What Ann’s Reading Now: My Little House Project

little houseThe odd thing about following a passion to graduate school is that at some point you realize your deepest love has become your work. While this seems, and is, ideal, you also begin to lose touch with why it is your passion in the first place.

At some point during graduate school, I forgot what it meant to “read for fun.” Two years after I graduated, I am slowly rediscovering what it means to pick any book off the shelf and indulge in it. I am even getting to the point that on those rare nights when I don’t immediately collapse into a ball after my son goes to bed or give into the demands of that everlasting pile of grading, I want to curl up and read a book. This sounds ridiculous for an English professor, right? Yet recovery from graduate school, for me, has been a gradual process.

I have decided that on this journey of rediscovery I need to go back to my roots. Some of my first memories of reading involve Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series of books about growing up on the prairie during the late 1800’s. Like Laura, I have an older sister named Mary, and I vividly remember curling up on her bed and listening while she read to me from the books. Mary went to college when I was still a preschooler, and I would wander into her room while she was away and look through the books myself, finding comfort from my loneliness for her in Garth William’s illustrations.

Now I live in one of the states that Ingalls family once lived in, and I find that passages from these books come back to me in startling clarity.  As the temperatures drop, my husband and I actively prepare our house for winter in ways we hadn’t before imagined – strategically clearing the shed that we might not have access to for several months because of snow drifts and the swollen ground, stockpiling thick socks, and ordering truckloads of firewood. In the midst of these preparations, this passage from the Little House in the Big Woods came to me:

For winter was coming. The days were shorter, and frost crawled up the windowpanes at night. Soon the snow would come. Then the log house would be almost buried in snowdrifts, and the lake and streams would freeze.

As I spend almost every Saturday finding creative ways to use up our bumper crop of apples from our backyard tree, I think of Ma’s tireless work on food preservation:

The little house was fairly bursting with good food stored away for the long winter. The pantry and shed and the cellar were full, so was the attic.

Laura and Mary must play in the house now, for it was cold outdoors and the brown leaves were all falling from the trees. The fire in the cookstove never went out. At night Pa banked it with ashes to keep the coals alive till morning.

The attic was a lovely place to play. The large, round, colored pumpkins made beautiful chairs and tables. The red peppers and the onions dangled overhead. The hams and the venison hung in their paper wrapping, and all the bunches of dried herbs, the spicy herbs for cooking and the bitter herbs for medicine, gave the place a dusty-spicy smell.

Often the wind howled outside with a cold and lonesome sound. But in the attic Laura and Mary played house with the squashes and the pumpkins, and everything was snug and cozy.

This winter as I huddle under blankets in front of the cozy fires my husband makes, I am going to make my way through the Little House Books. I am also going to be reading Wendy McClure’s memoir about her own Little House project: The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of the Little House on the Prairie. I can find academic justification in this project as I look toward two projects that involve prairie women – a project that will use the curriculum of a prairie woman’s Shakespeare club and another project that examines these women’s use of quilts to express grief. But really, this is a journey of re-discovery and a re-claiming of a little girl who first discovered her love of reading on the prairie.