You!!! Guys!!! Well, first of all, let’s welcome new ALBTALBS friend Piper Huguley to the blog! She’s here to celebrate Black History Month with us … and I have to tell you I love this post!!! I adored Laura Ingalls Wilder as a child, and bought myself a set of her Little House books that is still boxed and wrapped in the original plastic. XD I heard about Pioneer Girl on NPR and now I’m regretting not ordering it. But anyway, Ms. Huguley says it so much better! So let’s get to it!
The hottest book in publishing these days was written by hand on discount tablets in the 1920’s. Pioneer Girl, the unvarnished adult version of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s autobiography, is mostly unavailable for those who want it and didn’t preorder it in the fall. So many people are consumed by her story, there is no date in sight for the backordered people to know when their copy will come. That’s because her fictionalized children’s autobiographies about her Midwest childhood have etched a permanent place in the hearts of her readers, long after they have ceased to be children.
I love Wilder’s books because, even as a young black girl growing up in Pittsburgh, she didn’t exclude me or denigrate my brown skin in her works. Her language, customs, food and clothing transported me.
For example, I had to know what it was like to wear a hoopskirt one hot July day. So I layered wool blankets around my legs, topped it off with a long skirt of my mother’s and hobbled outside. Thankfully no one saw me and I hobbled back inside because it was hot with all of that wool on my legs.
The Halloween I turned 10, I decided to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. I had already been a series of historical figures for Halloween the years before. That was the year when…ahem…things began to happen and my mother couldn’t use the same dress pattern as she had the previous years. Fortunately fashion was kind of on the hippie side then, so it was easy to make a long Laura dress, a slate, a bucket and a sunbonnet that I perched on top of my Angela Davis ‘fro. Oh no. You could not tell me Laura Ingalls Wilder wasn’t mine.
There is a part in Little House in the Big Woods when Laura and her sister Mary make “sugar on snow” candy. I wanted to make my own. So I gathered up some Pittsburgh snow (you can already tell this is going to a bad place) and poured Log Cabin maple syrup on it. The syrup promptly sunk through and did not make candy shapes on top as in the book. I did not learn until years later that you have to have real maple syrup, not the fake kind, and that it had to be boiled first.
Every February 7, I would make some form of birthday cake or cupcakes and say a Happy Birthday to my favorite author. My family did not mind. They got cake out of it.
I’m thankful that, as a grown up scholar, she’s not someone who I’ve had to put to the side because of racist viewpoints. Laura called them as she saw them, and that’s relatively rare for someone born in her time period, as I’ve come to find out.
Her influence on me has been so marked, I wrote about the fictitious nature of the autobiographies of women writers for my dissertation. Now, due in part to Laura, I write historical fiction that takes place during the span of her lifetime. Since we were born just about 100 years apart, I do ask myself from time to time, “What would Laura be doing now?” and compare myself to her. Knowing her life story by heart helped to inspire me to take up my writing again. Hey, if Laura could make it big at 65, I might be able to work my way to a status I could be proud of before that.
So while I wait for my copy of Pioneer Girl to come in the mail, I take up my red velvet cake to say: Happy 148th Birthday to a great writer who has inspired untold numbers of writers with her pioneering stories.
Happy birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder! And thank you Piper for sharing your own “Little House” experiments and experiences! What about the rest of you? Thoughts? Have you read Pioneer Girl, the Little House books? Or any of Ms. Huguley’s books?