Guest post by Sommer Sorenson
We open this chapter with Pa busily working to keep his family warm. His brilliant idea for hay sticks has a price… they must continually be keeping it in supply and so when Pa is not doing chores, he is twisting more hay for the fire. It is so cold in the lean-to where the hay is kept that he must pause to warm himself from time to time and he declares that, “My fingers get so numb, I can’t make a good twist.”
Laura offers to help Pa, but he doesn’t want to let her. However, he has to admit that there is just too much work for just one man to do… hauling hay and keeping the stove going. So he lets Laura help once again and shows her how to twist the hay.
It isn’t easy work and the lean-to is so very cold. But even so, Pa and Laura work at it for a time. The first stick Laura makes is “uneven and raggedy, not smooth and hard like Pa’s,” but he encourages her and says that she’ll do better the next time. And sure enough, after six sticks she finally makes one as it ought to be.
Now it is time to warm up again. Laura is numb from cold and her hands are red and irritated from the sharp blades of the hay. But this is nothing when she reflects on being able to help Pa. This is a lovely quality that Laura has that has always warmed my heart. She is willing to do the hard things, when she knows it will help her family.
The day continues on with burning hay and twisting it. Their supplies of food are dwindling and yet they are able to reflect on the goodness of hot, tasty food. Yet, they have run out of flour and Ma comments that they need to have some flour. Pa says he will get some no matter the cost as soon as the storm stops.
The little moments of opening the stove to throw on another hay stick causes the darkness to retreat for a moment and Ma wishes she had some grease so she “could fix some kind of a light.” She states, “We didn’t lack for light when I was a girl, before this newfangled kerosene was ever heard of.” Both Pa and Ma reflect on the dependence they find themselves having on these “newfangled” things. Makes me think of those things I depend on a tad too much and get frustrated about when they are unavailable.
The next morning, though the winds are still howling, there began to be a strong wind and the sun was shining, so Pa headed out to find some flour. After a time he came back with a bag of unground wheat…not exactly ready-to-use flour. The last flour was bought up at an extremely high price and Pa knew that he would not have been able to afford much at such a high cost. So, unground wheat it is! Pa and Ma begin thinking how they can best use it… boil it? Pa says it is too bad they don’t have a grist mill in town and Ma (brilliant woman), states, “We have a mill.” She reaches for the coffee mill and they try it out. Sure enough, there is a small portion of ground wheat in the little drawer. Pa asks, “Can you make bread of that?” and Ma optimistically answers, “Of course I can.” But this too will have a price… they must keep the mill grinding so that there will be enough to make a loaf for dinner. Hard work, but they will eat.
Remembering Ma’s desire for a light, Pa gives her some axle grease before heading out to do the chores. He knows she can figure something out. They will need something as the train is still stuck and they must continue to wait for it and the supplies it promises.
Chores must be done, hay must be twisted and wheat must be ground. The Ingallses continue in this way until Pa returns late from chores. He has had a tough time of it, but Ma sees (once again) the silver lining by noting that it will be better to have dinner at that time every day, so they can save on fire and light.
Surprisingly (or perhaps not, since it is Ma) the brown bread is very good. Ma does not need milk or yeast to make it tasty and Pa states quite nicely, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” And it is for certain that this little family surely has the will to make it through.
This chapter is full of “out of the box” thinking and we have one more example as Ma comes up with a light. As Pa is doing the final chores, Ma gets out the axle grease and rag bag and has Carrie find a button from her button bag. And as the girls look on, she makes a little button lamp. As they do so often, they wait for Pa to show the big surprise. I love how they want to include the whole family in their ideas. And when Pa came in, Ma lit the little end of the button lamp and they watched as a “tiny flame flickered and grew stronger” and the “little flame was like the flame of a candle in the dark.” Just like the flame of hope that they each held onto during this long winter. Such ingenuity, such hope and such pioneer spirit to keep them going.
Guest post by Sommer Sorenson