Monday, September 05, 2011

No Bonnethead

I love the Little House books.  I can barely remember not loving them.  Like Amy in Beverly Cleary's Mitch and Amy, I liked to dress up in my mother's dresses (she had a yellow-and-white cotton summer dress with a full skirt that was just right) and play Little House on the Prairie.  I was always Laura.  My younger  brother got to be Mary or Nellie Oleson, or sometimes, Jack the bulldog.  In sixth grade, my first attempt at novel writing looked a lot like On The Banks of Plum Creek.  I was such a little calico freak that I secretly wanted a tin cup, a stick of candy and a penny in my Christmas stocking.

I always wanted my mom to like the Little House books as much as I did.  She watches the TV show from time to time, but never seemed interested in the series of novels.  I always believed they'd be right up her alley since they featured no talking animals, were based on true stories from Laura's girlhood and had plenty of illustrations.  I never gave up hope of bonding with her over the adventures of the Ingalls family.

Last summer, she seemed mildly interested when I was reading Wendy McClure's memoir of her Laura obsession, The Wilder Life   When McClure mentioned that Laura and her family actually lived for one whole year (1868-69) in Chariton county, the place where Mom was born, her interest spiked and we spent a couple of hours roaming the back roads between Rothville and Mendon, looking for the plaque that marked the Ingalls' brief homestead.  As we rode along, I knew she was ready for her first foray into the books. I would usher her into the world of Lit-Laura.  After waiting around more than 40 years, our Bonnethead time had come at last.

I didn't waste much time getting to the bookstore.  Ideally, I wanted to begin at the beginning with Little House in the Big Woods, the first book in the series.  (Actually, I wanted to buy the whole set right then and there, but I thought she'd be intimidated)  No joy.  The bookstore was fresh out of LHITBW, but they had Little House on the Prairie.  That would work.  It had the same name as the TV show and it's the most perfectly structured book in the series.  I brought it home to her, but before she could begin reading, my sense of going in order was making me crazy, so I went to the used bookstore and got Little House in the Big Woods.  The pig's bladder balloon!  Butter making! Laura's corncob doll, Susan! Charlotte! Pa's stories!  She couldn't miss out on all that.

Mom picked up LHITBW and started reading.  I was reading my own book, but I was also watching her read.  I wanted to be ready when she bespoke her enjoyment at intervals.  After a few pages, she put the book down and picked up her word search puzzle book.  No more reading that evening.  Aaaah, I thought.  She's savoring.  When she went to the bathroom, I quickly checked where the bookmark was: Page 30.

"Ma liked everything on her table to be pretty, so in the wintertime, she colored the butter."

The bookmark didn't move over the next few days.  What was going on?  I would find out.  One evening, my friend and former husband, Mr. Bybee, came over for a visit.  During a lull in the conversation, I told him that Mom had started reading the first Little House book.

"It's corny, " Mom said.

"Corny?"  I repeated.  "What do you mean?"  Mr. B. looked a little worried.  He knows how I feel about Laura and the gang.  After all, he was the one who gamely drove me to Mansfield, Missouri to see The Laura Ingalls Wilder museum back in the 1990s. He knew I wasn't going to take a judgment like "corny" lying down.

"Well, all they talk about is boring stuff like smoking meat and making butter step-by-step.  It's corny.  I guess they think kids don't know about any of this."

I was perturbed, but interested in her use of the plural pronoun.  After all, the Little House books were a joint effort between Laura and her daughter, Rose.

"Did you get to the part about the pig's bladder?"

Mom snorted.  "Yes."

"Oh," I said.

Corny?!  Dammit, I had screwed up!  I should have started her out with Little House on The Prairie where the Ingalls family didn't do chores --  they just got up and moved and got the hell across the Mississippi before the ice broke! 

Long story short:  The bookmark stayed at page 30 for the next 6 weeks, and it was still there when I walked out the door for the airport and as far as I know, it will be there until time immemorial.  I'm bound to sail my prairie schooner alone.  I love my mom, but she's no Bonnethead.


Teresa said...

Oh, what a sad story! I agree with you--there's nothing corny about smoking meat or making butter, and definitely nothing corny about the pig's bladder balloon!

And I too wanted a tin cup, a stick of candy, and a penny for Christmas (as long as I *also* got the other battery-operated junk my 20th-century greedy child self desired).

Sam said...

I can't say that I've ever read the series, but I can tell you that it was key in turning my granddaughter into an avid reader. She convinced her parents to drive about 200 miles out of their way to visit the museum you referenced, only for them to get there about an hour after it closed for the day. She was crushed - and made me promise to bring her up there one of these summers. She has done school projects on the Wilders and still considers them close friends.

I feel your pain...having someone close to you reject a book you love so much can be painful.

Jeane said...

I'm chuckling inside because I just had a similar experience with my six-year-old. I loved the Litte House books when I was a kid, and my daughter's just gotten into chapter books, so I started reading her Little House in the Big Woods last week. We never even made it through chapter 1. She said it was boring. We're reading James and the Giant Peace now instead. Much more exciting, I guess. o well. I suppose she's never going to love all the same books I did; I'm just glad she loves reading!

Unruly Reader said...

Oh, this is sad. I really was hoping she'd end up enraptured. (though I myself was always haunted by those books -- all that *hardship*! It troubled my wimpy self.)

Nicole said...

So sad! I love those books and have been reading them with my four year old daughter. I forgot how tragic "By the Shores of Silver Lake" is, though. I was bawling when Jack died and my daughter is staring at me like, "Keep it together, woman!"

Unruly Reader said...

Saw this article and thought of your bonnethead ways: