Because this year February 7 is on a Tuesday.
This is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the ever-popular Little House on the Prairie books. There are celebrations planned at libraries across the country, and of course at her home sites.
Laura was born on this day in 1867 outside of Pepin, Wisconsin to Charles and Caroline Ingalls. She was just a wee thing, knee-high to a grasshopper, when the family moved to “Indian Territory” (that’s Kansas to us). Many moves followed, until she finally settled with her husband in Mansfield, MO.
We in the twenty-first century often romanticize the time that Laura lived in. Her books paint pictures of a family always pulling together, poor in money but rich in other ways, always able to make do and find joy in simple things. It’s hard not to long for such simplicity in our harried, modern times.
But they worked hard. Really hard. Up at the crack of dawn, chopping wood and hauling water; growing every vegetable your family ate; preserving all that wasn’t eaten fresh; caring for the animals that provided dairy and protein – and then butchering them and preserving all the meat and making soap and candles; making three meals a day entirely from scratch, including every slice of bread; sewing all clothes, curtains, and quilts by hand; washing all of that by scrubbing each item, bit by bit, over a rub board; trying to keep clean an unsealed home. Now add in caring for and educating your children.
I lived among some old-order Amish & Mennonites once upon a time, and experienced the life. I can do all the above except the actual butchering (yep, even making soap, rubbing laundry, and home-educating. Oh, but my home was sealed.) I actually enjoy doing all that, but that’s because my livelihood never depended on it, as Laura’s did. If I didn’t preserve enough food to last through the winter, we just went to the store. She didn’t have that luxury.
I recently read The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Sharon McCartney. It’s a book of poetry in which each poem is the voice of a different character or item from the Little House books. Most of the pieces bring together the simplicity and the hardships of pioneer life to contemplate life, and McCartney is very effective at this. For example, “Covered Wagon” begins remembering the weeks on the trail, “singing my wheel song in the grasses…companionship, something to do, inhabitants all around…” but now has “Dust in my axles, fractures in my spokes, the beginning of a breakdown.” If you can’t relate to that at all, you’re still young.
One of my favorite poems was Ma’s Green Delaine Dress:
The delaine was kept wrapped in paper and laid away. (Little House in the Big Woods)
The sugaring-off, liberated from the trunk, how I whirled and twirled, sweat-gilded, skirt flirting insatiably, whalebone stays taut with glee. One sweet odyssey of display, a chance to be worn, to adorn, after such loneliness, confinement, wrapped in stiff paper. Why don’t we dance every night? Flounced and ruffled, trimmed with ribbon, fashioned for pleasure. What makes her pack me away? Misguided notion that joy must be rationed. In darkness, fear unfolds. A finite future— she can’t see my seams are weakening, how my tucks and gathers fray. Styles change. Before she knows it, I’ll be passé, fodder for the dressmaker’s scissors, revamped— or worse, remade into curtains, an apron, common workaday pieces, a rag to wipe greasy lips on.
Let’s take the lesson of the green delaine to heart. Celebrate life. Every day.
And today, you might want to add to your celebrations a whisper of birthday remembrance for Laura Ingalls Wilder, a woman who has inspired generations.