Book In Common: Time to rest, read, relax

Today I am giving in to the worst cold I have had since I was a kid. I’ve tried to fight it, but I give up. Today I stay in the house and wrap up and eat Vitamin C and goldenseal and aspirin every so many hours. 

And read, hopefully. I’ve had the flu so bad in past, reading made my head hurt. I’d just lay in the fever for hours, trying to resist looking at the clock, moving my head to a cooler spot on the pillow every now and then. 

A cold is aches and pains, coughing junk up and trying to spit it out, etc. The flu is weakness and fever and being hungry all the time but not being able to eat anything but broth. I’ll take a cold any day of the week.

Unless it comes with an ear infection, I haven’t had one of those for a long time. 

You know I take care of myself people, but that cold streak at Thanksgiving got me right in the seat of the pants. One side of my chest started to hurt, like somebody kicked me in the ribs, and I knew – but I didn’t know good enough. I rested a couple of days and when I started to feel better I went out again. When will I learn?

So now the other side of my chest hurts, tit for tat. I can almost see my Grandpa shaking his finger at me, and telling me to go back in the house. Out in Glenn County, that North Wind blows hard and cold. Walking outside was shocking after being in the warm kitchen. We’d play for a few minutes, then we’d troop back indoors to watch tv in front of the wall heater. The kitchen and  living room were the only warm rooms in the house, the kitchen door would be shut and the window would  be covered with steam from whatever Gram was doing in there. We’d hold our bladders for what seemed like hours to avoid the ice cold bathrooms. 

When I was sick Grandma would make me lay in bed, while the other kids would be laying around the front room watching tv. That was tough, I’d  lean over from the bed and strain my head to look at the tv through the bedroom door, but that made me feel sicker. I remember listening to Captain Kangaroo, or  Kukla, Fran and Ollie from the bed, dozing in and out, waking up to boring grown-up tv shows. The kids would all be outside, sometimes the sun would  be shining so brightly I’d beg to go outside. My grandma would tell me, “not as long as that North Wind is blowing!”  

Sometimes my grandma had to go out. Grandpa would be around, somewhere – we lived on five acres, with various out buildings – we kids knew Grandpa could be anywhere at any time. We grew up with eyes in the backs of our heads. I’d be laying in bed,  couldn’t resist the urge to get up and go outside. I remember being positively dizzy, but struggling into some clothes and heading for the front door, where the yard was open and the sun was bright. I’d go looking for the kids, a side eye for Grandpa, but these jaunts did not last long – the bright light hurts your head when you’re sick, and the wind feels like an ice bath. I’d try to go back in the house before either of my grandparents caught me outside, cause they were not usually very sympathetic when  you did what they told you not to.

So today I’ll take a break from everything except reading. I look forward to seeing what Laura and her family are up to. I read these books as a child, and the characters are very like the people I grew up with, so it’s familiar and comforting on a sick day to  spend time with them. 

They’re also stuck inside, every few days another “three day blizzard” moves in. They are cut-off – the snows have finally covered the railroad tracks in drifts that are impossible to remove. When they are shut inside, they don’t realize, the carbon monoxide is building up in their house, making it difficult to concentrate on anything. Pa is getting scared, but he goes out with a smile on his face every day to huddle with the other men around the stove at the store. They share worries they wouldn’t share with their wives and children.

I always knew Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote these books for children, and so she didn’t share everything.   I  know she saw things as a child that we usually believe children shouldn’t see. When I read these books as a child, having heard my step-dad’s stories of the Great Depression, I knew people died over that winter, probably whole families, starved or froze, or died of illness. 

Wilder wrote these books after she and her husband lost almost everything in the stock market crash. They kept their home, but she knew they needed some extra income. She’d been writing a little housewife style column for the local newspaper, and began  writing her autobiography. The publisher she approached was not interested, but her daughter, already a published author, suggested she write it in a series of books for children. It was Wilder who decided to keep it mostly light and positive, but the publisher insisted that she change her age in the book because readers might not believe that a person would remember things that happened when they were such a young child.

According to wikipedia, ” In 2014, the South Dakota State Historical Society published an annotated version of Wilder’s autobiography titled Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography.”

Pioneer Girl includes stories that Wilder felt were inappropriate for children: a man accidentally immolating himself while drunk; an incident of extreme violence of a local shopkeeper against his wife, which ended with the man setting their house on fire. She also describes previously unknown sides of her father’s character. According to its publisher, ‘Wilder’s fiction, her autobiography, and her real childhood are all distinct things, but they are closely intertwined.’ The book’s aim was to explore the differences, including incidents with conflicting or non-existing accounts in one or another of the sources.”

That’s weird, the way they separate her “fiction” from reality. I never questioned the reality of those books. I know, nobody remembers everything exactly the way it happened. My husband and I have conflicting stories about things we just saw yesterday. Reality is very illusive.

As I read The Long Winter I will be looking for hints of “unknown sides of her father’s character.” I already know – Pa has wanderlust, which his friend Mr. Edwards is not able to resist, and that scares the hell out of Ma. Pa also has a righteous temper – at one point, he takes on the storm – “you won’t get us!”  Pa’s character is strong, there’s not really much more I need to know about Pa’s character. 

Ma also has her “weaknesses” – for one thing, she is very prejudice against strangers, against immigrants, Indians, anybody she doesn’t know. But her strengths win out in the end, that is what her daughter most remembers about her. 

It’s funny what we believe to be appropriate for children. Life is probably not appropriate for children. Life is unfair, violent, unpredictable, sad, depressing – Life will kick your ass Babee! 

But Life is also full of good  stuff – it’s like yanking the handle on a slot machine, every day you get up, you find out whether you will get a pile of lemons or a bowl full of cherries. 

I say, learn to make lemonade. In fact, hot lemonade is good for a cold. If you feel like you really need it, crush a clove of garlic and pour some hot lemon juice and honey over it. Drink it good and hot. Same with Life! 



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