Little Laura, the Wisconsin girl, living with her family in the 1870’s, taught us a lot about life back then. I was struck by how entirely self-sufficient the family was, especially the mom.
She could make butter, maple sugar, cheese, straw hats, calico dresses, and feed the cows.
She had a day for everything:
Wash on Monday
Iron on Tuesday
Mend on Wednesday
Churn on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Bake on Saturday
Rest on Sunday
And then there was Pa. He played the fiddle and told stories at night, set traps during the day, hunted, and went to town to trade. His constant companion, essential to his protection from bears and panthers and the family’s supply of food, was his gun. It, like Ma’s schedule for work, functioned as part of a methodical system, cleaned, dried and stored high above the door when not by his side.
I learned a lot about the origins of particular phrases and customs. Even a hundred and forty years ago, they were eating cheese curds; white sugar used to be special, and a clearing was an actual clearing.
Towards the end of the book, the big machine and threshers came to work the wheat. “Eight horses were hitched to it (the machine) and made it go, so this was an eight-horsepower machine.” It did the work in one day that would have taken two weeks and four men.
And I saw the personality or spirit that I associate with my husband’s grandmother and the Oklahoma pioneers to whom she is related. It’s a spirit little Laura is proud of, one that her Pa described in saying this about the machine he brought in for the wheat: “Other folks can stick to old-fashioned ways if they want to, but I’m all for progress. It’s a great age we’re living in.”
In the final pages of the book, after we’d spent 200 pages immersed in the past, I realized the great inversion Wilder had played on me. The book was not about the past. It was about the present moment.
Ma sits in her rocker by the fire. Pa plays his fiddle. For a moment, I was haunted by the idea that Ma was next to me, her flesh and bones more than a century old, rocking all the same in the dim light.
Pa sings: “Shall auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Shall auld acquaintance be forgot, And the days of auld lang syne? And the days of auld lang syne, my friend, And the days of auld lang syne, Shall auld acquaintance be forgot And the days of auld lang syne?”
And as the book ends, Laura thinks about the meaning of the lyrics and her parents in the warm room.
“This is now,” she thinks.
“She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”
Dear Readers: Happy New Year. I am starting 2013 with a new post on a new blog I am a part of called The Educated Mom. It is the official blog of a new education technology company here in Princeton.
I will still be writing Lunch Box Mom, but I invite you to visit The Educated Mom when you feel like talking about education and our kids. I hope you'll add your two cents.