I don’t guess I ever heard about Laura Ingalls Wilder until after the “Little House on the Prairie” television series began in 1974. I learned last night that the pilot program aired in March of that year — the same month that Ray and I began dating. I eventually began seeing the series occasionally, but I doubt I saw one episode when it began that fall. I was too busy planning our December wedding, finishing my last semester in college, and running up expensive long distance bills talking to Ray, to whom I had become engaged less than three months after our first date and who was by then way off at the University of Kentucky in his first semester of graduate school.
I did not grow up in a reading family, and no teacher or librarian ever encouraged me to read, as far as I can remember. Except for a brief period of loving biographies in about the fourth grade or so and a summer reading Scholastic love stories in junior high, I went through school as a top student who was a literary illiterate.
Though my family didn’t read much beyond newspapers, magazines, and Daddy’s beloved giant dictionary, I did grow up in a family that was on the go. My parents seemed to think nothing of getting up early on a Sunday morning and driving the 138 miles to visit Mother’s sister and her family. We stayed long enough to eat one of my Aunt Nan’s delicious meals in their modern A-frame home and play with our cousins Tina and Chris in their wooded front yard. Then we drove back home that afternoon. I’m pretty sure we got back in time for Sunday night church, because totally missing church on a Sunday was extremely rare. In fact, I don’t remember that ever happening — not a single Sunday.
As I have written about before, we also took day trips to historic sites around Nashville and Kentucky and longer trips to places like Fort Sumter and St. Augustine.
Homeschooling, coupled with my life with Ray who had grown up with lots and lots of books and very little travel, opened up the world of books for me. During our first year of homeschooling, we made a reading train around our basement den. As I recall, we created a new car for every book read. It grew longer and longer and longer as the year progressed.
On our old brown plaid couch in that den with its concrete block walls on three sides and paneling on the other, our children and I entered Laura’s world together. We have never been the same.
Laura’s Pa’s wanderlust was like my daddy. Charles Ingalls wanted to be on the move. The big difference was that Pa actually picked his family up and moved them from place to place to place, while Daddy kept bringing us back to Ashland City after each trip from place to place to place.
I am indebted to homeschooling mom emeritus Teresa Pinson who mentioned to me back in the 1990s that in South Dakota you could actually visit where Laura lived. That planted the idea in this daughter of my daddy, who has a wanderlust streak of her own, that maybe we could actually visit where Laura lived. We did go to South Dakota and then Malone, New York, where Almanzo grew up, and then Mansfield, Missouri, where Laura and Almanzo lived for most of their lives, and then one site after another. When we visited the site in Florida where Laura and Almanzo lived for a few months with a cousin, Ray and I thought we had finally visited every place where Laura had ever lived — only to find out a few weeks later that there was one more site in Missouri that we hadn’t known about. Oh, well, we don’t really mind having one more Laura site to go.
As I have also told you before, as I learned about the Ingalls’ adventures, I paid close attention to Ma and wanted so much to be like her.
When Laura grew up, she wanted to tell America’s children about her life growing up and she also wanted to tell them about her Pa and Ma. I’m glad she told us.
Laura was born 150 years ago today. Happy Birthday, Laura. I hope you can enjoy her birthday party with us this afternoon at 2:00 Central time or tonight at 7:00. You can register here.
Until then, here’s a five-minute biography video of the life of this gifted author for whom I am grateful.
Included on the list of handwritten Scripture references found in Laura’s Bible were these words: “When you travel carry with you 121 Psalm.” I don’t know if Ma ever read it to her girls before they set out in yet another covered wagon adventure, but it’s sweet to imagine her sweet voice reading it to her girls.
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.