My Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

Home is the sweetest word there is. – Laura Ingalls Wilder

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The home on Rocky Ridge Farm where Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the “Little House” books. Mansfield, Missouri.

Reading the Little House series as a child, I was enthralled by the many adventures, big and small, of the Ingalls family: fording the river with a horse and wagon, fights with Nellie Oleson, twisting switch grass into kindling. I identified with tom-boy Laura, climbing trees and failing to keep her dress clean. Her detailed descriptions of home life also mesmerized me, as I read about Pa making his own bullets for hunting and Ma churning butter. Re-reading the books as an adult left me with an impression of a family always searching for home and never really finding it. (Of course, we now know Charles Ingalls, Laura’s father, brought on some of his own trouble by attempting to stake claim to land that belonged to Native Americans, and a couple of similar questionable actions.)

After such a nomadic upbringing, Laura finally found her forever home when she and husband Almanzo moved to Rocky Ridge Farm near Mansfield, Missouri. She settled in as a young wife and mother in her twenties and lived there for more than sixty years, until her death in 1957, at age ninety. In the late 1920s, the Wilders’ daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, had a more modern house built for her parents half a mile down the road, and they stayed in it for a few years before homesickness brought them back to finish out their years in the house they’d built themselves.

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The Rock House that Rose Wilder Lane had built for her parents, Laura and Almanzo.

 

I live only a three-hour drive from the Wilder homes. After decades of talking about it, I finally made the pilgrimage last week. My husband was a good sport and went along with me. There may have been mentions of a fishing pond near our rental cabin to lure him into the adventure.

Both Rocky Ridge houses have tours on a regular schedule, and there’s also a separate museum building on the grounds. In case you’re planning a trip, the museum is where you buy the tickets for the tours. I wish they allowed photography inside any of the facilities, but since they don’t, you’ll have to take my word for what we saw.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, Mansfield, MO

Pa’s fiddle! The museum has Pa’s fiddle in a display case. It’s in remarkable shape, and looking at it brought to mind many scenes from the books, from Pa playing the children to sleep with lullabies to big dances at the grandparents’. They also have Laura’s blue china cow creamer. I don’t remember which book has the description of it; but I do remember it being mentioned.

The homes themselves have been restored and preserved with as many original furnishings as possible, much of it hand-crafted by Almanzo. There’s some incredibly durable linoleum in the frame house that is not reproduction, or so we were informed. The Christmas Clock Almanzo gifted to Laura still hangs on the wall, ticking away. Laura’s writing desk is there. The original house is well-designed, but the ceilings are low. Our tour guide reminded us the Wilders were not big people. Laura topped out at 4’11” and Almanzo stood 5’4″. Keep that in mind when you think of him hauling bushels of wheat through a blizzard to save the town in The Long Winter.

I have a hard time on tours like this. It means so much to me to get to be in Laura’s home and see the actual objects described in her books, lending immediacy to the stories. But you can’t touch anything and you have to move on through when they tell you to. No standing and studying the details of any one thing until you’re satiated. I understand why and agree with it on principle. Gee willikers, though (sorry for the wooden swearing, Ma Ingalls), I wanted to soooo much. I experienced an intense desire to stay for hours, to sit it in her chairs and run my hand over her desk. Don’t worry, I kept control. Barely.

The final step of our literary mission took us to the Wilder resting place.

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Gone, yet still here in so many important ways.

What’s With My Brain in the Middle of the Night?

That feeling when you wake up at 2 a.m. with the urgent need to remember the name of the Greek god of the forge, and you’re panicked because you can’t conjure it up. You remember the Romans called him Vulcan but to save your life you can’t latch your mind onto the Greek designation. Then, as you wake up enough to realize there can’t possibly be an emergency in your life involving Greek mythology and wonder why you would wake up wanting to know, you segue from panic to irritation. Irritation at having interrupted your own sleep somehow and also because you still can’t remember the name and you really should know, with all the time you spent reading those myths in your teen years. But you need to go back to sleep so you can function at work tomorrow, so you don’t want to try looking it up. But you can’t go back to sleep until you remember it. Does it start with an H maybe? So you get up and open your laptop and discovered you were right about that much – Hephaestus. Then you feel satisfied and lie back down, close your eyes and…wait, wasn’t there something weird about his feet? What was that about?

I can’t be the only one this happens to. Right?

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Poem for Kathrine Switzer

For National Poetry Month, I’ve been writing a poem a day and keeping them hidden on my computer. But I finally feel like sharing one.

Yesterday, Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon again, fifty years after becoming the first woman to finish it officially. Bobbi Gibb had run it unofficially the year before. This inspired my poetic efforts yesterday.

Poem for Kathrine Switzer, April 17, 2017

What did they think would happen,
fifty years ago, if a woman ran?
Would we all be deprived of the cake
she should have been baking instead?
Would the race be sullied,
the stain forever ringing its collar?
Or worst of all –
the boys would have to share,
not only that day but all the days to come?
Well, worse came to worst
and she ran again in Boston today
with thousands of women on the course
while somewhere, surely,
some man baked a cake,
the downfall of civilization complete.

**
— Someone asked, so I’m adding this. You can share this. Feel free to copy and paste, even, but I would like a credit. Ida Bettis Fogle, author. Thanks.

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Credit: Kinchan1

The Right Princess at the Right Time

Here’s one more among the thousands of tributes being paid to Carrie Fisher. It is possible that there can’t be too many.

I know there was much more to her and her career than the role of Leia Organa. But it’s the character of Leia, first princess and then general, that spoke most to me. She entered my life as I hit adolescence and needed role models. I was raised in a church that wanted females silent and submissive, attributes that were not in my nature. I chafed.Whenever I heard that wives should obey their husbands in all things, my go to thought was “I guess marriage is not for me.”

As a child, my fantasy play never involved being rescued. In my daydreams of adventure, I had agency; I was the rescuer, the hero. And I was just starting to notice women didn’t get those roles in movies or TV. Disney princesses were a whole different breed  from what they are today, let me tell you. But then. Then. I found myself climbing into a car full of siblings to go see Star Wars at the drive-in.

Princess Leia appeared, beseeching Obi-Wan Kenobi for help. But it wasn’t simply “Please rescue me and keep me safe.” No, it was more like “Help me break out of this joint; I’ve got an empire to overthrow.” She had smarts, courage and swagger. Carry Fisher gave her swagger. I liked it. I needed it. WWLD? What would Leia do? Not a bad question to ask as you’re trying to figure out how to grow up. She was there for me throughout my teens, in one Star Wars movie after another.

Which sustained me right up to the brink of menopause, at which time General Leia showed up for me when I needed her most. There she was, leading things, smart, tough, still swaggering. Heartbroken, but confident in herself and her cause. Not disappearing, as society (and especially Hollywood) often expects women to do once they have a laugh line and a gray hair or two.

Thank you Carrie Fisher. Nobody else could have done it the way you did.

“Into the garbage chute, fly boy.”

 

 

 

Guy Talk

With the current brouhaha over recordings from a certain candidate, I’m flashing back to memories from my own life, as I’m sure most women are. Here’s a flash memoir.

When I was twenty, I got an office job where I was the only female in the department. Some of the guys engaged in pretty rough talk (though actually not speaking of assault — not to the Donald’s level), but fairly sexist, fairly objectifying. Either they forgot I was there, or didn’t realize I was close enough to overhear sometimes, or they didn’t care. They’d talk about the women in the front office, comparing physical attributes. They’d look out the window and “rate” women passing by on the street.

Not all of the guys, though. One of the younger ones, near my age, didn’t engage in this behavior, ever, and that was easy to notice. If he ever talked about a woman, it was just as a human. I ended up dating him. I met his mom and sister, who were big influences in his life, both of whom he treated with respect. Reader, I married him.

 

What I Love About Living in the U.S.

Here I am on July 4th, Independence Day here in the U.S. No big plans today except to go watch the city’s fireworks tonight.

I’m a sucker for all the holiday accoutrements, though, on any holiday. So I’m wearing red capris and a blue t-shirt with some white print on it. It’s only a matter of time until I own a Christmas sweater, I suppose.

I had some actual paper letters to mail and the temperature was pleasant, so I walked to the post office this morning. Here’s the part where I say what I love about this country, and more specifically the location of my home. On my 2-mile round-trip to the post office from my house, I passed a public library, a public school, a Baptist Church, an antiquarian book seller, an auto mechanic, a bicycle store, a School of Metaphysics, a Vietnamese restaurant, a Mediterranean restaurant, an Indian restaurant/grocery and an old-fashioned diner where the menu is heavy on biscuits-n-gravy type fair.

Here are a few places I didn’t pass this morning, but are within a mile of my house: a Mosque, a Unity Church, a Christian Science Church and a community center that has programs for residents who live in public housing, and a brew-pub.

I don’t always think about it, what a richness of experience and culture is all around me. But I noticed this morning. I thought about it, walking along in my red, white and blue. This is what the United States is about. This is the kind of thing that stirs my feelings of loyalty and love for my country. So many people from so many different backgrounds, and here we are together, making a city, a community, supporting our public libraries and public schools.

I know many towns and communities are a lot more homogeneous, but my midwestern metropolis has a population of only about 120,000. So it doesn’t take a huge urban area to live the dream. This is the American dream I want for myself and my kids — one that includes a place for all of us.

Politically Correct: Musings and a Poem

Several years ago I wrote a poem about a phrase I kept hearing: politically correct. Or political correctness. Or PC. It was used to shut people up, like duct tape over the mouth. Espouse a position that makes someone else feel guilty or uncomfortable? You were likely to hear that you were “just being PC.”

For a while, the term faded away, at least in discourse to which I was privy. Now it’s come roaring back. All over the place, I hear people proudly proclaim “I’m not politically correct.” The implication being, I suppose, that anyone who has a different opinion on the issue at hand can’t really be sincere. The implication being: “Deep down, you know I’m right. It’s simply inconvenient for you to admit it.”

To me, answering someone’s challenge or question or opinion with a dismissive charge of political correctness is the laziest kind of ad hominem attack. Instead of considering the issue, you call them a name and are done with it. Uttering the phrase “politically correct” absolves you of the need to listen or reason or self-examine. It’s right up there with the antiquated practice of calling women hysterical every time they challenged the status quo.

Since the term is back in vogue, my poem seems timely once again. I had fun playing around with it. I hope you have fun reading it.

Parity Considerations

Politically correct?
Is the accusation a
pertinent criticism
or just a
peevish complaint?
Does it matter whether my actions
are a result of
passive compromise
or of a truly
principled cause?
Could it be that
persistent charges
of PC are no more than
panicked counterattacks
against anyone refusing to fit a
particular conformity?
Should I lay aside my
personal convictions
out of fear that some
piously corrupt
person might
possibly call
me names?
If someone else can
purchase compliance
from me with
pretentiously contrived
allegations of PC
does that make me
politically correct
or
politically incorrect?
Pardon my confusion,
but if you are
preoccupied constantly
with whether I’m “just being PC,”
whom does this say more about,
you or me?
Please clarify.