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.