Laura Ingalls Wilder's saga of late 19th century life was a big influence on me. I can still remember rushing to the den to watch weekly episodes about Pa and Ma and Mary, Laura and Carrie on the tv set. When the family feared that Jack the dog had contracted rabies, it nearly killed me. And, just like Laura, I detested that snooty Nellie Olsen. Soon after, I discovered the Little House books that inspired the series, and I poured over the words and Garth Williams illustrations on a nightly basis. My mama even made matching prairie dresses for us to wear to church.
Then calamity happened:
After my family moved from Elgin, Ill., to Lafayette, La., my second grade teacher jumped ship and the series of substitutes that followed decided to read chapters of Little House on the Prairie to us, skipping fractions, conjugations, and handwriting lessons to deliver endless homilies about campfires and woodstoves. As the months wore on, I lost a little bit of my enthusiasm for Wilder's tales. By the time we moved to Arlington, Tex. (I think my daddy was as restless as Charles Ingalls, although we were fortunate to have moving vans at our disposal instead of an ox team and a wagon), I was so far behind that I deemed Little House a symbol of neglect.
I'm happy to say that I no longer cringe when I read about Laura Ingalls Wilder, who, these days, seems to hold as much relevance as she ever did.
Go here to read an essay that appeared in last month's issue of O, the Oprah Magazine. Titled "The Hard-Times Companion," the article compares the floundering economy to the travails the Ingalls family faced.
Marie Howe writes, "By December I'd lost half my retirement savings, as had many of my friends, but I still had the job I'd returned to and was growing ever more grateful for it. The Ingalls family had moved three times, lost their good dog Jack, and suffered through a long bout of scarlet fever that had left Mary blind. Heat, hunger, grasshoppers. Pa worked the field, hunted when he could; Ma made supper, and the girls did their daily chores: fetching water, making the beds, setting and clearing the table, washing dishes. Page after page, they worked, then settled down to stitch quilt squares and study. If the chores had the feel of a regular metronome, the rhythm of their daily life seemed like a quiet song."
And yesterday, I sat down with the current New Yorker, and discovered Wilder Women, an article about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, a journalist who both shaped and borrowed from her mother's work.
This afternoon, while I should have been working, I mooned over pictures of the Wilders at Wikipedia, and considered ordering a copy of Little House on the Prairie as well as The Ghost in the Little House and My Little House Sewing Book.