|Artist: Garth Williams|
Of course, much of her life seemed exotic - full of family tales of being chased by wild animals or blizzards so blinding one could get lost and freeze to death traveling from house to barn, or children left alone during a storm burning up all the household furniture to stay warm.
Certainly, I'd never (and still haven't) experienced a hog butchering or done laundry outdoors in a tub. Wilder's deft talent for describing these difficult tasks and experiences made them come alive, and seem not only not tedious, but intriguing and magical.
Even so, in many ways, I identified with Laura - I grew up in a military family, so we too were always making a home in a new place and her own sense of adventure and joy in discovering simple features of each new place is how I strove to be regarding my own experiences of being the 'new kid' once again.
In several of her stories, she wrote about Christmas - sometimes the holiday included festivities, and sometimes they were very, very simple. But always, they were full of love and each family member plotting to find someway to secretly provide a holiday gift for the others, often with very limited resources.
When my children were growing up, Christmas was often trapped in excessive consumption - as they were and are for most these days - and in many ways I regret that and wish I could have a do-over. At the least, I regret that I didn't weight the concept of giving thoughtful gifts more highly than the concept of hoping to get your heart's material desires.
But always, in homage to the Ingalls Family, I would tuck an orange, a banana, and a few unshelled walnuts into each stocking. They didn't always get it - there were occasional complaints, especially about the nuts!
But when one or the other of them would discover the Little House series for themselves, I always hoped they'd read one of the Christmas passages and see those simple little treats for what they were - an opportunity to be a part of a simple and meaningful tradition, and a chance to be glad for the luxury of living in a world where oranges and bananas and walnuts are not seen as exotic or hard to find. To remember that there was a time not so very long ago when such things were rarely experienced treasures from far away.
One of my (many) favorite passages comes from "On the Banks of Plum Creek", when the family moved into a sod house in Minnesota. In this passage, Ma and the girls have a conversation about Santa Claus.
“Ma!” Laura cried. “There IS a Santa Claus, isn’t there?”
“Of course there’s a Santa Claus,” said Ma. She set the iron on the stove to heat again.
“The older you are, the more you know about Santa Claus,” she said. “You are so big now, you know he can’t be just one man, don’t you? You know he is everywhere on Christmas Eve. He is in the Big Woods, and in Indian Territory, and far away in York State, and here. He comes down all the chimneys at the same time. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, Ma,” said Mary and Laura.
“Well,” said Ma. “Then you see–“
“I guess he is like angels,” Mary said, slowly. And Laura could see that, just as well as Mary could.
Then Ma told them something else about Santa Claus. He was everywhere, and besides that, he was all the time.
Whenever anyone was unselfish, that was Santa Claus.
Christmas Eve was the one time when everybody was unselfish. On that one night, Santa Claus was everywhere, because everybody, all together, stopped being selfish and wanted other people to be happy. And in the morning you saw what that had done.
“If everybody wanted everybody else to be happy, all the time, then would it be Christmas all the time?” Laura asked, and Ma said, “Yes, Laura.”
On a whim, I decided to make a printable using a bit of this passage as inspiration - if you click the Download link, you will find a high rez version suitable for printing out as an 8x10". Of course, you could also make it smaller to fit a smaller frame, or to be the cover for a holiday card.
I hope you enjoy it, and I'd love to hear in comments what you loved best about the Little House series! Feel free to share you own favorite passage.
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