Guest post by Amanda Morris
This chapter begins with a visit from Mary Power, informing Laura that the Ladies’ Aid Society is giving a dime sociable and asking if she can attend. Laura does not know what a dime sociable is, but she does not want to ask Mary what it is. She feels somewhat behind the times compared to her more sophisticated friend. Apparently Ma is in the same boat because she was not even aware that a Ladies’ Aid Society had been formed. This might have something to do with the fact that Rev. Alden is not the preacher and so Ma and Pa are slightly less than enthusiastic about the church right now. (Side note: I recently learned that Rev. Alden attended Dartmouth College, my alma mater! Go Green!)
Laura is granted permission to attend, along with Mary Power, but Minnie, Ida and Nellie cannot attend because it costs a dime. This is a very clear illustration of the change in the Ingalls family’s circumstances. Laura can now afford luxuries that her friends cannot take part in. When the day finally arrives, Laura gets ready and is dissatisfied with her appearance. She asks Ma if she can cut bangs like Mary Power’s. Ma is reluctant, calling Mary’s hairstyle a “lunatic fringe.” I have always thought this sounds kind of harsh, although maybe the connotation was different. Then again, when I first read this bangs were quite the thing… The illustration shows Laura snipping away at her bangs, and they seem pretty standard. At last, Laura turns to show Ma the finished product:
“It looks quite nice,” Ma admitted. “Still, I liked it better before it was cut.”
OUCH! Maybe I was just a delicate little flower as a teenager, but I think that I would have cried if my mom said that to me about a haircut, especially right before I went out to an event I was nervous about. Pa and Carrie soften the blow somewhat, and then there is nothing more to do but wait for Mary Power.
Once Mary arrives, they head to Mrs. Tinkham’s house. They are welcomed inside, leave their wraps in a small bedroom, and then head to a larger sitting room. It is lavishly furnished and decorated, as the Tinkhams own the town furniture shop. The guest list for this event includes Florence Garland, Mrs. Beardsley, Mrs. Bradley, and Mr. and Mrs. Woodsworth. They are all sitting in awkward silence, or at least Laura feels awkward about the silence. The silence continues until Rev. and Mrs. Brown arrive. Laura is fascinated by Rev. Brown, who is supposedly a cousin of John Brown of Ossawatomie, and Laura thinks there is a resemblance. Her description is not really very flattering, here or in any of the descriptions of him throughout the series. But really, he could not have been ALL bad if he was willing to drop “obey” from wedding vows in the 1880s, right?
Rev. Brown’s arrival breaks the ice for the other guests, but Mary and Laura remain silent. Then Mrs. Tinkham brings out custard and cake. This at least gives them something to do, but once they have finished they are pretty eager to leave. Their relief is palpable.
Pa and Ma are surprised by her early return, and Laura hates to admit that she did not have a good time at the event she had been anticipating for so long. She tells Ma that she should have been the one to go. Ma says that once the people in town are better acquainted, the sociables will become more enjoyable. According to The Advance, church sociables are greatly enjoyed.
While the sociable was not fun, this chapter and the one before do a good job of setting the stage for what is to come. The town is starting to come into its own, with social events and modern trends hitting the stores. But most importantly, for me, the Ingallses are finally reaping the rewards of so many years of hardwork and sacrifice. Just last week I completed a trip to Pepin, Walnut Grove and De Smet, and decided to re-read “On the Banks of Plum Creek” as a result. I just finished the chapter in which Mary and Laura buy a slate, and money is so tight that they are reluctant to ask Pa for even one more penny to buy a slate pencil, opting to spend one of their Christmas pennies from the last Christmas in Kansas. Going from reading that chapter, to reading this one for the read-along, the change in the Ingalls family’s circumstances feels especialy poignant. All the books are ultimately uplifting, but it is nice to see the Ingalls family experience a bit of luxury.