Thursday, July 14, 2011
Laura and Harry Together Forever
During the summer of 2007, I was able to take a road-trip that fulfilled a life-long dream; I visited most of the homes of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Originally, I was going to take the trip alone since neither my husband nor son (he was twelve at the time) were interested. Because my husband had to take a last minute business trip, plans were changed and my son came with me. He won’t admit it but he had fun, too. Following is my journal from the trip. It is not edited at all, but mostly just fragmented thoughts and observations (and, frankly, way too gushy and full of the words 'amazing' and 'wonderful' but I still don't want to edit it). If you read it, you'll see why I can't ever again think of Harry Potter, particularly the last book, without remembering this amazing trip. Posting today to honor the last Harry Potter movie. Our tickets are for Sunday. Don't tell me what happens, 'k? :-)
July 17, 2007 –
Plane travel is awful – nothing fun about it anymore, and layovers in Denver are worse. Finally made it to Minneapolis. Got a Dodge Charger and a GPS and hit the road. The Charger will make husband jealous.
The Midwest is green, hot and humid, though the temperature seems surprisingly pleasant. Music is very important for a road trip, so once in the car I pulled out the cd’s I’d made. The politically incorrect Kung Fu Fighting was the biggest hit.
Nobody believes me when I say that the clouds are closer to the ground in the Midwest than in Utah, but it’s true. And the skies go on much longer without the mountains to stop them. That was fun to show son. Long drive to DeSmet and the detours sent us in a crazy direction – to all darkness and corn, like a Stephen King novel. I had to swallow a scream.
Finally found a small town police officer who said we were on the right route, so we continued on and hit hwy 14, which is called the Laura Ingalls Wilder Hwy. Played Bob Dylan (Blonde on Blonde) for son – he said, “I don’t think I can handle much more of this guy.” I said, “He was the voice of a generation.” He said, “A very messed up generation.” I said, “You have a point.” But I was very proud that he knew which generation I was speaking about. And I’ll always love Bob.
Got to De Smet at 2:00 am. One of the cleanest hotels I’ve ever been to.
July 18 –
Finally got up at 9:00 and announced that we’ve got places to be and dead people to see.
Unbelievable rain/thunder/lightening storm to begin the day. It was wonderful and thrilling and worked in our favor. I wasn’t about to let the weather stop us, so we took off for the Surveyor’s house and gift shop.
Because so few of us were out and about, our tour group was very small. Saw the Surveyor’s house (where the Ingalls lived when they first moved to De Smet) and the house that Pa built in town.
The most amazing part of the house in town was the picture that Carrie took of Ma sitting in the front room. They’ve done a great job of making the home look like it looked when Ma lived there. We toured around and saw sites of former places – homes and stores, but none of the originals were still standing.
Then we went to the grave sites. Lovely, small graveyard. I felt spirits – Pa’s was the strongest. Then to the homestead. This was phenomenal! They have replicated things very well, including the house that Pa built for Ma. And everything is totally hands-on. Son had a blast and so did I. And I get it – what a wonderful way to live and grow up, if you were a child. Adulthood was enormously hard and lots of work. But as a child, the prairie would have been amazing.
We got lucky -- the storm stopped early but the clouds remained so the cloud cover kept things cool and a breeze (just like the ones Laura talked about) blew through the prairie the entire time. They had animals on the homestead, too, and son made a friend of a five-day-old colt. It was an amazing experience for us both. A perfect day.
I thought about The Long Winter and how the family survived. Silver Lake is drained, but I saw where the slough was (kind of is), and I continually thought about the distances they all had to travel just to go to school or to town.
Almanzo and Laura were the first book romance I was exposed to – my heart still flutters when I think about him traveling each weekend over the cold winter snow and ice to pick her up from her teaching job.
Rose was born here, and Almanzo was crippled after he and Laura were sick with diphtheria. As a child I never thought of this, but as an adult I wonder at how devastating that must have been. Almanzo was strong and had to work very hard every day. How did he manage after being so ill? How did the family manage?
I’d never thought about the dates of death for the family but Pa actually died 22 years before Ma. She and Mary were very close, but Pa’s spirit is so strong in the books (and, frankly, at the cemetery) that I can only imagine the void that was left behind when he died. Very sad that Ma didn’t have him with her for her last twenty-two years.
My favorite of all the books is Little Town on the Prairie – so much happens in Laura’s life. I remember how the entire family worked hard to get Mary to a blind college. Laura taught and sewed.
July 19, 2007
Walnut Grove, MN
Or On the Banks of Plum Creek
Not as much to see here, but I wouldn’t have missed the site of the sod house dug-out. They have a museum, but it’s more about the time period than it is the Ingalls family.
The sod house site is on this elderly couple’s property and they were sitting on the front porch as we drove to the back of their land to see the spot. I have no idea how anyone managed to live there, in that small space, surrounded by nothing but sod walls. We saw the rock in the creek that Mary and Laura played on.
This is where Laura met “Nellie Olson” who was apparently a combination of a number of girls. We ate lunch at Nellie’s, right on the highway through town. Yummy greasy-spoon-type restaurant.
Laura and Mary went to school for the first time and Miss Beadle was their teacher. It was in this book that Ma gave Charlotte (Laura’s doll) away. I remember the immense relief when Laura got it back.
Anyway, we then drove to Mankato so we could have a pool and be closer for our drive to Pepin. Harry Potter 7 comes out tomorrow night at midnight, and I have no idea how we are going to find it in Pepin.
Ate dinner at Red Lobster. I’m not a big fan, but son is.
July 20, 2007
Pepin, Wisconsin. Little House in the Big Woods
Green, and just when I was beginning to really miss mountains, we got a few hills. Lake Pepin is at the widest part of the Mississippi River. It is a large lake and quite beautiful.
The town of Pepin is a small, small town. The museum is small and quaint. You have to drive about seven miles out of town to the site of the cabin where Laura was born.
They have replicated the cabin and I can’t begin to express how wonderful and magical it was to visit this replica. I am constantly amazed at how far away the Ingalls’ dwellings were – and still are -- from everything. As it seemed Pa desired, they did live away from civilization.
Pepin was the first town Laura ever saw. I remember the tree-stump bear and the molasses candy. I still remember the gist of the final lines of the book – Something about this is now, and now can never be a long time ago. That was pretty brilliant writing.
We are staying in a nice hotel with a lake view – I took a small rock from the Lake. We are picking up the final Harry Potter from a quaint and small book store in Pepin. I am in wonderment about all the green trees and hilly plains. Who would have the courage to make their way through this and take off to see what is in the rest of the world? And were they disappointed with the plains they traveled to or were they resigned to the changes?
We ate at a lakeside restaurant. Shrimp and raspberry cake. Yum.
The Laura museum was kind enough to direct us to a new book store in town. Harry Potter 7 was set to embark from its boxes at 12:01 and we had to have one, even if it meant driving all night to our next destination on the trip.
Thankfully, Wilder Trail Books, a new store in town was hosting a Harry Potter party. In the afternoon we stopped by the store to see if they had ordered enough books for us to purchase one. The proprietor, smiling with his own sense of wonder at the big day, said that he, indeed, did have enough. We caught him barefoot and in the middle of decorating the small space so we told him we’d see him later.
And we did. Ned (Dumbledore) and Diane (moaning Myrtle with a toilet seat around her neck) and their family hosted the midnight party. There was butter beer and cupcakes and approximately ten other people at the party.
Ned and Diane opened the bookstore in April and you could tell that they had found their passion. We were sorted (I got Gryffindor – though I often joke with son that I’m Slytherin, through and through -- Son got Ravenclaw) and the countdown began.
At the witching hour (he-he), the boxes were opened. Son got the first book, making him the local (his name was printed in the paper) celebrity – you know, traveling all the way from Salt Lake City just to get a book at the new bookstore. I’m so glad that there are no more Harry Potter books, because we could never have a better night than this one.
We drove away from Pepin, son with Harry and me with my thoughts of Laura and her time in the big woods. I guess there was magic all around. The book store ordered 30 books and apparently they sold out by the next afternoon. Everyone we met in Pepin was delightful. (Added later – website: www.wildertrailbooks.com)
July 21, 2007
Iowa. (I lived in Des Moines for many years)
Well, I can’t believe I didn’t remember just how much corn there is. I saw so much of it today that at a point I felt true hostility toward the vegetable. A corn-I-can’t-COPE-ia, if you will. (oh, that’s bad)
However, Burr Oak was fascinating. The Master’s Hotel was in its original spot, reproduced to the best possible. They’ve even kept some of the original boards available to be seen. We saw the room (small) that the entire Ingalls family lived in while they worked there.
Apparently Grace was actually born in Burr Oak, but the baby boy, Freddie, died there. Laura didn’t talk about her Iowa time in her books, but they have her original pages from her typed diary that talk about her time there. Some interesting facts: she and her friends played in the cemetery because they could run and be left alone.
Laura and Mary (she was more proficient than Laura) learned how to play the organ in Burr Oak and one of their daily jobs was to empty the hotel guests’ bedpans. Yuck, but I often wonder, when I’m reading the books, how that outhouse thing really was – that and childbirth.
We didn’t go to Vinton to see the blind college. They don’t allow tours, but we might regret not driving by because a woman at Burr Oak thought that they were about to close down the college. Very sad.
Then there was Des Moines. I haven’t been back really for about twenty years – I was back for my friend’s wedding in 1990, but that was all wedding stuff.
I have to say, I was disappointed. Most of the familiar things I looked at needed some facelift work, including the house I lived in. I think that bothered me the most, but my high school seemed sunken and Drake looked a bit ragged, too – they’re doing some renovating, so I’m sure it will improve. Then after finding the things I recognized, it was all that I didn’t recognize that really bothered me. I couldn’t even immediately figure out which was my best friend’s house – once I finally did I realized how cute it is. Any part of this city that I once thought I might have claimed as a part of me, or rather me a part of it, is gone. Long gone. This is fine, but it was shocking because it was the first time I’ve felt such a surprising detachment.
July 22 – 23
The trip to Mansfield was fairly uneventful. Less corn. We stayed at the Wilder Inn in Mansfield and ate a late dinner at the only open restaurant – a Tastee Freeze. Hot dogs and ice cream.
Laura’s houses in Mansfield were perfect. When I was a child, I visited the main house, but now they have opened the rock house that Rose built for her parents.
The rock house is actually where Laura wrote the first four books. But then, after Rose moved away, Laura and Almanzo moved back to the main house. There is a question I thought of later that I neglected to ask – what did they do, other than some farming? Laura didn’t begin the books until she was 65, so how did they make their living?
Saw “the” fiddle. Saw so many things. The museum was wonderful. I loved every second of it, and I was tearful (I’m sure son wanted to fall into the earth when tears rolled down my cheeks) at a video they played when I heard her real voice. Son took some pictures of me on the front porch of the main house, just like the ones I have from when I was a child. Then I took some of him.
Saw Laura’s and Almanzo’s gravesites, too. Rose is buried there, too. I wasn’t so sad at the cemetery until I thought of the rest of the family buried in South Dakota. I don’t know why that bothered me, but it did.
I am so struck at how they built their houses – not just one room at a time, it was one tree at a time. They would cut down a tree (in Mansfield, Almanzo and Laura, each on one end of a saw), make the boards to build with and then create one room. Their first room in Mansfield was the kitchen. And then, when they decided they didn’t want the house right where the kitchen was and had enough time and materials to build a second room, they put the kitchen up on rollers and moved it. The patience, courage and strength with which they lived their lives stuns me.
It’s been said that Rose actually wrote the books. Of course, I have no idea, but I do notice a style difference in some of them – that could just be attributed to Laura changing and growing as a writer. However, I guess I don’t care much who put the finishing touches on the stories, I have no doubt that Laura lived them, and I am so grateful she shared them as well.
All the way around, the trip was beyond expectations. Son even had fun. I’m so grateful for the opportunity.
Books - Well, of course I need to gush a little more about both Laura Ingalls Wilder and Harry Potter. These books were a huge part of my childhood and my son's. I don't care if they sometimes aren't considered perfect, they are perfect to me.
Happy Reading - and enjoy the movie!
Posted by Paige at 11:03 PM