Guest post by Karen Witham
After the dreariness of the last chapter, “Fair Weather” opens with the blizzard over but the after-effects lingering. The lack of a train is beginning to strike a somber note, and while Mary is her usual Biblical self, Laura is grumpy and so is Carrie. A reminder of the authority parents held at the time comes early on, when Ma gives the girls permission to go outside – after their morning chores are done. (I’m also reminded that I can’t think of a time where Ma actually leaves the house or the homestead claim area to do anything social! “An angel in the house” indeed!)
While the three older girls are outside enjoying the fresh air, Mary and Laura tell Carrie about the Big Woods (I love at this point that I’ve made the whole journey with them!) and then Pa rides up on a new sled. He brings yet another optimistic update about the train getting through the Tracy cut (“… they’ll have the train running all right.”) I just want to cry for them knowing how much worse it will get, yet if they didn’t have the hope all along of the possibility of the train’s arrival, where would they all have been?
Pa heads out to the claim to get hay and is late returning, leading his girls to worry. (Their lunch of bread, potatoes, and tea has me thinking – how did they survive on nothing but carbs for so long, with such physical labor part of daily life?! As a mother of two little ones, I think of my regular angst over DHA, vitamin D, protein, etc., and wonder if ignorance is bliss or if we are just crazily neurotic at this point in our society’s evolution.) Well, what has kept Pa will prove to be an issue later on in the story as well – the horses kept falling through the slough grass. I can’t even imagine how frustrating, frightening and exhausting this must have been for man and beast. Pa shows uncharacteristic impatience with the horse Sam, who basically freaked out when he fell through the snow (I’m kind of like, I sure the heck would, how terrifying!), while the other horse, David, followed Pa “like a dog.”
Pa then goes to Fuller’s for the news, which is that the train will probably come through “by day after tomorrow” and “we’re going to get the mail, train or no train.” Ah, the precious letter! Ma brings out one she’s been writing “to the folks in Wisconsin” and they send, via Ma’s hand, a family update until the paper “held all the words that it possibly could.” Sweet Ma, with her little red pen, and her little red purse, and her china shepherdess – so few womanly treasures to call her own, and yet those she had were obviously cherished.
The family longs for a cat, which reminds me of darling dog Jack and his loyalty to the Ingalls family. One thing I so admire about this family is their tenderness toward animals in what was a somewhat brutal time – animals were food or property, and yet they are sensitive enough to be horrified at the prospect of cows suffocating on their own frozen breath, or to consider that after death, Jack has gone “where the good dogs go.”
Grace is reassured that Santa Claus will, in fact, come this year, and Pa goes the next day to mail the letter. The chapter closes with the arrival of yet another blizzard, and Pa’s exclaiming, “I hope Gilbert has made it safe to Preston” (with the mail).
Guest post by Karen Witham