Tag Archives: Laura Ingalls Wilder

The banks of dumb creek

It was one of the great livery-stableman’s most masterly intuitions to have discovered that Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it.

Edith Wharton, Age of Innocence

What? An hour wait in the parking lot?

What? An hour wait in the parking lot?

It’s not that we wanted to get away from the amusement. It’s that we wanted to get away from the crowds getting away from the amusement.

My friend Angie and I took our girls to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant in Walnut Grove. After touring a wonderful museum center, we drove into the country and parked in a grassy field with hundreds of other cars. This was the site of an outdoor play about Laura’s life and Walnut Grove’s roots.

The play ran from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., and after that, we had a two-hour drive. Angie said, the last time I was here, it took one hour just to get out of the parking lot.

Sure, we’d paid for the tickets. And we faced a long drive with tired kids regardless, so what’s another hour?

Sixty minutes to be exact — an hour of honking horns as drivers rush the exit. It’d be 20-year-old trucks and minivans against my cute new car, only 7,000 miles old.

Maybe we should leave early, I said. It’s not like we don’t know the story’s ending.

Right, she said.

Trapped in Walnut Grove, the place we'd been so eager to see.

Trapped in Walnut Grove, the place we’d been so eager to see.

I vacillated. It was our day for Laura Ingalls, my daughter’s first beloved heroine. Mine, too. It’s Laura from the Banks of Plum Creek, not Laura of Silver Lake or Laura of those Happy Golden Years. Plum Creek Laura is our favorite, a book with an action-filled plot and fun cast. The bratty Nellie Oleson, the dugout, Johnny Johnson, the country party vs. the city party.

Also, Angie and I are writers. Exploring Laura’s town was our study in setting and character.

I shivered and said, it’s really cold for July. Maybe we should leave early because of the parking lot and all.

So Angie and I calculated reasons:

  1. It was cold, but not cold enough to kill pesky mosquitos.
  2. The seats were uncomfortable.
  3. The drive would be late, dark and long.
  4. The bathrooms were gross.
  5. The kids were tired.

Bingo! The kids. That settled it. We’d leave early. Our poor kids!

After intermission, during scene seven, we gathered our stuff, slipped between the seats, and dashed for the car. We were out of the field and on the road before the applause.

The girls settled in with their electronic gadgets. Angie and I chatted. We chatted about the Ingalls family, about Angie’s new novel, about my new novel, about OHMYGOD DEER IN THE ROAD.

Four screams, a thunk, a deer rolling over the windshield, rolling over the hood of the car, and disappearing in the ditch.

All passengers were fine. The car’s front was mutilated and the top smeared with blood and (sorry) deer poop. We eventually made it to Angie’s house and collapsed into nervous slumber.

So, Edith Wharton, you made a poignant reflection about our culture when you wrote Americans are more eager to leave their amusement than they are to get to it.

But why?

Is it really about cold seats and mosquitos?

Is it because we feel guilty? Because people suffer around the world while Americans enjoy demolition derbies; pizza buffets; carnival games with junk prizes, like those big purple teddy bears; and TV shows about swearing, smutty housewives?

Because our country is such a vat of amusement, we’ve developed the attention span of a gnat?

Because we’re so arrogant that each and every one of us believe we deserve the first shot out of the parking lot? Our lives are so important we couldn’t possibly wait one hour?

I’m not drawing a lame karmic connection between a deer crash and being a jerk, although the deer probably thinks I should.

I simply want to understand why Angie and I decided to flee an event we’d been planning for months. We’ve both survived uncomfortable chairs and mosquitos and disgusting bathrooms – often in our own homes.

So I leave the laptop today with a nod to pageant patrons who enjoyed the show’s final two scenes and withstood the parking chaos. Kudos to them for living the moment while they were in the moment.

Maybe I’ll try that next time. For Edith and for Laura.

For Edith, for Laura, for the deer.

For Edith, for Laura, for the deer.

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Let it snow!

As another Wisconsin snowstorm descended last night, I watched the brown muck in the yard turn white again. And I thought, bring it on!

I’d been sorting my bookshelf, and I realized I had the entire Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. But one is missing, The Long Winter. Finding it is today’s top priority. It’s amazing plot development that  heightens the stakes with near perfect pacing.

In late summer of 1880, an Indian chief warns Laura’s father to prepare for seven months of blizzards. Pa moves the family into the pioneer town of DeSmit, South Dakota, where he’d built a small building.

Yes, sir! Long and cold.

Yes, sir! Long and cold.

Immediately the wind begins to howl. Residents aren’t worried because the supply train will come with food, kerosene, coal, and everything they’ll need. Except it doesn’t come. Buried by blizzard after blizzard, the train master decides they can’t make it past the town of Tracy until spring.

And spring that year doesn’t come until early summer.

Wilder’s book is one of the most tension-filled novels I’ve ever read. She pulls readers into the despair: loneliness, fear, the howl of blizzards, and cold so severe the reader needs to cuddle with a blanket. Wandering out of town is a life-threatening journey.

When the coal is gone, Laura and Pa twist hay into sticks that burn quickly, throwing just enough heat to keep them from freezing. Other families burn furniture. The town’s lumber baron burns his livelihood.

Then the town runs out of food. The Ingalls grind coarse wheat in a coffee mill and survive on tiny meals of bread.

The heroes’ journey begins.

Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland risk their lives on the frozen prairie. The young men, both friends of Laura, heard rumors that a man living about fifteen miles from town has a huge supply of wheat. With no map, and no sense of direction because the landmarks are covered, they take off with two horses and an empty sled.

As another blizzard blinds the town, the young men return, nearly frozen, with bushels of wheat; enough to sustain the town until the trains can run. Like any good novel, there’s more bad luck. The June flooding is so intense, the train can’t slog through the muck.

I’ve vowed there will be no more winter complains from me. My furnace keeps the house at a toasty 70 degrees, and my refrigerator is full, mostly with food rotting in Tupperware.

No complaints except for one: the missing copy of The Long Winter. I’ll have to be satisfied with living it.