Yesterday, February 7, most people went about their day as usual. Some discussed politics, others avoided it. Many went to school and work and attended sporting events, meetings, or other things in between. While some families ate their evening meal together, others raced to a game, meeting, or get-together. Most of us went to bed in a warm, cozy bed with heat flowing throughout out two-story houses. Most people probably didn’t note the date or the significance of the year. But perhaps a few, like myself, actually noticed the social media “trending items,” and found themselves taken back to a place and time in American history that had a profound impact on our lives and brings to mind a nostalgic warm and comforting feeling, one that recalls someone few of us ever met but is as familiar to many as a dear old friend.
Few book or television series have captured the hearts of America like the one that took place in the woods of Wisconsin, then the prairies of Kansas, and later, the plains of Minnesota and Dakota. As a child, my mother and I spent hours reading together, and I never missed my Monday night date with the young girl I loved as dearly as my closest friends and family. Yesterday was her 150th birthday, and I have to wonder how she could possibly have aged when, in my mind, she will always be a young, energetic half-pint with braids.
Much has been learned about Laura Ingalls Wilder since her death. We know that her family did not live in isolation and were not wholly self-sufficient. They were often surrounded by other pioneers and townsfolk. We know that Laura’s family had a grave mistrust of the government and that Laura was an introvert, often hiding away from the public due to her extreme shyness and fear of being around people. Quite the opposite of her mother, it was Laura’s daughter, Rose, who convinced her mother to write the stories of her life at a time when the family was starving and on the verge of losing what little they had. I like to think that it was Laura’s pioneering spirit that inspired her to become an author at the age of 65 rather than falling into despair and giving up after a long, hard life fraught with illness, poverty, and, no doubt, despair. How ironic that it was all of the those attributes of her childhood that endeared her and her family to so many generations of people.
Times have changed, the West was won, women moved beyond the classroom to the boardroom, and families today are often too busy to eat a meal together. Never mind spending a winter trapped inside their home, with little to eat and a small fire to keep them warm, as a blizzard rages outside of their home on the wide-open prairie with few people around other than each other. Mothers are no longer tied to their stoves, laundry, and sewing 24 hours a day with no relief. Fathers no longer have to hunt to put food on the table. Most children don’t walk to school and then return home to work the farm and read the Bible by candlelight at night. These are the things that our great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents worked so hard to move away from, but I have to wonder…
Had Laura and her sisters not suffered so many illnesses that left childbearing hard to impossible; had she and Almonzo been able to have a big family; had Rose married and had children…. would their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren appreciate how much we have gained but how much we have lost as the generations have rolled by? Would they embrace the rat race that so many of us run each day, or would they yearn for the harder yet simpler lives that Laura, Mary, and Carrie had with Pa and Ma and baby, Grace? Would they have a greater appreciation for how far our nation has come and sadness for how far we’ve slipped behind?
This has been a very mild winter here in the Mid-Atlantic, and I yearn for just one winter like the one that Laura’s family braved during The Long Winter. I long for just a few days trapped in the house with my girls, perhaps without electricity, without contact with the outside world, without the demands of our normal, every day lives. How I miss the days of my own childhood when nothing mattered more than the number of lightning bugs we could catch as we ran through the woods and the farm fields surrounding my grandparent’s house. How I cherish the memories of snuggling with my mother while we read together and later, with my own girls as I read to them. Perhaps, if Laura were here to celebrate her birthday now, she would marvel at the lives we live today. Or perhaps, she would long to return to the days when her family had little more than love in their Little House on the Prairie.
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three inspirational fiction eBooks of 2015. Her book, Whispering Vines, is a 2017 Illumination Award winner; and her most recent novel, Island of Miracles, is now on sale.
You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.