Little House in the Ozarks: the Rediscovered Writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Stephen Hines, is a collection of newspaper columns and magazine articles Laura wrote between 1911 and 1925 before she wrote the Little House books. I have looked at bits and pieces of this but I’ve never read it all the way through, and I wanted to do so for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge this month.
There are over 140 articles or columns arranged by topic, and the topics range from WWI, women’s progress, and “the greatness and goodness of God,” but most are just observations drawn from everyday life.
Laura was very opinionated, especially in preferring farm or country life over town life. But in other ways she was very broad-minded. She was remarkably well read for having only two terms of high school: she quotes from several authors. She had a natural innate curiosity about the world around her and never wanted to stop learning about it. And for being a farmer’s wife tucked away in Mansfield, Missouri, she kept up on politics and current events quite well. There is even a section on fairies. But she valued a woman’s role in her home above all else.
She also reflected on her upbringing a lot and mentions several incidents that showed up in her later books.
One of my favorite columns is from January 1920, titled “The Man of the Place,” which was what Laura called Almanzo in these columns. She records their grumbling over the amount of work on their shoulders and the lack of time to get it all done, then they both recalled that their parents worked long into the night spinning, sewing, sorting their produce, while they themselves had club work and magazines to read in the evenings. They reminisced that their parents did enjoy their lives, though they were so busy. “If we expect to enjoy life, we will have to learn to be joyful in all of it, not just at stated intervals…or when we have nothing else to do” (p. 66). Then they concluded they weren’t really having such a hard time after all.
Another is titled “The Old Dash Churn.” Her husband had bought her a new butter churn that was supposed to make butter in three minutes. But it was supposed to connect to a motor, and they had none, so she had to hold it steady in a certain position with one hand and turn the handle with the other. Plus the blades were sharp and frequently cut her hands. She gave it a good try because her husband had bought it to please her and make her work easier, but it was making it more troublesome instead. She told him the problems she was having and asked him several times to bring back the old dash church, but he just said, “Oh, this one is so much better: you can churn in three minutes…” One day when the churn was being “particularly annoying” she picked up the whole thing and threw it as far as she could. When she told her husband, he said, “I wish I had known that you did not want to use it. I would like to have the wheels and shaft, but they’re ruined now.” I’m not telling it as she did, but it just struck me so funny because she HAD told him repeatedly. But she didn’t generally make a habit of throwing things when she was aggravated. 🙂
A few favorite quotes:
“Let’s be cheerful! We have no more right to steal the brightness out of the day for our own family than we have to steal the purse of a stranger. Let us be as careful that our homes are furnished with pleasant and happy thoughts as we are that the rugs are the right color and texture and the furniture comfortable and beautiful” (p. 37).
“I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all” (p. 52).
Quoting a friend who was “home schooling” and had a daughter who was not as academic as her brothers, preferring sewing to studying: “I know what her talent is, but she has to have her books, too: and she will sew all the better for having ‘book learning'” (p. 54).
“So much depends upon the homemakers. I sometimes wonder if they are so busy now with other things that they are forgetting the importance of this special work….Because of their importance, we must not neglect our homes in the rapid changes of the present day. For when tests of character come in later years, strength to the good will not come from the modern improvements or amusements few may have enjoyed but from the quiet moments and the ‘still small voices’ of the old home. Nothing ever can take the place of this early home influence; and as it does not depend upon externals, it may be the possession of the poor as well as of the rich” (p. 64).
“Now it isn’t enough in any garden to cut down the weeds….cultivating the garden plants is just as necessary. If we want vegetables, we must make them grow, not leave the ground barren where we have destroyed the weeds. Just so, we must give much of our attention to the improvements we want, not all to the abuses we would like to correct” (p. 94).
“We are coming, I think, to depend too much on being shown and told and taught instead of using our own eyes and brains and inventive faculties” (p. 122).
“It is a good idea sometimes to think of the importance and dignity of our everyday duties. It keeps them from being so tiresome; besides, others are apt to take us at our own valuation” (p. 130).
“Just as a little thread of gold, running through a fabric, brightens the whole garment, so women’s work at home, while only the doing of little things, is like the golden gleam of sunlight that runs through and brightens all the fabric of civilization” (p. 207).
“Here and there one sees a criticism of Christianity because of the things that have happened [during WWI]….’Christianity has not prevented these things, therefore it is a failure’ some say. But this is a calling of things by the wrong names. It is rather the lack of Christianity that has brought us where we are. Not a lack of churches or religious forms but of the real thing in our hearts” (p. 265).
In a column about how pies were invented, “Its originator was truly an artist, as though she had written a poem or painted a picture, for she had used her creative instinct and imagination with a fine technique” (p. 282).
I enjoyed so much getting to know Laura better through these columns.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)