It’s Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthday. No, she’s not still with us – died in 1957 – but, if she was still with us, she’d be 148. Happy birthday Ms Ingalls Wilder!
I remember devouring her books when I was young. (She wrote the books that inspired the TV series, Little House on the Prairie.) For those who haven’t read them (and why not, pray tell?!!) they are based on her childhood in an American pioneer family in the late 1800s. For me her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, was an intoxicating mix of fiction, history and adventure and the main character was a girl. Imagine my delight when I discovered it was only the first in a series of books! Oh frabjous joy! Calloo callay!
She had a tough life, both as a child in the Ingalls family and later in her married life with her husband Almanzo Wilder. (Almanzo! That, surely, is a name inspired by a Victorian bodice-ripper.) They had to work really hard just to scrape a living. They faced severe snowstorms and devastating drought, while living in a poky log cabin. (Log cabins might sound romantic but the reality was a different story.) For a few years, the Ingalls family even lived in a dugout in the banks of a river. Children often didn’t survive childhood. Laura’s brother, Charles Frederick (Freddie), died when he was nine months old. Later, Laura’s second child, a son, didn’t live long enough to be named. And yet, in spite of the many hardships and sadness in her life, there is something wonderful that shines through her stories that imparts joy, love and hope.
In my childhood I used to yearn to write books like my idols: Laura Ingalls Wilder, C. S. Lewis and Enid Blyton (The Secret Seven books). However, I thought my life was too ordinary to compete with Ms Wilder’s. I couldn’t imagine inventing another world so complex and believable like Mr Lewis’s. And, I’d never be able to think up such exciting adventures as Ms Blyton’s Secret Seven had.
In one respect this is still true. However, now I don’t take it as a negative: “you’ll never be interesting, so don’t try”. Now, I take it as a positive: “they used what was ordinary for them and turned it into something magical.”
When I was little, my family was poor, too. I, like Laura, felt I was the not so pretty member of the family. The Little House books took me out of a fibro house (walls made of flat asbestos concrete), with cheap linoleum and one small kerosene heater for warmth, and transported me to the wild forests of Wisconsin. Whenever my father took out his violin and tuned up, I’d close my eyes and pretend it was Charles Ingalls, Laura’s dad, playing his fiddle in front of the log fire, in a little cabin in the woods. So, let’s raise a toast to the wonderful Laura Ingalls Wilder: pioneer woman, hard-working farmer’s wife, literary genius.