Monday, September 5, 2011

Winter Garden

    Family, love, and secrets are the major themes in this novel.  Two sisters strive for years to earn their seemingly cold mother's love.  The older claims to not care even while she spends her entire life trying to 'be good enough' to win her mother's approval and love.  The younger sister becomes an adventurer and searches for meaning through her job as a photographer, continually drawn to women and their suffering throughout the world.
     A fairy tale is at the center of the story.  On his deathbed the beloved father and husband, the glue that has held the family together, extracts a promise from his wife that she will tell her daughters the story in it's entirety, something she has never done.  The girls' grew up hearing the romantic story of the peasant girl and the prince but never realized that there was more to the story than 'happily ever after'.
     I enjoyed this book.  It made me think about how important it is for us to know the history of our family.  Not just the genealogy.  I think that even if we cannot understand the circumstances our parents and grandparents came from, even if their stories are beyond our ability to empathize with because it might be so far removed from what we know, it is still important because these stories help us understand ourselves.  Each of us is a product of our history.  What happened to the women and men in our family of the past affects us and our children and even our children's children.  How many of us have found out a tidbit of history and suddenly had an 'a-ha' moment of understanding of an event or events from out childhood or even a glimpse of ourselves?  How many of us decide to change family patterns without ever understanding why these patterns exist?  I believe hearing the stories of our past is the first step to understanding.
     So much of our history is lost because either the younger generation never cared enough to ask or to listen to the stories or comments that are made by previous generations.  Or the stories are never told because they are too painful or we don't think our children care or could understand our story.  Then one day everyone who knows those pieces of your family story are gone, and the history is gone with them.

Laura and Me (part 2)

     My love affair with Laura continued and I wanted to find out everything I could about her.  One year my mom (I think) gave me a biography about her by William Anderson.  He had researched the Wilder and Ingalls families and included parts of Laura's life that was not in the series.  Pa and Ma working in a hotel after they left Plum Creek.  Their returning to Plum Creek before heading west to Silver Lake.  Laura's little brother who died.  William Anderson did a great job and I read the biography several times.  I really wanted to find out more about Laura and Almanzo's daughter, Rose, so I started looking for information about them.  I found a biography, Laura and Rose, in the Hamilton County Public Library.  The book was sad and interesting at the same time.  You remember Eliza Jane Wilder from Little Town on the Prairie?  I think Rose was cut out of the same cloth as her Aunt Eliza.  She was intellectually gifted but never had a great relationship with her mother.  Rose became a successful author and, according to this book, was jealous that her mother's books became more popular than any she herself had written.  The author also stated that Rose heavily edited the Little House books, and, if your read The First Four Years, which wasn't published until after Laura's death, and was left unedited to honor her, you have to realize that someone edited the other books.  The final book does not read as smoothly as the others.  Of course, Laura did not publish this book because it was so sad.  It was probably very difficult to write about that time in her life.  I was left saddened at the end of Laura and Rose because my image of Laura was changed.

Rose as a young girl
Rose as a young woman
     After the television show became so popular a new generation of  'Little House'  lovers wanted to know more about the real Laura.  I like to believe these people decided to read the books because of the show and that is what made them curious.  However, suddenly there was a plethora of new Little House stuff on the market.  The Little House Cookbook, The Little House Songbook, On the Way Home, and a new series based on Rose's life (which was horrible, by the way).  It seemed that the estate of Roger Lea MacBride decided to make all the money possible off of Laura.  It continues today.  Now there is a series based on Caroline Ingalls (Ma) childhood. 
      Two books by Stephen Hines which are biographical in nature helped me in my search for Laura.  Little House in the Ozarks is a collection of writing by Laura.  It turns out that the Little House books were not Laura's first foray into writing.  For many years she wrote a column for the Missouri Ruralist newspaper.  The other book, "I Remember Laura" is a collection of memories by family, friends, and neighbors of Laura and Almanzo.  Both of these books depict a Laura much like the one we meet in the Little House books.  Petite, shy, and humble, as well as very pretty would describe Laura.  I was happy to read these books to dispel the image I had from reading Laura and Rose.
     To sum up, Laura Ingalls Wilder will always fascinate me.  I believe she was a special person who, like the rest of us, had problems.  I believe she developed a deep faith that saw her through some difficult years.  I also think she and Almanzo loved each other deeply and were "partners in every sense of the word."