July 15, 2012

history, reality

Me talking with Bill Anderson during the Author's Reception Thursday night.
While Friday morning gave us a lot to do, the afternoon LauraPalooza sessions offered a lot to consider.

LIW Biographer William Anderson began his talk with an update on a capital campaign in progress to preserve Rocky Ridge, Laura and Almanzo's home and where she wrote the series near Mansfield, Mo. The multi-million dollar project aims to restore the home and immediate grounds to the way it looked before 1957 -- the way the Wilders saw it every day. In addition, the Rocky Ridge board hopes to create a new visitor center, archive and museum with rotating exhibits.

Basically, the changes sound fantastic, and Bill brought this to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Research and Legacy Association's attention, and now I am bringing it to yours, to raise awareness to draw more support for the project. I am still trying to get more information about how to donate from a distance, but I will be sure to provide it once I have it.

Then on to the talk.

In sticking to the conference's theme, "What Would Laura Do," Bill provided information about what Laura and Almanzo did during the decades they spent in Mansfield. Though little is known about the Wilders during their first 10 years in Mansfield -- other than they worked hard -- they became more involved in the community, which gave us more insight into their lives, thanks to the local newspaper.

A few of my favorite bits of trivia were:
  • LIW traveled frequently and usually on her own. Sometimes it was just short-ish distances to other places in Missouri, but other times it involved going greater distances, like California, to see her daughter. Apparently, it was a rarity at the time for a matron like her to travel alone. Such an independent lady.
  • The Wilders liked to entertain. Not only did they throw exciting enough bashes to gain the notice of the local paper, but, get this, LIW was big into theme parties. A woman after my own heart, some of her parties were simple, like Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day parties. Others were more unique: like a party on her daughter's behalf where she invited people over to write letters to send her overseas for the holidays, all while reading letters she sent about her travels, eating her favorite snacks and looking at her pictures. I wonder what Laura would think about the fiesta-themed bad sweater party my sister and I had last Christmas.
  • Almanzo frequently wrote letters to the editor warning hunters off his land. Apparently they had problems with people coming around and killing important animals to the area, and even once one of the Wilders' beloved horses.
  • Both were involved in local organizations and regular fixtures in the community until later in their life, when they spent more time at home.
After Bill finished sharing his piece, Barbara Walker, author of The Little House Cookbook, took a turn at the podium. Before the conference, I admired Walker and greatly appreciated her cookbook. But after talking to her Thursday night and listening to her on Friday, I may have a bit of a writer crush on her. Walker is intelligent, insightful and totally spunky.

Meeting Barbara Walker Thursday night during the Author's Reception.
She offered good advice about lessons she learned during her project creating the cookbook from her own experience and from LIW, including:
  • Writing begets writing. "Always have another story for the next editor."
  • Never trust a single recipe. "Cookbooks are not chronicles or diaries. They are dreams." They are what we hope food turns out like. Like Barbara, I am a big fan of checking multiple recipes before cooking a dish, so it's sound advice.
  • "It doesn't matter what else you serve your guest as long as you make your own bread."
  • Nobody who survives is always self-reliant. We always need someone sometime.
  • It is a myth that hard work always yield success. Working hard does not always mean you will win, but that should not stop you from trying.
Through all of this, Walker raised a point that echoed one of the realizations I had last summer while visiting De Smet. Though we often read the Little House books as adventure stories, they are also a little sad. The Ingalls family works hard, and later Laura and Almanzo do. But their efforts did not always reward them, and usually they failed. That is part of why I felt bummed when I left that home site. It was the first time I realized the Ingallses life was always hard. Unfortunately, their stories did not yield success until after their deaths, which is always sad. Since then, that thought has only made me admire them more.

Walker also offered up another thought, which I had not considered: If the Ingalls family had never left Pepin, Wis., we might have more of their ancestors living, today. Poor nutrition and a childhood filled with illness may have contributed to Carrie and Grace being unable to have children, and it certainly affected Mary. Laura gave birth to two children and only one survived. I do not know why she did not have more children, but I imagine all of this did not help.

That's a heavy thought to consider. Maybe there could have been more descendents of Charles and Caroline if they would have stayed put.

But that theory left me with another thought. If Charles and Caroline and the girls would have remained in Wisconsin, we would not have had the Little House books. Laura would not have met Almanzo, Rose would not have been born and we would not have their amazing stories.

Life is about trade-offs. And it Walker's talk made this incredibly clear.

That's all for now. I will be back later to talk more about Saturday's activities and more thoughts raised from the conference.

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