“We don’t want to go to the Laura Ingalls house,” Tom and Huck whined in the RV. “Those books are girl books, and we’re boys. There’s nothing good there.”
That is a fairly representative example of the logic of 7 and 10 year old boys. They have not read even one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. They have little awareness of who she was. But they knew they did not want to spend three days of our vacation re-tracing the steps of “some old-fashioned girl’s life” at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead.
Using the logic of a mother, I ignored them and popped in a book-on-tape (CD) recording of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s By The Shores of Silver Lake, the book that chronicles Wilder’s initial arrival at our eventual destination, DeSmet, South Dakota. I turned up the volume high enough so that I couldn’t hear the protest coming from the boys in the back seat. After a while, the whining stopped. The boys were in shock. This book described rides on fast ponies, rough men building railroads, howling blizzards, and wolves. Maybe it wasn’t so girlish after all.
“Mom,” said Tom, after listening to the story for a while, “Laura Ingalls was a tomboy. Tomboys are the only kind of girls I like. Her story is pretty good.”
That’s progress, I guess.
One of my favorite stops on our recent RV trip was the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead in DeSmet, South Dakota. The 150 acre homestead has been restored with 10 acres of crops and buildings that match the dimensions of the ones Laura’s family built in the 1880s. It also has additional buildings from the nineteenth century — a sod house similar to the one the Ingalls lived in in On the Banks of Plum Creek, a railroad shanty, and a one-room school house. It is surrounded by mile upon mile of prairie grass. Hardly a tree to be seen anywhere.
The Ingalls Homestead is a wonderful place for children, even those like mine, who aren’t familiar with Wilder’s books. Children are allowed to touch everything, even farm animals and old farm tools. Each building, whether house or barn or school, has an employee dressed in costume from the late nineteenth century to explain how settlers like the Ingalls family lived, learned, worked, and ate over one hundred years ago.
Tom and Huck got to use the farm’s nineteenth century machinery to make rope and pull the kernels off corn for animal feed.
They rode ponies and got to drive a team of horses pulling a wagon out to the one-room school house (with supervision). They had a lesson from the teacher in the one-room schoolhouse, a woman who attended and taught in a one-room schoolhouse herself. At the end of the day, they helped milk a cow and feed the chickens. They got to watch birds building a nest and observe a cat and her brand new litter of kittens. Sad to say we have never done any of the above in our suburban California town.
We camped at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead in a covered wagon for two nights, so we could see how a family fit in a covered wagon. (Answer: squeezed in close together.) We also built a campfire, roasted marshmallows, and watched fireflies (the first I’ve ever seen) twinkle in the prairie twilight. We were almost the only family there that night (just one other covered wagon had people inside), and we felt the vastness of the prairie and the peacefulness of solitude. I’ve never seen more stars in the sky. I heard the prairie wind stirring the grass and the sounds of cattle in the distance, much as I imagined Laura Ingalls Wilder may have over a century ago.
When our campfire had burned its last embers and we prepared to sleep in our covered wagon, Huck, snuggled on my lap, whispered to me, “Mom, this is my dream house.”