In this past week, I read Wendy McClure's "The Wilder Life." McClure is a senior editor of a children's book publisher from Chicago who has a fascination with the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She went in search of "Laura World" in a way as she was curious about the "big woods" featured in Wilder's first book or trying to churn butter like Ma, Mary and Laura did. Besides trying to make candy from fresh snow and syrup or cooking apples n' onions, McClure sets out on a journey of the various Ingalls/Wilder homesites.
While on a trip to Green Bay with her boyfriend to visit some friends, she asks him if they could take a "detour" to Pepin. Coming from Chicago, that was a little bit off the beaten path. It was March, so the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum/visitors center in Pepin was still closed. But they went to check out the Little House Wayside, which had a replica of the Ingalls log cabin on the original site. When the two went out to eat at a local restaurant, McClure mentioned to Chris, her boyfriend (now husband), that somehow "I keep expecting everyone here to be talking to each other about Laura Ingalls Wilder."
McClure went solo to the sites in Independence, Kan. and Mansfield, Mo. It was a rainy day when she set out for Independence, and she admitted she had no idea where she was going. When she found the place, McClure found the place cozy, said the Little House on the Prairie replica cabin got an "A" for authenticity, saw the well Pa dug and checked out the schoolhouse.
Mansfield wasn't "part of the world of the books," McClure said, but she found it hard to take in all the things she saw at the site - Laura and Mary's school slates, Mary's Braille books, Ma and Pa's wedding tintype and of course, Pa's fiddle.
Some time later, McClure and Chris set off for the major tour of the sites - Walnut Grove, De Smet, Spring Valley and then Burr Oak. She timed it so she hit Walnut Grove and De Smet when the towns were having their pageants. I kept smiling as she wrote about the Laura and Nellie look-a-like contest, the sunbonnets, the dugout site. Then it was on the road to De Smet where they checked out the Ingalls Homestead and the house the Ingalls family lived in as well as the gravesites of Mary, Charles, Caroline and Grace and her husband. I liked how she described the main street in Burr Oak - "the whole street block was terrifically ghostly: only a few buildings left, one empty building where a cafe had been." It was a different "Laura World" for McClure.
Reading McClure's book has now made me want to re-read the "Little House" books. It's been years since I've read them. She also made reference to some reference books about Laura's life, like "Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman Behind the Legend" by John E. Miller and "Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer's Life" by Pamela Smith Hill. There's also a literary criticism book titled "Little House, Long Shadow: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Impact on American Culture" that sounds intriguing.
I'm more of a "fairweather" Laura fan. I'm not hankering to learn how to churn my own butter, but I'll admit that the thought of making candy with snow and syrup has crossed my mind. I've only been to three of the Laura-related sites - Walnut Grove, De Smet and Burr Oak. I could've visited Spring Valley, but Ross and I decided to skip it. Now after reading McClure's book, I just may visit that town someday. I didn't realize there was possibly more to see in De Smet, so a return trip may be in store for the future (and besides, I want to see the pageant).
Earlier this week, Minnesota author William Kent Krueger visited a few area libraries, including the ones in Marshall and Tracy. He said he likes doing talks in libraries, stressing the importance of them. When libraries go, so does our culture, he said. This past year, Krueger has written his 13th Cork O'Connor book "Tamarack County," as well as a "non-series" book, "Ordinary Grace." "Ordinary Grace" is also a mystery that has the main character, Frank Drum, the son of a Methodist minister, looking back at the summer of 1961. I have to admit I haven't read any of Krueger's books yet, and I have two of them. But after his talk, I'm aiming to start "Iron Lake," which I have on my Kindle.