Posted by: Hannah | 03/07/2014

book 1, chapter 5

Chapter 5, Sundays, starts like this:

Now the winter seemed long. Laura and Mary began to be tired of staying always in the house. Especially on Sundays, the time went so slowly.

To which I say amen, my sisters, we are now six days into the fifth goddamn month of winter and I am so tired of always staying in the house that I went for a 3km walk with the dog and Harry this morning, even though it was a) 6:30AM and b) -17 Celsius without the windchill.

The girls get their once-a-week bath on Saturday night, because they must be clean for Sunday. They get up Sunday morning and are dressed in their best clothes and have fresh ribbons in their hair – even though they don’t go to church or Sunday school. They can’t sew, or be noisy, or make new clothes for their paper dolls. They can sit and listen to Bible stories, or look at the pictures in the Bible, but that’s about it.

Laura, being an active little girl, finally has Quite Enough of This Shit.

One Sunday after supper she could not bear it any longer. … Pa told her to sit in her chair and be quiet, but when Laura sat down she began to cry and kick the chair with her heels. “I hate Sunday!” she said.

As a kid I was always really mad on behalf of Laura and Mary. Being raised in a non-religious household, all of these bizarre strictures about behaviour and dress were almost beyond my comprehension. WHO CARES?? I would say, indignant. NO ONE IS SEEING THIS, LET MARY SEW HER NINE-PATCH QUILT FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE.

I still feel that way, but I also think that Ma deserved that day of rest once a week. I mean, that woman worked her ass off from can to can’t, and spent all day every day for months in that tiny little cabin with three kids, too cold to go outside, only bathing once a week… yeah. Dude. Take your day where the kids think they’ll go to hell if they make any mess or noise. I kinda feel you.

Instead of spanking her – which Laura fully expects after her little tantrum in time-out – Pa decides to tell a story designed to make her feel fortunate that things are so much better now than they used to be. In Little House in the Big Woods only – this doesn’t happen in any of the other books in the series – Pa tells lots of little stories to the girls. It’s a huge part of the book and yet this device never shows up again, and suddenly it’s dawning on me why Ron only wants me to read this one and Farmer Boy to him over and over again. Huh.

Back to the book! Pa tells the story of “Grandpa and the Pig”, a harrowing tale of the time Laura’s grandpa and his two brothers broke the Sabbath by sneaking out of the house (!) while their humourless father was asleep (!!) so they could test out the new sled they’d spent the entire week building (!!!) but hadn’t been able to use even once because the Sabbath started at sundown on Saturday back in those horrible benighted days of yore. Of course no one can get away with sin like that, and they manage to collide with a pig on the way down the hill. The pig lands on the sled (the illustration for this is delightful, by the way – the facial expressions on the horrified kids are priceless) and squeals like a… well, like a pig on a sled, frankly, all the way down the hill and past the house.

Their cover is blown. Father catches them in the act. They go back in the house and sit quietly on their bench, and as soon as the sun sets they each get thrashed soundly in the woodshed. He waits until sundown because you can’t go whaling the tar out of your kids on the Sabbath! That would be sinful.



Imagine sitting there on that bench, for hours, knowing that you were going to get a beating! Ye gods.

Then Ma tells the girls to be glad they are at least allowed to have fun six days a week; their grandmother would have been sitting quietly and behaving herself all day, every day. “It was harder for little girls. Because they had to behave like little ladies all the time, not only on Sundays. Little girls could never slide downhill, like boys. Little girls had to sit in the house and stitch on samplers.”

Wow. Old-timey fun really sucked.

Finally it’s Monday morning, and also Laura’s birthday! She turns five, and the day starts with Pa doling out her birthday spanking; five, plus one to grow on. When I was in early elementary school, this used to happen in school, as part of gym class. I’m not even kidding! On your birthday, you had to run down the line of your classmates who would be busy trying to smack you on the ass. In case any of you are wondering, no, I’m not 100 years old – things have just really changed that much in only thirty years.

As gifts she receives “a little wooden man [Pa] had whittled out of a stick, to be company for Charlotte. Ma gave her five little cakes, one for each year that Laura had lived with her and Pa. And Mary gave her a new dress for Charlotte. Mary had made the dress herself, when Laura thought she was sewing on her patchwork quilt. Which, unless I’m missing something, is more than she got for Christmas. GO BIRTHDAYS, WOOT WOOT.

The chapter ends with some of the casual racism that can be so troubling to modern readers; Pa sings a song about “Uncle Ned”, an “old darkey” who had died toothless and bald after a lifetime of hard work slavery. It’s cringe-inducing, even though we are all aware that it was a different time, and all that. Oh, Pa.


Next chapter: Two Big Bears. Excitement! Suspense! (Seriously, Ma does something so powerfully badass in chapter 6 that I’m probably going to post in the next couple of days because I cannot wait to make a big freaking fuss about it.)





  1. I just re read the Sunday chapter and the thing that shocked me was that they had fresh bath water each!

    • If you think about it, though, they were only bathing once a week. Imagine how scungy the water would have been by the time they got to Pa!

      You’ll see when you read “Farmer Boy”, bathtime happens in exactly the same fashion. Youngest to oldest, fresh water each time.

  2. I feel like Ma – especially in later books – was trying so hard to keep up with the rules in the middle of nowhere, because if she let that slip it would all go to hell in a handbasket. First it would be sewing nine-patch quilts on Sunday, next it would be Laura getting knocked up by the railroad workers, or worse, Big Jerry. It’s the slippery slope of chaos. Sure, you might THINK it’s okay to beat your child with a switch on a Sunday, but next thing you know he’ll be playing The Old Grey Mare on the fiddle and then after that? DRUNKENNESS AND DEBAUCHERY.

    We got the “birthday bumps”.

  3. Yeah, today when Owl kept interrupting us at the table while PH was trying to tell me about how the dryer caught fire today, and we had to keep reminding him that he had to be quiet during “grown up talk”, I suddenly felt a longing for the hold “children should be seen and not heard” rule.


  4. Oh yes, Birthday Bumps. EACH PERSON got to knee us in the butt as many times as we were old. FUCKING BARBARIC.

    Remember when Laura and Mary’s hair ribbons got switched? The chaos! The insanity!

  5. […] Captain Picard thinks you’re a wanker, Pa. And that Ma could kick your tree-swatting ass every day of the week, except Sunday. […]

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