Saturday, July 14, 2012

In Laura's House

The books of Laura Ingalls Wilder are the books that I have read more than I have read any others. I know that I've told you what a reader my Willow is--have I told you that I was a reader just like that as a child, as well? Only I may have read even more, because I was often very unhappy, and reading is such a balm for an unhappy child. And much of my reading included the Little House books, over and over and over again.

Of course, I've told you all this before, back when I wrote my tutorial for making cornhusk dolls (and how fun to see that a year and a half after we first studied Laura, we're immersing ourselves in her life again!), but I didn't share with you, I don't think, how important Laura, and her life, and her books, are to me. As a matter of fact, I know that I didn't share this with you, because in that tutorial, as I'm describing reading Little House in the Big Woods to the girls, chapter by chapter, at bedtime, I didn't tell you that as I read the final chapter of the book, in which Laura describes the beginning of another winter, dawning much as it did in the book's opening, with all the family safe and happy and secure together in their cozy, warm house in its little clearing in the Big Woods, I wept, and my little girls looked at me solemnly with their big eyes, and I explained that the endings of Laura's books always made me cry.

To visit Laura's house, then, was just incredible:

Matt and I took the girls to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum, just outside Mansfield, Missouri, at the end of our road trip last week. And I tell you what--if you love Laura, you have GOT to go there!

Because I've read the books so many times, I have kind of an obsessive memory for the details in them. I was thrilled, then, to see this museum. Like any good pioneer woman (who lived through the Great Depression, to boot!), Laura kept EVERYTHING, and everything that she kept ended up in her books. She  must have gone though her possessions to help inspire her memories of her childhood, because I could look at half the items in the museum and tell you where in the book they're mentioned. I'm broken-hearted that I wasn't permitted to take photographs inside any of the buildings (I HATE that rule!!!), but here is some of what I saw:

Mary's nine-patch quilt (the one that she's sewing in Little House in the Big Woods!); Laura's crazy quilt; Pa's fiddle; autograph cards from all the girls' friends (and enemies, including mean old Nellie Owens!); Laura's teaching certificates; one of her actual handwritten manuscripts, written in pencil in big paper tablets; a model of the wagon that the family took in their big move to Rocky Ridge farm (which Matt and I were both thrilled to see, since it included the detail of the traveling chicken coop, which we just could NOT visualize); copies of Laura's books in several languages; several drafts of drawings that Garth Williams made for the cover of The First Four Years; THE bread plate that survived the fire that destroyed Laura's and Almanzo's home; Laura's beautiful dress and her mirror hung on a tree trunk that Rose writes about in On the Way Home; bead-work that Mary did after she grew blind; the special contraption that she used to write in Braille...

Shall I go on? I had the urge, about three-quarters of the way through the museum, to run back to the car for my notebook so that I could at least write down everything that I was seeing, but alas, imagining doing this while Matt must wrangle the wriggling children allowed me to remind myself that I'll simply have to come back again and make my notes.

The children, thank goodness, were actually patient and well-behaved in this Momma-centered experience; it reminded me (favorably, finally--thank goodness!) of Willow's famous fit thrown eight minutes into the San Francisco Modern Art Museum--I may still not have children who adore opera, but I do now have children who can handle a museum.

We took guided tours of both of Laura's houses on the homestead--the house that she and Almanzo built together and in which they primarily lived, and Rocky Ridge, the house that Rose had built for them after her first novel made her rich, and in which Laura wrote her own first novels. The clock that Almanzo bartered for to give to Laura for Christmas lives in their house still, and still works; it chimed the hour while we were there to hear it.

Here's just a small part of the original land owned by the Wilders--

--and as photographed by Sydney:

Of course, there's still plenty of room for a little kid, just come from a long car ride and with a long car ride ahead of her, to run around like a nut:

Check out her ballet leaps!

Here's Laura's house--

--with some of her biggest fans sitting waiting for her on the front stoop:

We walked (and ran and dance lept) around the homestead, even finding a few of the apple trees left from the ones that Laura and Almanzo planted after they bought the land. Matt preached to the girls a rousing fire and brimstone sermon--

--and we hit the gift shop, of COURSE, where I purchased yet another cloth doll pattern and a pattern for her pioneer clothes, six postcards of some of the stuff that I wasn't allowed to photograph, a Little House coloring book, and, for the girls, a souvenir bell, of all things, that they picked out and promised to share nicely (update: They DON'T!). I've become very interested in the many apocryphal series that chronicle the untold years of Laura's childhood, Rose's childhood, and the lives of Laura's mother and grandmother, and because it's frustratingly complicated to request these books from our public library in the proper order I wanted to buy a giant set of them, but alas, gift shops never sell exactly what I want to buy.

The actual Rocky Ridge Farm is now a short trip by car away from the homestead--I should have asked if the properties still connect at all, but I forgot--

In some ways, this house is less interesting than the homestead, because it was less lived in, less beloved to Laura, and thus now holds nearly none of her personal possessions, but one cannot miss touring it for this reason:

I seriously want a wide-armed armchair like the ones that Almanzo made for Laura, upon which she rested her tablet paper as she wrote her books.

On the way back through Mansfield, we passed the original storefront of the bank where Laura and Almanzo obtained their mortgage--
--but we did not stop because, having spent much more time than I'd originally allotted on the homestead, the sun was now setting and I still needed to see this:

Laura and Almanzo rest quietly in the cemetery in Mansfield, Missouri--

--along with their daughter, Rose:

I have a lot to say about Rose, too, which perhaps I will do another time, but in lieu of all my thoughts, take instead the inscription on the back of her headstone:

She, too, was a fascinating woman.

It didn't occur to me to bring flowers, as some others clearly do, but the girls and I each brought a stone to set on their marker. The sun set, and Matt did his darnedest to snap a photo of me with their marker even though I couldn't decide what facial expression would be appropriate--
I have apparently decided on wry smile?
--and then we got back in the car and kept on driving on our own way home.


Unknown said...

See I knew you would love it. I wonder if I can get Art to tour it for the third time.... Didn't you feel like you were driving out into nowhere when all of a sudden it popped up?

julie said...

Yes, Matt was pretty sure that we were driving out into the country to die. I noticed that they're having "Wilder Days" in the middle of September--looked like some sort of festival?--I may have to time next year's mid-year visit home for THAT!

Unknown said...

Ohhh. Wilder Days. That would be exciting. We could meet there.