Reflections on The First Four Years

Reflections on The First Four Years #LauraIngallsWilder | a little (or a lot) about Laura | Laura Ingalls Wilder | The 1000th Voice blog

 

This is such a sad book. After ending These Happy Golden Years on a happy (dare, I say Golden) note, as readers we’re then thrust into the real world of this sad, unfinished work that is The First Four Years. 

Laura started writing this book in her little orange school notebooks, but she sadly never finished after Almanzo’s death. After Laura’s death, Rose inherited the work, but never edited it or apparently looked to get it published. It was Rose’s heir who found the story in her documents and had it published as is. 

Life was rough for Laura and Almanzo. The one good thing to come from all their suffering was Rose. Born in December, Rose was named after the wild flowers her parents had walked among that summer. (Because a Rose in the winter is far more rare.)

Laura references feeling the familiar sickness a second time, but she never says anything else about it. We know she had another child, but she wasn’t able to write about her experience. She does write about the fire, the crop failure, the tree claim failure.

Despite all of the struggles, Laura writes “We’ll always be farmers, for what is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh” (page  133), which was a musing on her Ma’s saying. We know that Laura and Almanzo were always farmers; finally finding success in midlife though it was coupled with Laura’s writing income. 

Througout this book, Laura writes frequently of her deep love for baby Rose. I’ll admit that while I found it true, it seemed odd knowing the difficult relationship Laura and Rose would have throughout their lives. In one of her columns (reprinted in The Little House Reader), Laura writes about her bachelor girl in Kansas City with pride. 

The First Four Years and On The Way Home are shelved as children’s literature along with the Little House series, which is completely wrong. These books have adult themes that aren’t appropriate for young readers or that would definitely be a shock for them after the Little House books. 

What I Remember

Despite thinking it’s misshelved (and for the fact that it is), I definitely read this as a child. I recalled Laura and Almanzo’s snowy trip with newborn Rose to visit the Ingalls family. Ma was surprised to see them in such weather. Laura states that she wrapped Rose well and kept checking her little face, but it’s obvious that Laura’s a little ashamed of their daring trip.

How do you feel about books like this being shelved for children? I think it’s great if a precocious reader picks it up, but it’s definitely a shock. 

 

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Reflections on These Happy Golden Years

Reflections on These Happy Golden Years #LauraIngallsWilder | a little (or a lot) about Laura | Laura Ingalls Wilder | The 1000th Voice blog

The love story of Laura and Almanzo starts in These Happy Golden Years, so the title of the book, pulled from a song Pa played, is so appropriate. I really love their love story right down to the end when Laura puts down and never finishes The First Four Years after Almanzo’s death.

There was one thing that I’ve been waiting months to comment on: bombing main in the cutters! After Laura returns from her teaching job, all her peers (and Almanzo) starting cruising up and down main street in their cutters. Almanzo, Laura, Cap and Mary lead the way, but it becomes a very popular past time. As a teenager in small-town South Dakota, I spent hours driving up and down main street, chatting with my friends. I laughed when I realized that Laura and friends were the first (or very close to the first) teens to bomb main in South Dakota. I owe her for more than I previously thought!

Laura spends her school breaks teaching in the country, studying at night to keep up with her regular classmates and riding back to De Smet on the weekends with Almanzo. I really liked how wonderful Almanzo is in this book (or always). Without being asked or told, he guesses that Laura will be homesick, so he drives 12 miles one way to pick her up Friday afternoon and another 12 miles one way to take her  back on Sunday. He spent a lot of his time driving back and forth. I really respect him continuing to drive Laura back and forth when she tells him there’s nothing in it for him.

Mary returns home toward the end of the book, sad to have missed so much and to see Laura marry Almanzo and leave them. Everyone, including Laura, is sad that their happy little life is changing, but, as Laura tells Mary, she and Almanzo just fit together. As sad as she was to leave her family of origin, she was excited and happy to be starting her life with Almanzo.

And then comes the small, rushed wedding. Laura in her black dress. Ida witnessing with her beau. It’s all so sweet.

What I Remember

From the first time I read this as a child, I’ve always remembered Laura’s black wedding dress. Ma said it would bring bad luck. It definitely seemed true for the first few years of their marriage, but we know it all turned out well for Laura and Almanzo.

What is your favorite literary couple? Do you love Laura and Almanzo’s love story as much as I do?

Reflections on Little Town on the Prairie

Reflections on Little Town on the Prairie #LauraIngallsWilder | a little (or a lot) about Laura | Laura Ingalls Wilder | The 1000th Voice blog

 

Yay! We’ve finally reached the point in our journey when Mary admits to acting vainly like a good girl. Didn’t know you were on this journey with me? Well, if you’re reading this then I think you are. So let’s journey on!

On page 12, as Laura is guiding Mary across the prairie during their daily walk, Laura admits that she’d always wanted to slap Mary when they were children. Mary replied with, “I know why you wanted to slap me,” Mary said. “It was because I was showing off. I wasn’t really wanting to be good. I was showing off to myself, what a good little girl I was and being vain and proud, and I deserved to be slapped for it.”

I believe this moment is the reason Laura made Mary such a goody-two-shoes or that at this point she decided to get a little jab at Mary. Or maybe I just don’t really know. My theories are probably half baked, but it’s fun having them.

Mary admitting to acting good was the death knell to Mary as the good girl. Laura and Mary were able to spend time together (mostly on their walks because Laura had to work long hours). Their time together was a good last hurrah before Mary went off to college. While I’ve said and thought a lot about what a waste it was to send Mary to college, I don’t really believe it was entirely. Or at least now I don’t. Mary learned how to live a rich life despite her blindness. She learned to read Braille, write letters and play the organ, things that served to enrich the rest of her life. Her life was by all accounts I’ve read, a happy, quiet life. 

(That was hard for me to admit.)

The town of De Smet is really gaining a vibrancy in this book. The literaries sound like such fun events, right down to a town spelling bee. The final literary can be excluded, after all it was a racist pantomime complete with black face. There’s nothing to defend this behavior, unless you consider it was normal at the time a good excuse for racism. Excluding that incident, it’s fascinating to me how the town easily came together for a fun time. There was little need for planning, no need to elect leaders. (Thanks, Pa!) All they needed was a group of people and years of schooling in which repetition was forced over an actual understanding of the material.

What I Remember

Like I said before, I usually just remember random, small moments from books that seem trivial. Like the Encyclopedia Brown case that he solved by telling his dad that the man couldn’t have just returned home after driving hours because he’d just stood his young son on the hood of the car that should have been crazy hot. See? Important.

What I do remember from this book involves Laura and Mary’s walks, but not Mary admitting to being a fake good girl. I remember Laura talking about the openness of the prairies with its gentle (but deceiving) rolling hills. But mostly, I remember Laura saying she could see to the Wessington hills. That was my hometown! I remember reading that as an elementary studentmarking the page and excitedly showing it to my best friend the next morning on the school bus.

What were your thoughts on Little Town on the Prairie? 

 

 

Reflections on The Long Winter

Reflections on The Long Winter #LauraIngallsWilder | a little (or a lot) about Laura | Laura Ingalls Wilder | The 1000th Voice blog

It seems like The Long Winter is one of Laura’s most popular books. I think it’s because it’s just a very memorable book. They almost starve, people. Not hard to forget that! But even more than that, it’s very different from the prior books in its more straightforward approach to Pa and his failures. After all, every book up to this point has been all about how wonderful Pa is and how he’s able to get them out of so many scrapes. Sure, Pa anticipated a bad winter when he saw the muskrats’ burrows, but he didn’t think too much of it. (That and Ma talked him out of his worry.)

This is where I start to get really uncharitable. I don’t like Mary. At this point, I’ve spent six books with her (2 with a blind Mary), and she just keeps getting worse. Starting with things like, “‘It must be one of Laura’s queer notions,’ Mary said, busily knitting in her chair by the stove. ‘How could cattle’s heads freeze to the ground, Laura? It’s really worrying the way you talk sometimes.'” (page 50). Well, first of all, they were frozen to the ground, Mary, and second of all, stop being so judgey. And, I also realized that whenever I thought of Mary, I would picture Claire Danes’ cry face in Little Women. 

OK. Now I really want to talk about the Ingalls’ family busting their asses to send Mary to college. Why? I know it was a good experience for her in a life that wouldn’t be full of much excitement, but it almost broke the family. Like the time during The Long Winter when the family was running out of money. Ma quietly grabbed her pocketbook (the one that held “Mary’s money”). Pa stated loudly, “Mary, it may be the town’s running short of supplies. If the lumber yard and stores are pushing up prices too high…” Pa then paused so Mary could be a good girl to volunteer her money. The family was at risk of freezing, why did Mary get a choice? It’s at this point that I have to remind myself of the book’s fictional nature. (Deep, cleansing breaths.)

One other odd point that I really noticed reading this book was the sometimes odd sentence structure, such as “Teacher came to the door and boys and girls must go in to their lessons.” Appropriately in the past tense, that sentence would read “When Teacher came to the door, boys and girls had to go in to their lessons.” I feel like the sentence structure is supposed to emphasize the point as a lesson to the younger generation. Let’s face it, you know in her old age Laura was probably appalled at the behavior of young people!

What I Remember

What I remember most is Almanzo and Cap driving to find everyone food. Funny how stories of bravery really stick in your mind!

Have you read The Long Winter? What did you think? Am I mean for not liking Mary?

 

The Music of the Little House

The Music of the Little House #LauraIngallsWilder | a little (or a lot) about Laura | Laura Ingalls Wilder | The 1000th Voice blog

The Ingalls and Wilder families sure loved their music. How fortunate they were for Pa’s skill with a fiddle. Between his stories and his music, the nights when they weren’t too tired from work were filled with good ol’ fashion family fun.

Where and when Pa picked up his skills is presumed unknown, but the catalogue of music in the Little House books has provided a great insight into the music and its dissemination through post Civil War America.

Below, please enjoy a brief listen to the music Pa played to entertain his family.

Buffalo Gals

The late Pete Seeger’s version of “Buffalo Gals” is accompanied by a banjo, but is still emblematic of the quick, fun melody of the song. A lot of kids who grew up watching the Looney Tunes should recognize this song. It frequented many of the cartoon sketches on the show. Can’t you just see the Ingalls family dancing a jig to this song? This song appears in Little House in the Big Woods. 

Life Let Us Cherish

This lovely duo, Vivian & Paul Williams, play Civil War music, including “Life Let Us Cherish,” a lovely melody that was one of the many songs Pa played immediately after the grasshopper invasion in On the Banks of Plum Creek. It’s easy to understand how such a sweet tune could help the family deal with the dramatic economic loss they’d just suffered.

Polly Put the Kettle On


Banjos and an accordion join a fiddle during this performance. Pa played “Polly Put the Kettle On” during the fateful Christmas Eve in On the Banks of Plum Creek. The fiddle can be a somber instrument, but this definitely isn’t one of its somber songs. Again, I can picture the family, thankful to be together dancing around their small house.

Bonnie Doon

Pa played Scottish poet Robert Burns’ Bonnie Doon as a tribute to his own Scottish lass. A beautifully sang and altogether haunting version can be found here. And, really, how prescient is this song about the heralded life of yore in fair and fertile Scotland for those of us who relish learning about the Ingalls’ pioneering life?

And last, but not least, I had to share this promo video for the PBS Special, Pa’s Fiddle: America’s Music.

Are you a fan of Pa’s music? I love the down-home feeling of a fiddle, which is so in vogue in today’s music. 

Pa Knows Best

 

 

 

Over the course of eight books, Pa shares plenty of advice and wisdom with his family, but mostly Laura. The well-intentioned advice not only taught Laura, but has taught thousands (millions?) of young readers about how to be a good, reliable person. Pa began the series sharing his advice in the form of story, but he looked to the brevity of platitudes to help him teach his girls when time was short and he was tired from tons of work.

Here, in one image, I’ve gathered my favorite advice. The advice that I think truly encapsulates the message of the books.

Pa Knows Best | #LauraIngallsWilder | The 1000th Voice Blog

 

Click on the image if you, ya know, actually want to see it!

What was your favorite advice from Pa? 

De Smet Musings

A couple weeks ago my family gathered in De Smet, SD for a family reunion. I, of course, was beyond excited and found myself talking about Laura constantly. But in the world of Laura lovers and experts, that’s totally normal!

De Smet isn’t unfamiliar to me. I grew up less than an hour away and went to an old-school dentist there as a child. Oh, and, you know Laura Ingalls Wilder. I didn’t fully associate De Smet with Laura until I was older, but it’s still a special place to me.

We rented the lodge at Lake Thompson. It’s a former farm house that was probably built in the early 1900s. The land was privately owned until actually very recently. After the water rose on Lake Thompson (I’m told during one rain), the South Dakota Game Fish & Parks purchased the land to turn it into a state park. The other notable thing about Lake Thompson is that it’s South Dakota’s largest glacial lake at about 18,000 acres, so not small.

Reading is Fun! | Today's De Smet | The 1000th Voice Blog

It immediately became clear to me how much my family enjoys books, which seemed so apropos a few short miles from where Laura Ingalls Wilder blossomed into a woman.

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South Dakota is super windy. The wind’s force was on display during our visit. On day one, there was no way anyone was hopping onto the catamaran. Luckily, that changed by day two.

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I didn’t feel an overwhelming urge to see everything Laura-related during this visit because I’ll be back. One thing I couldn’t miss, though, was the Pageant Play.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant Play | De Smet Musings | The 1000th Voice Blog

 

Skip and Barnum happily pulled visitors along; unfortunately we were pulled along by the mules, Molly and Dolly.

Skip & Barnum | De Smet Musings | The 1000th Voice Blog

 

The play was fun, and Claire even payed attention. On the way back to the campsite, Claire practiced her words like Laura did.

Sun Set Over Big Slough | De Smet Musings | The 1000th Voice Blog

 

Although it was hazy all weekend, we did get to see a pretty sunset over Big Slough, just like Laura saw!

All in all, it was a great weekend, that I hope to repeat again. And one final Laura moment, my uncle suggested we travel to the Ozarks in two years for the next family reunion!