Laura Ingalls Wilder: Live from the Prairie
The dinner list – it’s a game we played one night at the coffee shop. Who would you invite to dinner, living or dead? We heard a lot of Martin Luther King, Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, but my list included one that the others didn’t: Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Growing up on the prairie, I understand the vast expanse Laura and her family must have encountered. As a child, I loved to play in the tall grass just outside of the city limits, pretending to ride in a wagon across the Dakota Territory. I braided my hair in two long braids, I begged my mom to sew a bonnet and I stole eggs from the refrigerator so I could pretend I was gathering them outside in the barn.
I loved Laura. And, I still do.
Today, in a one sense, I got to meet her. I got to meet Laura Ingalls Wilder. She came in the form of a librarian from Iowa, usually known as Sarah Uthoff. Sarah attended the 40th Anniversary of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant in DeSmet, South Dakota, as a presenter. She showed up at the Ingalls Homestead site in DeSmet wearing a long prairie dress. Her eyeglasses were rounded and her long dark hair was pulled back in a style reminiscent of a school teacher from that era.
Sarah stood at the front of the room, surrounded by many who loved Laura, and told us she was about to transform into Laura in her later years – the year she and her beloved Almanzo moved from DeSmet to Mansfield, Missouri where they spent their final days. Sure enough, Sarah pulled a white apron from a trunk, tossed it a bit in the air to fluff it, and tied it around her waist. Suddenly, like the spell the prairie can cast on you, Sarah was gone and Laura was with us.
She lifted items from a trunk she was sorting and told us stories about each of the items. Of course Charlotte, the doll star of many of Laura’s tales, was pulled from the trunk. The doll helped Laura tell the story of the time she gave up her cherished doll to another little girl and how she felt when she saw Charlotte in a puddle on the ground later, abandoned by the child. A tin cup reminded her of the Christmas Mr. Edwards came and delivered their gifts from Santa Claus: a stick of candy, a penny and a tin cup.
Yes, I know it wasn’t really Laura, and I didn’t get a chance to invite her to dinner, but I really enjoyed being pulled back in time and sitting face to face with my dream dinner guest while she regaled me with tales from her youth.
If you love the prairie because of Laura, be sure to visit one or all of the many historic sites that honor the author. DeSmet, South Dakota, has not only the Ingalls Homestead site, but also the surveyor’s house where the Ingalls family first lived in DeSmet, the house Pa built, many of the original stores they frequented and the gravesites of Carrie, Mary, Grace, Ma and Pa Ingalls.
“As you read my stories of long ago I hope you will remember that things truly worthwhile and that will give you happiness are the same now as they were then. It is not the things you have that make you happy. It is love and kindness and helping each other and just plain being good.” ~Laura Ingalls Wilder
Uthoff is the Vice-President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. She is a Humanities Iowa speaker on Laura Ingalls Wilder and a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Find more about Uthoff on her website, blog, Twitter, YouTube and BlogTalkRadio under Trundlebed Tales (one of the rejected titles for