I do not know how old I was when I first heard Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of her childhood. I say “heard” because my mother read the Little House books to me well before I began reading (and rereading) them myself. I had read them all several times before the books — in hard cover, with Garth Williams‘ illustrations — became a part of my library. At some point I stopped opening the books, but the stories and images became reference points for me. Think it’s been a cold winter? Imagine how the Ingalls family almost froze to death in The Long Winter. Struggling to keep dust off the floor? Be like Ma, who swept the dirt floor of their dugout on Plum Creek. Think a penny isn’t worth keeping? Remember Laura and Mary celebrating Christmas with a penny and a peppermint stick in Little House on the Prairie. I could go on and on with the images that I carry as if they were my own memories.
In my lust for a lighter load and a tidy new home, I was almost ready to let go of even these books, this treasured collection. I told myself, “You can always borrow them from the library.” I told myself, “You can connect with them by giving them as gifts.” I told myself, “You can replay them in your head.” I had them off the shelf and into the donate pile.
And maybe I would have carried through and passed them along had it not been for a synchronistic find in my mother’s papers. In the days when there were no links and no share buttons, my mother clipped articles. She left bundles of large envelopes filled with eclectic and interesting articles that painted a picture of her tastes, values, dreams, politics, and needs. I’ve been discarding these yellowed, crumbling articles with only the quickest of glances, but somehow, on just the right day, I paused long enough to see this headline:
“‘Little House’ Parties”
It was about the Ingalls’ home in DeSmet, S.D., now a museum and a bit of a shrine for generations of readers who come to celebrate their love for the Little House people and stories.
This was an article saved by my mother. This was an article that said, “See? I remember. I remember reading these books to you and discovering these wonderful stories. I remember our closeness as I read aloud, and I remember the pleasure of seeing you devour them again and again in your reading years. We will always be bound by the love of these books.” This was an article that popped up just when I was about to donate my Little House books.
That’s when I knew I would keep the books, because their weight had shifted. They were no longer a burden to be packed and carried. They were suddenly a symbol of loving connection. It was not always easy to find that connection to my mother, but it had its strength in books and words. We both loved the Little House books, and we loved them together. That’s worth preserving.
Share a book! Tell us…
What books do you love from your childhood?
What books would you never leave behind?