In fourth grade, our teacher, Mrs. Wentz, read aloud to us the books from the Little House series, beginning with Little House in the Big Woods in the fall and ending the following spring with These Happy Golden Years. She did not read us The First Four Years, which had only recently been added to the boxed set version of the books--she said it was from an unfinished manuscript that had been left behind when the real Laura died and that it had been finished by her daughter Rose. She said she thought the book was too adult for our delicate nine-year-old selves, practically guaranteeing that the curious among us would immediately seek the book out.
And so it was that the first Little House book I read was actually an afterthought to the original series. Little Sister and I had gotten the boxed set as a gift from our grandparents the previous Christmas and I pried that slender volume out of the end of the box and read it in a day and a half. Then I began at the beginning and read the rest throughout that summer.
As so often happens, these books came to me at exactly the right time. We were living "out in the country" for the first time in our lives--seven miles from town, on a dirt road, our nearest neighbor out of sight down in a gully half a mile away (a good portion of that distance taken up by the driveways of our place and theirs). The property we were living on had been an active farm, there were outbuildings from another era--a milkhouse, chicken coops, several collapsing barns. At the top of the trail between the barns, a maple sapling had grown crookedly through the spokes of an abandoned wagon wheel, which was still attached to a broken piece of axle. There were work harnesses for horses hanging in one of the sheds--the neglected leather split and cracked into patterns that you could trace with a finger as though they were hieroglyphic messages from a not-terribly-distant past. When my father hung twin tire swings in the huge maple beside the driveway, I wasted no time naming them Trixy and Fly after the ponies Laura and Almanzo rode in The First Four Years.
Except for the dissonance of reading The Long Winter during the height of summer--lying on a blanket in the front yard in shorts and a T-shirt in 80-degree weather with birds singing and bees bumbling lazily nearby while I read of the extreme cold and tens of feet of snow that put the Ingalls family and the whole town in peril--it is hard to imagine a more perfect setting in which to read those books for the first time.
The "first time" because of course I read them again. And again. I'm not even sure how many times now I've read those books. And I sought out others as well both by and about Laura--in high school, I discovered On The Way Home, a travel diary of the trip Laura and Almanzo made from South Dakota to Missouri, where they would live out their lives and West From Home, a collection of letters Laura sent home to Almanzo in Missouri when she went to visit their daughter in San Francisco in 1915.
Later, when I was working at a bookstore (yes, not only am I an addict, I was briefly a dealer as well), a shipment came in that contained the book Little House In The Ozarks: The Rediscovered Writings, a collection of Laura's newspaper and magazine pieces. It never even made it to the shelf. I wrote about my attachment to that book here.
Recently, my love of all things Laura was rekindled when, while blog-hopping, I learned of a book called The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, by Wendy McClure. I am only a few pages in to this book about Wendy McClure's passion for Laura and her quest to trace the journey of Laura's family, but I am delighted to find myself vicariously living in "Laura World" (as McClure calls it) once again.
Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Timeless.
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