Where I write

Where I write

August 28, 2014

One of the first books I ever read, and loved with all my heart, were the ones written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The collection of her books is pictured above. I still have each of them and never have tired of reading the  pioneer girl's stories. (I refused to watch the television show Little House on the Prairie for several reasons one being it competed with my imagination which didn't have pa looking as actor-handsome as Michael Landon. In real life, from the two photos I've seen,  Pa had a long, wild beard. Though I've seen no photos of a smiling pa, it's doubtful  he had Michael's sparkling Hollywood teeth. I'm thinking there were few dentists on the prairie that did teeth whitening.)

I'd curl up in my middle class suburban home of the 1960s and be transported to a place where clear creeks bubbled, the air smelled like wild flowers and the sound of one's own heartbeat was easy to hear. And the people were fine and good and never did bad things.

From reading the books multiple times, a firm idea about what life was like for Laura and her family cemented in my mind and stayed there for more than 50 years. Until now with recent news that shattered my illusion.

Wearing what I'm assuming were their best dresses is Carrie  on the left, Mary in the middle and Laura on the far right. Sister Grace came in later books. In the books, Laura and her sisters were thrilled to get a candy cane at Christmas in a tin cup. They were happy just having a warm place to sleep and matching dresses that looked like picnic table cloths.

There was no talk of jealousy or wanting more, gratefulness for the simple things, or even nothing, was the rule of the day. In my neighborhood everyone competed to have a bigger car, or better clothes, or a nicer house. Life in Laura's world was kinder, people helped each other, and cared about each other, dropped what they were doing to forge a river, put on a roof or cut down a tree. Or so I thought.

Laura's first book transported me to the cabin in the big woods of Wisconsin where Laura and Mary curled up on snowy winter nights, listening to Pa play his violin while ma sewed and baby Carrie slept in her cradle, a cheerful fire crackling nearby. Sure Pa had to work hard to feed the family, and Ma was always busy doing yucky stuff like making soap or scrimping to make ends meet, but there was a lot of love and joy. The words divorce or martial discord were not even in the dictionary. Not for the Ingalls family or for anyone else in Laura's world, or so the books made it seem.

In the book when Laura's family moves to the prairie, I still believed  in the purity of the world the author created on the page. Sure they lived in the middle of no where, on Native American land, but I brushed aside  those pesky details and felt the excitement when Pa put glass windows in the small house he built, or Laura and Mary romped in the muddy creek with their faithful bulldog Jack.

People worked hard, did the right thing, encountered hardships but never complained. No one was trying to be better than the other person, except maybe Nellie Olsen, but even she didn't have that much stuff to brag about like a trip to Disneyland. So what if she had new ribbons in her curls. At least she wasn't bragging to me about her dad's new Oldsmobile.

 The books went on with Laura telling the story of her family's move to the Banks of Plum Creek and the Shores of Silver Lake and then finally the prairie of South Dakota where she met her husband who I assumed was a gentle and wonderful man, just like all the other people Laura wrote about.

Here is Laura and Almanzo Wilder shortly after their wedding day. Her coat is likely trimmed with something her husband caught in a river or creek which is creepy, but I forgave her because I knew there were no big department stores like where my mom worked as a sales clerk. Moms didn't work as sale's clerks then and give kids keys to let themselves in after school.

As a child, I needed this idealized version of Laura's life which she wrote about in her books because I grew up in a place that looked perfect from the outside. The lawns were mowed, and the driveways swept, and the children's clothes washed clean and people drove new cars and dressed tastefully, but I knew that ugly reality, and all its imperfections, lurked behind those trimmed shrubs and manicured lawns with color coordinated patio furniture.

I wanted to believe divorce, and infidelity, depression, addictions and all the other stuff Oprah talks about on television, didn't happen to the people in Laura's world which was so sweet and simple. The world just oozed with goodness. While in my neighborhood people gossiped about Mrs. Schrump having whiskey in her ice tea glass, Mr. Miller seeing other woman, the boys across the street that broke into people's houses, life in Laura's world was stellar and safe.

Even as I got older, I clung to this belief. Perhaps as an antidote to reality television. Or to my own family and the people I grew up with in my suburban neighborhood.

My illusion, or some may say delusion, is now shattered with the news that the author, Laura Ingalls Wilder (pictured above looking all jaunty in a hat which again looks as if once again some animal died for its creation) wrote an autobiography. It is titled Pioneer Girl the annotated Autobiography and will be published in September by the South Dakota Historical Society.

The book will be the adult version of Laura's life as a pioneer girl. It will include domestic violence, love triangles and a man setting himself on fire after drinking too much whiskey. I also read that the dear bulldog Jack may have been given away to strangers. Gasp. And this is just the start. Say it isn't so Laura!

 I don't need more reality in my life. I want to retain that image of happy people living off the land and being satisfied with simple pleasures like church dances and eating pancakes with maple syrup and ugly dresses. It pains me to learn that Laura's life contained all the stuff of, well, this book.

Oh well if Laura was alive today she might enjoy the truth being told. Maybe as she wrote the children's books she thought what a bunch of poop this is and I just want to be set free to tell what really happened.

Myself I just wish I could stay in the snug little cabin in the Wisconsin woods with snow falling gently outside, deer roaming nearby, fire burning bright, with Laura and Mary and Pa and Ma and baby Carrie, dear furry Jack snoring by the front door, and never have to venture outside to the big, bad world of sex drugs and rock and roll, at least not until it was time to make soap. That sounded like way too much work.


Rita A. said...

I hadn't heard about this book coming out. Sorry to say some things never change and have been going on forever whether the history or children's books tell us so. It's okay to want to escape. Isn't that one reason we are writers?

Tracy Mears said...

How sad, but not surprising I suppose because where men are involved and some women, some things never change I suppose. People are fuckers all over since time begun I guess and most of them are staying at our workplace....haha