Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Little House Journey

So... my mother and I took Little Girl on her very first Little House trip. First of many, I am quite confident. She had a wonderful time!! Now I've been on numerous visits myself, the first ones with family where everything was so new and exciting and I was simply breathless taking it all in, and later ones with various friends where we were always investigating and exploring new things to do, but this time surpassed them all. The standard things, the things that were so exciting those first couple of visits, have become so familiar that I don't know that it would even be worth a trip back just for myself at this point. But seeing everything through Little Girl's eyes, and acquainting her with the stories, brought back the joys, the beauty, the simplicity of the stories themselves.

Who cares if this object belonged to the family? Who cares if that building was originally some building in the books? Who cares that so and so lived there, and so and so homesteaded here? I've certainly been very interested in those things in the past, but this trip was about Little Girl experiencing the books and pioneer life for the first time, and I must say, that enjoyment far surpassed that of any other trip. Well, let me stop rambling, and get on with the events of the trip!!

We flew to Sioux Falls, and after a visit to the zoo, headed up to our Bed and Breakfast in De Smet, South Dakota. It is a restored home that had belonged to Banker Ruth, from the Little House series, and is just two doors down from the Ingalls home the family lived in after Laura's marriage. So that was fun!! Little Girl was very excited about the Murphy Bed in the closet that we pulled down for her. That first night in the B&B, we let Little Girl watch the premiere movie of Little House on the Prairie.

Now, I liked the show as a kid, but I always knew it was very very different from the books. I have no problem with Little Girl watching the show later on, but I really want her to know the BOOKS first. I had bought her the series for Christmas, and wanted my sister to read her at least Big Woods, Prairie, and Plum Creek before we left on this trip, but that didn't happen. When I'm in town, I've read to her, and we finished up Big Woods but that's it. So I decided that since the premiere movie stays relatively close to the book, that would be a good way to get her to experience the stories of Little House on the Prairie a lot faster.

The next morning, Little Girl had a pancake man, like Ma made the children for breakfast on Christmas morning in the Big Woods, only with chocolate chips for the face :o), and after breakfast, we headed on over to the official LIW museum in town. I had made us shirts for the occasion -- Little Girl's had the front cover of Little House on the Prairie where the two girls are looking out the back of the wagon, and it said My First Little House Trip. :o) Mine and Mom's had a pic of the Ingalls family from the De Smet time period (Silver Lake really), dancing to Pa's fiddle, and read: "It is the sweet, simple things of life that are the real ones after all." ~Laura Ingalls Wilder.

So we looked around in the bookstore while we waited for our Surveyors House tour to begin. When we went in, Little Girl was interested in seeing and touching EVERYTHING, and not so interested in listening to the tour guide, who just went ON and ON and ON, telling the ENTIRE HISTORY of the Ingalls family and all of their moves -- you know, "Then they left the Big woods and went to Kansas and bla bla bla, and then they went back to the Big Woods and bla bla bla, then they went to Walnut grove and bla bla bla, then they went to Burr Oak, and then back to Walnut Grove, and then to De Smet... Since Little Girl was so busy exploring, and I was so busy trying to keep her from touching anything she shouldn't, I didn't figure she was paying the least bit of attention, and there was a man there with a baby who wasn't being OVERLY fussy but who was making some little whimpers and cries here and there, and the woman asked him to leave!! So I was terrified she was going to send us out with Little Girl!!

But she didn't, and at long last the talking was over and LG was free to look around. She got to grind wheat in an old coffee grinder like they did in The Long Winter and she enjoyed that.

Our next stop was the Discover Laura center across the road -- an old schoolhouse that the association has put there since the last time we went, for hands-on activities for kids. Little Girl LOVED it there. She did every single activity: she sewed with an old sewing machine, she used a writing guide to write her name with her eyes closed pretending to be blind like Mary, she spelled out her name in Braille by glueing peas in the appropriate circles, she made a covered wagon out of paper, she built cabins with Lincoln Logs, she cooked with the play food on the old-fashioned stove, she gathered toy eggs from beneath stuffed chickens , she tried on several bonnets and aprons and dresses from the dress-up trunk, and she made butter from cream and served it to us on crackers. We were in there for over two hours. Every other family came in, their kid would do one or two things, and in 10-15 minutes they'd be bored and leave. Not LG!!

And apparently she had been listening more than I thought during that Surveyors House tour, as in the school, she sat at the teacher's desk, picked up a book and said, "Now children, I'm going to tell you a story about a girl named Laura, and her Pa, and Ma, and Mary, and Baby Carrie, and Jack, and Black Susan. And they lived in the forest for a bery bery long time, and then they moved to....?" She looked questioningly at me, and I said, "Kansas." She says, "They moved to Kansas. And then they moved to somewhere else, and then they moved to somewhere else, and then they moved to somewhere else, and then they moved to somewhere else. And then Laura got bery old and she went to heaven to live with God and Jesus. The End."

I laughed SO hard, especially because her biography is so accurate!!!! :o)

At long last, she had completed every single activity and was ready to go. A playground was outside the building so she played there for awhile, and then we went to the Ingalls house in town, and toured it. We then went and had a late lunch, and then I took her swimming. There were real frogs in the pool!!

After swimming, we headed back to the B&B and got cleaned up and then it was time to head out to the pageant grounds. We got there right after they opened the grounds so we could get front row seats. There were wagon rides around the prairie while we waited. Little Girl provided a running commentary of the entire pageant. She NEVER stops talking... but at least she was paying attention as she talked, and her comments were hilarious.

Saturday morning, Little Girl wore her prairie dress that Mammaw made her, and she was absolutely gorgeous. After breakfast (LG got a Mickey Mouse pancake today! The B&B owner had made one for her grandson the day before, so LG put in a special request...), we headed out to the Ingalls homestead, visiting first the society's corner of the homestead claim, where Pa's cottonwoods still stand. Then we headed up the hill to the "Ingalls Homestead", which is a huge hands-on experience basically, spread out all over the original Ingalls homestead claim. There are several buildings -- a dugout, a claim shanty, etc. and the entire thing is hands-on, nothing is off-limits or only for viewing. So if you want to lay down on a straw tick, play an old pump organ, play at cooking on the stove, etc., that's all totally fine. And that is Little Girl's idea of a museum!! :o)

She did so many things that day it would be impossible to relate them all. Again, though, she did EVERY SINGLE activity offered, never growing bored or wanting to skip ANYthing, so we were there ALL DAY LONG. She did some laundry, using an old wringer washer. She sewed, she quilted, she braided a rug, she made a button toy and a jumprope and a corncob doll, she ground wheat again, she pumped water, she checked out the outhouse but was NOT impressed (people actually use it...YUCK), she went on a pony cart ride, she drove a team of horses across the prairie to take us all to "school", where she performed beautifully. There were about ten kids present for our school session, most older, about 8-12. The teacher had them line up and had a spelling bee. Those kids could not spell, I think only one or two spelled their words correctly (and they weren't hard words, apron, bonnet, cowboy, etc.) and even those were slow and unsure. Two 3 yr olds were only asked to count to 3, so we were hoping Little Girl, the only other really young child there, would be given a word to spell instead of asked to count to 5 or something dumb like that, because she CAN spell any short vowel word you give her. The teacher asked her name, and then asked her to spell it, which she was able to do at 2 or 3, but at least it was spelling a word instead of counting to 5. Then they had a music lesson. The teacher sang, "My name is Mrs. Nelson" and the children were to try to match her tune and use their own names. A couple of the older girls did a decent job, but most of the kids were totally off-key. We wondered what Little Girl would do. When it came to her turn, the teacher sang, "My name is Mrs. Nelson," and in perfect pitch in her ever so sweet voice, she sang back loudly and clearly, "My name is Little Girl." The entire schoolroom of people awwwwed. :)

Oh, and then there was the barn. I mustn't forget the barn, for upstairs was a box of kittens. How Little Girl loved those kittens. We were there a LOOOONG time.

That evening, the society was holding a free "covered wagon supper". No more details were ever given, and I had been quite eager to see what this would be, thinking it would be a legitimate pioneer style meal. Um, try hot dogs, potato chips, and baked beans. Can't beat free though, so we ate, and then let Little Girl try out every playground in the entire town. :)

Saturday night at the B&B, we let Little Girl watch more Little House: the first part of a Harvest of Friends where the family lives in the dugout and Pa builds the house, then turned it off before they went into the crazy story about Pa stacking those bags and getting hurt, and put in Country Girls, where the girls start school and meet Nellie Oleson. Those two pieces stay fairly close to the books and we figured it would help her get familiar faster with the main events of Plum Creek, in preparation for our visit to Walnut Grove the next day.

Sunday morning, Little Girl got another pancake man, and clothed once more in her prairie dress since she begged to wear it again, we headed off for Walnut Grove. The two hour drive seemed ENDLESS, and we really felt for the Ingalls family riding in a wagon across the empty prairie from early in the morning until late at night -- and that was only from Tracy to Brookings, about HALF the trip we made in two hours...

Walnut Grove has added quite a bit since our last trip too. Most of its stuff was roped off and you just look at it, and LG whizzed right by that stuff, but there was one hands-on room and once again, we spent a LONG time in it. She carried firewood like Laura and Mary, put it in the stove and "cooked" us a meal, tried on numerous hats, played with some old wooden toys including a Noah's Ark like Willie Oleson had in Plum Creek, looked through a stereoscope (very cool, as I always wondered just how they worked!), played us a tune on another pump organ, etc.

After touring all the museum had to offer, we went out to Plum Creek. I couldn't believe it, but Little Girl seriously wanted to wade in the creek. We tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted. She did an excellent job of holding up her dress so it didn't get wet at all, but when she came out, her feet were quite muddy. We had wipes in the car and I tried to clean them off but they just weren't terribly effective. Oh well, our next stop was our hotel, and it was only a few minutes away, so we headed there, and I carried her with her muddy feet straight from the car to the tub. I used soap and a washcloth and scrubbed those feet and still she had some brown spots on her feet when we were finished. I don't know how on earth Ma ever got Laura's and Mary's feet clean!! Perhaps she didn't. :o)

There was a park across the street from the hotel conveniently enough, so after we ate, and stopped by the Wheels Across the Prairie exhibit in Tracy, where Ma and the girls had ridden the train to, from Walnut Grove, I took her to the park. Then we headed off to the pageant. I've always preferred the Walnut Grove pageant to the De Smet one just because the sets are so awesome, it's more professionally done, etc., but I'm changing my mind now. It has a few events from the book, but so much is centered on town life, and church life, and it takes away from the charm of the books, in my opinion. Just act out the book, that's the only play I need to see!!

And so the next morning we traveled home, with a visit to the Creation Museum during our SEVEN HOUR layover. My sister told me that the whole way home from the airport, Little Girl chattered away about leeches and the big crab and Nellie Oleson. :)

Yes, the Little House obsession has effectively spread to the next generation... :)

Monday, July 9, 2007

A Wartime Romance

Every cloud has a silver lining. My grandfather used to tell us that if it weren't for Hitler, none of us kids would be alive. He grew up in the tobacco fields of North Carolina; my grandmother on a farm in extremely rural Kentucky. Here is the story of how they met and married.

Pappaw was stationed in Fort Knox, where he met and became friends with Mammaw's brother Edwin. It was the summer of 1941, and the boys were given the weekend off. It was too far for Pappaw to go home, he wouldn't have time to go there and back, so Edwin invited Pappaw to come home with him. Pappaw couldn't help but notice Edwin's pretty young sister peeking out at him from behind a tree when they arrived at the farm.

It was Friday evening, and Pappaw, Edwin, several of Edwin's siblings including Mammaw, and some friends in the area all went out driving around. Mammaw spent the entire evening by Pappaw's side, and he kept his arm around her.

Unbeknownst to her, Edwin had a talk with Pappaw that night. "Keep away from her," he warned. "She has to finish high school." She still had a year to go before she graduated.

The next evening, the group went out again, and decided to see a movie. Mammaw fully expected that she would be paired up with Pappaw again, but was surprised when he paired up with her older sister Clara instead, leaving her to sit with a girlfriend at the movie. She thought to herself, "Well how did THAT happen?" He spent the remainder of the evening with Clara.

The next morning, the family left to walk to church. Pappaw was asleep on the couch when they left. Mammaw forgot her sweater and went back in for it, and Pappaw opened his eyes and beckoned, "Come over here."

"What for?" she asked.

"Because I want to kiss you!" he said.

"You can't kiss me!" she declared in shock. "You're going with Clara!"

"No, I'm not!" he responded, but she refused to let him kiss her.

The boys went back to Fort Knox that afternoon, but Mammaw knew that Clara and Pappaw wrote letters back and forth. In September, however, Clara married another boy! After her wedding, she gave Mammaw Pappaw's address, saying, "You're the one he likes anyway."

Although it was only September, Mammaw sent him a Christmas card. :) He wrote back, and they continued to correspond throughout the winter. For Easter, he got some time off and came to visit. Mammaw knew he was coming and waited up, but as the night grew later and later and he didn't come, she finally decided he wasn't coming after all, and went to bed.

Meanwhile, he had ridden a bus to the nearest town, several miles away, asked around for a ride to the farm and gotten a couple of boys to drive him out, but the creek was up and the boys knew they couldn't drive their car over the bridge when the creek was that high. Pappaw begged them to do it anyway, but they knew it was far too dangerous and refused. They pointed him to a footbridge that he could cross and told him how to get to the farm from there.

The footbridge was nothing but a board about a foot wide. The locals were used to it and could cross it easily without a second thought, but Pappaw was terrified. He got the boys to carry his bags across, for he felt he would never make it carrying them. He slowly made his way across despite his fear -- what one won't do for love... :) and made his way down the road. Fearing he was lost after walking for some time, he stopped at a farm and asked again for directions. He was glad to learn that this was the nearest neighbor and it wasn't much farther to go, for it was very late at night. The farmer gave him directions, and Pappaw started off down the road in the direction he had been told. But when he heard the creek rushing by, he became frightened that he would fall into it in the dark, so he turned away and began wandering into the fields. The neighbor had been watching to make sure he went the right direction, so when he saw him crossing the fields, he ran out and stopped him. Upon Pappaw's confession that he feared the creek, the neighbor ended up walking him all the way there. And after all that, he arrived only to discover that Mammaw had already gone to bed.

The next morning, when he saw her, he asked her, "Do you love me?"

"Yes," she answered.

"Do you love me enough to marry me?" he asked. No beating around the bush for him!

"Well... when?" she asked.

"Now!" he exclaimed.

"I can't marry you now," she answered. "I have to finish high school!" She only had about a month to go until graduation. Pappaw had hoped to get off so he could come for her graduation, but he wasn't able to. Mammaw received his engagement ring in the mail the day of her graduation. She wore it to the ceremony that night so she could show it off to everyone. One gentleman expressed great disappointment, as he had picked her out for his son, a boy she had grown up with. "Why, no, I can't marry George!" she gasped when he told her this. "George is a good friend, but I don't have feelings for him!"

Two weeks later, Pappaw finally got a weekend off. He and Mammaw took the bus to Louisa, Kentucky, where they got a motel room, then walked over to the hospital across the street to get the required blood test. They were not pleased to learn that the hospital was unable to read the results -- they had to send the blood tests by bus to Ashland and wait for them to come back. Had they known that, they said, they would have just gone to Ashland to be married!

They waited, and they waited, and they waited. Finally, around 8 pm, the results came back. But there was another hitch. Mammaw was asked her age. She was 18, old enough to be married without permission, she thought. "Oh no," answered the girl at the desk. "You have to have someone sign for you if you're under 21."

"We don't have anyone around here," they answered. Pappaw begged the girl to give them their marriage license anyway. "Isn't there anyone you could call?" the girl asked.

"My sister and her husband have a phone," Mammaw answered. "But I don't know the number." She gave the girl their names, and she called information to get the number. Unfortunately, another man with a very similar name lived in the same area as her sister, and that number was given to them instead of the correct one, so when this man was phoned, he responded that he had never heard of those people. Oops. Pappaw continued to beg the girl to let them have their license, and at last she gave in, on their word that they would return with a signature.

So at 8:30 that night, they walked over to a preacher's house and were married.

When they returned home, Mammaw's father refused to sign the certificate. He had signed for one of Mammaw's sisters to be married years before, and she was abused horribly, and he swore he would never sign for another of his girls to be married again. So her older sister signed the certificate.

And so they were wed. Amazing that seeing each other a couple of times, writing a few letters, and rushing off to be married far from friends and family resulted in a happy marriage that lasted 63 years until my grandfather's death last year, when so many couples today date forever, have long engagements, live with each other for about five years and then finally tie the knot, only to get divorced three years later.

Their early years of marriage must have been difficult, for their first child was born just under a year later, and then Pappaw was sent to Germany. Edwin was killed in January 1945, when he sacrificed himself to save the other men in his platoon from a machine gun nest. I can't imagine what it must have been like to learn that your brother was killed in a war that your husband and other family members and friends were still out there fighting, knowing that the same could happen to any of them.

Pappaw, of course, survived the war, though he was wounded in action, receiving a bullet "in the same place as Forrest Gump", as he put it, and they all lived happily ever after.

Okay, so maybe life wasn't always entirely happy, but it makes a good ending anyway. :)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

July Celebrations

Well, Little Girl is officially five years old now, and is becoming a Big Girl all too fast for our taste!! Monday night was the big party at her house, and Strawberry Shortcake was the theme. She sure has changed since my childhood -- grown up a bit, I guess. :) LG got a lot of loot, as always -- the poor child is always so deprived of toys, you know.

I spent the night with her Monday night, and Tuesday, she was thrilled to learn that she didn't have to go to daycare because I was staying with her. Shortly after my sister left for work, though, we got a big scare. There was a knock at the door. Not expecting anyone, I cautiously peeked around the corner from the hallway and saw through the window a big man standing outside the door. "Do you know that man?" I asked Little Girl, thinking perhaps it was a neighbor, and she said, "Noooo..." Okay then, I thought, I'm not answering the door. The next thing I knew, the door was opening!!!! I grabbed Little Girl and pulled us both back into the stairwell where we couldn't be seen, while trying to think fast and sort out what on earth could be happening here!! He hadn't broken the door in or anything, so he must have had a key, but how on earth did some stranger have a key to my sister's house? Finally I tentatively called out, "Hello?" The man says, "OH, I'm sorry, I didn't think anyone was home -- I'm the electrician!" Whew. Apparently this guy was hired weeks ago and just now got around to showing up so this is why I wasn't told to be expecting him... anyhow, what a relief that we weren't about to be killed or kidnapped or something. :)

I took Little Girl swimming for the afternoon, and Baby Boy and his mommy met us at the pool. We had a great time. Baby Boy is growing up so fast, he is ten months old now. He loved crawling all over the baby pool chasing his ball, and splashing with his hands.

That evening, I took Little Girl to a local amusement park, one of those age-old small parks that has somehow stood the test of time, and every generation of children grew up going there, so it holds a lot of sentimental value for all the parents and grandparents bringing little ones now, even though the park itself is getting to be rather pathetic and run-down, so that making fun of it is the thing to do.

My favorite part, therefore, was when we were riding the kiddie wooden coaster, and at the end, the coaster stops before slowly rolling into the exit area. Well, as always, the coaster stopped, but it didn't start again... so there we sat on the track. Finally the ride operator, who was 70 years old if he was a day, came teetering out, walking on the track, edging around the coaster, getting behind it, and pushing us to the exit. Yes, you read that correctly, he pushed the rollercoaster down the track. I was laughing so hard. And then when we got there, everyone else raised their safety bar and jumped out and ours wouldn't lift. Finally the guy barks at us, "Get off the ride!" and Little Girl wails, "I caaaaaan't!!" "Oh..." he mutters. "Forgot that one sticks." He had to kick something on the bottom to make it release. Doesn't that make you feel safe on these rides? :)

She rode the big wooden coaster this year for the first time, and declared it "super fun", more proof that our Little Girl is becoming a big girl very quickly. However, she still refused to ride the Haunted House. "The ghosts scare me," she informed me very seriously. "Even though they're only hanks." "They're only WHAT?" I asked. "Hanks!" she exclaims. "Hanks??" I asked, bewildered. "You know... tissues?" she says. I have NO idea where she has heard someone call them HANKS -- handkerchief and hankie aren't even terms we usually use, but I could see her having heard those terms, but hanks?? Okay!! So she thinks the ghosts in the haunted house are made of tissues, apparently. :)

The park was due to close at 7:30, so at 7:25 as she hopped off one ride, I informed her that she could ride one more thing before it was time to go. She scampered up to the entrance of some little cars (there are never any lines for anything in this park), and just as she did, a lady called out to all the kiddie ride workers, "Last ride -- time to shut down!" The girl running the cars looked down at Little Girl and said, "Sorry, ride's closed." She immediately burst into tears and ran into my arms. It was so sad. Now, yes, she IS a mite spoiled, but at the same time, it wasn't fair -- it was five minutes before the park was supposed to close and those cars had to run the full track anyway before the ride could be shut down so it wouldn't have even slowed them down at all for her to have hopped in one and ridden it. So I really did think the girl was out of line. The girl gasps when she sees Little Girl's reaction and says, "I feel mean." I felt like saying, "You are," but of course, I refrained. Then the lady who had called out to them to close down the rides came over, looked at Little Girl in my arms sobbing her heart out, and said to the girl, "What happened?" The girl said, "Well she had just gotten in line when you said to shut down the ride, so I had to tell her the ride's closed and she cried, so now I feel mean." The lady threw up her hands and said, "If she was in line, you're supposed to let her go!" So Little Girl got to ride her cars after all, and it was a happy yet very tired Little Girl I carried out to the car, instead of a crying one, which was a much more pleasant ending to our day. :)

We celebrated the Fourth by going over to my sister's house for lunch. Watching Baby Boy and Little Girl playing together was the entertainment, and was much more pleasurable than anything else we could have done, in my opinion. :) It's so amazing to see how quickly babies learn and grow. Just ten months ago, he was a newborn who could do essentially nothing, and now he's got so much personality and interacts with us like a real little person! He was very into playing chase with Little Girl -- she would peek around a corner at him, squeal, and run, and he would grin and go crawling after her as fast as he could. She would then go around the house, and sneak up behind him, and call his name. Startled, he would turn to look at her, she'd squeal and run, and he'd go crawling madly after her in that direction. Again and again, they played, it was so cute to watch his reaction each time she came up behind him. :)

We took the kids to the park for the evening, and then it was time for me to return home. The fun is over, and back to work work work....

Happy Independence Day!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

With Liberty and Justice for All...

Happy July! I'm getting ready to take off for multiple celebrations, including a certain little girl's birthday party and of course Independence Day, so look forward to a blog entry relating all the fun details when I return.

But for now, I wanted to wish you all a Happy Fourth of July.

As for the subject line... Little Girl hurt her leg today (nothing serious), and a little while later, Grandma asked her how it was. She looked at it carefully, and then replied:

"It still hurts, but you can't see it now. It's indivisible."