Today in the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal, there is an editorial by First Lady Laura Bush. She lists the five reasons – five books – that caused her to champion literacy. Number two on her list is the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series. Finally, someone is trumpeting Laura the way I do.
Mrs. Bush fondly recalls the reasons she loved the Little House books. She identified with Laura. I loved them – still love them, cherish them – for a different reason. My father’s family is from Minnesota. They lived in Minneapolis during the years the Little House stories took place. He is related distantly (very distantly) to Laura on both sides of his family. In fact, his grandfather’s sister was Mary Ingall’s roommate at the School for the Blind. She wanted to bring Mary home to Minneapolis to spend the summer with her, but her mother would have none of it. “We just don’t know what kind of a family those Ingalls are!” Naturally the story has acquired a few embellishments along the way.
I grew up with “Laura”. She fed my growing addiction to reading, to books and, unknowingly at the time, my unquenchable thirst for the Wild West. I don’t know if I became a writer because of her, or because of two of those legendary teachers a person should experience at least once in a lifetime. She gave me an understanding of life in the west. Her stories augmented those told by my family. Her hardships were theirs, her tragedies theirs, her laughter was theirs. The story of Mary losing her sight to typhoid and having her beautiful long blond hair cut off was brought home to me in the most poignant way. Somewhere, in one of my mother’s packing boxes that are now in storage, is a three-foot braid of blond hair (well over 100 years old) from my great-aunt Mabel. They cut her hair off when she had typhoid, in an epidemic that killed her father.
Remember Laura’s new wardrobe she gradually acquired in Those Happy Golden Years? My great-grandmother had a wedding dress much like one of the dresses Laura made for herself. I have a photo of Alma, when she was 80 years old, hanging on my guest room wall. And those stories about Laura and the tales of the Indians? Alma was just seven years old when her parents were massacred by Crazy Horse as they drove their covered wagon through Wright County, Minnesota in 1863.