When I was in elementary school, I loved the “Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and regularly watched the related TV show, “Little House on the Prairie.” My friends and I would play it during recess and I also re-enacted scenes at home with my younger sister. I was always Laura.
Despite my love for those books, I recently realized I never introduced them to my sons. Some of our favorite chapter books/graphic novels through the years included the “Junie B Jones” series by Barbara Park and “Diary of Wimpy Kid” series by Jeff Kinney and the boys went through a “Captain Underpants” phase (series by Dav Pilkey). We tried some Magic Treehouse books, by Mary Pope Osborne, and other favored authors included Louis Sachar, James Patterson, Jerry Craft, Raina Telgemeier and Gordon Korman. Plus lots of PJ Library books (and of course picture book favorites included books by Dr. Seuss, Sandra Boynton, Mercer Mayer and Mo Willems in addition to classics like “The Very Happy Caterpillar” by Eric Carle, “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown and “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak). But never Laura Ingalls Wilder.
In an effort to remedy that, I checked out the “Little House in the Big Woods” on the Libby app (an app where you can borrow ebooks, audiobooks and magazines from your public library) and I started listening to it with my younger boys to and from our commute to their middle school. Since it had been quite awhile since I read the books, I had limited memory of the actual stories. Most of my recollections were likely from the TV show as that’s how I pictured all the characters when listening to audiobook. Random memories included bears and eating snow covered in maple syrup.
What I didn’t remember was all the details in the book – the process of making cheese; the steps of smoking and meat so it can be stored for the winter. Details of Ma making a hat and a doll for Laura.
Listening to all these details reminded me how much life in the U.S. has changed since Laura’s childhood (she was born in 1867 and died in 1957). Everything took so much time! One day for cooking, one day for cleaning, one day for mending. In “Little House in the Big Woods,” Laura is 5 and goes to a store for the first time. Actually she goes to a town for the first time and is in awe of all that she sees. Today there are many children who have travelled to multiple places around the world by the time they are 5 (not to mention have been in countless stores by then.)
Ma spent an entire day (maybe longer) making cheese that they’d be able to eat for several meals. Today you go to one store and can purchase a wide variety of different types of cheese with no effort at all. Same for meats – Pa built a smoker and then smoked the meat so they could store it for the winter, after he hunted, killed and skinned the animal. Today you can drive your car through a restaurant drive-through and get meat in a matter of minutes.
With so much effort going into being able to function in everyday life – the time it took to grow the vegetables, hunt the animals, prepare the food, clean, all without electricity! – you’d think that once the tools were developed to shorten the amount of time it took to do all of those chores, us as a human race would be able to achieve so much more with our lives. Without the majority of our time needing to be devoted to survival, think of what we could do. Write, read, travel, explore the world and get to know the people in it, learn, create, help. The possibilities are endless when we don’t have to spend an entire day sewing clothes from the fabric Pa purchased after he traded in some of the skins from the animals he hunted during his days-long hunting trip.
Fast forward 150 years to 2021 and see what kind of world a 5-year-old lives in today. We’ve come a long way. We have multiple huge grocery stories with shelves filled with a variety of nearly any kind of food you can imagine. Yet so many people go hungry in the U.S. every day despite this abundance of food. We have ready-made grab-n-go available in restaurants and stores because we’re too busy to spend an hour preparing a meal. We are BUSY.
Fortunately we have people who came before us who developed all the machines and technology that allow us to live our lives more efficiently, though sometimes I wonder what it is we’re accomplishing. (Of course there are many super-productive people that do incredible things in our world, but a recent study found that the average amount of time people spend on social media each day is nearly 2.5 hours, and when you think about how many hours in a day most people spend either in front of a computer or on their phone, it’s mind-boggling how our world had adapted to this lifestyle.)
There’s also lots of time spent in the car driving from one place to another thinking of all the things you need to do once you get where you’re going or the things you forgot to do in the place you just left. So much intended effort that never reaches its full potential. I often leave the library with a stack of cookbooks but rarely ever get around to trying any of the recipes.
I feel fortunate to live at this time, with all our medical and technological advances, but at the same time I feel a little nostalgic about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood. It seems so simple, with a more relaxing pace of life. Well, it actually seems difficult and exhausting, considering that preparing meals also required one to cultivate a garden and milk a cow beforehand and getting new clothes meant actually sewing them.
I guess I wouldn’t actually want to go back to that time, but learning about it reminds me to be grateful for all of those whose work makes our lives easier today. All those whose inventions brought the potential for our lives to be more enjoyable and productive. All the farmers who grow the foods we eat and all those involved in the food industry that allows us to bring healthy, safe food into our homes for our families. All those in the manufacturing world that allow our daily lives to function more smoothly.
I wonder what Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family would have thought about life in America today.
We’re currently waiting for the next book in the series, “Little House on the Prairie” and perhaps we’ll watch some of the TV series, too.