The grasshoppers are going to eat all the wheat!

Did you read the Little House on the Prairie books?  I was delighted by them as a child.  As a child I could just imagine the sheer joy of finding an orange, a stick of candy, a tiny homemade cake – made with WHITE SUGAR – and a penny in my stocking at Christmas.  I could imagine sleeping in an attic with all my possessions in a little box and my dress hanging on a nail.  I was completely charmed by these books. 

As an adult, though.  Can you even imagine feeling that the home in the woods of Wisconsin, where all your family resides, is just too populated, and so you think that the optimal plan is to pack up your wife and kids and start a new life in Kansas?  And then – THEN – when it turns out that white settlers are not allowed there, you get back in the covered wagon and head to Minnesota, where you go into incredible debt building a fancy big house with the idea that you will pay it back when you harvest your first amazing wheat crop?  But then the amazing wheat crop never materializes because it keeps getting eaten by grasshoppers?  And so you have to walk two hundred miles just to get some work so that your family won’t starve, but in doing so you are leaving them alone and possibly you will never come back, leaving your wife a widow with three children at the mercy of the elements and neighbours?

It kind of makes parenting in the modern world seem like a cakewalk, no?

I mean, what’s my biggest concern here?  Gee, this unseasonable and wonderful heat is not going to last forever.  Guess I better order some snow boots for Mark.  It doesn’t really have the same urgency as we had better harvest all this extra hay in case there are blizzards every three days that will prevent the trains getting through with supplies and we have to twist the hay into sticks to burn it so that we don’t freeze to death! 

Looking back at those books, I wonder about Ma Ingalls.  Talk about vulnerability; if anything had happened to Pa, what would she have done?  How would she have coped?  I suppose she would have had to marry a neighbouring bachelor with the hopes that he would be kind to the children.  Pa Ingalls and his disregard for socialization, along with his insatiable wanderlust set the family up for poverty and lack of opportunity.  It makes for a good story though.


  1. And all the kids grew up unhealthy and Laura had to write the books as an old woman because she was STILL POOR. Or something like that. I didn’t read them as a kid and when I came to them as an adult, I was HORRIFIED. They’re like the Book Of Job! THE SUFFERING NEVER ENDS!

  2. I remember reading those books when I was a kid. It fascinated me and I would wonder why things were now so complicated. It seemed like a simple life and they were so connected with their surroundings, to nature. You had to be or you would die. I believe that connection is so important…the feeling of survival. It humbles you and empowers you. You can’t help but to connect to the people around you and go through the journey together. Coming out the other side completely different… tune with that which holds us all together.

  3. I still think about the Ingalls WAY too much. I’m going to write a little bit about it soon. When my aunt and her family bought a house with a barn out in the country (like, 5 miles out) I insisted that they tie a rope between the buildings so that they could have a guide in case the storm was too fierce fro them to see the path.

    They are not very far apart.

    Also, remember that time Pa had to kill his horse and crawl inside it to survive? I would be so dead.

  4. Even as a child reading them for the first time I found it monstrously unfair that Laura had to get her teacher’s certificate at 15 so she could work and send Mary to the school for the blind. I mean, COME ON. And then she marries a man 10 years older than she is who apparently shares Pa’s complete inability to plan for crop failures so they are dirt-ass poor for four years and then head to the Ozarks.

    My nerves.

    As an adult reading them to my boys, it amazes me how experience colours the story. They flat-out love them – even the bits in Farmer Boy where poor Almanzo is constantly being threatened with severe beatings with leather whips for stepping out of line. Meanwhile all my husband and I can do is shake our heads and marvel at the willful stupidity of Pa.

  5. Oh gee, thanks for ruining a beautiful childhood memory.

    We had a similar discussion in book club about a Star Called Henry – living in one room with five kids, babies dying, catastrophic filth and poverty, and, as my friend Tanis says “we think it’s the end of the world when we run out of baby wipes!”

    Nothing can tarnish Michael Landon for me, though….

  6. You obviously have a better memory than me, or you’ve re-read them recently, because I barely remember them. I remember a house in the woods and then some stuff happened. I guess I could re-read them. Or wait until Em wants to read them…but will I want her to read them? Are they one of those books that we read as kids and then we read them how and are HORRIFIED about how un-PC everything is? Like Peter Pan with the “What Made the Red Man Red Song?” (that I quite like to sing because it’s so fun, but then I feel guilty because I’m being insensitive to the plight of the First Nations or something)

  7. I so love those books for perspective. Or rather, I should say I love REMEMBERING those books: I tried to re-read them recently and got all tense about stuff. But I like to look around my house and imagine Ma’s reaction. Insulated walls OMG! Real-glass windows WITH SCREENS! A refrigerator! Running water! HOT running water! A thermostat! Two 5-pound bags of white sugar!

  8. I never read them as a girl because I assumed if they were half as lame as the tv series, they’d still suck long and hard. I did read Farmer Boy to the kids when they were 3 & 5 and they STILL reference it.

    It’s 23 degrees here and the boys are waking around in the snowsuits I ordered from MEC that arrived today. Yea. That’s how rough and tumble I am: I can’t even be bothered to shop at a mall. I would have died in pioneer days.

  9. Oh I used to daydream about that too..the simple life…but it wasn’t so simple was it?
    I always question how they managed without things like tampons…what?

  10. I forgot about the dead horse. But I did remember about the bee stings. I also think I would like to go back to that time, but with running water and flushing toilets.


  11. I am obsessed, OBSESSED, with Caroline Ingalls. I just read the first two books to Gal Smiley and was horrified, HORRIFIED, at what that woman had to live through. You forgot to mention that when Pa announced casually to the family that he was totally uprooting them and moving to a new place, where they had to break ground and start from scratch, she was NURSING A BABY.

    That woman, she is my idol.

    There is a new book out called The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure. It’s about her own obsession with Caroline Ingalls, and traces her path as she visits all the places the Ingalls lived. I MUST HAVE IT.

  12. I really don’t think I would have done well living in the past. I’m made for modern technology.

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