McClure starts out describing her own Little House obsession. It seems we are about the same age and grew up reading the same yellow, 1970's Harper Trophy Little House set--before they got all fancy and started putting a gingham border on the covers.
|This picture came from ebay|
McClure also discusses her love/hate relationship with the TV show, which is similar to mine. Let's face it; the Little House on the Prairie TV show is awful, and yet it's impossible to resist. McClure specifically references one episode that traumatized me--the one in which Ma thinks it's a good idea to try and hack off her own leg with a kitchen knife. Technically, I didn't grow up watching the TV show because it aired from 8:00-9:00 and my mom enforced a strict 8:30 bedtime. I think it also aired at the same time as Mork and Mindy, which the rest of the family wanted to watch. (My mother loved the Little House books as much as I did but she thought the TV show was stupid, particularly Michael Landon's tendency to cry at some point during each show. The flaps of hair over Michael Landon's ears also irritated her to no end.) So my Little House watching was the occasional half hour, with the humiliation of hearing the other girls at school the next day talk about the ending of the show. I remember thinking wearily, "Will I ever be able to see the whole show?" (I saw the leg-hacking episode years after it originally aired, when theoretically, I should have been old enough to handle it. But I wasn't because, OMG MA THINKS THE BIBLE WANTS HER TO AMPUTATE HER OWN LEG.)
Anyway, at first, McClure's quest to find "Laura World" involves doing Laura activities like churning butter and cooking foods from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Cookbook. I've read that cookbook too, and thanks to The Wilder Life, now remember why I never made the vanity cakes. The recipe calls for two pounds of lard. Eventually McClure visits the LIW homesites, and at each one catches brief glimpses of the elusive "Laura World" she's searching for. In addition to visiting the sites, McClure and her husband spend an amusing weekend at a homesteading workshop and find themselves bunked down with a sect of extreme, end times, preparing-for-the-rapture Christians.
She also meets other Little House devotees and points out that among those of us who grew up reading the books, it was common to have some kind of Laura fantasy. (Thank goodness! ) McClure's was showing Laura around the modern world. What was mine? I guess I have to tell. My Laura fantasy was to have the entire Ingalls family over for dinner during the height of the Long Winter. It would have been fun to feed them things like vegetables, spaghetti and meatballs, fresh bread and chocolate cake after their months of living on brown bread and potatoes.
I was utterly charmed by The Wilder Life. It's the sort of book I couldn't wait to get home to read, especially to find out what she discovered at each Laura Ingalls Wilder homesite. McClure is often funny and irreverent, but there are some serious moments too, such as when she experiences overwhelming emotion at the DeSmet site. It was really fun to relive my own Laura obsession through someone else's eyes. Incidentally, McClure is the person behind the Laura Ingalls Wilder persona on twitter (@halfpintingalls) who was one of the very first people I followed after creating my own twitter account.
I had started planning my own Laura pilgrimage, and reading The Wilder Life helped me to realize that it might be a lot more fun to see just a few Laura sites at a time, rather than try to see them all in one, massive road trip. My planning had gotten to the point where I'd written the following insane itinerary:
Day 1: Drive to Malone, NY (11 hours)
Day 2: See Almanzo Wilder farmhouse, drive to Buffalo. ( 5.5 hours)
Day 3: Drive to Chicago (8 hours)
Day 4: Drive to Walnut Grove, MN (8 hours)
Day 5: See Laura Ingalls Wilder sites in Walnut Grove, drive to DeSmet, SD (2 hours)
Day 6: See DeSmet
Day 7: Drive to Burr Oak, Iowa (5.5 hours) see Burr Oak sites
Day 8: Drive to Mansfield, MO (8 hours)
Day 9: See Mansfield museum
Day 10: Drive to Nashville (6 hours)
Day 11: Return to Charlottesville (8 hours)
Obviously, I would drop dead after such a punishing trip and I don't think I'd enjoy the museums very much. I love road trips and in addition to the LIW sites, I'd like to have the opportunity to stop and visit any cheesy Americana I might encounter on the road. I'm thinking now about three separate trips. One to see Almanzo's house. (My family drove through Malone, NY every summer on our way to Vermont and I always longed to stop, but we never did, beyond an occasional picnic lunch in Malone's town park.) The second trip would include Mansfield, MO and the site in Independence, KS. The last, big trip would encompass Pepin, Walnut Grove, DeSmet, and Burr Oak. I probably wouldn't be able to make the first trip until Fall, 2016. That's my goal, anyway.