The Monday Book: THE LONG WINTER by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I found THE LONG WINTER at a thrift store, one of my first fun outings in a year involving non-socially-distant hiking. The title looks different when you’ve emerged from your chrysalis, post-vaxx and post-winter weather, to go do something with a friend.

Most American school children read this book before they graduate middle school. As a child I had the boxed set and devoured them over and over. It’s a little odd to read them as an adult and realize how much sweetness hides some truly terrible things.

Last night I read LONG WINTER in one sitting. How did I miss that sense of threat that pervades every chapter, as the family ticks down from the last of the butter to the last of the milk to the last of the flour to the last of the potatoes, to the last of the burnable fuel? The dawning realization of the townspeople that the train was not coming, the train that was their literal supply line, anchoring them out on the prairie with the safety of coal and already-ground wheat and other “new-fangled” things like kerosene. Ma’s ingenuity at producing a button lamp from axle grease. Pa buying the last two cans of oysters in town for Christmas dinner. The hay sticks that they burned as fast as they made them; twist hay to have the warmth to twist more hay.

And the darkness. The robbery that Pa participated in to get the supplies he came home with.The dying of the lamp on Christmas Night. The inability to buy flour or lumber at any price because “Banker Ruth bought it all.” What happened to Banker Ruth when winter was over, one wonders?

The heroism of Almanzo and Cap, going to buy wheat from a man in the middle of nowhere, is offset by the fact that Almanzo walled up 150 bushels of wheat before they left. So no one could ask him to buy it.

It is a different book as an adult than as a child. I’ve observed there are several rewrites and washouts of these American classics over time, based on racist overtones and the charming overwrites of things like being illegally in Indian territory, or quite possibly murdering a railroad employee, etc. You know, these are still American classics. Just, now that I can see what wasn’t meant to be visible to children, I appreciate Wilder’s two-layer genius in writing all the more. She told the whole story, twice at the same time, for two different audiences. Gonna go back and read the rest of these now.

Yep, American classics: fear, prejudices, frontier justice, snowball fights, family spirit, and all.

My Favorite Proverbs

Quotes and proverbs are not quite the same thing, true. So technically this should be called “My Favorite Quotes.” But hey, feeling lazy today.

Not every quote is awesome, of course….

I love quotes, have collected them all my life in a small notebook (I’m on the third one now) and find them to be pithy summations of so many situations that fit their boiled-down wisdom. They’re like the opposite of soundbites; quotes can unpack into massive discussions, but they remain the word pictures worth a thousand words. So here are a few of my favorites:

Utopia is just a massacre away. –unattributed

I first saw this in the decorated calligraphy of a friend who sold his art as a side hustle. It’s not so much a literary quote directly as a distillation of Thomas More’s Utopia written 500 years ago now, and still relevant. In our strange times, I have seen more people on both sides of any sides that can be had these days dehumanizing others to the point of “just get rid of them and the rest of us will be fine.” This was particularly a combination of amusing and horrifying in a pro-life discussion among Christian friends. Kill the Democrats, and we can have a pro-life regime.

Uhhhhhh….. does anyone else see something wrong with that reasoning? Just asking: what would Jesus do?

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou

And how. I find myself examining discussions to avoid wanting to be right, and instead wanting to be sure people have information, and emotional support. We recently finished working on the COVID CONSPIRACIES book and the final chapter is all about how to keep friends while losing emotional baggage from their high-energy demands to fight over ideas. Unfounded information should be challenged, yes, but if this is someone you want to keep, consider the long game. And I’m not buying the increasing calls from people I don’t know to abandon my family for the sake of any cause, including the unmeasured calls for equal rights. It’s not equal rights if I have to stop talking to my mom, ‘kay? Let us work this out with our home teams without having to bite their heads off. We love them. And we never forget how we made each other feel, long after we forget the passionately reasoned Magnum Opus posted on Facebook for none to read past the first paragraph. Think carefully about what we make each other feel, because we will be wearing it when the pendulum swings again.

It is easy to get a thing, difficult to keep it. –Israeli Proverb

I’m not actually thinking about that pesky election here. I’m thinking about pendulum swings. What goes up must come down. A beloved storyteller I know named Elizabeth Ellis tells a story called Maybe It Is, Maybe It Isn’t in which everything that seemed like misfortune turned fortuitous, and vice versa. Such is life. The pendulum keeps swinging. Perhaps it is more important to be the kind of person Angelou describes above than the kind who puts all her eggs in a basket that will tip when the pendulum swings again. Perhaps being kind builds stability? And this quote is related to both Angelou’s and my last one:

A body makes its own luck. — Ma, Little House on the Prairie

This proverb is in many forms, and has had many people take it up (if you like quotes, Google “luck” and Hunter Thompson and Mark Twain). But that’s the first source where I saw it, and even at seven or eight years old, it stuck with me. At first, I think it stuck because I didn’t understand it. Then it became clear, watching the behavior of people in forming and breaking relationships. Luck is when opportunity meets preparation. Luck is being ready for your moment, and really getting one. And luck is other people, in most cases. So we go back to how we treat each other having consequences. Most of the quotes I love tend to center on that, oddly enough. Maybe because I’m not very people-savvy and need a lot of help from books.

So those are my favorites, and I hope they help inform your life as they have mine