Laura Ingalls Wilder was born today, February 7, in 1867. For book 3 of my 365 part series, I read Little House in the Big Woods, a novel about a little brown haired girl named Laura Ingalls living in the woods of Wisconsin.
Little House in the Big Woods is an easy read, more geared toward children than adults, however there are some interesting parts of the book that I didn’t pick up on as a child so I am glad I reread it. I remembered the iconic bits – making maple syrup candy in the snow, Ma slapping the bear, and using grated carrot to color fresh churned butter. There are some more subtle points that I didn’t pick up on until I read this book as a grownup.
One of these points happened in the autumn, when 10 year old cousin Charley and his father, Uncle Henry, came to help Pa with the oat harvest. Aunt Polly helped Ma in the house and the younger children played in the yard but there was so much work to be done that Pa and Uncle Henry drafted Charley to help out in the fields. As Laura wrote,
Charley did not want to go to the field. He wanted to stay in the yard and play. But, of course, he did not say so.
Duh. Of course he did not say so because if he did object to helping out in the fields, he would be whipped. Pa and Ma also gossiped about Uncle Henry, Aunt Polly, and Charley, saying that Charley was spoiled because he did not have to put in a full day’s work. This makes me laugh and laugh just thinking about their tongues wagging about our children today and how they are never properly worked or disciplined.
So Charley heads out to the fields with the men to fetch water and whetstones with a sullen attitude any parent of a teenager would recognize. Rather than help out, Charley plays tricks on his father and uncle, hiding the whetstone, getting in the way, and other general unhelpfulness. Somehow he gets the idea in his head to head across the field and scream like he is being attacked or injured. This brings both Pa and Uncle Henry running as there are snakes in the nearby field. Cousin Charley laughs like this is the funniest thing ever. After being fooled a couple of times, Pa and Uncle Henry ignore Charley’s screams. When he continues to shout and cry, however, they finally head over to him only to find he was jumping up and down in a yellow jackets’ nest while being stung all over his body. They send him home where his mom and aunt undress him and pack him in earth to take down the swelling.
As a child, the pioneer cautionary tale of Charley and the bees is scary because it sounds painful. As an adult, I know that Charley could have died from so many bee stings. So when Pa snarked, “it served the little liar right”, I was taken aback. No one deserves to be stung all over their body, even a 10 year old playing an inappropriate prank.
There are a few incidents in the book that made me look askance at Laura Ingalls Wilder and wonder just how much compassion she had for others. All and all it was a good book but I am not sure I’d describe Laura as a kind woman based on the stories she told. Regardless, happy birthday Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder!