The last day came. Tomorrow Mary was going away. She would finally be able to go to the Iowa College for the Blind in Vinton, Iowa.
When I was a young girl, reading this chapter, it was sad and I just may have cried. Reading it as a mother, especially within the last ten years, it takes on a whole new meaning. Having sent both of my children off to college or apprenticeship has given me an appreciation for how Caroline Ingalls must have been feeling when sending her oldest daughter, her blind daughter, to a college far away. Of course, I have been blessed with the advantages of technology to keep in touch with my children easily and quickly, while Ma did not. And I cannot wrap my mind around that feeling.
Pa and Ma brought home a new trunk for Mary, which is carefully packed with all of her possessions. All of Mary’s belongings fit inside her trunk. And it is done. Reality is setting in for them all. The family seems a little lost already, just imagining the home without Mary. Grace begs for a story. I liked that Mary was telling Pa’s stories to Grace.
The summer meal that Ma plans, Mary’s last at home for a very long time – cottage cheese balls, with onions in them and cold creamed peas. Even though I don’t really like cottage cheese, this sounds so summery and divine to me. Ma sends Laura to the garden and Mary asks if she can go with her, for a little walk.
As they walk, Laura describes the sunset for Mary, in just the way that Mary likes it:
“The sun is sinking, Mary, into white downy clouds that spread to the edge of the world. All the tops of them are crimson, and streaming down from the top of the sky are great gorgeous curtains of rose and gold with pearly edges. They are a great canopy over the whole prairie. The little streaks of sky between them are clear, pure green.”
There are certain passages, in the Little House books, that I can never read through without tearing up. This last walk that Mary and Laura take together is one of them. To be honest, this is one of the most emotional chapters of all…for me.
These sisters who have always been together, not only sisters, but friends. What will one do without the other. Laura has been such a big part of Mary’s life, her eyes. What will she do without her? What will Laura do without Mary?
“The sun has gone through the white clouds. It is a huge, pulsing ball of liquid fire. The clouds above it are scarlet and crimson and gold and purple, and the great sweeps of cloud over the whole sky are burning flames.”
Will the sky and sunset be different in Iowa? Mary wonders.
Early the next morning, final preparations are being made for Ma and Pa and Mary to take the train to Iowa. A neighbor boy is taking them. Ma gives Laura, Carrie, and Grace final instructions for the week that they will spend alone on the claim.
Good-byes are said.
The wagon started. Grace’s mouth opened wide and she bawled.
I don’t know what kept them all from crying…
I certainly have cried my fair share during this chapter.
The wagon takes Pa, Ma, and Mary away leaving a silence and stillness behind. It was worse when they went into the house. Grace begins to cry again and Carrie’s eyes fill with tears. Laura knows that Ma is depending on her to be in charge. She makes a decision.
“Listen to me, Carrie and Grace,” she said briskly. “We are going to clean this house from top to bottom, and we’ll begin right now! So when Ma comes home, she’ll find the fall housecleaning done.”
They did just that! It was not easy. In fact, it was much harder than Laura could have imagined. It took them every minute of the full week that Pa and Ma were gone. But they got it done. They scrubbed that house from top to bottom. Laura finds that doing the cleaning and keeping track of Grace is not an easy task. A sudden rainstorm makes everything all the more difficult. When Grace decides to “help” by blacking the stove, Laura learns a valuable lesson in patience.
On Monday, after all the work was done, Laura, Carrie, and Grace sit outside in the grass watching for the smoke of the train. Finally they see it and hear the whistle. And finally they see Pa and Ma walking from town and all the lonesomeness for Mary came back.
Laura was happy for Mary when she found out how wonderful the college was. Mary would be warm and comfortable. The food was good and she was with a group of pleasant girls. The teachers were kind and Mary had passed the examinations with flying colors. She would study political economy, literature higher mathematics, sewing, knitting, beadwork, and music. Of course, Ma had seen no clothes finer than Mary’s. 🙂
In her sadness, missing Mary, Laura was more determined than ever to become a teacher so that Mary could stay in college.
With all of the excitement, Laura had forgotten about the week they had spent doing the fall housecleaning.
Ma lifted her hands in surprise, then she sat weakly down and let her hands fall. “My goodness!”
The next day, when Ma unpacks, she surprises Laura, Carrie, and Grace with gifts that she brought back from Vinton, Iowa. The girls were very pleased with their gifts – a picture book for Grace, and autograph albums for both Laura and Carrie.
“I found that autograph albums are all the fashion nowadays,” said Ma. “All the most fashionable girls in Vinton have them.”