One of our favorite new pastimes while traversing the busy streets of Northern Virginia is listening to audio books. We have been going through the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder; favorites of mine as a child. It is so entertaining to hear them read, and to listen now from my perspective as a grown-up, and a wife and mother. I love that my children are hooked on these wonderful stories; as soon as I crank the engine I hear, “Mom, can we listen to ‘Little House?’” My children are honing their listening skills while learning about being God-fearing, hard-working members of a loving family. I am learning too.
The Little House books are truly amazing. Not only do we follow a Pioneer family as they grow and move and face hardships, setbacks and joys along the way, we learn how to build a log house, how to make butter, and how to tap a tree to get maple syrup. We see Laura’s struggles to be a “good girl” as she feels her temper rise or faces temptations to disobey Pa and Ma. We sense her rivalry with Mary, the “good girl” who always obeys and always says the right thing. We learn of Mary’s blindness and how Laura becomes her “eyes”-describing everything and becoming a keen observer of all she sees for her sister, a skill that undoubtedly shaped her into the detailed, descriptive writer she became.
We have become wrapped up in the stories. Last week Laura’s good old bulldog Jack died- described in heart-wrenching detail, and we all cried together. He was such a good old dog, Jack. We cheered aloud when Pa made it home after being lost for several days in a fearsome blizzard. We laughed at Laura and Mary chasing lightning-quick prairie dogs, trying so hard to catch them before they popped back in their dens.
I am impressed over and over with the simplicity of the Ingall’s life, the hard work and resourcefulness that flows from every chapter, every page. I am impressed by the shining joy the little family found in the simple, small things, such as fiddle music, one piece of perfect hard candy, a clean, bright-checked tablecloth spread on the table, a scrubbed-clean kitchen floor.
I am humbled by their resilience and hope as they bounced back from the shattering loss of their wheat crop, or the loss of their land to the government. I am amazed at how everything they had was used- if they slaughtered an animal, every single part and particle of it was used- nothing was wasted. They made aprons out of old curtains, and curtains out of old sheets. They made their own soap, repaired worn out shoes, and patched worn clothing.
The girls were hard workers, helping Ma with simple chores all day long- rarely complaining, but finding pleasure in the way the dishes squeaked as they were dried with a fresh dishcloth, or the neatness of the smooth bedspreads after they made the beds. Precious playtime was savored, whether it was just wading in a cool creek, sliding down a haystack, or watching the prairie grasses wave in the fresh, wild wind. At Christmas they were overjoyed with one shiny penny, or one colorful piece of candy, or a doll named Charlotte made of rags and yarn.
I long to be content in such things. I want to smile (or at least grimace) at the dishes and find joy in a shiny clean countertop or a crisp folded sheet. I want to be a better steward of the resources given to me- to turn away from the lazy wastefulness that is my tendency, but rather to make the most of what I have, repurpose items, all the while being thankful, whether it be for leftovers, hand-me-downs, or an old yet functioning computer.
I want to sit quietly in the evenings, with my precious family around me, satisfied with my days work. Though it be mundane, though it be the same thing I did the day before, though my knees may ache and my hands may be rough and cracked; I want to tap my feet to the night-time fiddle music, and fall asleep smiling at the playing of the crickets. These are the lessons taught by Ma and Pa and their little family. That and how to pickle pig’s feet, build a sod house, and save a crop from a ravenous horde of invading grasshoppers- which you just never know-might come in handy some day.