She thought to herself, ‘This is now.’
She was glad that the cosy house, and pa and ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.
Three years ago I began a journey to rediscover the literary world of Laura Ingalls Wilder; the world I’d first discovered as a child growing up near the Little Town on the Prairie – De Smet, S.D.
Three years ago, these words, as they ended the first book Little House in the Big Woods, permanently lodged into my brain. I’ve mulled them over; I’ve even been inspired by them to live in the ‘now.’ As I began rereading Little House in the Big Woods recently, these words pulled me to the end.
Through some ups and downs (some documented), I’ve eventually accepted and even now embraced Rose Wilder Lane’s impact on the books. The series would not be what it is without Rose’s expertise and work. From typing to editing to finding and working with an agent, Rose was instrumental in the creation of the books we know and love. When I think about these closing lines, I find myself contemplating their origin. Were these Rose’s words? Were they Laura’s?
Rose seemed to be more conscious of creating a legacy and the idea of how impactful these books could be. As she took the manuscript that has now been printed as Pioneer Girl, she morphed and coaxed the words into a different form and prodded her mom to recall and write more. And, because it is Rose, we know she antagonized her some as well.
I find it plausible that Rose wrote or really shaped this passage. In Laura’s non-Little House writings, she seemed to use more to-the-point language about practical, and at-their-core less philosophical topics. Rose was a philosopher, incorporating ideas of truth, knowledge and the meaning of life into her own writing, and, quite likely, her Mom’s fictional work.
As we get to know the Ingalls family in the big woods of Wisconsin, we learn many lessons by the fire with Pa. But, these lessons frequently focus on how little boys and little girls are supposed to act. Certainly, Laura and Mary learned about life through these stories, but they were more prosaic than this philosophical lesson of always being present in the life that you’re leading.
Switching perspectives, Laura did experience those nights by the fire listening to Pa (or whatever actually happened). As she recounted her life, I can believe that she began to look at her life in a new lens – one with more sentimentality and a greater desire to relive the times she was writing about – for them to be “now” and not “a long time ago.”
As it’s want to do, life had changed significantly from the pioneer days when she was six years old. To the time the first book was published, nearly 60 years had passed and many innovations had revolutionized and improved the quality of life. From riding in a covered wagon for DAYS to driving her car to the train depot a couple hours away, from water at the spring to water at the indoor tap, these lines can be seen as communicating that not so much time had passed since “Grandma Was a Little Girl,” so you best listen to these life lessons.
Not so much time had passed that the lessons throughout the book don’t apply to now – the actual now, the moment we’re living in as we experience her writing no matter how many years pass, even if that’s another 60 to 80 years or more.
There are lessons contained throughout the entire series, but this one is the key to enjoying this story, the entire Little House series and life itself.
My journey to rediscover Laura included a trip to De Smet. Or rather, that trip for a family reunion was the catalyst for my decision to find Laura again. We gathered at Lake Thompson in a lodge built in the early 1900s. When we arrived, the wind was blowing intensely as it does in South Dakota. Our activities were limited, but we found places to enjoy our time from reading throughout the lodge and across the lawn to running in the waves. But, we had to put off pulling out the catamaran, at least for those not adventurous enough to truly ride the waves.
Eventually, the wind died down. Claire, just three years old at the time with a blonde bob and shining blue eyes, was so excited to sail for the first time. As I sat on the sailboat holding Claire, I looked down at her tiny toes with pink nail polish, and I thought, happily, “This is now. It will always be now, and never a long time ago.”