The setting sun’s rays danced through the blue sheers on my long, skinny bedroom window. The day was bidding adieu, which meant Mom and Dad would be home soon. Supper preparations would begin and we would get in our places around the table. We would be together, enjoying food and each other’s company and I would be storing up memories for the days to come. There were only three of us, now that Melanie was away at college in Chicago. Even though I often got a lump in my throat as I sat beside her empty chair at the table, there was a comfort in knowing that at least I had Mom and Dad.
I always had Laura Ingalls Wilder with me. She took me away, away from the loneliness I felt at night, now that Melanie was no longer there to whisper to me in the darkness. I could always turn my bedside lamp to the lowest setting, slide my book beneath the dim light and viola! I was suddenly surrounded by a whole family! Laura, Pa, Ma, Carrie, baby Grace, Mr. Edwards, Almanzo, even nasty Nellie Oleson – they were all there, making me smile, despite the deep down sadness I carried. They made me see the bonds of love that are within a family. They made me value my own snug little house in the city, and most of all, my own Dad and Mom, who were every bit as wonderful as Charles and Caroline. I would finally get drowsy enough that even loneliness could not stop sleep. As I drifted off, I wondered if I could ever talk my dad into taking me there – to the places where Laura walked with Mary, “seeing” the sunset, the wheat fields, the birds and the sky for her. Could I ever see the house where she lived? No, of course not. Mom and Dad worked too hard and had too much going on to make such a long trip.
Years passed. I met many new friends through various and sundry books, but no one held the place that Laura did. Then one day, I had the chance to visit a “Laura” place – for there were many! That first trip was to Malone, New York, (the scene of Laura’s book Farmer Boy). We visited there as we passed through on our way to Montreal, Canada. It was a thrill! But, the thrills didn’t end there! In May of 2013, I got to see Laura and Almanzo’s home in Mansfield, Missouri. I got to see Pa’s fiddle, Laura’s embroidery and quilting, and countless other items from the books.
This past week, my husband had the chance to attend a preacher’s conference in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and he offered to take us along. Sioux Falls is about two hours from where Pa farmed a homestead claim in De Smet, South Dakota! Terry graciously agreed to take all of us there, and by doing that he allowed me to fulfill a childhood dream. I did it – I walked where Laura walked. I visited the places she wrote about: the homestead claim, the school, the surveyor’s house, the Brewster School, Pa and Ma’s house, and finally, their graves. It was like coming home to place I’d only seen in my mind, but felt as though I knew so well.
I suppose all of this seems silly to my practical readers, those of you who deal with reality head-on. I am the type who needs that escape that only literature can provide. In other words, I live with my head in the clouds! 🙂 I’m thankful for the written words that have comforted me all these years, beginning with God’s Word, the Bible. If you’d like to join me on this trek to the little town of De Smet, South Dakota, then I welcome you! If you’ve never met Laura, go find her at your local library. You won’t regret it.
We climbed up four flights of stairs to get a lovely panoramic view of the homestead claim. I enjoyed using my zoom lens!
The buildings on this land are only replicas, but the land goes all the way back to when Pa followed behind a plow and sowed his first crop.
There are several cats located on this property. They relished the attention from the girls, because they are used to children playing with them. We were there in the “off season”, so they were getting lonely. Unfortunately, Leslie broke out in hives soon after holding this kitty, so she had to take Benadryl. She was tired the rest of the day. I am allergic to cats, too, so this is as close to them as I got.
Laci is a big cat lover! Too bad we just can’t handle them with our allergies.
These are the cottonwood trees that Pa planted in honor of his girls. Laura and Almanzo visited De Smet only one time after they moved to Missouri, and that was in 1931. She confirmed that these were the trees on that visit. The fall colors were simply gorgeous! Across from these trees is the Big Slough, where Laura and Carrie got lost in the tall grass and met Almanzo Wilder for the first time.
Back in town, we got to tour the actual house where the Ingalls family lived the winter of 1879. I couldn’t take photos inside, but it was really fun to see where they had lived. If those walls could talk! Oh wait, Laura already spoke for them. 🙂
The two photos below are of the Brewster school – yes, the actual building! This is the first school where Laura taught when she was only fifteen. She never wanted to teach, but did her best at it so that she could earn money to keep Mary in college in Iowa. It was quite an ordeal which she shares in the book, These Happy Golden Years.
Mitch is ringing the bell in front of the school building where Laura and Carrie attended. This school is also mentioned in These Happy Golden Years.
We also got to tour the house Pa built after he sold his homestead claim. He built it in town, close to the church. When he died, Caroline rented out some of the rooms to support herself and Mary. This is where both Charles and Caroline died.
I definitely relished this trip more than anyone else in the family, but I think everyone enjoyed at least part of it. During the tours, the kids were able to ask intelligent questions about Laura and her life because I’ve read all the books aloud to them – not for school, but for sheer pleasure, because that’s what the books gave to me.
Thank you so much for being here.