From those lazy, hazy summer days when I actually (really and truly) wore bonnets for any and all time spent out in the sun, to a brief and bloody stabbing with knitting needles (sibling rivalry on Christmas... you get the idea), my obsession with Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie has not waned.
There is something so iconic about the setting, so endearing about the characters, so engaging about the stories that even when I try to tear myself away, something keeps drawing me back to the life and times of the first family of frontier fiction. Even now, years after I put down the knitting needles and stopped trying my mother's patience by spinning hoops around the house and spitting my watermelon seeds as far as possible, I still return to the Prairie as often as I can.
Of course, when I do take the time to step back into the wilderness of days gone by and spend some time with Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura, and Baby Carrie, I am consistently overwhelmed by the wisdom of the Ingalls family, and I have a hunch I am not alone. So for everyone out there who's ever wondered "What Would Laura Do?" or wanted to find out, here are some of the most formative life lessons I've talken over the years from Little House on the Prairie.
1. Observe with an open mind
When settlers begin venturing into Native American territory eager for land and opportunity, prejudices override observation for all but the most egalitarian. Pa's steady commitment to treating all people equally provides Laura, Mary, Ma, and all of the rest of us with a shining example of seeing beyond stereotypes and forming an independent opinion of the world and the people who share it.
2. You're never to old to be awed
The world is a wide and wonderful place, and Pa never stops pointing out the natural beauty all around the Ingalls family. From the bears rustling around in the berry patch behind the house in the Big Woods to the soaring skies of the great plains, reading Little House on the Prairie is a constant reminder that beauty and wonder truly are in the eyes of the beholder.
3. There's nothing wrong with a little hard work
While Pa's out trapping, building, hunting, and fishing, the women of the Ingalls family take on the washing, ironing, cleaning, mending, churning, and baking — there's more than enough work for everyone to have their fill, and this is one family never fails to find satisfaction and even joy in a job well done.
4. There is always more to learn
Can you build a bed? Butcher a hog? Grow your own food? Bake a cake? There's more to knowledge than numbers and letters, as Laura Ingalls Wilder carefully demonstrates. Whether in the schoolhouse or on the homestead, Mary, Laura, and Baby Carrie never stop learning, which may just be the greatest lesson of all.
5. Don't be afraid to ask for help
On the prairie, no job gets done alone. Whether it's the whole family gathering to raise a barn, or Laura and Mary pitching in to wipe down the dishes each morning, the Ingalls family knows that when you need a hand all you have to do is ask.
6. Make good fences and good neighbors
As Ma and Pa are packing up the house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, tables, chairs and beds all get left behind in favor of what can fit inside the family's covered wagon, so starting fresh in Kansas means starting from scratch. Luckily, a new neighbor pitches in to help Pa build a house after only the briefest of introductions. Sturdy construction and the help of those close by can mean the difference between life and death on the prairie, so why not have both?
7. Share and share alike
For sisters who share a home, a bed, and a life staying close is as natural as breathing and nearly as important. From clothes to time to chores, letting go of the boundaries of ownership brings Mary and Laura together and keeps them close throughout their lives. What's a little ownership compared to a lifelong companion?
8. Money won't buy you happiness
Money is scarce and times are tough, but the Ingalls family has each other, a faithful bulldog Jack, a warm home, and the riches of the natural world in abundance. For Laura, Mary, Carrie, Ma, and Pa, money isn't what brings joy, but rather the simple pleasures of home. This frontier family surely makes a strong case for forgoing cold hard cash in favor of the more important things in life.
9. Take time for the great outdoors
With the buffalo roaming wild and free and the songbirds crowding the trees, it's not hard to see why Ma, Pa, and the girls always make time to enjoy the wonders of the world around them. Times have certainly changed; however, I feel absolutely certain that even if the only patch of grass available to them was a small city park, the Ingalls family would still find time to enjoy whatever small patch of wilderness they could find.
10. Be true to yourself
When Laura and Mary start school in a new town near the new house on the banks of plum creek after yet another big move, the spoiled and prissy Nellie Oleson swoops in straight away to ridicule the two sisters for their country ways. While I would have succumbed to awkward embarrassment, Laura stands up for herself and her family. After all, there's no shame in being exactly who you are... who else could you possibly be?
11. Communication is key
When Pa wants to move the family away from the Big Woods home in Wisconsin and onto the prairie proper, he checks in with Ma first. I like that in a frontier father. At a time and in a place when equality was not the watchword, Ma and Pa never fail to communicate openly and honestly with one another.
12. Get Involved
As times change and luck falters, Pa crisscrosses the country with his growing family, and yet in every new town, at every new homestead, the Ingalls family quickly put down roots and fold themselves into the fabric of local life, proving once and for all that belonging is a choice anyone can make.
13. Home is where the heart is
Wherever they roam, whomever they meet, the heart of the Ingalls family remains in the home they share together. Material possessions come and go, as do friends, pets, and even family, but as long as there is a hearth to gather around, this family will warm itself from within.
Image: Ed Friendly Productions and NBC (14)