Julia's Bookshelf

I am a reader. I love books. I want to share this love.

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Saturday, December 24, 2005

By The Shores of Silver Lake

I have a cold. Bummer. Luckily, I don't have to work right now so I'm able to relax and rest and do a lot of reading. Last night my voice started going and I felt whimpery and needed something cozy to make me feel better. I immediately went to my Little House collection and pulled out "Silver Lake" to read. The middle section is about their winter on the prairie, alone in the Surveyor's House. They had been living in a shanty all summer. Laura describes the shanty: The new shanty stood alone by the lake shore. It shone yellow in the sunshine; a little house almost lost in the grasses and its little roof sloped all one way as if it were only half a roof ... Everything must be unpacked and the shanty made ready before noon ... From the company store, Ma bought yards of bright figured calico for curtains. They made a curtain and they hung it across the shanty, shutting the bunks behind it. Then she made another curtain and hung it between the bunks so there were two bedrooms, one for her and Pa, the other for the girls. The shanty was so small the curtains touched the bunks ...Then in front of the curtain was the room to live in. It was very small with the cookstove at the end by the door. Ma and Laura placed the drop leaf table against the side wall, before the open front door. Mary's rocking chair and Ma's they put on the other side of the room. The floor was bare ground, with humps of obstinate grass roots in it, but they swept it clean. "This is another kind of little house only with half a roof and no window," said Ma. "But it's a tight roof, and we don't need a window, so much air and light come in through the window." Imagine what Laura is describing in your mind -- maybe you see a nice cozy cabin. I always did until I went to a model shanty in Minnesota and it is TINY. Imagine the smallest bedroom in your home and that is how big the whole thing is. With a dirt floor and 6 people living in it. Granted, two of them are little kids, but still. No windows. Dirt floor. Then they get a chance to live in the Surveyor's House for the winter. It must have been like going to the Ritz Carlton compared with the shanty as Laura describes it as "that house, that real house:" It was a big house, a real house with two stories, and glass windows. The door had a china knob....This house had board floors. Laura looked at the large front room ...The surveyors had left their stove! It has six lids on top and two oven doors... Spaced on the wall behind it were three doors. All of them were shut. Laura tiptoed across the wide floor and softly opened one door. There was a small room with a bedstead in it. This room had a window too. Softly Laura opened the middle door...Steeply up in front of her went a stair...She went up a few steps and a big attic opened out on both sides of the stairs. It was twice as big as the big room downstairs. A window in each gable end lighted the whole empty place under the roof. That was three rooms already...She opened the third door. There before her eyes was a little store. All up the walls of that small room were shelves, and on the shelves were dishes, and pans and pots, and boxes and cans. All around under the shelves stood barrels and boxes. (The pantry was packed with food: flour and cornmeal and salt pork and beans and soda crackers and canned fruits and vegetables, coffee and tea.) The story was that the surveyors had filled the house thinking a bunch of them would be there all winter, but they decided to go back east. Laura's father agreed to stay there the winter to be caretaker. They spent the winter comfortable and safe and well fed. I have read this series many many many times, as you know from previous posts. This particular house stands out because it was so large and special for them all. I imagined it was really big, I mean compared with a shanty, of course it would be huge. In 1997 I took a road trip through Minnesota and South Dakota and followed highway 14 the "Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway" -- no fooling, that is what all the signs say under the number 14 sign -- and it was fascinating. Yes, I'm a history buff and a huge fan of this woman and her story. I got to DeSmet, SD and the first thing I did was have a tour of the surveyor's house. After knowing the above description almost by heart, I was really excited. Once inside, I was floored by how small it was. I think the whole thing was not much bigger than my living room, though two stories. I live in a small house, by today's standards (950 square feet). When you are there, you can only take a guided tour, so I couldn't linger in the house, soaking it all in. I wish I could have stayed longer just to sit and be quiet in that house I had read about so many times. Sitting at home in LA with Christmas tomorrow, it felt cozy to read about their big christmas dinner of jackrabbit and stuffing and potatoes and gravy and dried apple pie. I have so much to write about regarding these books. They hold some magical power over me. I want to go back to Minnesota and South Dakota and Wisconsin and Missouri and see all the little houses (well, the sites anyway, as most of the actual houses are gone now.)


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