Monday, September 17, 2012

I want to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. On second thought, maybe not.

I used part of my vacation time to re-read some of Laura's books. I started with The Long Winter and found myself wanting to be back in that time period. They grew everything themselves, worked hard, played hard and knew the value of family (at least according to Laura). I read These Happy Golden Years and found myself really wanting to be a pioneer girl.

Then.

I read what happened to Laura's family after The First Four Years, and it isn't pretty. Mary never married and lived with her parents until their death and then lived with her sisters until her death. After a short stint in De Smet (after the events in The First Four Years and a disastrous stay in Florida) Laura and Almanzo moved to Missouri and it seems like they didn't have the chance to see her family again (at least according to Google, that's as deep as my research went). They had only the one child and she never had living children; she did have a son but he died soon after birth and it devastated her. Carrie married late in life, no children; Grace married earlier in life but also had no children. Ma and Pa Ingalls stayed in De Smet, South Dakota but never became prosperous farmers. He did various jobs around town, and although it seems like he was highly respected they were not well off. Only Laura and Almanzo seemed to gain a measure of prosperity and it was years into their marriage; the Great Depression later wiped out their savings. They did retain property and then Laura's books began to sell, giving them a steady source of income. *I am not footnoting. You can find this information on Google simply by googling it.

Ok, it doesn't sound quite as sad when I write it down but it was sad when I was Googling everyone. They seemed so close and then everyone went so far away and endured so many personal tragedies. I also think that Mary probably wouldn't have gone blind if she had lived in our modern age and maybe the Ingall's little boy wouldn't have died (he lived to be nine months old and was born between Carrie and Grace).

So.

No, I don't want to be a pioneer girl. When you left family you frequently left for good and I don't think I could stand that. The life was hard and fraught with uncontrollable variables. There was a good chance part of your family would die, either in childbirth/infancy or just around the farm. Yes, they were self-sufficient but at what cost? What understanding could they have of the wider world? What books did they have access to? Is subsistence living, as described by Laura, really a good thing to long for? No, I don't think it is, and I bet Ma and Pa Ingalls wished their girls had had a better shot at life. It seems Laura didn't want to live the farmer's life, didn't want to become her mother. Rose, her daughter (sorry if you're confused by the characters, but really, you haven't read these books?) went even further and became a world traveler with plenty of money.

And with that, please note that one of my childhood bubbles has been popped. I always did think of Laura's life as perfectly lovely, and now I see just how hard it was. Maybe I shouldn't re-read anymore childhood favorites, I'll completely disillusion myself.

2 comments:

Charleen said...

I just finished reading Gone with the Wind, and feel kind of the same way. Well, not the idealism, the other stuff. I can't imagine living a) without our modern conveniences, and b) in an area torn apart by war. Although, sometimes I do wish I was born like a generation or two earlier; my own life might not be quite as comfortable without some of our more recent inventions (not that I'd know the difference), but I feel like the world didn't suck quite as much 50 years ago as it does today.

Beowulfa said...

That's what I used to think as well, until I considered (one of my history teachers might have pointed it out as well) that each generation has something it has to deal with. 50 years ago we had Vietnam (or were about to, I don't remember the dates) and the Bay of Pigs happened somewhere around there. Right before both World Wars the general feeling was that the apocalypse was coming. Before that you had wars raging in Europe, horrible stuff happening in Africa, and the list goes on.

Still, I read the pioneer books with nostalgia. I simply can't help it.