Friday, April 10, 2015

The Wilder Life

I departed from my book list--something I rarely do--to read The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure.  Since I want to take a tour of all the Laura Ingalls Wilder homesites, I wanted to read about the someone who had done the same thing.  I didn't want a guidebook to motels and restaurants, I wanted to read about the experience, and The Wilder Life provides exactly that.

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.


  1. This sounds marvelous - I have to see that book.

    My fantasy was to see those prairies as Laura saw them, when she lived there. But, in a way, I have, through her descriptions of them.

    1. She was really gifted at descriptive writing.

  2. I visited Lake Pepin, Walnut Grove, and DeSmet last summer.

  3. My neighbor and I LOVED this book--for all the same reasons you write! Plus, when I was about the same age as Laura, we moved from Wisconsin TO WYOMING so I totally was all "I'm JUST LIKE HER!!!"
    This summer we're doing Yellowstone and en route we plan to stay in DeSmet and rent a covered wagon to camp in. If you come this way, do let me know...I'd tag along for a spell.

    1. I'll let you know when I do the midwestern trip! (Probably won't be for quite a while.)

  4. That is an insane itinerary.
    When I was at the age that I was completely obsessed with the books, we lived on a small farm in the middle of nowhere. My closest companion was my dog,so I wouldn't say I had a Laura fantasy as much as I felt I identified with her very much at a young age.
    Meanwhile, my mother adored Michael Landon, so that was the one night a week I was allowed to stay up to watch TV. My daughter has the first couple seasons on DVD that her grandmother gave her, but she thinks it's a bit over the top.

    1. A lot of ladies seem to like Michael Landon. Once my mom started ranting about his hair, it was all I could see, LOL.

  5. I love the Little House books - as do both of my daughters. But I am commenting to say that I love the redesign of your blog. I know it wasn't easy when you have a demanding full time job in addition to keeping us entertained with this site. Thanks!

  6. I obviously need to read that book! My LIW road trips have to wait until my last kid leaves the house. I can drag my husband along but I wasn't willing to listen to the boys whining (even though I read the LH books to them --- from my own yellow set as pictured, which I still have in my possession).
    Having just returned from our annual epic road trip for spring break, I can assure you that the itinerary listed above is insanity squared.
    My problem with the TV show was that it wasn't true to the books, starting with Pa and his beard. Michael Landon was never Pa.

    1. Exactly! Michael Landon is NOT Pa! Karen Grassle was believable as Ma and Melissa Gilbert was OK as Laura. Nothing against Michael Landon as an actor, he just wasn't Pa.