I remember, like it was yesterday (and, believe me, it wasn’t!), the very first time I read this book. When I came to these last few chapters, I couldn’t help but feel joy and relief along with the family. The long, hard winter was over and they survived! Life would go on and they were ready to celebrate with their good friends, the Boasts.
Pa brought groceries that afternoon – that’s how the chapter begins. That one sentence says it all. Food and kerosene aplenty. It must have been the most wonderful sight to see him come home with his arms loaded with all of the things that they had been going without for all of those cold, hungry months.
Everything in Laura’s descriptions just sounds happier. Their first meal after Pa brought the groceries –“At suppertime the light shone through the clear glass onto the red-checked tablecloth and the white biscuits, the warmed up potatoes, and the platter of fried salt pork.” A simple meal, but in an entirely different environment.
It was truly going to be a Christmas celebration. They were all in the Christmas spirit as they spent the day preparing the feast that would take place the following day. It’s all about the food! Bread was rising, real bread. Dried apples and raisins to make pies. The cranberries were stewed until they were a mass of crimson jelly.
“It seems strange to have everything one could want to work with,” said Ma. And so she made a cake.
At the end of the day there was white bread, a cake, three pies and jellied cranberries. It must have been so difficult not to dig in! After Laura and Mary lightly argue (that same old argument) about the stuffing and how impatient they are to eat all of this good food, Ma tells them that they will have light bread and cranberry sauce for dinner. What seems like a insubstantial meal to many of us was a feast to the Ingalls family!
The next day could not come soon enough. As they prepared the turkey, Laura describes how the prairie smelled of springtime, how the doors were open and they could use both rooms once again. It gave her a spacious and rested feeling. All was right. Oh! How wonderful that turkey must have smelled!
The Boasts arrive. “For the last mile, I’ve been following my nose to that turkey!” Mr. Boast declared. After one of my many subsequent readings of this book, I wondered how many other folks in town wish they had been invited to the Ingalls’ for Christmas in May. Mrs. Boast is thin and had lost the lovely rosy color from her cheeks, but she is the same darling Mrs. Boast. It makes one wonder how they had survived the winter out on their claim shanty, even though they were much better off than most.
As Laura and Ma finish dinner preparations, Laura finds a mysterious package. Butter! The Boasts have brought butter. Their dinner is complete.
“Lord, we thank Thee for all Thy bounty.” That was all Pa said, but it seemed to say everything.
And they feast! Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberries, and bread and butter! The plates are filled, and then filled again. Then the pies and the cake are brought out. Everyone talks of the winter that they will try to put behind them and of the summer quickly approaching. They finally leave the table (and the clearing until later) and go sit by the sunny window. Sunny!
Then comes the moment that is a perfect close to this chapter, and this book:
Pa stretched his arms above his head. He opened and closed his hands and stretched his fingers wide, then ran them through his hair till it all stood on end.
“I believe this warm weather has taken the stiffness out of my fingers,” he said. “If you will bring me the fiddle, Laura, I’ll see what I can do.”
And Pa plays his fiddle once again.
And as they sang, the fear and the suffering of the long winter seemed to rise like a dark cloud and float away on the music. Spring had come. The sun was shining warm, the winds were soft, and the green grass was growing.
(Pa plays and they all sing — Where There’s a Will There’s a Way – Harry Clifton 1867. I love the lyrics.)