This week, at the library, I checked out some illustrated Little House on the Prairie books for my daughters.
It’s been a long time since I read the series or watched the Michael Landon + Melissa Gilbert episodes on TV, and reading the stories as an adult, it struck me that Laura’s perspective must’ve differed vastly from her mother’s.
To Laura, living in their Little House in the Big Woods (in Wisconsin) was a grand adventure, and then Pa felt that the land around him was becoming too crowded and set off for Kansas in a covered wagon.
The children’s book illustrations are exquisite, depicting Mary’s and Laura’s rosy cheeks, smiling faces, and bouncy, clean hair. But I am sure the reality was far from this depiction. The Ingalls were traveling by wagon, after all, and the dirt and the dust would’ve inevitably blown up around them, lodging like sand in their hair, mouth, and eyes. Plus, Caroline had a third daughter at this point, a baby named Carrie.
As I sat there on the couch, with my blonde and brunette daughters on either side of me, and another daughter hiccupping in my womb, I could picture Caroline out there in the prairie, making pancakes over an open fire like she did in the book.
She must’ve been tired. Bone-tired to the point where all she could think about was a warm bath and sleep. So the fact that Laura, as an adult, wrote about her childhood with such nostalgia is an incredible testament to Caroline’s perseverance and ability to make even one of the most trying times in their family’s life appear like an adventure.
After reading these stories, I jokingly told my husband he is a lot like Charles Ingalls. My husband dreams about moving and mountains like some men dream about buying a three-story house or a speed boat.
I wish I could be more like Caroline and just pack up our wagon and head out into the wild blue yonder with my husband, our three girls, and a dog named Jack. But the reality is often far removed from the dream. There are moments—so many moments—that I miss our own Little House in Wisconsin.
I miss the creak of the windmill, and the harsh division of the seasons, so that they didn’t tumble all together but clipped by like images on a screen. And yet sometimes I honestly felt like Caroline flipping pancakes in that open prairie, desperate to make a trying time into an adventure.
I don’t often talk about my husband’s surgery anymore, because enough time has passed that my husband and I try to forget that it even happened, though we will always be grateful it did. But I do remember the insecurity I felt, knowing our family was twelve hours away.
We had so many wonderful family members and friends around us, but there’s something about moms and dads, sisters and brothers that allows you to take a deep breath, knowing all you have to do is reach out, and the people closest to your heart will circle their wagons and hem you in until you and your family can get back on your feet.
And this is where I am: I yearn to homestead. I want six hens that I can spoil with kitchen scraps and gather, in return, their smooth brown eggs. I want a garden that is small enough not to be overwhelmed by weeds but large enough to provide food for my family. I want to learn how to make sourdough bread that doesn’t have to be fed to the chickens (like my rolls last week) and pick up yogurt-making again.
I want a simple life. I want many of the things it seems we left behind when we moved back to family, but I want my family as well. I want adventure and familiarity. I want cooking over an open fire and a hot bath; homesteading and a night on the town.
Perhaps these two viewpoints are mutually exclusive, but I’m hoping they are not. I guess, eventually, our story will tell. Or maybe one of my three daughters will tell it. And I hope they perceive our life as a grand adventure, even if sometimes I make those pancakes on a griddle in the kitchen rather than over a spider skillet in the open prairie.
Do you yearn for a grand adventure? If so, how do you pursue it?