Monday, October 19, 2009

Dancing on Laura Ingalls Wilder's Grave

Mary yawned, and Laura said: "Ma, can't we get out and run behind the wagon? My legs are so tired."
"No, Laura," Ma said.
"Aren't we going to camp pretty soon?" Laura asked. It seemed such a long time since noon, when they has eaten their lunch sitting on the clean grass in the shade of the wagon.
Pa answered: "Not yet. It's too early to camp now."
"I want to camp, now! I'm so tired," Laura said.
Then Ma said, "Laura." That was all, but it meant that Laura must not complain. So she did not complain any more out loud, but she was still naughty, inside. She sat and thought complaints to herself.

Since we are on the downside of October, it's time to get all sentimental about Laura Ingalls Wilder month. Sniff. Even if Pa was crazy as a coon in heat, and Ma probably spit in his porridge in acts of passive aggressiveness, if Mary was so perfect that she kind of pissed you off and then you felt guilty when she went blind, and Carrie seemed kind of dull and Grace was spoiled, as a girl in the '70s you just had to love the Little House on the Prairie books.

I lived in Nebraska in a small town that made up the ribbon of civilization between the Omaha metro area and the grasslands that everyone hates on their drive to Colorado. The Little House books were my first love affair with history, and I could picture what Nebraska might have looked like 100 years before, and what girls my age were doing (which, by the way, was not playing Atari, eating Lucky Charms and watching Gilligan's Island.)

When I was 10 and my sister was 6, my mom took us on a summer trip to see Laura's home in Mansfield, Missouri. By then, I had probably read all of the Little House books three times, and was completely entranced with everything in them. I had to see it. My dad managed to bail out on that trip, since 8 hours in the car with three women to see Laura Ingalls Wilder's house held as much appeal as learning to make ganache or scrapbooking or talking about his feelings.

Here is what I remember from the trip to Mansfield:
* My mom drove her kick-ass white Thunderbird. In the pre-sunroof days it was complete with the T-roof feature where you had to stop the car, take out the heavy and highly breakable glass panels, and put them in the trunk. If it started to rain or birds kept crapping in your car, you'd have to pull over, open the trunk, and replace the heavy, highly breakable glass panels.

* My sister and I wanted McDonalds, and we got it for every meal because my Dad, Thrifty McThriftmiester, Mr. Bring Bananas In The Car, Mr. I'm Not Paying For That Crap, wasn't with us to say no.

* Mom found a hill in northern Missouri that would make you lose your stomach when you drove over the crest, so we made her stop, turn the car around, and go back and forth over it about 10 times, and she did it, earning her a place in the Mom Hall of Fame.

* My sister and I got bored, and found a really annoying way to amuse ourselves.

ME: "Can we stop and get out of the car?"
MOM: "No, Julie."
ME: "Aren't we going to be there pretty soon?" It seemed like forever since our most recent slop of the trough at the Golden Arches.
SISTER: "Yeah!" (She was six, her role was to play backup to whatever position I was taking.)
MOM: "No, we aren't close yet. Let's play a game - when you see a truck, you can honk my nose!" (This is one of those moments a parent looks back and says "What in the hell was I thinking!?!?")
ME: "TRUCK!" And I pushed my hand on Mom's nose.
ME: "TWO TRUCKS!" And I smack my hand on Mom's nose twice.
SISTER: "Me too!" And she semi-punches Mom in the nose twice.
MOM: (Dodging our blows and trying to stay out of the ditch) "Honk...honk...ouch..hey..Knock it off Dammit! No more honking!"
ME: "But Mom, it is a fun game!"

Then Mom said, "Julie." That was all, but it meant that I must not complain. But instead of being a good girl like Laura, I rode shotgun and complained the rest of the way to Mansfield, because I was that kind of child.

We did go to Rocky Ridge Farm, Laura and Almanzo's house in Mansfield, and to me it was the most amazing thing on the planet. The house, which Laura and Manly built themselves, was lovely, and it held all of the holy relics of the Little House series: Pa's actual fiddle, Mary's organ, the 'Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread' plate that survived the fire, the rocking chair Almanzo built for Laura, and of course tons of photos, brooches, letters, and other ephemera. I was in heaven.

From Rocky Ridge, we proceeded to the graveyard, where we visited Laura's grave. There she was, next to Manly. And then something a little undignified happened. My sister, who had gamely followed me through the house and into the gift shop and now to the graveyard, was having a revelation.

"WAIT A MINUTE!!!" she screamed. "Do you mean to tell me that we drove ALL THIS WAY to see some DEAD LADY'S HOUSE!?!?!"

She agreed to this trip on the terms that Melissa Gilbert would come bounding out of the house, braids flying behind her, to bring us in to camp out in the attic, go for wagon rides and play by the creek and mess with Nellie Olson. But she had NOT signed up to poke around some dead person's stuff. It was too much. My little sister proceeded to have a full-blown meltdown, dancing on the grave of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Because that dead bitch had done her wrong.

We don't speak of the "Dead Lady Vacation" in my family, but let's just say that my sister never became a fan of the books, my mom never again proposed games that involved smacking her about the face while driving, and I still send messages of apology to LIW every once in a while.


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