Thursday, February 2, 2012

Little House, Little Cottage....

When I first arrived in the U.K. and reality hit and my grand vision of a "Little Cottage on the Estate" ended up as a lovely but quite scruffy and uninhabitable dud, I toyed with the idea of changing the name of my blog.  I was no longer going to be living on an estate, but instead in a lovely, 250 year old stone house.  Sadly, though, "Little Cottage on a Brook in a Small Village...With A Castle" somehow didn't quite have the same ring to me.

The idea of changing the name has popped up here and there ever since, most recently on my move to my now "High Ceilinged Georgian Flat in the City (of Bath)", but for two reasons I have resisted.   First, the title connects to the motivation and sparking idea for the move in the first place -  the estate cottage - so although the journey changed, it still was a journey.  And, second of all, the inspiration for the title stayed the same.  Which is, quite obviously, Little House on the Prairie and Laura Ingalls Wilder.  But it made me I never lived in the "Little Cottage on the Estate", how would Laura feel about my inaccurate misappropriation of her book title?  Would she be shamed?  But then I thought...her books are referred to as the "Little House" series but really only one of her books -- the second, by the way, not the first -- was set on the actual prairie, so really, was the use of my imprecise blog title any different?  

Because it represents the start of an idea....not necessarily the finish.

Many covers exist, but this was
the cover of my first copy
The Little House series of books were a strong influence on my childhood and I find as an adult now an association, empathy and appreciation for the kind of pioneering spirit that those books, and the people of those times, experienced.  True, I just moved from one modern civilization to another, escaping the brutal rusticity the Plains pioneers endured.  But there is a shared sense of stepping into the unknown, to a place where you know no one, and just jumping in and see where you land.  Though at least where I landed there was a pub already in existence. 

I think if I had to choose, no single book, or even book series, affected my childhood as much as the Little House books.  I loved Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, the latter still being somewhat of an adult fascination.  But I look back and of all the books I read – everything from Mrs. Piggle Wiggle to Ramona The Pest – none stands out as a childhood memory more.

Laura Ingalls Wilder (from
It's hard to separate the imagined story characters from the real image of who Laura Ingalls Wilder was, and also then even harder to separate her from the pigtailed, buck toothed version played by Melissa Gilbert.  But I think in some ways in my head as I was reading them as a child I became Laura.  That little girl in the books was written in a way that I felt it, I experienced it.  I remember reading Little House in the Big Woods, the first of the series, when I was about nine and being enthralled.  The stories of Pa playing his fiddle while people danced, watching Ma put her hair up with tortoiseshell combs, the joy of Laura's corncob doll, and tapping trees for maple syrup.  They were mesmerizing and addicting and I devoured them all.  Thank god for the '80s and the plethora of "prairie-style" dresses, Holly Hobbie and sunbonnets.  

Laura's tomboyish nature appealed to me as well.  I spent hours as a child out with my dad in his workshop, sanding blocks of wood and nailing together treasures.  I love the smell of sawdust and shellac as those are the smells that take me back to the days in his shop in the garage, chilly in the winter while my dad, dressed only in his white t-shirt and down vest, worked handily at his extensive, self-built, highly organized workbench and made fantastic things out of a two by four, some nails and a bit of glue.  We still eat as a family at the large dining table that he made when I was 7 and the addition of "baby" Megan meant we needed a larger than normal table to seat our seven person household.  

Almanzo Wilder  (from Wikipedia)
I still can recite the entire list of books by heart.  Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, By The Banks of Plum Creek, On the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years and The First Four YearsFarmer Boy, the official second novel in the "set", was actually about Laura's future husband, Almanzo Wilder....and set nowhere near the prairie, so even she was guilty of narrative digressions.  So I suppose I can be forgiven.

I look as an adult now at Laura's life and wonder would we have liked each other?  Would we have been friends?  Would we have identified with each other over an adventurous spirit and a imaginative bent?  Would she be a hopeless romantic?  Would she find my modern brashness off putting?  Or were she, and her daughter, writer Rose Wilder Lane, kindred spirits in creativity, narrative interest, and bold, brave personality?  Their lives as women were on the cusp of many changes in the world, where female writers often changed their names to make their work considered respectable.  While our lives are so different in so many ways, fundamentally we are people that comment on the world around us, so whether by a computer or an ink pen, and so there is a basis somewhere there of commonality.   Ah, what we would give to have an hour's conversation with the people in history who have shaped us....if only to have that moment to let them know what an incredible influence they have had.

My goddaughter and niece is now currently 6 years old and I think that soon she will be old enough herself to discover Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House.  I wonder if it will affect her already creative fashion sense as it did mine.   Right now she's obsessed with sparkly jewelry and hair bows but I have a feeling it's only a matter of time before it's sunbonnets, button shoes and petticoats for her too....  

1 comment:

  1. Lovely post. You made me laugh with the ideas for new names for your blog, and you brought back memories of my love of Laura Ingalls when I was young!