Laura Ingalls Wilder and Me by Jennie Albrecht
You know that question people always ask, “if you could go back in time and have dinner with one person who would it be?” Most people respond with a relative or great scientist or historical figure. I would choose Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I have always had a love of Laura and her books. One of my favorite reading memories is sitting on the scratchy, brown couch in the living room nestled against my mother as she read aloud Little House in the Big Woods to my brother, sister, and myself. From that moment on, I wanted to be Laura. I made dresses for my Barbie dolls in the style of Laura and Mary. I reenacted scenes from the books with these same dolls. My favorite being a scene (from my imagination and not one found in any books) of a married Laura confronting Almanzo’s sister Eliza Jane about her horrible behavior towards Laura during her year as Laura’s teacher. After the way she treated Laura, she had the gall to volunteer to help plan Laura’s wedding to her brother (These Happy Golden Years). No thank you!
I set up a cot in my bedroom against one of the windows so I could sleep under a window just as Laura had to sleep under the window during her stay with the Boast family while teaching in These Happy Golden Years (we lived in an old house with almost floor to ceiling windows and my bedroom had 4 of these windows). I braided my hair and found a plastic pail to carry my lunch around the house and yard. I tried making my own rag doll, Charlotte, but in the end much preferred by Barbie dolls dressed in my homemade Barbie doll prairie clothes.
My set of Little House books along with my hard cover editions of Harry Potter books are the only personal books I have had to replace. My first set of Laura books – the yellow cover books from Harper publishers – fell apart because I read them so many times. I bought a new set through one of my Scholastic Book orders. It is the edition with the plaid covers. I threw out/recycled my first set, but remember my hesitation in discarding them at first because it felt like I was throwing away a special friend.
In the summer of 2012 one of my very good teacher friends asked me to accompany her from Canton, Ohio, to Joplin, Missouri, to keep her company as we moved her 7 month pregnant daughter and husband to Kansas. I quickly looked at a map to see how close we would be to Laura’s final home of Rocky Ridge, Missouri. It was a short trip out of our way. In exchange for my giving up a week to travel along, my friend agreed to make this detour. As we pulled into the parking lot, I couldn’t decide if I was excited, nervous, or scared to “meet” Laura. In my mind I was actually meeting my idol, my friend of 40+ years. Even though she was no longer alive, I felt as if I were actually meeting her – just by walking the same grounds she had walked. Visiting her home was as close to actually meeting her as I could ever come.
I was absolutely giddy as we walked from the car to the welcome sign of the farm. I couldn’t believe I was on the actual ground that Laura and her husband had walked. This was the actual land and house where Laura and her husband had cleared the trees to build their farm and live out their days. This is where Laura lived while writing the Little House books. I was trembling with excitement and love for her and my experience. I saw Pa’s violin, Mary’s Dove in Willow quilt, photographs of Laura and her sisters; all of the things Laura had written about in her books, I saw in person!! It was unbelievable to me that I was seeing the very things my hero had held in her hands.
I continue to reread the Little House books. They are old friends and I cannot abandon them. Sometimes I reread them in order; sometimes I reread them in a random order often returning to my favorites Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years.
I have collected most of the companion books that accompany Laura’s books; the cookbook, song book, collector’s edition of the stories, a collection of letters from children to Laura, sticker book.
Every year I introduce the Little House books to my students hoping just one will fall in love the way I did at their age. I have yet to have a student who falls in love with Laura the way I did. Maybe they need to sit on the scratchy couch with my mom as she reads it aloud.
Jennie Albrecht teaches ELA to 5th and 6th grade high ability students in Ohio. She loves spending time with her husband, her cat Annabelle, and guinea pigs Hazel and Beatrice – all who enjoy books as well. She sometimes blogs at mrsalbrecht208.weebly.com Follow her on Instagram @mrsalbrecht20.