There are days like today, Tuesday, when the wind is blowing and the snow falling never seems to stop; when the snow drifts down and down and down like eider and it is work just to get to your car. Days like today that invite that batch of cookies you have been meaning to bake and a good, fragrant cup of coffee that sends up swirls of its own steam, looking for a moment to catch.
It is a day like today that nudges me to pull out The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I baked the batch of cookies, settling with ingredients on hand. What should have been chocolate chip cookies were filled with some chips, some raisins, and some raisenettes – thanks Elaine, for that idea – and a cup of chopped nuts. They warmed the house and their sweet smell was tempting.
While waiting for the cookies to cool, I trudged upstairs to the kids’ room and pulled out The Long Winter from a shelf, and, because I’m a corny, old-fashioned, romantic sort of gal, I grabbed one of my shawls out of the closet and planned to hunker down for a few pages that tell of the 1880/81 blizzards in the Dakota Territory during that hard winter. So much snow fell that the Chicago and North Western Railroad was forced to shut down operations shortly before Christmas to the Dakota territory until spring.
Laura tells of such a train and how, when the snow finally melts in May and the train is finally dug out and makes it to town and its starving citizens who have endured the long winter. Pa Ingalls comes home with a barrel full of clothes and yarn and such and there on the bottom is their Christmas turkey, still frozen, with cranberries falling out of the brown paper wrapping. Do you know what they do? They invite their neighbors to come and celebrate the Christmas they missed six months before.
This book reminds me that winters have often been hard and that I am fortunate that I can sit here all warm with the home spun aroma of cookies baking and the glow of my computer screen keeping me in touch with the outside world.
Many years ago, Tom gave me the boxed set of the Little House books for Christmas and I spent the entire holiday season reading them. That set eventually became so worn from years of holding them and sharing them that it needed to be replaced. Katy has a set and when I visit I sneak a few pages in. Do you think she and her Tom suspect?
On my way back down from Minnesota one cold, cold winter about eight years ago, I stopped in Menominee, Wisconsin at the little museum there and picked up a tape of Laura Ingalls Wilder speaking to a group of children about her days growing up on the prairie. There I was, all by myself, rolling along Interstate 94, in as rapt attention as the children she was speaking to.
Visiting my very dear friend Jeri in Oklahoma even more years ago, we ventured to Independence, Kansas and the site where the Ingalls family once lived. Jeri remembered how much I loved the stories of Laura (and the television series) and so off we went, a drive of several hours as I recall with her two toddlers in the car. There is a replica of one of the Ingalls’ houses there, just outside of Independence, on property owned by Bill Kurtis. The house, so lovingly described in Little House on the Prairie, was so small and simple and left me pondering how the whole family fit in it, lived in it, and fostered a love that carried them through to other houses and long winters, plagues of grasshoppers and devastation of crops, and led Laura to one day pen her story, the story of so many pioneer families who worked the land and paved the way for future settlement. Laura Ingalls Wilder started writing the Little House books when she was in her early sixties. You might enjoy a little side trip to this website: www.littlehouseontheprairie.com/
I think I’ll munch on a cookie, made with those bits and morsels I had on hand, and sip something warm in the Little House mug I brought home to Tom from Independence. I’ll wrap myself in my shawl, all cozy and warm, and read a few chapters of The Long Winter. First, however, I’ll bundle up and brace myself as I venture down our long, long drive to the mailbox that hugs the road here on the cutoff and see if the mail came through.