Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pioneer Life

In a moment of childhood nostalgia, I agreed to read the entire “Little House on the Prairie” series to my children. I can remember being enchanted by the books when I was young, and I wanted to share that with my kids. The books apparently have the same effect on them as they did on me; even my four-year-old listens with rapt attention and begs for more chapters each night before bed.

My ten-year-old, who has repeatedly expressed his astonishment that every home did not possess a personal computer when I was his age, is awestruck at the descriptions of the Ingalls family’s nomadic life.

My husband also marvels at the stories as he eavesdrops on a chapter every now and then. The concept of children being seen and not heard is especially appealing to him.

The gratitude of the family for simple pleasures in life, like white sugar and glass in the windows, is most striking to me. It has put into perspective how much we take for granted every minute of our lives. My kids have never known hunger, cold, or true fright. The most they have ever wanted is the newest toy that they see advertised on television. I can’t help but yearn for the simpler world in which Laura receives a peppermint candy stick and a homemade doll for Christmas, and she is so overcome with joy that she cannot speak.


Of course, the price to pay to see that kind of gratitude in my children would be to deprive them, like the Ingalls family was deprived, of milk to drink, shoes that fit, and adequate protection from the elements and warring Indian parties that threatened their safety.

In the complicated world in which my children are growing, we have far different struggles and pressures. When I complain about any of these problems, my husband is quick to remind me that I could be a pioneer woman who has no modern conveniences. I have no desire to live the pioneer woman’s life, and I fully appreciate the incredible amount of work that they did. But I also know that you just cannot compare our worlds.

For example, pioneer women did their laundry on a washboard with water that was pumped by hand. I have a matching electric washer and dryer set, but I probably spend the same amount of time each week completing the chore of laundry as did the pioneer woman, since we have at least 20 times the amount of clothes that families had in pioneer days. And if I sent my child to school in the same clothing every day of the week, someone would probably call Social Services and accuse me of neglect.

If I served the same meal of salt pork and beans to my family for breakfast, lunch, and supper for five consecutive days, I’m pretty sure that my husband’s longing for pioneer life would cease.

Pa Ingalls spent his days toiling behind a horse-drawn plow, but I bet he would choose that life over one spent growing hundreds of acres of grain only to be at the mercy of world markets and government trade policies.

While the simplicity of their life is appealing, I would not want to live on the prairie for months on end with only a covered wagon for shelter. I don’t think the Ingalls family would trade their life for the complexities of ours, either. Still, we have the advantage of being able to take principles from their life and apply them to our own. We can be grateful for our blessings, be thankful for our families, and be wary of the trappings of materialism.

As for children being seen and not heard, my theory is that it was more of a dream than a reality.


Frazzled Farm Wife said...

I loved that series! My 3rd grade teacher read to us from that series every day after lunch. We now own it!

Anonymous said...

You continue to amaze me! Your talent with words, photography, baking/cooking, and the most important being a mommy.
I spent the last 2 1/2 hours reading your blog(It has been over a week ago since I read it)and what a wonderful two plus hours it was! I am enlightened, refreshed and inspired. Thank you!
~ gal down the road

Mum-me said...

I also loved the "Little House" series and read them over and over when I was a child. Maybe I should dig the set out and read them to my children? We are always telling them how lucky they are.

BoufMom9 said...

I am a HUGE LHOTP fan! I have read them to my older children who now also indulge in the DVD series. (we are actually planning a trip to see Walnut grove in the summer! They can't wait)
ps That picture! GORGEOUS!

AimeeElizabeth said...

I loved that series as a kid! I read all the books over and over from the time I was about 7 until many years later. Now that my daughter is five, I'm going to have to dig that set out of storage and start reading them to her. Thanks for the reminder!


Anonymous said...

Great post! I am often "nostalgic" for times when I didn't exist, thinking, "Oh, it would have been so much better then." But like you said, I doubt I would choose to stay should I be able to visit such times...

Jenni said...

My llyodd and I are reading the Little House series this year. I homeschool her and these books are taking the place of a reading textbook. I've made many of the same observations you mention here. What I really enjoy is seeing how much my daughter loves these books and how she is internalizing the lessons she learns from them. She doesn't say so, but I see her perspective changing and I see her inspired to action by what we've read. After reading the chapter about the church Christmas celebration in On the Banks of Plum Creek, she wanted to sort through her things and give gently used items she no longer needed to someone else.

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