Little House on the Prairie, Explained

When I was eight, I asked for a Little House on the Prairie book for Christmas.  I already owned one, and thought I’d like the next book in the series.  On Christmas Eve, in the midst of the annual party, I was given a large gift bag filled with the gingham-bordered books.  All nine of them, including the one I already owned.  The party, needless to say, was lost to me after that.  I plucked out Little Town on the Prairie, because the girls looked the prettiest on the cover.  That was important to me then.  I read as adults flitted about with wine in hand and I ignored Amy when she tugged at my arm, begging me to help her chase our particular favorite adult, deemed “Tim the Alien.”

Ironically, I forgot Little Town on the Prairie at my aunt and uncle’s house that night, and didn’t get it back until I had read through the rest of the series.  I started it first and finished it last.

Once I had read the books at least five times each, had sufficiently cracked the spines and dotted the page corners with peanut butter, I began to make up my own versions of the prairie stories.  Specifically, I liked to make them up alone in my room, using my American Girl Dolls as my daughters.  I had the role of omnipresent mother, and would lecture the dolls as I tugged a tiny plastic brush through their hair.  Things like, “I know you don’t like school, but it’s very important that you have an education,” and “Felicity, you look beautiful.  Any boy in town would be lucky to dance with you” were oft-used phrases.  In fact, I don’t believe I ever did anything with the poor dolls but boss and brush.

When I was twelve or so, mom heard about a pioneer school held in a nearby town for a few days in the summer.  The classroom was a circa 1852 schoolhouse.  Pupils were encouraged to dress as early pioneers.  It was a dream.

I don’t remember much about the lessons, nor about the field trips we took to local historic sites, but I do remember the teacher.  She seemed to me very old and wise, and was almost a cartoon in her elderly perfection.  The throat of her dress was clasped with a large brooch, her hair was an airy puff of white, and one day she drew some of us older children to her.  Her “big girls,” she said, deserved a treat.  In her open hand were three small stones.  They were all alike, save for the varying patterns of gold stripes upon the brown fields.  Tiger’s Eyes, she whispered, as if sharing a great secret.  We took our stones solemnly and pocketed them so that the other pupils wouldn’t see and be jealous.  I showed mine to Amy anyway.  Tiger’s Eye, I told her.  Maybe when you’re older you’ll understand, I said.

Later, the big girls sat on the steps together to eat lunch.  We hadn’t spoken to each other yet, but the stones in our pockets had bonded us somehow.  It wouldn’t take much for us to be friends, but it was difficult to begin.  Amy had been picked up by mom for an orthodontist appointment, so I was without my usual freckled buffer.  I had her can of root beer, though, a great treat.  I offered it to one of the girls.  They offered me a cookie in return.  That was all it took.

The other big girls were sisters.  Laurissa, Katherine, and Emily, I think their names were.  The cookie they gave me was good; it was oatmeal chocolate chip.  I politely said so–we were old enough to wade into friendship slowly–and the girls offered to get the recipe from their mother.

Over a decade later, I still have the recipe.  Laurissa copied it out on two neon orange index cards.  The handwriting is painstakingly neat, and the very last step, punctuated with a period, reads: eat.  I made those cookies tonight, wanting the rustic, pioneer-ish task of stirring together butter and sugar, of patting down cupfuls of flour with my fingers.

I haven’t seen those girls since the last day of pioneer school when they trotted off down the sidewalk in the opposite direction.  The American Girl Dolls are packed snuggly in a large box in my closet.  I still peek in now and then to scold Molly for letting her bangs get so tangled.  My Little House books, still the ones from that long-ago Christmas gift–the new color editions are lovely, but I just can’t bring myself to upgrade–have a place of honor on my bookshelf.  I can’t say for sure how many times I’ve read them, but I suspect at least twenty times each.  I still have my Tiger’s Eye.  Its great significance hasn’t yet been  revealed to me, but I don’t worry about that.  Maybe when you’re older you’ll understand, I tell myself.

Relinquishing the Hoard

I’m taking a hiatus from writing my graduation saga in order to write about another momentous event:

I have cleaned out my bookshelf and donated one hundred of my babies to my old K-8 school library.

My bookshelf is a giant, unvarnished, red-brown thing, looming over all of the other furniture in my bedroom at home.  I’ve had it since I was about eleven years old, when my grandparents, knowing my tendency to stash overflowing books in piles around my room, got it for me for Christmas.  The bookshelf was initially supposed to be hidden in the detached garage.  Grandpa had written a clever poem which was meant to lead me to its location.  Unfortunately though, Christmas morning dawned especially cold that year, and my parents thus decided to spare me the traipse outside.  The bookshelf waited beside the Christmas tree instead.

For years, this bookshelf has been large enough to hold all of my books.  Sure, there’s some double layering going on.  Sure, when I ran out of room to arrange spines vertically, I stacked more horizontally on top of the vertical.  But I don’t especially mind having a packed bookshelf: I have a system of arrangement, and I do, contrary to my family’s belief, generally know which titles I own and which I don’t own (and how to find them).  Plus, a packed bookshelf implies literary affiliations.  I feel proud and cozy and like an English major when I gaze upon it.

Today, however, when standing in front of the dear thing, trying to decide what to read next, I tipped back a few titles to peek at the ones behind.  And some of the ones behind, I realized, I hadn’t seen in a while.  And I hadn’t missed them.

I decided it was time to pare the collection down.

I have long thought that if an eleven-year-old girl in possession of familiar bookworm tendencies were to stop me on the street and ask me for a suggestion regarding what she should read next, I would undoubtably pile all of my Gail Carson Levines, my American Girls, my Nancy Drews into her hands.  I would happily pass my books off to someone who I knew would enjoy them as I had.  Why, though, was I sitting like a miser on a mountain, hoarding books I had long outgrown, waiting for the right young prodigy to come along and ask for them?  Surely it would be better to put the books in a library, where they could be paged through and jam-smeared by hundreds.

I quickly had all my books off my shelves and into piles: Classics; Popular But Still Quality; Popular; Teen Fiction I Still Love; Short Stories, Poems, Plays; Reference; Series; Children’s With Sentimental Value (Little House, Betsy-Tacy, Charlotte’s Web); and Donate.

I dusted the empty shelves, and then slowly started refilling them.  I moved my most beloveds to the top, and–vainly–put the classics front and center.  I pulled out the books I plan to attempt this summer and stacked them separately, for easy access.  I bagged up the “Donates,” including A Series of Unfortunate Events.  Perhaps the ban has been lifted since I left middle school?

Mom (a teacher at my old school) placed the bags in her van.  While I’m a little ashamed that it’s taken me so long to pass all of those books on, I’m glad it’s finally happened.

 

Christmas Eve

For almost as long as I’ve been blogging, I’ve written a Christmas Eve post every year.

2009

2010

2011

This Christmas Eve, I’m once again sitting on the couch gazing at the tree, feeling steeped in family and ham with cheesy potatoes.

We’ve had the traditional Christmas activities:

Cookie Baking

Extended Family Christmas Eve Party

Last Minute Shopping/Wrapping

Mexican Train

Christmas Jigsaw Puzzle (which Amy takes over.  I have not the patience for such things.)

Christmas Movies (The Santa Clause is my favorite)

Christmas Eve Mass (and the resulting pew dozing, which is simultaneously irreverent and inevitable)

It’s funny to be twenty-two, and to remember past Christmases when I could hardly sleep for excitement, and to look forward to future Christmases which may not be spent in Minnesota or with family.  It’s funny to feel that I just want to soak up more togetherness, and that I don’t really need a thing under the tree.  It’s funny to be mature and blase and (slightly) boring.  It’s funny to be too old to run around with the kids at Christmas parties, and to instead sit up straight with the adults (and be offered alcoholic drinks).

This is getting to be a nostalgic post, and while I do think that Christmas is the perfect time for nostalgia, and for rewatching those Christmas home videos in which you are quite blatantly opening your little sister’s presents “for her” and coveting them shamelessly, I also believe in merry Christmases and bright futures.  May you have both.

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MIA

I’m so sorry I’ve been MIA.  But truthfully, there hasn’t been much to say.  I’ve been working at Target.  Most guests are in the holiday spirit.  Some aren’t.  I pulled a calf muscle pushing flats piled with paper towels around the store.  So it goes.

What I really want to tell you, though, is that last night, my gentleman caller and I went to see A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie in Minneapolis.  It was a great time: The acting and music were wonderful, and I was appropriately terrified when the last ghost came out amidst blasts of fog and crashes of thunder.

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Afterward, of course, all we wanted was Italian food.  It was 10 pm, and surprisingly for the city on a Saturday night, not much was open.  Pizza Luce was, though, so we camped out there for an hour or so, eating slices and giggling like children at the waitress who wouldn’t stop refilling our sodas.  (Good service, I guess, but it became slightly disturbing after a while; she was watching us too closely).

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Now, however, I’m off to work an overnight.  10 pm to 6:00 am.  Luckily, I’m armed with ugly sweater, holiday spirit, and Coke.

Three Things

Three Things:

1.  A 24-pack of Coke, when dropped from the height of an average person’s clutching arms to the waxy white linoleum, can spray sticky pop astounding distances. (For once, I wasn’t the one who dropped it)

2.  Grades are in.  Grades should not be shared in public places.  Thus, I will not do so.  (But hallelujah I did better in Grammar and Language than I could have ever imagined)

3.  It doesn’t feel like Christmas to me yet.  I don’t know what the problem is: the tree is up at home, I have most of my shopping done, and I work at Target, where an entire corner of the store is roped off that guests may toss rolls of wrapping paper at each other and elbow each other out for the last box of discount Christmas cards.  I think the stress of finals stunts holiday enjoyment, but hopefully things will pick up soon.

 

In Which I Abandon Virginia Woolf in Pursuit of a Career in Retail

I am done with that dratted paper, I am home, and I just finished my first Target shift of the year.

Retail–particularly department store work–has always struck me as rather bleak.  I don’t mean to insult anyone’s work, but I’ve actually had nightmares about spending the rest of my life folding sheets in the same two aisles of Macy’s.

But there are high points, too.

Like the lady who stopped me and said, “I remember you from the speech team!  You had a lovely voice!”

And the child who saw me tiredly shuttling Triskets from one cart to another, and asked if he could help (how I wanted to say yes).

And the couple who, reading from their granddaughter’s Christmas list, asked me to explain to them what Webkinz are, and what Maximum Ride is, and what the purpose of a sock monkey is (I was stumped there).

The best high point of all, however, is that I am now home, tucked into bed, and gleefully getting ready to watch an episode of the John Adams HBO miniseries.

Drafting

Senior seminar seven page draft complete!  I emailed it to my professor, who will be reading it over tonight and talking about it with me tomorrow at our meeting.  I can’t wait.  I know it’s dopey, but I cannot wait.  This draft is the first time this professor will get to see what I can do as a writer and as a researcher, and I am obnoxiously proud of it.  Christmas comes twice a year, folks.

Additionally, my room is clean and my laundry done.

All that’s left to do is to workshop two peer papers, read The Waves, and do the pile of dishes that I (clearly not of sane mind) volunteered to wash.

I apologize about the study-centric posts, but you see, studying is all I seem to do these days.  That will change, of course, come Thursday, when I will be running a 5K, and promptly gorging myself on all sorts of delightful Thanksgiving foods.

Orlando

It’s just past 4 p.m., and I, most blessed of women, am reclined beneath quilt, reading Orlando.  He frolics about Elizabethan England, writing poetry and serving the Queen and staring curiously at peasants frozen in the cold (which, Woolf tells us, we don’t have anymore).  And I listen to the sound of Grace’s mother arriving downstairs: “Here’s the living room, here’s the table, which is actually worth about $3,000 (we have to be careful with it).  Here’s the kitchen, which was clean yesterday.  Here’s my room.  The clothes on the floor are clean; I don’t have drawers, so I have to keep them there.”  Her mother replies that it’s okay, it’s okay, she’s not here to judge our quality of life.  There’s a ring around the bathtub and the floors grit a little underfoot, but she won’t say anything, because we’re in college, and because all she wants is to take her overworked daughter out to dinner.

I, dutifully, line up my tasks: annotated bibliography, Orlando, Urania, Lexicon, OED worksheet, MLA worksheet, Teach for America application.  I’ve accidentally left my Christmas lights on all night and all day, and slowly they are winking from blue to white.  Like dying stars, I don’t realize until it has already happened, and then I run my eyes up and down the string, counting the changes.  Seven whites so far, four light blues.  The rest shine steadfastly on, lighting the corner while I read Orlando.

Savage Weather

The weather, my dear friends, has been savage today.  It’s been raining, but what’s more, it has been cold and windy and raining, which makes everything so much worse.  It’s gone past the romance of rain slapping window panes, has skipped over Brontean moor weather.  It is officially savage outside.  You get one step onto your doorstep, pause to hear the inhale, and are almost blown backwards by the exhale of water and wind.  Clothes wrap soggily around ankles and wrists and knit hats droop against heads and it’s worth an extra look to the left and to the right at every cross walk because the cars never seem to slow.  I’m not the kind of person who minds bringing up the weather, as trivial as it may seem to everyone else.  In fact, pulling together a mental tally, I’ve probably made a variation on the same comment to five separate people today: “I don’t mind the rain, but when it’s rainy and cold I’m just miserable.”  I tried to say it with the lightest touch of wry humor, as if, oh dear, I’m wringing out my sweater, but it’s all very funny.  It is all very funny, but I’m careful to make it seem so, because worse than the girl who talks about the weather is surely the girl who complains about it.  As I clipped home in my boots-while heeled, they’re the closest to waterproof I’ve got-I passed the place where the railroad tracks cut across my street.  And there, on the ground, was the candy-striped beam that flashes lights and blocks the tracks when trains come by.  Its wires were still connected to the post, and it lay so peacefully that I wasn’t sure if it had fallen at all; perhaps some men had come to work on it before the rain started, and set it down when the rain came.  Perhaps they were in the coffee shop on the corner, dunking scones and watching me ponder their half-finished project.  I stepped carefully over the beam and continued home, briefly considering calling the police to make sure it really was all right.  Its wires were still connected, after all.  Now I’m in bed, and my blue Christmas lights are on.  The storm windows are continually crashing against the house, and I keep mistaking the sound for the sound of someone climbing the steps, or slamming the front door.  It’s funny, this house, because while we don’t often see each other, and while I’m not sure if we’re all even friends, there’s a comfort in knowing that every one is home at the same time.  Grace will be studying in the breakfast nook, or playing Zelda while Jordan looks on.  Jordan, when not watching Zelda, has Latin music turned all the way up, and is making squash soup or pumpkin pie (like he did on Tuesday).  Joey likes to know what the rest of us are doing, and grins to be part of it all.  But otherwise he strums his guitar in his room, and takes a running leap down the stairs, which crash and echo the same way my storm windows do.  I’m often not here, but when I am, I’m studying on my bed, or considering the mound of laundry rotting in my closet, or crying over a Keats movie (like I did on Wednesday).  We’re all here now; I hear voices from downstairs.  It’s still savage outside.  But we’re all home, you know?