‘Now’: Thoughts on the Closing of Little House in the Big Woods

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.

A Little (or a lot) about Laura) | The 1000th Voice blog
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.
IMG_7793My 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.

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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.”

Jumping in: A Little House Series Year-Long Read Along

You know I love Laura Ingalls Wilder. Getting an opportunity to re-reimmerse myself in the Little House series can just make my week! So I had to jump on the chance to participate in a year long Little House series read along hosted by Bex at An Armchair by the Sea and Lynn at Smoke and Mirrors.

Here’s the reading schedule:

January – Little House in the Big Woods
February – Little House on the Prairie
March – Farmer Boy
April – On the Banks of Plum Creek
May – By the Shores of Silver Lake
June – The Long Winter
July – Little Town on the Prairie
August – These Happy Golden Years
September – The First Four Years
October – On the Way Home
November – West from Home
December – Pioneer Girl and/or A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert

I’m so excited!

I received Pioneer Girl for Christmas and began reading that right away. I’ll read Little House in the Big Woods on a road trip this weekend. Aside from Pioneer Girl, I haven’t read West from Home or A Wilder Rose before, so I’m looking forward to those books.

It’s going to be a fun year!

Top 10 Characters at my Lunch Table

You Can't Sit with Us! | The Top 10 Literary Characters at my Lunch Table | The 1000th Voice Blog

Well, these ten fictional and nonfictional characters can always join my lunch table.

Laura Ingalls Wilder & Rose Wilder Lane, from The Little House series & Others

The dynamic between this mother-daughter literary duo would be fascinating to see in person, but each of them separately would also be great lunch table guests. Of course, in addition to my literary characters lunch, these two would make appearances on my authors table as well.

Hermione Granger, from the Harry Potter Series

Hermione is intelligent, well read and all around fascinating. Her stories of life as a Muggle at Hogwarts would fascinate the lunch table to no end.

Anne Frank, from The Diary of Anne Frank and Tales from the Secret Annex

Throughout her experience in hiding, Anne grew and developed a deep understanding of the human condition. Her contribution to lunchtime conversation would be astounding.

Winn Van Meter, from Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

Winn Van Meter turns out to be the token male at the table. His pompous, self-righteous attitude would, honestly, be most unwelcome, but all-together fascinating.

Mamah Borthwick Cheney, from Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

I definitely do not agree with Mamah’s decisions, but her education, desires and impact on women’s rights can’t be understated. For that, she makes a great addition to the table.

Jane Eyre, from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane’s headstrong ways and willingness to live on her own terms would fit nicely with the others at the table.

Rachel Kalama, from Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Despite a devastating diagnosis with leprosy, Rachel learns to truly live life to the fullest. Her communicable disease wouldn’t be welcome at the table.

Irene Beltrán, from Of Love and Shadows by Isabel Allende

Irene is typical of Allende’s strong, female characters. As a journalist during a revolution, she has to have fascinating stories for us.

Anne Shirley, from the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery

And, why not, Anne. Grown up Anne would be an excellent addition.

Who would join you at your table?

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**Linked up with The Broke and the Bookish**

On Rose Wilder Lane and Her Animosity

Throughout my journey with Laura Ingalls Wilder last spring and summer I began to understand how fascinating, complicated and and difficult Rose Wilder Lane was. (Some of my understanding was thanks to the experts I interviewed–Wendy McClure, Kelly Kathleen Ferguson and  Sarah Uthoff.) She was educated, well traveled, successful in her career and known for her work in a time when women weren’t. Yesterday Slate featured a blog post by Rebecca Onion that included a full text scan of a letter RWL wrote to her mother while working on By the Shores of Silver Lake. The letter is full of the general vitriol and superiorioty we’ve seen Rose exhibit in their relationship. (Remember the forward to On the Way Home.)

It’s fascinating that so many years after both women’s deaths we’re still learning about and discussing their dynamic. Of course we know that we owe the success and craft of the Little House Series in part (possibly in large part) to Rose. But why does she have to be so difficult to like?

The Twitter universe, including Allison Arngrim, Nellie Oleson on the TV series, has commented on the potentially salacious details Rose cut from By the Shores of Silver Lake, including the time 12-year-old Laura pulled a knife on Cousin Charley when he tried to kiss her and when Pa told the girls not to watch the railroad men work because they were potential rapists. It seems that Rose was very likely overblowing these events in her letter. There inclusion in the letter should indicate their importance to the story, but Rose took every opportunity to prod her mother. As we see when she explained (as if to a child) that sexual degenerates didn’t exist on the frontier (but of course psychotic murderers did). And that her mother had misunderstood Charley. His attempt at kissing her was completely different than the time dumb old Mrs. Boast almost got her raped. Even though she didn’t know what sexual assault was at the time.

One thing that still fascinates me is the discord between how Rose saw herself (always precocious) and her seeming lack of maturity when speaking to her mother. I wonder how many of us would come across the same way if our 76-year-old letter to our moms were to be dug up and mass distributed.

Further, I find her lack of understanding of human nature interesting. But far more interesting (and keeping with her character) is her lack of awareness of such a shortcoming. Years of poverty didn’t make her wiser–just bitter.

An Interview with Wendy McClure

My final interview with a Laura Ingalls Wilder expert features Wendy McClure, author of The Wilder Life. She’s definitely an expert. I hope you enjoy it. 

Tell me about your first experience with the Little House books. How did you discover or learn about them? Did you immediately fall in love?

I don’t really remember how I first read them as a kid, but my paperback copy of Big Woods appears to have been borrowed (or swiped) from a classroom library at my grade school, so maybe I came to them that way. Typically I’d read anything I could get my hands on. Then once I fell in love with the Little House books I’d get them from the public library.

Oh, I love that you permanently “borrowed” the book! Did you have a favorite Little House book? If so, which one and why? Also, do you have a favorite book about Laura?

My favorite as a kid was “On the Banks of Plum Creek,” because it was the first really long book in the series, so it felt truly epic, and Laura in that book was close to my age. And she has such an incredibly rich play life in that book—roaming all around the creek and the prairie. She has such an intimate knowledge of her surroundings and so much freedom to explore it, and for kids that’s really powerful.

Plus the book has three Christmases in it. Three!

My favorite book about Laura would have to be Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life by Pamela Smith Hill. It’s a great biography with a special emphasis on her writing career. Since I work in children’s books (and Hill does do), it’s especially fascinating to me. I love reading about publishing history.
The TV show has definitely had an influence on Laura’s legacy, but why do you think her legacy has endured as long as it has?
The books hold up as really great novels. There have been plenty of children’s books written about the pioneer experience in the past century, but so many of them are hopelessly dated; few have endured as well as the Wilder books. I think it’s because in some ways the Little House books are more modern than we realize. Laura (with the help of her daughter, Rose) began writing them during the Great Depression and understood that readers would relate to the accounts of the Ingalls family braving hard times, and there have been many more times in recent history when those stories have felt relevant. The books also document a changing world—a landscape where railroad tracks and telegraph wires were beginning to appear, a way of life that was becoming less self-sufficient and more dependent on consumer goods shipped by train. Again, it’s a narrative that we all know well. Our current generation has been especially inspired by all the hands-on practices that are described in the book—making butter and cheese, butchering a pig—which are of interest these days as we start to rethink   the industrialization of our food. Perhaps that’s a passing trend, but I think the books are always going to make us think about our relationships to tradition and modernity.
You make a great point about rethinking the industrialization of our food with urban farming, farmers’ markets and sustainable practices being so big. In your book you wrote about churning butter and making bread. Are you still doing any of that? Did you learn anything valuable from that process?
Not really with the butter… there’d be no sense in churning my own unless I had my own cow! But I make my own jam and pickles and can them, and I try to shop at farmer’s markets and the smaller, mom-and-pop produce supermarkets in Chicago instead of the chain stores. The canning stuff is really just a hobby, and I’ve learned to appreciate that I don’t have to do it, and that I have other choices. And choosing local food is important to me, and I feel lucky that I can do it.
There’s an urban farm right not far from my house and they set up a farm stand sometimes. I’m hoping this fall I can get a green pumpkin there and make Ma’s mock apple pie from The Long Winter. I made one a couple years ago, and getting a farmer’s market vendor to bring you a green pumpkin can be tricky!
It makes sense that you wouldn’t continue making your own butter. Didn’t you conclude in your book that it was no better than store bought?
 
In your book, you wrote about Rose Wilder Lane and her controversial role with her mother’s books and her parents in general. Since the book was published, has your opinion of Rose changed? Can you share a few of your thoughts on Lane and her role in the books?
Re: the butter—since the cream was from the supermarket, the butter tasted the same as any other butter from a large commercial dairy.

I continue to be fascinated with Rose, and that feeling has only grown. She lived a remarkable life, and it’s sort of a shame that her writing is read today only for two reasons—her politics (which don’t interest me) and for clues about her possible authorship of the Little House books. Rose helped her mother a lot with the novels—there’s really no mystery there, since there’s plenty of evidence in the letters they wrote to each other. It’s clear Laura couldn’t have written the books—as we know and love them—on her own… but I don’t think Rose could have written them on her own either. When it comes to the question of “who is the author,” I don’t feel like I have much invested in either side of the debate, but from a writer’s standpoint the discussion will always intrigue me. For the most part I still think of Laura as the author, since the experiences are hers, and she was the first one to see the story in them.
But… if we’re going to consider the Little House books as partly Rose’s work—and perhaps we should—then we need to recognize that they’re some of her very best and most enduring work. In all this debate I don’t feel like there’s been enough discussion about why it turned out that way. I think about how throughout her career, Rose wrote either to pay the bills or to express very big, very ambitious ideas—except when she worked on her mothers’ books. And I can’t help but wonder if that allowed her a certain kind of freedom—if it distilled her craft, allowed her to be grounded and personal in a way she’d never allow herself to be when she was working as Rose Wilder Lane. We know some of her politics made it into the books; what else of her is in there as well?
I suppose we’ll never know. I just finished reading a preview copy of A Wilder Rose, Susan Wittig Albert’s novel about Rose and her work on the Little House books. I recommend it to anyone who is curious about “Rose’s side” of the issue, with Pamela Smith Hill’s book representing “Laura’s side.” The thing is, we know much more about the former’s side than the latter, because Rose left reams of diaries and letters from the 1930s, when the books were written. Albert’s novel relies heavily on those diary entries and letters, so there’s a lot of factual material there. But reading it made me realize why so many of us still have trouble with the idea that Rose was involved with the Little House books—because all those diary entries and letters, extensive though they are, give us only the moments when Rose was frustrated with working on them, complaining that they took her away from her own writing. Here are these books that so many of us love and experience so deeply, and then we read that this person who was involved with them considered them a miserable chore. It doesn’t add up! I’d like to believe that Rose was really engaged with these stories on some level—that she worked through feelings about her childhood and the poverty that both she and her mother experienced growing up—but she left us no record of that. So the mystery continues…
I find the debate about Rose just as interesting as I find her, which is to say I’m greatly interested by it. The discussions and writings about Rose have been one of my favorite parts about rediscovering Laura. I think that most people setting out to rediscover Laura either find Rose interesting or infuriating, but they have feelings about her one way or another.
 
Since The Wilder Life was published in 2011, you’ve published Don’t Trade the Baby for a Horse: And Other Ways to Make Your Life a Little More Laura Ingalls Wilder, which describes your rekindled and deepened love of Laura. What other experiences have you had with Laura? (I also want to add here that the trading the baby for a horse always makes me sad for the Boasts.)
A couple things: First, in late 2011 I visited the Hoover Library in West Branch, Iowa, where Laura’s and Rose’s papers are archived, and I got to see some of their editorial correspondence and the orange notebook that Laura used to write the first draft of The First Four Years. That was as amazing as you can imagine.

Then last fall I went back to De Smet for a day. I was in Sioux Falls for the South Dakota book festival and rented a car, because it’s not often that I’m just a couple hours drive from the Little Town on the Prairie, you know? It was early fall, so the colors in the fields were different from the way they were in the summer, and I loved being there when it wasn’t tourist season. It was a Sunday, and the Memorial Society was closed, but Ingalls Homestead was open for one of their last weekends of the season. I was one of only a handful of visitors that day. I got to sit in the replica shanty all by myself, and wander around, and just take in everything again. (I also had a good breakfast at the Oxbow Restaurant, so I’m glad I gave them another try.) I had no expectations this time, I just went with my impulses and drove and walked around the town and the homestead land at random. Highly recommended!
I still have to go back to Mansfield, Independence, and the Farmer Boy house in New York with my husband, because he hasn’t seen those places yet. And then I can’t wait for Pioneer Girl to be finally published, which it will be later this year, I think.
I’ve moved on to other writing projects now (a middle-grade novel series about orphan train kids called Wanderville) but I don’t think I’ll ever be done doing and reading Little House stuff.

Thoughts on Wendy McClure’s The Wilder Life

Thoughts on Wendy McClure's The Wilder Life | A Little (or a lot) about Laura) | The 1000th Voice blog

“We remember the strangest things.”

-Wendy McClure

Have you had this experience with any books from childhood? As you could tell from my reflections on Laura’s Little House books, this has definitely been the case for me. And, it’s been the case in general for books from my childhood. I got a little thrill reading that statement in Wendy McClure’s memoir The Wilder Life. It’s a nod to the shared experience of reading the Little House books, a statement about the community.

As an adult McClure rediscovered her copies of the Little House series and ventured back into Laura world to reconnect with her youth. Throughout her journey she reread all the the Little House books, plenty of books about Laura and traveled to all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites, including Almanzo’s childhood home in Malone, NY.

This was a fun, enjoyable book. I immediately felt connected to McClure as if, in the words of Anne Shirley, we were kindred spirits. I bet any fan of Laura would feel the same. I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoyed reading the Little House books as a kid. Check it out!

Have you read McClure’s book

Make sure you come back on Friday to read my interview with McClure!

 

 

Thoughts on William Anderson’s The Little House Reader

Thoughts on William Anderson's The Little House Reader #LauraIngallsWilder | a little (or a lot) about Laura | Laura Ingalls Wilder | The 1000th Voice blog

This collection of Laura’s pre-Little House writing has been skillfully edited by William Anderson who interspersed very relevant and interesting tidbits between the pieces. The entire collection provides a great peek into Laura’s writing life but also her life after the Little House books ended. (Did you follow that? Written before the Little House books, these pieces share what Laura’s post-Little House life was like.)

One thing that stood out to me was how wise Laura was and how capable she was as a writer sharing her wisdom through stories. Laura was also humble about this (and her success in general). When asked about her success, Laura said, “I was amazed because I didn’t know how to write.” Ahh, our humble, loveable Laura was really humble in real life. This makes me unspeakably happy!

One of the columns in the book is an account of the building and finishing of Laura’s dream house at Rocky Ridge Farm. What captivated me about this was her attention to detail and how contemporary she seemed. Laura’s writing is always clear and forthright, but her article is contemporary for a reason beyond that–in today’s world of shelter blogs, it’s interesting to see that Laura was as thoughtful about the details as many men and women are today.

Again, Laura sounds relatively modern in her column about how farm wives can make extra cash by hosting summer boarders in their homes. That’s not the part that sounds modern; in fact, the entire concept of boarders is outdated. But she spoke of how visitors from the city would pay well for the breath of fresh air and fresh food from the farm, not dishes and ingredients brought from the city. My mind immediately went to things like farm-to-table restaurants, backyard square foot gardens, farmers’ markets and more.

Overall, this was a great, well-edited collection. William definitely knows Laura and understands her in a way that most people don’t. He connected the various phases of Laura’s pre-Little House writing life with well-researched and well-reasoned commentary on Laura’s life and motives. I would highly recommend this book to any Laura lovers.