Thursday, July 21, 2016

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little Town on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1941


Springtime

After the long winter, it was finally spring and the Ingalls family moved back to their homestead. Laura and her older sister Mary (who is blind) went for a walk on the prairie and had a conversation about sheep sorrel.  Laura expressed that it tasted like springtime, and Mary, ever the realist, said "it really tastes a little like lemon flavoring, Laura." 

The Goodness of God

Then their conversation turned to goodness and rebellion.
"You used to try all the time to be good," Laura said.  "And you always were good.  I wish I could be like you.  I don't know how you can be so good."
"I'm not really," Mary told her.  "I do try, but if you could see how rebellious and mean I feel sometimes, if you could see what I really am, inside, you wouldn't want to be like me."
Mary admitted to "showing off, being vain and proud," and Laura contradicted her, telling her that she is good.  But Mary replied, using words straight from Scripture:
"We are all desperately wicked and inclined to evil as the sparks fly upwards."  But she continued, "I don't believe we ought to think so much about ourselves, about whether we are bad or good."  And further, ". . . it isn't so much thinking, as - as just knowing.  Just being sure of the goodness of God."
Mouse in the House

This is hysterical.  In the middle of the night, Laura described how "a gasp, grunt, and sudden thud of something small and squashing" woke her up.  Pa told Ma that he dreamed a barber was cutting his hair, but Ma could not understand how a dream could upset him so.  When Pa reached up and felt his hair, he realized - and Ma confirmed - that a place on his hair had been "shorn clean off."  And what he took hold of was a mouse, which he "threw away as hard as he could."  Sure enough, in the morning, they found a dead mouse near the wall.  

Pa had to attend a town meeting at the Whiting's homestead the next day, but he was missing a section of hair.  It would have been fine to keep his hat on, but he expected Mrs. Whiting to be present, and he would need to remove his hat, in respect.  
"Never mind," Ma consoled him.  "Just tell them how it happened.  Likely they have mice."
"There'll be more important things to talk about," said Pa.  "No, better just let them think this is the way my wife cuts my hair." 
"Charles, you wouldn't!" Ma exclaimed, before she saw that he was teasing her.
Long story short, Pa came home with a kitten to deal with the mice problem. 

Laura, Mary, Carrie, Grace, and Kitty

Laura in the World

Mary had always wanted to go to school and become a teacher, but her dreams were dashed after an illness caused her blindness.  But the Ingalls learned of a school for the blind in Iowa, and Laura's new mission became earning money to help pay for an education for her sister.  She was offered a summer job with a merchant in town, sewing shirts for bachelors.

Pa and Laura walk to town.

Working in town exposed Laura to the world.  The White family, whom Laura worked for, were rude and cold to each other, and nothing like Laura's warm, loving family.  Laura reminded herself of Ma's words: 
It takes all kinds of people to make a world.
While Laura worked, she watched the townspeople, including drunks who went in and out of the saloons, sometimes destroying property.  When Laura explained what she saw, Ma said, 
"I begin to believe that if there isn't a stop put to the liquor traffic, women must bestir themselves and have something to say about it."
Pa replied, "Seems to me you have plenty to say Caroline.  Ma never left me in doubt as to the evil of drink, nor you either."
"Be that as it may be," said Ma.  "It's a crying shame that such things can happen before Laura's very eyes."
My Favorite Part: The Fourth of July 
Fourth of July was the day when the first Americans declared that all men are born free and equal.  "BOOM!"
"It's nothing to be solemn about!" Pa jumped out of bed. "Hurray!  We're Americans!"
In my opinion, that should be reason enough for Americans to wake up like this every morning, yet sadly, so much been destroyed and lost.  But that's a post for another day.  Back to Laura's day . . .

Laura and Carrie went to town with Pa to celebrate Independence Day where they listened to a politically incorrect speech about history, 
". . . when our forefathers cut loose from the despots of Europe.  There wasn't many Americans at that time, but they wouldn't stand for any monarch tyrannizing over them. They had to fight the British regulars and their hired Hessians and the murdering scalping red-skinned savages that those fine gold-laced aristocrats turned loose on our settlements and paid for murdering and burning and scalping women and children.  We licked the British in 1776 and we licked 'em again in 1812, and we backed all the monarchies of Europe out of Mexico and off this continent less than twenty years ago, and by glory! Yessir, by Old Glory right here, waving over my head, any time the despots of Europe try to step on America's toes, we'll lick 'em again!   
 "Every man Jack of us a free and independent citizen of God's country, the only country on earth where a man is free and independent.  Today's the Fourth of July . . . and it ought to have a bigger, better celebration than this.  Most of us are out here trying to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps.  By next year, likely some of us will be better off, and be able to chip in for a real big rousing celebration of Independence.  Meantime . . . somebody's got to read the Declaration of Independence . . .
And Laura included almost the entire text of America's Founding document.  When it was over, Laura expressed how no one cheered, but rather it was more like a moment to say, "Amen."  

Finally, Laura went into a contemplation about God and self-government.  She thought:
Americans won't obey any king on earth.  Americans are free.  That means they have to obey their own consciences.  No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself.  Why, when I am a little older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn't anyone else who has a right to give me orders.  I will have to make myself be good.
This is what it means to be free.  It means, you have to be good.  "Our father's God, author of liberty -"  The laws of Nature and of Nature's God endow you with a right to life and liberty.  Then you have to keep the laws of God, for God's law is the only thing that gives you a right to be free.  
If more parents taught this to their children at home and teachers were allowed to reinforce this in schools and our government would function according to these principles - WOW! how many of society's ills would be covered?  But, I digress again.

Mary Goes to College and Nellie Olsen Comes to De Smet

Before Mary left for college, she and Laura went for one last walk on the prairie.  As usual, Laura had to curb her expressive urges.  Instead of describing the sun as "sinking to rest, like a king . . . drawing the gorgeous curtains of his great bed around him," Laura replaced it with:
"The sun is sinking, Mary, into white downy clouds that spread to the edge of the world. All the tops of them are crimson, and streaming down from the top of the sky are great gorgeous curtains of rose and gold with pearly edges.  They are a great canopy over the whole prairie.  The little streaks of sky between them are clear, pure green."
When the Ingalls family moved back to town for the winter, Laura and Carrie resumed going to school.  And guess who the teacher was?  Miss Wilder, Almanzo's sister.  But the real surprise was that Nellie Olsen moved to De Smet.  Between Miss Wilder and Nellie, it turned out to be a maddening school season.  See my notes:

  • Nellie provoked Laura, and a fist fight almost ensued.
  • Miss Wilder did not punish anyone for their disruptions, rebellions, and lawlessness.  She meant to rule them by love, not fear.  (A hippie before her time.)
  • Laura worried about getting an education while Miss Wilder permitted chaos.
  • Miss Wilder was unfair and cruel to Carrie.
  • Laura shared her observations with Ma and Pa, who disbelieved her story.
  • The whole bench rocking episode!  (I have to side with Laura on this one).
  • Laura explained: her fury took possession of her.  (See image below.) 
Laura's fury taking possession of her.

  • She and Carrie were excused from school, but returned the next day.  Teacher may be wrong, but must always be respected.  (Maybe so, but bad teachers need to be fired.)
  • Laura felt guilty for her internal resentment of Miss Wilder.
  • Chaos continued when Charley sat on a pin and Miss Wilder punished him, which didn't make sense.
  • Laura felt responsible for the chaos because she smiled at naughtiness once; but she still did not repent.
  • Miss Wilder told a lie about Laura.
  • Laura did not consider why Miss Wilder lied, but it all came back to Nellie, who used Miss Wilder to hurt Laura.  (Laura defended Pa, but insulted Nellie's father at the same time, which caused Nellie to team up with Miss Wilder.  And in the end, ugh, it really was all Laura's fault.  That troublemaker!)
  • Which prompted Ma to write in Laura's journal: 
If wisdom's ways you wisely seek,
Five things observe with ease,
To whom you speak,
Of whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where.    

A Birthday Party, Coming of Age, and a Life Change

Laura and her girlfriends were invited to a birthday party of a fellow male classmate.  They sat down to dinner together and later played games.  The overall social atmosphere between the boys and girls reminded me of why being young and coming of age is so exciting and pleasurable.  

Oh, to be young again.

Speaking of coming of age, Laura so much enjoyed her friendships and "playing" - which was "unladylike" - that she never wanted it to end.  Almanzo Wilder even asked to walk her home a few nights after church, which petrified Ma.  But Laura was growing up.

However she also needed to study and do well in school because she wanted to continue to help pay for Mary's college tuition.  Laura managed to maintain her grades and was exceptional during the school exhibition; and because of her merit and dedication, she was offered a job as a third grade teacher for the Brewster School, twelve miles from town.  She passed her exam and took the job.  Her life was about to change overnight.

Final Words of Wisdom, by Ma
"The prairie looks so beautiful and gentle," [Laura] said.  "But I wonder what it will do next.  Seems like we have to fight it all the time."
"This earthly life is a battle," said Ma.  "If it isn't one thing to contend with, it's another.  It always has been so, and it always will be.  The sooner you make up your mind to that, the better off you are, and the more thankful your pleasures." 

4 comments:

  1. Now I need to read this one again! Oh, that bench-rocking episode.

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    1. Yeah, that was not right. Such unfairness. And even more frustrating was that Laura's parents still supported the teacher, or at least responded that way in front of Laura (to teach her respect for authority).

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  2. Ha! Ha! I totally overlooked Pa's "bald spot" in my review! Thanks for reminding me! Thank you for including Ma's little parable! Ma was definitely wise! I neglected to mention the unexpected blizzard in April! Very unpredictable! Thanks for linking to the Read-Along!

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    1. My pleasure. I'm still loving this reading challenge. I've failed at all of my other ones, but this one is going strong.

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