Friday, April 20, 2018

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

On the Banks of Plum Creek
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1937

Laura was a big girl, seven years old. She was too big to cry. But she could not help asking, "Pa did you have to give him Pet and Patty? Did you, Pa?"
Pet and Patty were the ponies from Indian Territory that Pa traded for two strong oxen, necessary to break up the earth for a crop of wheat. Pa envisioned a "great big field" of wheat, but all Laura could think of was Pet and Patty.

(Notice how God is preparing Laura for a horse-loving husband?)

Well, since Indian Territory was off limits, Pa took his family to the banks of Plum Creek, in Minnesota. For awhile they lived in a dug out, which was a hole dug under the ground. Gratefully, I cannot miss the lovely descriptions of the morning glories, which surround the dug out entrance and  brighted any dwelling:
All around the door green vines were growing out of the grassy bank, and they were full of flowers. Red and blue and purple and rosy pink and white and stripped flowers all had their throats wide open as if they were singing to the morning. They were morning glory flowers.
Moving into the dug out

After settling into the dug out, Ma observed how "peaceful and tame" it all was and said she "felt so safe and at rest." Pa answered,
We're safe enough, all right. Nothing can happen here."
You know, I appreciate Pa's optimism and cheery outlook, but I guess he did not know about Murphy's Law.

Pa went to town, literally and figuratively, building a wood frame house with glass windows and a stove. He paid for it all with that wheat field that was yet to be harvested.
When that crop was harvested, Pa [continued saying], they'd be out of debt and have more money than they knew what to do with. He'd have a buggy, Ma would have a silk dress, they'd all have new shoes and eat beef every Sunday.
That was before the grasshoppers came.

Millions of grasshoppers. They settled on the land and ate up that wheat crop and everything else green in sight. In addition, there was no rain, and Plum Creek ran dry.

Pa, who did not know that after donating his last $3 for the bell in the new church belfry instead of replacing his hole-y boots, would end up needing to walk several hundred miles in those hole-y boots to find work, back east, to pay for that new house after the grasshoppers took his wheat field.

It was a miserable, hot summer, but Ma, being a tenacious woman, an excellent example of leadership in forbearance and fortitude, managed the several weeks without Pa.

When Pa was ready to sow another crop, he realized that the grasshoppers had laid millions of eggs, which he knew, once hatched, would begin eating everything green in sight; therefore, it would foolish for him to bother. He would lose another year of harvest.

Hence, it was off to the East again.

The grasshoppers finally left, in grand array, and Pa brought back enough income to pay most of their debt and still buy shoes for Mary, material to make dresses, and even some food supplies.

While the grasshoppers were the most horrific and creepy event in the story, Pa was also lost in a blizzard for three days. He survived on oyster crackers and Christmas candy.

Meanwhile, the more entertaining events of the story involved Nellie Olsen. Laura met Nellie at school in town, and Nellie was the quintessential spoiled snob. Once inviting Laura, Mary, and several other school girls to her house for a town party, she badly mistreated and shamed Laura.

Nellie Olsen, in true fashion, at her party

Ma suggested they return the favor and invite Nellie and the town girls for a party at their home in the country, and Laura sought an opportunity of retribution. She tricked Nellie into the muddy creek waters, where the blood suckers lurked. You can guess what happened.

Come on. You know you would be cheering Laura, and holding your side from laughter, too.

I admit it: I was.

Laura recalled many other personal childhood memories in this story, which remains one of my favorites of the series, but there are many more to come. I anxiously look forward to my next read: By the Shores of Silver Lake. 

7 comments:

  1. Laura Ingalls Wilder is a wonderful story-teller, and I thoroughly enjoyed the books, but I often felt life must have been very hard for ma. The children have the resilience of youth, and her husband is a natural wanderer and optimist, but life must have been hard and lonely for pioneer women. Living in a hole in the ground cannot be pleasant, even if it does have flowers on the outside. Their remote dwellings meant she had little company or entertainment, and I remember she could almost recite off by heart her one novel. I was reminded of this when I read 'Parnassus on Wheels', the story of a travelling bookshop which visited remote farms. It was always greeted with open arms, as there was nothing else to do but read in the evenings. That book is also thoroughly recommended, by the way.

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    1. It was definitely a difficult life for all of them, but I don't think it was lonely for Caroline. Her family was everything to her, and Charles was a committed husband and father. When they finally settled in De Smet, they had plenty of neighbors and lots of activity with church and community functions. I think she was a strong, dynamic lady and an excellent example of what women are capable of, especially under such hardships.

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  2. I do appreciate that Laura Wilder was honest in her portrayal of herself. It makes her all the more enduring.

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  3. I love your comment regarding Pa and Murphy's Law. That's so true! There's just something about Plum Creek which makes it one of my favourite reads of the whole series. And yes, the crafty way Laura orchestrated the old crab and the bloodsuckers to get back at Nellie is hilarious :) I'm sure Nellie never forgot it either.

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    1. I wonder if Laura elaborated on Pa's optimism as much as she did to contrast it with the coming doom, or if she wanted to demonstrate their resolve and resiliency?

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