reminder of how glad I am not need to work that hard for survival.

    But you have to cut Ma some slack. Its always the Mom's hard work that goes unnoticed & unappreciated. If there wasn't what would people talk to Dr. Phil about?!?!!! Pa got to come home and be all Mr. Excitement while he smoked his pipe and played the fiddle. Even after doing all that homestead work Ma still had to sit there and darn his flipping socks while he got all the glory!!!!!!!! ;)

    1. True that! about Ma. Seriously that's another point. When he starts telling Ma that his wandering foot is starting to itch and he wants to move further West...at that point I would have been waving a frying pan at his head....:)

  4. Cool post.
    Great pictures.
    Looks like fun.
    I bet they were amazing.

    You bring up some excellent points.
    I can't wait to read and discover this series as an adult.

    1. you and your daughter will have oodles of fun with these some day, Juju!!!!!!!

  5. I was so into everything Laura last year! Seriously, last summer was my Summer of Laura. I read The Wilder Life, a biography by Daniel Zochart, and some of the one by Pamela Smith Hill. It was so cool visiting the Little House on the Prairie Museum, and there are no words to describe how amazing Rocky Ridge Farm is. To see how much Almanzo built by hand, limp and all. To see Laura's beautiful little kitchen! We had a lovely time reading the 2 Little House books and On the Banks of Plum Creek together, as well as most of the picture books and early chapter books, but I'm definitely saving the other books for later. If I can whittle down my library pile, I should jump ahead on the later books. I remember them somewhat, but then I don't. I think I was young enough that for me, they were "the boring books." I can imagine they would resonate a lot more with my adult self, as you describe.

    I LOVE your blueberry pictures!!!

    1. OMIGOSH. you've been to Rocky Ridge????? Oooooooh. speechless with delight and happiness for you! Oh I have to go someday. Have to GO! I really think Almanzo was The Man. I think he had a lot to contend with in sassypants Laura and his equally sassy daughter. (reminds me of Andrew in that regard....:)

      The later books, are you talking about Little Town and These Happy Golden Years? Those are my super favs!! Cuz of all the romance :). I think I'm a few years older than you, and those last two just made my little tween or teen heart swoon. They still do!

      This summer is totally my summer of Laura!! Oh my stars, I have to get myself to Mansfield....

    2. and thank you re the pix! I "aged" them a bit, to go with my vintage book discussion :

    3. There are pictures on the blog from last July. ;) Nothing inside the house, as we weren't allowed.

      I had finished reading all the Little House books by fifth grade. I liked them, but On the Banks of Plum Creek was my childhood favorite.

    4. Mine too! (plum creek, tied with farmer boy!)

  6. Now I must re-read those books! I remember them through the shiny-happy thoughts of an 8-year-old girl, so my memories of those books mainly consist of me wanting to live Laura's life. I'm sure I'll change my tune once I read them again. Great post! xoxo

    1. it's so interesting to read them thru an adult filter!!!

  7. Have you seen this?


    I love that author anyway, so I can't wait to read it! I loved the Laura books as a child too, and I loved reading them all with my 8 year old recently too. I have to say that with each passing book, I grew more irritated with Pa and his wanderlust. Why couldn't her just stay put so Ma could have family close by? And FOOD?!

    The blueberry pics fit the post somehow- my favorite was the one of Julia and her friend walking arm in arm. :-)

    1. Wasn't that cute of the girls? They had such a grand time! I'm sad I didn't get a wide shot of the whole valley in which this blueberry farm is situated...it looks very prairie-esque!

      YES I've heard of that book!!! (and I'm hoping to review it soon :)

      So with you about Pa! That man needed to be a pirate, or join up with the Merchant Marines, or finding the silk road to China.

  8. Love love love the Laura books! We went to a lot of sites around the midwest growing up, like Walnut Grove (they do an outdoor pageant there). My mom finally went to Rocky Ridge this spring, where they have PA'S FIDDLE among other things. She loved it. You will ADORE "The Wilder Life", it is right up your alley.

    1. Sigh. Pa's fiddle! Oh my goodness, I'm telling you, I'm packing the family in the car next summer and we're driving across the country! I told Andrew about my plan and I wish you could have seen the totally aghast look upon his face.....:)