When I was somewhere around the age of five, my Grandma Trudy sent an Easter box full of gifts. As a child I remember it being all for me, although I'm sure there were some things for other members of the family in there. I remember there being a purse (I think there was one for my sister) and I loved purses, and I believe there were some lace gloves - which I also loved. But in that box there was a book. And that book was Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. At that time I had no idea what it was and I didn't really care; I was more interested in the lacy gloves and candy and other delightful items that little girls only imagined about. But my mom was a very great believer of reading - and reading aloud. And so the next day she began to read aloud to me the story of Pa and Ma and Mary, Laura and Baby Carrie traveling to Indian country to start a new life.
The beautiful thing about that book is that it is written for children and completely child-appropriate. It makes rated-G look a little iffy. But at the same time it enthralls adults. The beautiful word pictures depict life back them in the most vivid quaint sense.
But of course it didn't stop with just one book, because as you probably know, there is a whole series of Little House books. While I was growing up, I didn't think anything of it. They were just books and books as we all know are essential to life, but apart from my vivid imaginary world I didn't really think much more than that.
For Christmas my in-laws gave me a gift certificate to an Amish store out in the sticks near where they live. (Ottenheim General Store. Does that not sound deliciously unmodern?) If you've never been to an Amish General store, you really must find one and visit it. They are very quiet people but so friendly. I could write a whole book on the very few and sparse interactions I've had with them but suffice it to say that the idealized depictions portrayed in books that are somewhat in vogue in Christian bookstores are shall we say not as educational as you might think. But I do love visiting them.
At this particular general store there is a book section, and its mostly a used book section. To my delight I found a few books by Corrie Ten Boom and C. S. Lewis and low and behold there was a whole Laura Ingalls Wilder section! It took a great deal of willpower to not march home with all of them but budgets being what they are I only purchased one - and a devotional by Corrie Ten Boom.
But this week I had a minor revelation. I have found that reading a little before bed is incredibly helpful to calm myself down and chase away fears. My husband has been out of town this week for several Firefighter trainings, and it just worked out to be easier on him if he stayed at the fire department all week instead of commuting back and forth. While absence certainly makes the heart grow fonder, when he's not home I experience an onslaught of irrational childhood fears after dark.
I think what prompted me to pick the book up was the cold snap we've had this week. The house started creaking and the breeze was whispering in the eaves and I jumped about a mile high, and then scolded myself. The gentle Kentucky breeze is N.O.T.H.I.N.G. compared to the fell voice of the wind on the High Plains. And hen I started to spook myself, thinking of the winter wind howling around the farmhouse in South Dakota. It really does have a voice. Its unlike wind anywhere else. You can very easily imagine a mean face blowing that awful sound out through frozen lips, with icy fingers clawing at the windows, trying to get in or tear the house down around you.
And then I realized I was really scaring myself with a ridiculous picture that would make Hans Christian Anderson proud.
One way to combat childhood fears is with a good bedtime story, so I went to the bookshelf and picked up the Little House book. I brewed myself a delightful bedtime cup of tea, and barricaded myself in bed with fuzzy blankets and pillows.
"Oh Charles!" was the harshest thing Ma ever said to Pa, and she was the epitome of all things ladylike and civilized. Pa was the ultimate resource of protection and ingenuity and kindness, and he apologized when he said 'blamed' in front of women and children.
I remembered how I used to love Laura's descriptions of pretty tablecloths and colorful quilts, of the china shepherdess that was so dainty and whose presence declared the current residence officially a home.
And I realized that these books really helped shape me into the person I am. Pretty tablecloths and china bespeckle my home and my friends lovingly joke that I have a 'grandma's house,' or a 'cottage.' Books really put in place a love of hospitality, of nourishing soups and pursuit of a more simple life. Laura rarely talks about her faith in the books, but the few times she does its clear there was a cultural theology that ruled their home. Pa and Ma were educated and loved learning but they also loved welcoming the Tennessee Wildcat of Mr. Edwards into their hearts and home. They were pioneers and lived on homesteads but they also had friends and neighbors and they all helped each other survive in a harsh climate with a very quaint and loving community.
That kind of loving submission to each other is so beautiful and more importantly its biblical.
And no, it doesn't count if you watch the movies. Don't even get me started on the 'Book vs. Movie' debate. Books are better. Always. And Little Joe from Bonanza plays Pa. While Michael Landon's acting improves drastically from Bonanza to Little House, and the original movie that sparked the television series does good justice to the book, ITS NOT THE SAME. And the series that follows the movie is cute but the only thing it and the book series has in common is pioneers and the character names.
You may watch the movies AFTER reading the books, because as dorky as they are they are a precious testimony to the 70's and 80's attempting to be historically accurate.