Don’t you love a book that provides an immediate emotional response and also causes you to ponder questions from the very first sentence? Caroline Fraser’s first sentence in Prairie Fires caused me to experience the grief over the loss of Caroline Ingalls, partially because I feel I knew her through her daughter’s words, and to feel empathy for the little girl/woman who called her “Ma”.
Most of us cannot imagine receiving such news in a telegram, or not seeing our mothers for more than 20 consecutive years. Why was this the case?
Caroline Fraser (CF) points out that Laura was a woman bubbling over with emotions, feelings, opinions and memories, despite her reserved demeanor. She found her outlet for this in her writing. It is something for which we can all be grateful, because she gifted us with her prose.
CF introduces us to a Laura, beyond the one we feel we know, presenting an intimate version of her for us, as if she were a back door friend, who popped over for a fireside chat. She sheds light on Laura’s temperament and demeanor, not just the Laura we loved as a little girl for her enthusiasm for life, her innocent mischief, and her keen observations of her surroundings, that captured us as readers, but the mature and complex woman who is more mysterious.
CF suggests we will be taken to dark corners of Laura’s memories, places we never expected to visit, and for some reason I cannot wait to go.
We see hints that we will get to know Rose better, that elusive woman who had the privilege, (trial?) of calling Laura “Mother.” CF confirms what we who have studied LIW eagerly have long suspected, that Rose was instrumental in the development and fruition of the Little House series. Rose was a master of taking a germ of an idea for a story, creating and embellishing it until it became a magical tale. Without her, Laura may not have been able to take a childhood full of grim hardship, hunger and danger, and create the world we now know from her books. CF calls it epic and uplifting.
If I could have a chat with Laura today, I would like to reassure her of a few things.
- Her hen raising skills are making a comeback. There are chicken coops now, even in urban settings, and cage free is the new standard.
- Voting has empowered women beyond her wildest dreams. Women are voting, running for office, and leading.
- I would love to tell Laura that spring cleaning is, indeed, extinct for most of us.
- I would want her to know that thanks to her, so many of us have been inspired to read, write, never give up, and see the beauty in the small pleasures.
What would you like to tell Laura? How would you reassure her, that her stories have endured, and that we are discussing them nearly 90 years after their inception.
Near the end of her introduction in Prairie Fires, CF gracefully relates her family history to the Ingalls, proving that the theme of next year’s LIWLRA conference is apt. All roads do lead to Laura.
I suppose we can all do it. I grew up in northeastern Ohio, where state route 14 runs right through it. They do not link up, but Highway 14 in Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota is known as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway.
Can you substitute your details into the iconic sentence we all recognize as the first introduction to the book that captured our imaginations?
Once upon a time, sixty years ago a little girl lived near a small woods in Ohio in a little yellow house made of bricks.
It is where my love of the tales of Laura Ingalls Wilder was nurtured.
For me, the 60 years is accurate, for CF, not so many years, but it is apparent in this magnificent volume, we are kindred spirits.
So, onward, to the rest of the compelling story.
-Judy Green, Former LIWLRA Board Member