Posted by: Hannah | 04/27/2014

book 1, chapter 9

Good lord, has it really been a month since I posted a recap? That’s embarrassing. Ma would be ashamed of me, except that I’m spring-cleaning a lot, so instead of spending “minutes in idleness” I’m running around cleaning the house on rainy days and the yard on sunny ones.

For example today I spent three hours cleaning and decluttering the boys’ bedroom. I miss pioneer times, when kids had two toys.

Chapter 9 – Going to Town

Spring finally arrives to stay, and then early summer. The girls are allowed to run barefoot all day, and they spend a great deal of time playing house under the two big trees in the front yard. They each have one broken dish for their house, and Laura’s tree has a swing, although she had to be unselfish and let Mary swing in it whenever she wanted to.

The spring crop of farm babies are born; each of the two cows has a calf, and the pig has seven little piglets. Given that they only butchered two pigs the previous year, I wonder what they do with all those pigs. Do they sell them? Trade them? A family of five would have a time eating seven pigs’ worth of meat in one winter and they have no way to preserve any over the summer, so I’m kind of curious about this, the only time really in the whole damn series that the Ingalls’ have a surfeit of food.

One day Pa tells the girls that the whole family will accompany him on his spring trip to Pepin, the “town”. Preparations are intense, with the girls getting a mid-week bath AND rag-curls in their hair.

Ma took the rags off their hair and combed it into long, round curls that hung down over their shoulders. She combed so fast that the snarls hurt dreadfully. Mary’s hair was beautifully golden, but Laura’s was only a dirt-coloured brown.

Here we go with Laura’s self-loathing about her brown hair. This gets mentioned off and on until the end of the series, and as a brunette child I never understood it. It always made me feel sad that Laura automatically assumed she was not pretty because she wasn’t a blonde.

Anyway, they get all fancied up and head for town. Since the girls have never been, it must be really far away, right? Like, miles and miles and miles away? Perhaps over a bridge with a troll under it, or something?

Seven miles later…

(Aside: I think Pa was trying really hard to keep Ma isolated, don’t you? Either that or she had a crippling social phobia we don’t know about. SEVEN MILES, PA???)

Pepin is built on the shore of Lake Pepin, a part of the Mississippi River. Laura is completely overwhelmed by the size of the lake and the sight of so many houses close together; she looked and looked, and could not say a word. They go to the general store, and Laura is so nervous and overcome by all these new sights that she is trembling and unable to speak to the storekeeper. Typical of general stores of the period, it’s crammed full of dry goods, tools, food, shoes… Laura could have looked for weeks and not seen all the things that were in that store. She had not known there were so many things in the world.

I feel like that every time I go into a Toys R Us.

After Ma and Pa are done shopping, the storekeeper gives each of the girls a candy heart. Mary’s has a poem on it. Laura’s says “sweets to the sweet”. Laura decides this is because the storekeeper likes golden hair better than brown hair and seethes inwardly about it.

The family eats a picnic lunch by the lakeshore and then Pa goes back to town to visit with the men while Ma is left sitting on the beach with the kids. Mary and Laura run around collecting pretty pebbles, and Laura collects so many that the pocket rips right off her dress from the weight.

Nothing like that ever happened to Mary. Mary was a good little girl who always kept her dress clean and neat and minded her manners. Mary had lovely golden curls, and her candy heart had a poem on it.

Now remember, this is the adult Laura writing all about this, fifty years or so later. The resentment she felt then does not seem to be completely healed, does it? Given what happens later – Laura working for wages from the age of fifteen until she marries, and giving most of the money to her family for Mary’s education – I think it’s safe to say that even though she grows to describe Mary in nothing but glowing terms that there is still some residual anger about it all.

They arrive home after dark, sleepy in the wagon, with Pa singing softly as they ride. I love this. Not so different really from coming home late after a day trip now, with the kiddos asleep in their car seats and the parents talking quietly so as not to wake them.


Next chapter – Summertime! Ma makes cheese! Mary gets what’s coming to her! Pa finds a bee tree and does his very best Winnie-the Pooh! I promise not to wait a month to post it, either.




  1. Laura’s self-loathing… Snort.

    • She spends the whole series talking about how she’s dumpy and brown-haired, but when you see pictures of her she was quite beautiful!

  2. I really liked this chapter. I remember how charming it all seemed, with the big trees as playhouses. We used to play like that when I was a kid. And a swing, does that not seem like the ultimate luxury?

    It feels like Laura has a bit of social anxiety, because in later books whenever they go to town or to school she gets totally scared. But then…it might be because they are so used to being alone.

    The brown hair! As a brunette it always made me sad too. My very best friend at the time – who was also named Nicole – had the most gorgeous, thick, wavy, white blonde hair you’ve ever seen. And believe me, when we were out and about, people commented on it all the time. It’s enough to give a girl a complex, and it’s not like she was my sister or anything. I bet Laura went to her grave with that kind of resentment. PERFECT GOLDEN HAIRED MARY. I also remember thinking it was sad that she was termed as “greedy” for taking some rocks in her pocket. THEY ARE ROCKS.

    • We totally used trees as playhouses, and broken dishes, and ran barefoot all summer long. Idyllic. I try to get my kids to go barefoot and they look at me like I’m crazy.

      I do definitely think Laura had social anxiety; she was always nervous in new situations, and it was one of the reasons I related to her so strongly as a kid (and now, too!)

      And yes, let the poor child have the rocks! To go with her sticks and leaves back home. JESUS, Pa.

  3. As a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, well-behaved child, I think the underlying resentment toward Mary always affected my reading of these books – I enjoyed them, but I never loved them. That bit you quoted up there about “Nothing like that ever happened to Mary …” is so SNEERING. It wasn’t MARY’S fault that she was born with blonde hair. And sometimes behaving well isn’t trying to be a goody-two-shoes or make others look bad – sometimes it’s because you believe you’re SUPPOSED to be good, and you don’t want to disappoint everyone.

    Ahem. Obviously I have some bitterness still from the assumptions made about me when I was a kid. I wonder if Mary ever got upset over Laura’s antagonism toward her just because of her hair and eyes and behavior?

    • Ohhhh… very interesting comment. I’m embarrassed to admit I never looked at it from Mary’s perspective but you’re quite right.

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