Every few years, I reread the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I love her stories, from living in the big woods to marrying Almanzo Wilder. Laura was my type of girl – having fun, standing up to her sister, trying to do what was right, a good student and daughter. Yet when I read some of her writings to adults, such a “The First Four Years” or the compilation of her newspaper columns, I felt like I was reading from a totally different author.
At one time, I had a fantasy of retracing Laura’s steps, seeing where she lived and how she lived. When I saw Wendy McClure’s book, “The Wilder Life“, I was eager to learn more about Laura from a different perspective. Wendy followed her passion for Laura, with her husband’s support and encouragement.
But this book was more than where Wendy went and what she saw. She traced the real history of the Ingalls family (who knew Pa skipped town because he couldn’t pay his bills!), explored Rose Wilder’s problematic relationship with her mother, and filled in historical detail and information.
Wendy’s writing is vivid and flows smoothly. Her description of seeing Plum Creek and wading in it, the awkwardness of her shoulder bag and cameras, listening to the sounds of summer, was immediate for me – I was there with her too. I felt her disappointment at how small the surveyor’s house was in Silver Lake, a house that Laura had described as the largest house she’d ever lived in. She explores Rose’s plagarism of her mother’s work as well as Rose’s accomplishments in her own right.
Mostly though, I better understood Laura Wilder the adult. Her writings for adults were in fact different. Laura Ingalls was an idealized view of her childhood and teen years. Laura Wilder reflected a life that was hard, never had enough money, in which fun was replaced by unrelenting hard work. The adult Laura was the opposite of the little girl in her fiction.
I’m glad I read Wendy’s book, getting out of my system the fantasy to visit all those places and retrace Laura’s steps. I’ve seen them now, through the pages of this book. I’ve learned more about my heroine. Like all heroes, Laura has her flaws. But I understand her better and who she really was. It doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of her books, but I am more clear now that they are truly fiction, with elements of her real life.
This was taken at the Living History Farms near Des Moines, Iowa. It reminded me of Laura earning money as a seamstress and hat maker. If you are ever near Des Moines (or in Omaha, about an hour away), this historical village is worth the time and effort to visit.
Word for tomorrow – SIDEWAYS. If you prefer to work ahead, see the list for the week under “A Word A Day”.
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