Monday, May 30, 2016

From Plum Creek to Silver Lake!

by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Welcome to the month of May and the fifth installment 
of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series!
We are now over halfway through the 9-book series!
As usual, although I read this a week ago I am just now posting the review!
If you are interested in joining us for the Little House Read-Along 2016, 
you can find all the details here on my page documenting this event! 
I have included links to each review a reader has linked for each book thus far.
My cohost for this event is Bex of An Armchair by the Sea
You are welcome to join us whenever you feel like it. 
Some have mentioned that they only wanted to reread one or two 
of these books, and it's fine to do that, or join us for each and every one!
There is an introductory/sign-up posting on each of our blogs at the beginning 
of the month, and you are free to link to any review you have posted 
for that book throughout that month, or even after that month, 
if you couldn't quite complete it earlier. (Been there, done that! lol)
Or if you are just interested in seeing how each of us reacts to the books, 
feel free to just read reviews and comment! 
Again, whatever works for you!

This was a Newbery Honor Book for 1940, 
and it won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for 1939! 

This book was a specific reminder of all the diseases that could attack and either kill or disable people, with no to little medicine available. Either your body proved strong enough to survive intact from an illness...or not. There wasn't much treatment possible, and in these frontier areas, people could be so isolated as to have no access to 'medical care'! Though the doctor stopped by the house every day, little could be done, and Pa was left owing a bill he had no way to pay,.. Scary times! I figure mine would have been a short life span, given my physical challenges. Uncharacteristically, the Ingalls' house was untidy when a buggy could be heard approaching the house early one morning. Pa and Laura were the only two spared from Scarlet Fever! Mary, Carrie, baby Grace, and Ma had all been sick, with none of them able to help. (Yes, Ma had another baby, so now there are four children/girls!) As if that wasn't enough, Pa instructed Laura the she now had to "be eyes for Mary," since the Fever had left her blind. Laura states aloud: 
"It's a strange woman alone in a buggy. She's wearing a brown sunbonnet and driving a bay horse." (2)

The woman was Aunt Docia and she had an offer for Charles he felt he could not refuse--a job working with her husband on the railroad that would pay $50 per month, plus a homestead! Charles would be the storekeeper, bookkeeper, and timekeeper, all in one! He would be responsible for paying the railroad workers. (I don't know...times were different...that sounds as if it could get dangerous if workers disagreed with your 'numbers.') "Uncle Sam" was giving any man 160 acres free as long as he would live on the land. Charles was excited, Ma was quite reticent, Laura was thrilled, and Jack, the faithful bulldog, well...he was old...and tired. And by page 12, Jack was no longer alive...and I was crying. I'm tearing up now as I type this. I lost my own collie, Beauty, when I was a senior in high school, and I. WILL. NEVER. FORGET. THE. PAIN. Of that loss! :( So, although Pa had made room for him to ride in the wagon all the way to the Dakota Territory, there was no need. As a friend of mine said the other day, our "pets never live long enough." So true. And poor Laura! He was really her dog most of all! Jack knew he couldn't make another trip, even riding in the wagon. This offset Aunt Docia's news about Mary and Laura's cat, Black Susan, left back in Wisconsin, 
She went right on living in the corncrib, sleek and plump from rats she caught, 
and there was hardly a family in all that country that didn't have one of her kittens. 
They were all good mousers, big-eared and long-tailed like Black Susan. (6)
As Ma and the girls watched Pa leave with the wagon, following Docia in her buggy,
Jack was not standing beside Laura to watch Pa go. There was only emptiness 
to turn to instead of Jack's eyes looking up to say that he was there to take care of her.
Laura knew then that she was not a little girl any more. Now she was alone; she must take care of herself. When you must do that, then you do it and you are grown up. Laura was not very big, but she was almost thirteen years old, and no one was there to depend on. Pa and Jack had gone... (14)
What struck me was Laura's inability to think of Ma as someone to "depend on." I realize Laura had evidently done all the nursing and care taking for Ma, Mary, Carrie, and baby Grace, but Ma had proven to be pretty resourceful when necessary in the past. Or was this because of gender, Pa was a man and Ma a wasn't to be depended upon?

Charles makes plans for Ma and the girls will remain at Plum Creek until Mary has completely recovered her strength and can travel. Then they will ride the train to the Dakota Territory. Ma and the girls were shocked at this suggestion. Laura "was not exactly afraid, but she was excited." (Admittedly, I think she was a tad bit afraid. Who wouldn't be in her situation? Having never traveled in any way other than buggy, wagon, on foot, or on horseback?) Thus begins an adventure none of them had dreamed of... Ma was a bit overwhelmed, I'm sure. Firstly, she didn't really want to relocate, but wanted to get settled somewhere and stay. Secondly, she was faced with still being a bit weak herself, yet having to maintain everything until Mary was strong enough to travel with only Laura and also weakened Carrie to help. I felt sorry for her, but she weathered it all bravely with her usually gentle and stoic, "Well, Charles, you must do as you think best." And "I am sure we will manage nicely with Laura and Carrie to help me." Ma was a wonder. I don't know that I would have been so compliant. Though I keep reminding myself it was a different place and time...

As Wilder describes the train ride, we get her excellent descriptive writing skills--once they were up to speed:
The whole car swayed now, in time to the clackety-clacking underneath it, and the black smoke blew by in melting rolls. A telegraph wire swooped up and down beyond the window. It did not really swoop, but it seemed to swoop because it sagged between the poles. It was fastened to green glass knobs that glittered in the sunshine and went dark when the smoke rolled above them. Beyond the wire, grasslands and fields and scattered farmhouses and barns went by. 
They went by so fast that Laura could not really look at them before they were gone. 
In one hour that train would go twenty miles--as far as the horses traveled in a whole day. (21)
This made me remember my grandmother's stories of riding in an automobile for the first few times, and how scary it was for her. She was born in 1896, so she witnessed similar transportation advances as Laura was experiencing. I sometimes wonder what is next for us? Teleportation? Flying vehicles? (That always makes me think of The Jetsons! lol) For just a second Laura wishes Pa was a railroad man since they "were great men," 
[b]ut of course not even railroad men were bigger or better than Pa, 
and she did not really want him to be anything but what he was. (30-31)
Since I never met my father nor had any man living with us as a "father figure" during my childhood, I wonder how much of this is rather natural or common for a daughter to hero-worship her father, or was this more a reflection of the time when men were the providers in nearly all ways? This made me wonder...

I felt so very sorry for Lena, Docia's daughter. She was made to help her mother work all the time with never a day off. Although that would certainly make sure a child was never bored! As they rode in the wagon with Pa toward Silver Lake and their new home, they met Big Jerry, who seemed to be bigger than life, and determined to protect Pa and his family. Again, Wilder's descriptive writing:
The sun sank. A ball of pulsing, liquid light, it sank in clouds of crimson and silver. 
Cold purple shadows rose in the east, crept slowly across the prairie, 
then rose in heights on heights of darkness from which the stars swing low and bright.
The wind, which all day long had blown strongly, dropped low with the sun and went whispering among the tall grasses. The earth seemed to lie breathing softly under the summer night. (67)
What a peaceful reverie within which to travel. Then the next morning as Laura is getting the first pail of water from the well:
Night was still shadowy in the northwest, 
but Silver Lake lay like a sheet of silver in its setting of tall wild grasses. 
Ducks quacked among the thick grasses to the southwest, where the Big Slough began. 
Screaming gulls flew over the lake, beating against the dawn wind. 
A wild goose rose from the water with a ringing call, and one after another 
the birds of his flock answered him as they rose and followed. 
The great triangle of wild geese flew with a beating of strong wings into the glory of the sunrise. 
Shafts of golden light shot higher and higher in the eastern sky, 
until their brightness touched the water and was reflected there. 
Then the sun, a golden ball, rolled over the eastern edge of the world. 
Laura breathed a long breath. (71-72)
It is these detailed descriptions of nature that make me remember what I miss so much about living in the country. The natural landscape is so calming and contemplative in its own right...
Aunt Docia gave them a cow and Lena and Laura got to see each other when they would stake their respective cows out to pasture for the day, and when they milked them both morning and evening. This was the first time Laura had lived very close to relatives since Wisconsin, and it was exciting for her! (She is a 'social butterfly,' this one!) Lena suggested that if only they could get the ponies for the day they could ride out to see where the men were working. Pa had strictly forbidden Laura and Carrie from even walking in the direction where the men were working, stating that they were rough talking, etc., so Laura was glad "[s]he did not have to decide whether or not she would disobey Pa, because they couldn't do it anyway." Ha! Sounds like my reasoning at times! Then when Pa offers to walk Laura out there one afternoon, because she "asks too many questions," 
"Oh, Pa!" Laura cried out.
"There, Laura, don't get so excited," Ma said quietly.
Laura knew she should not shout. She kept her voice low. "Pa, can Lena go too?"
"We will decide about that later," said Ma. 
And, of course, Ma lectured Laura afterward about acting civilized, to speak nicely in a low voice, etc. Sheesh! I believe in teaching children to use their "indoor voices," but really! When you're're excited! Man, I would be in trouble a lot, even as an adult! :) I was rather impressed with Laura's critical thinking skills as they were watching the railroad crew at work. She realized that someone had to "think this up" before the process of building a railroad could even begin. Smart child! It was a very intricate and well-timed process, with never a 'missed beat,' so to speak. And Laura promised to "see it all out loud" for Mary when she returned. Though Mary, in her prim and proper tone, commented,
"I really don't know, Laura, why you'd rather watch those rough men working in the dirt than stay here in the nice clean shanty. I've finished another quilt patch while you've been idling." 
But Laura was still seeing the movement of men and horses in such perfect time that she could almost sing the tune to which they moved. (107)
I love that Mary and Laura are so very different, just as my oldest two sons are. I was definitely more like Laura--I always wanted to be outside until I got to be about 13 or 14 years old. Though I bet if I had had an adult male around to learn from by working on the farm, etc., I would have been doing that! 
Laura tells of one time when they had to hide the payroll money. Ma placed the bag in a clean cloth and worked it down into the open flour sack--'in plain view, yet hidden,' as is recommended. It seemed that neither Laura nor Pa slept very well that night, worried about the money. Then there was trouble at one of the railroad settlements and a paymaster (Pa's counterpart) was actually hung, though he survived without any real injury and eventually gave in to the workers' demands and opened the store so they could steal the stocked goods. Pa wasn't worried, convinced that Big Jerry would help protect him. 

There were so many game birds at the lake that Pa shot some each and every day for their supper, etc. Ma was glad that soon they would have enough feathers collected for another feather mattress for the girls to sleep on. One day Pa accidentally shot a beautiful white swan with an 8-foot wingspan. It was that hide with feathers that Ma managed to fashion into a gorgeous little winter hat and collar and cuff trim on a new winter coat of blue she crafted for Grace. I never cease to be amazed at the way nothing ever went to waste. Each piece of each animal killed for food was used in some way. So ecologically sound. So smart. Then there's the day he showed up with a dead pelican, another inadvertent killing on his part and when the bird's mouth opened and out fell fish in various stages of decay, everyone was grossed out by the stench! 

When the opportunity arises, both Laura and Pa want to move further westward, or as Pa says, 
"You and I want to fly like the birds. But long ago I promised your Ma that you girls should go to school. You can't go to school and go west. When this town is built there's to be a school here. 
I'm going to get a homestead, Laura, and you girls are going to school." (126)
"Another thing, Laura," said Pa. "You know Ma was a teacher, and her mother before her. 
Ma's heart is set on one of you girls teaching school, and I guess it will have to be you. 
So you see you must have your schooling." 
Laura's heart jerked and then she seemed to feel it falling, far, far down. She did not say anything.
She knew that Pa and Ma, and Mary too, had thought Mary would be a teacher. 
Now Mary couldn't teach, and--"Oh, I won't! I won't!" Laura thought. "I don't want to! I can't."     Then she said to herself, "You must."
She could not disappoint Ma. She must do as Pa said. She had to be a school teacher when she grew up. Besides, there was nothing else she could do to earn money. (127)
Arrrggghhh! My heart went out to poor little Laura! Yikes! To be told what vocation you will pursue as a youngster of 13! No allowance for personal preference or anything. It reminded me of Almanzo's offer of a wheelwright apprenticeship and his parents allowing him to select for himself. Although Laura's point about lack of career/money-making options for women rang true, also. But still... 

As wintertime approaches, the railroad crew moves on and the Ingalls move into the Surveyors house which is now abandoned. It is a solidly built home with ample supplies, so everyone is thrilled...until the 'homesteaders' start moving into the area. There is no town, no house, nothing other than the one house where the Ingalls family lives and they are basically forced to care of those who have traveled out to where 'De Smet' will be built, but have no place to eat or stay in a place protected from the weather. Although Ma and the girls manage to make money at this once they start charging, there is little profit to be had once they have used all the supplies they had on hand and must purchase food, etc. Every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner they would have scads of 'visitors' to feed and give a place to sleep, even if it was just the floor, at least it was protected from the weather. Honestly, I had never considered such a situation--people traveling out to settle new territory and once they arrive there is nothing, until they make it or discover it. Reading this series, as well as recently rereading My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, has made me consider such things again. It is amazing how completely 'spoiled' we can become! 

Though Pa almost waited too long to file for a homestead, due to not wanting to leave Ma and girls alone with all these strangers coming in and out of their house,if not for his old friend Mr. Edwards fortuitously appearing and stepping in at the last minute, he may not have gotten one at all, let alone the one he wanted! Pa was smart enough to 'speculate' on real estate by building his own store in town with the intention to sell it at a large profit. However, once he discovered he MUST go ahead and file for a homestead, he moved the family into this 'store' (actually an unfinished building at the time) in town once the Surveyors had returned to live in their house and the railroad folks had moved on further west. until they could have enough shelter on the homestead to actually live there. However, it was simply a skeleton building and the cracks between the wood hadn't been filled, etc., so much so, that Pa had to shovel the snow off the girls as they lay in bed that first morning!! I could so relate to Laura's thoughts about living in town: all the hustle, bustle and busyness of the town there was no one that Laura knew.
She did not feel all alone and happy on the prairie now; she felt lonely and scared.
The town's being there made the difference. (247-248)
I have debated this through the years with various people I've known, whether you feel safer and more at ease in the 'country' or 'town.' Needless to say, give me fields and livestock for neighbors and I am MUCH happier than living amongst people. I so agree with Laura! "G]ive me the wolves," though I've not knowingly lived among wolves I have certainly lived close to coyotes, herons, cattle, hogs, etc., and much prefer them! 

Once Pa learns of squatters taking over a man's homestead claim and then killing him for it, he demands they move to their own homestead claim the next day, It is as they are leaving town in the wagon to move to the shanty on the homestead claim that they see two "beautiful horses" driving a wagon into town. When Laura asks, Pa says those two are 
"...the Wilder boys...Almanzo's driving, and that's his brother Royal with him. 
They've taken up claims north of town, and they've got the finest horses in this whole country. 
By George, you seldom see a team like that." (262)
So I wonder just how much those horses will play in Laura's decision to 'like' Almanzo! ;) And it would seem Almanzo did change his mind and decide to do his farming out west, not back on the family farm in the east! Of course, their parents may well be dead now and that farm no longer theirs. Who knows? Perhaps we'll find out in the next book! 

Pa is really so thoughtful. Since the girls had been talking about missing trees, he purposefully digs some seedlings up and brings them home to plant by the homestead shanty. I loved Pa for his realization that "Checkers is a selfish game...for only two can play..." Then he would get out the fiddle so everyone could 'play' together and enjoy the same activity. Pa was a smart guy in many ways. Not only could he manage to put up a shanty with a cellar in just one day, he could manage the social aspects of a family admirably! Especially for a man in this time and place. 

I can rather see why this one book won so many awards. It really did demonstrate much of what it was like on the frontier for the new settlers/homesteaders! Farmer Boy is still my favorite, though I believe this one is now a close second among the series so far!

We are now more 
than halfway through 
this nine-book series! 
For June 
we will read 
I admit that as we get 
further along in the series
I miss the detailed descriptions
of the more primitive processes 
like churning the butter, etc.
Though I still enjoy them all!

Have you read any of these with us?
Or do you have any memories 
from having read them to share?
We would love to hear your thoughts!

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