Reading my first Laura Ingalls Wilder novel had me in the anxiety seat. I couldn’t accept the fact that in the story nothing horrendous happens — you know, sort of like listening to A Prairie Home Companion (which I have not been able to do for years) or visiting a newly sprung community with matching houses such as Seabrook (Stepford Wives?!). Where is the dark side? I felt imbalanced — and not just because I was reading it on the elliptical. It’s just that life is never all one way, that Jungian shadow side must be revealed.
I was nonetheless able to enjoy it and I actually learned a lot about farming rhythms and rituals. Like that whole ice-blocks-stacked-in-sawdust-that-last-all-summer deal, and how cobblers stopped by the house for a few weeks each year to fit everyone for and make their shoes!
But the best bits of the book were the meals. LIW is nearly up there with Dickens and Thomas Wolfe in the victuals description department. Here is a sample passage from the end of the Sunday chapter:
Mother sliced the hot rye’n’injn bread on the bread-board by her plate. Father’s spoon cut deep into the chicken-pie; he scooped out big pieces of thick crust and turned up their fluffy yellow under-sides on the plate. He poured gravy over them; he dipped up big pieces of tender chicken, dark meat and white meat sliding from the bones. He added a mound of baked beans and topped it with a quivering slice of fat pork. At the edge of the plate he piled dark-red beet pickles and he handed the plate to Almanzo.
Silently Almonzo ate it all. Then he ate a piece of pumpkin pie, and he felt very full inside. But he ate a piece of apple pie with cheese.
Okay. Good lord. There is enough gravy, butter and cream in this book to flatten a co-op. I can’t even imagine eating gravy and butter, I totally freak! But the characters in this book worked hard night and day and so are rewarded, without health effects, to gravy — god’s happiest tears.
My late friend Terry Holmes used to say about the late Michael Landon who was on the late LIW inspired television show Little House on the Prairie Terry used to say about ML’s hair that you could pull a wagon train with it. Now when my niece and I see a lady with long straggly hair who should know better we say at the same moment ‘wagon train’!