A Long Winter

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Then you may get a sense of the resilience and inner resources of the family of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957), whose birthday it is today. Such was the winter they experienced in Dakota Territory during the winter of 1880-81.

Wilder, born in a log cabin in Wisconsin, is well-known from her “Little House” books depicting 19th-century pioneer life through the eyes of a growing child. They are unique in combining a finely observed and personal yet unsentimental window into iconic aspects of American history: travel by covered wagon, homesteading, Indian migration, education in a one-room schoolhouse—with fascinating homely detail: cheesemaking, house construction, sugaring off—and a glimpse into the inner life of a bright, curious, imaginative girl struggling to adapt to the circumstances of her time and place.

The family’s joys are simple, their sorrows formidable. Crop devastation, malaria, prairie fires, and a sister’s blindness are described; the death of a baby brother is left unrecorded, probably still too painful to include. The books are a quiet testament to stubborn faith, determination, love, and courage, virtues frequently lauded but less often demonstrated. A bouquet of wildflowers on a clean checkered tablecloth and a family hymn accompanied by the paternal fiddle are the stuff of a boundary between hope and despair.

Although she had written magazine articles and newspaper columns, Wilder didn’t publish her first book until 1931, when she was 64, after having been asked for years by her daughter Rose to put her childhood memories on paper. Since then her books have been published in 40 languages and have informed, inspired, and enchanted many millions of readers. Happy Birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder! You certainly were (and remain) a shining light of my growing-up.

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6 Responses to “A Long Winter”

  1. Laura says:

    I am so glad my friend Carol pointed me to your blog — I am absolutely loving your artwork and stories. This is so timely! What an effective way to bring home the resilience and hardships of frontier life. Thank you. 🙂 And stay warm!

  2. Ellen Symons says:

    When I was a girl, my grandparents (Jim and Marie) gave me a boxed, illustrated set of all the Little House books. After reading them almost into disrepair, I saved them and, decades later, gave them to my niece, Tashina. I wish I could also give them to Eileen, since they are also from her grandparents. But clearly, these books are well-loved in your house and she must also be reading them into disrepair.

  3. Sheila says:

    She has a special place for them on her bookshelves, among her stated favorites. Along with the set of Oz books I received from my grandmother as I was growing up–a new one each Christmas.

  4. David Mog says:

    Seven Months!! OMG. Suddenly seven weeks seems like a piece of cake. My heart lept with joy on Wed when I found daffodil leaves pushing up through the leaves in the back yard.

  5. Cathy Quinn says:

    Sheila, This is wonderful as is all your work. I can’t wait to buy our granddaughter a set of “Little House … ” books. She is 1 1/2 and already goes to her stack of books as soon as she comes in, to have one read to her.

    I read the “Little Maid” (of Bunker Hill etc) series when I was a child. I am going to see if I can find those for her too. Take care and stay warm! Cathy

  6. Paula Van Loon Vigil says:

    Well it’s been 6 years since your latest comment (above) and I’m just now viewing and loving your amazing art work and colorfully written story for the first time. What an awesome GIFT that you and I have connected!! We’re able to share fun stories about our Moms who were best friends when we were young, and also enjoy hearing about our growing-up-too-quickly respective families and their adventures today. Thanks, Sheila!!

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