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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Little Houses, Sunbonnets and Pig Bladders: Wendy McClure Talks About Laura Ingalls and The Wilder Life

Posted By on Thu, Apr 14, 2011 at 7:31 AM

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Laura Ingalls Wilder, her husband Almanzo and their dog Nero at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri, in the early 1930s, when Laura was writing the Little House books. - IMAGE VIA
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  • Laura Ingalls Wilder, her husband Almanzo and their dog Nero at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri, in the early 1930s, when Laura was writing the Little House books.

Have you been able to re-read any of the Little House books since you finished The Wilder Life?

I'm re-reading Farmer Boy now. Now that I've seen the house [the Wilder family farm in upstate New York where Laura's husband Almanzo grew up], I know the orientation of where things are. I still have the vision of the house conjured up from the book descriptions, side by side with what I know now.

Little House in the Big Woods is still one of my favorites. I also really like By the Shores of Silver Lake. It was such a transitional time. Anyone who says those are books about the good old days has it wrong. They're about the country changing. Laura watches the railroads get built, she goes on a train ride, she watches the telegraph lines. I can relate to it so much -- the first time you see something new and it changes everything. In the first book, Little House in the Big Woods, they're completely self-sufficient in the way they did things. It's sort of -- not a fantasy -- but a paradise moment and impossible to sustain. They live in the middle of nowhere, off the land, and then one book later, Pa decides the Big Woods are getting too crowded.

And then by The Long Winter, they're totally dependent on the railroad.

Yes, and then by the end of the series -- which I consider to be These Happy Golden Years, not The First Four Years -- as a kid, I was so excited because they were able to build the extra room and get a parlor organ.

And all those descriptions of the dresses!

Yes! And Ma has her sewing machine and they seem kind of prosperous again. It's such a different lifestyle than they had in the Big Woods. Laura's counting all the money she's earned and they have cash. In the Big Woods, is there cash, or just Pa's furs? But by These Happy Golden Years, they're consumers. The youngest sister, Grace, doesn't know about pig butchering, she only knows salt pork, the stuff they get from the store.

It seems like it would have been way more fun living in the dugout on Plum Creek.

I think so, too. By the end, you have civilization creeping in all over the place: parlor furniture, those name cards, the whole town [DeSmet] learning to be a town. It makes sense, though: The adolescent Laura Ingalls is at an age where you get really preoccupied with how other people live and what other people are doing: You gotta have those name cards! It's kind of beautiful that that's coinciding with the development of the town.

Laura Ingalls (right) and her sisters Carrie and Mary sometime in the 1870s. - IMAGE VIA
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  • Laura Ingalls (right) and her sisters Carrie and Mary sometime in the 1870s.

Still, By the Banks of Plum Creek was my favorite as a kid. You've got that creek there, you're running around barefoot, but you get to wear a dress.

Even Mary loosens up and gets in trouble in that one.

And they go swimming! Of all the home sites, that's the most fun. Both times I visited, I went in the creek. It hasn't changed all that much, just a little more overgrown. It's fun to see everyone -- and in the summer there are dozens of people -- in there at a time. It's like a holy place with all these shoes left on the bank. It's like warm springs or a place with healing powers. It's hard to not want to take off your shoes and run around.

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