Thursday, April 24, 2008

Little House

When I was a child I enjoyed reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. For some unknown reason, I recently had the urge to re-read Little House on the Prairie, and once again I thoroughly enjoyed it, but from a very different perspective as an adult. It's generally acknowledged that rather than being purely autobiographical, the books are autobiographial fiction, and that she changed certain elements to tell a good story. Nevertheless, the books are based on real experiences, and they provide a wonderful, if romanticised insight into the lives of American pioneers.

Those were the days when men were men :) Pa could almost singlehandedly build an entire log cabin from scratch by chopping down trees for logs and hauling stones from the creek to build the chimney. He could dig a well, hunt animals for food, keep livestock, plant and grow produce, make all of his own furniture - and sing and play the fiddle. It's hard to believe that nowadays a lot of men can't even change a plug or a light bulb.

As for Ma, well, she quilted, and sewed all their clothes and soft furnishings from scratch by hand, often by lamp and candlelight, she did all the heavy laundry in a tub, and could even use a manually heated iron on the back of a wagon. She plucked prairie hens, did the cooking and baking, most of the cleaning, saw to the family's health, comfort and well-being, all this while minding and educating two little girls and a baby.

For entertaiment Pa played the fiddle and sang. Just about about every night he'd sing the children to sleep inside the log cabin. They told stories, Ma read to them, mainly from the bible, the girls strung beads on thread, sewed quilt squares, cut out paper dolls from scrap paper, used string to play cat in the cradle, sang songs together, played with their rag dolls, played hopscotch, tried to catch prairie dogs and rabbits, and helped with the smaller chores like minding their baby sister, setting the table and washing dishes. The nearest neighbours were far enough away to make visiting inconvenient. They lived solitary lives and learned to make their own simple entertaiments.

For Christmas Laura and Mary each got their own new, shiny tin cup (previously they had to share a cup), a stick of red & white striped candy cane, a little cake made from white flour and sprinkled with white sugar, and a penny. The girls were practically blown away with excitement at the luxury and splendour of these few simple gifts.

It absolutely intrigues an an amazes me how people managed to live contented lives at such a simple and basic level. No television, radio, internet, movies, electricity, shopping malls, and none of the abundance of material products and accessories that we live with today and never seem to feel satisfied that we have enough of. We always want more, more, more. Can you imagine children being happy with a new tin cup and a couple of sweets for Christmas - no playstations, iPods, cellphones, CD's or branded clothing.

I suppose that after a day of hard, physical labour, you wouldn't need a lot of entertainment and mental stimulation. Although I could pass out at the mere thought of having to do all the things that Ma did, on another level I yearn for that kind of simplicity, and a life lived without getting caught up in over consumption. I'm thinking I really need to go through my house from top to bottom, to throw away what I don't use, like or need anymore. To organise and sort out....and try introduce more simplicity and sanity.


Cheryl said...

Well said.
I have been thinking a lot lately that the age of information is likely to transition to the age of entitlement or perhaps the age of consumption.
Sad state, sad sad state.

Bronwyn said...

Cheryl - I agree, we live in a time where we all tend to feel entitled to wealth and the best of everything without thinking about the consequences. For all the information available, as humans we still don't want to change. I know that there's alot more I could do, but it's easier not to.

Hooked on Houses said...

For some reason I, too, started thinking about those Little House books again recently, so I bought the set for my daughter and have been reading them to her. What amazes me is how resourceful they were--and how isolated. I read it with completely new eyes as an adult. Since I've been thinking about these things, too, I loved your post. And aren't those old illustrations great? -Julia :-)