Lessons from Ma

The Little House on the Prairie novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder basically shaped my heart’s desire to live on a farm and to pursue Green Acres with a passion. The characters, experiences, and descriptions portrayed to me through dancing words and vivid phrasing allowed me to get a glimpse into the lovely, but tough, world of the young Ingalls family as they pioneered their way across America first in Wisconsin, then a brief year in the Indian Territory of Kansas, then a five-year stint in Minnesota, and finally, the Dakota Territories. Each time this family, consisting of a husband, wife, and four young daughters had to relocate, Pa Ingalls had to completely rebuild their house, barn, furniture, crops, and livestock. The amount of grit, know-how, and determination showed in every turn of their changing, ever-evolving lives is something to behold. What was the one thing that stood out among others as I recently reread the eight-book series? Attitude.

The amazing attitude, outlook, and determination to find the good in all situations is, I believe, what kept this family alive and thriving through all of the changes they endured. Each time they faced adversity, Ma would remind the girls of all that they were blessed with and not allow them to grumble a complaint out loud. She would say things during the literal 8-month-long winter they endured in the Dakota Territory such as “Never complain of what you have. Always remember you are fortunate to have it” and then, immediately, try to focus their attention on something different and better. When they were tired, hungry, sick, or worn out, they continued to sing, read poetry, dance to Pa’s fiddle, or recite Bible verses together. Both Ma and Pa seemed to innately know what it took to push through difficulties and get past immediate wants and needs to stay focused on the big picture.

One of the many books I read during my own “long winter” season talked about the need for children to feel a part of the “big picture” in a family. The author talked about the fact that it is important to give children purpose in the family in order to show them that they are an important, contributing member of the household. When a child feels needed and valued, he or she rarely has a feeling of lack of purpose or value. This truth is made clear in the Little House series of books in that each daughter had huge, important roles in the family. Whether it was cooking, cleaning, ironing, watching other children, or gathering wood, each job was important to the family’s survival.  Without successfully fulfilling that role, the family could have never survived the harsh climate and conditions they were experiencing as they made their way across uncharted American territories.

I look at what Ma and Pa Ingalls had to endure to provide for their children.  It couldn’t have been easy, people.  Non-stop, difficult, manual labor from sun up to sun down.  365 days per year….excluding Sundays which were ALWAYS taken as days of rest and quiet.  They interspersed their hard work with laughter, dancing, and times that provided fun and created fiercely loyal, close relationships between all members of the family.

To be completely honest with you, I’m not sure I would have even been able to survive the first leg of the journey in which they settled in Kansas and about killed themselves building their homestead, only to learn that the government was claiming that part of Indian Territory back and that they were unable to stay there.  A whole year of back-breaking labor of building a house and barn, digging a well, planting and harvesting crops, and more was completely lost.  How did they respond when they were told about the huge misfortune?  They immediately made drastic, life-altering decisions.  The very same night they learned they would have to move off of their homestead, Pa told Ma to pack up the covered wagon with their belongings and they drove away from Kansas forever,  leaving their house, barn, furniture, and even some animals behind to make the journey that led them to Minnesota for the next five years.  After five long, difficult years scraping by in Minnesota, they did the exact same thing and left everything behind to move to the Dakota Territories.  We’re not talking Florida or Hawaii here, people.  We’re talking blizzards for months and temperatures that reach 40 below zero. Trying to settle and make a living for your family in Minnesota and the Dakota Territories meant having a very brief amount of time to build the needed houses and barns,  to stack enough wood for survival, to hunt and preserve meat for the winter, and to harvest and can fruits and vegetables.   No machinery.  No refrigerators.  No grocery stores.  No neighbors to rely on for help.

When I finished reading The Long Winter, I felt like I was possibly the biggest wimp on the planet.  I was amazed at the grit shown by this little family.  I kept envisioning myself having to twist straw hay into sticks until my hands bled, having to grind wheat with a tiny hand-mill for hours upon hours each day in order to make a loaf of bread, and having to dress and undress in a room that literally had icicles hanging on the rafters and snow dusting the covers on the bed.  The people who pioneered their way across America were truly remarkable in their determination, know-how, and pure grit.  My prayer for my family is that people see that in us. Determination to do what is right at all costs.  Know-how concerning our fields of employment and areas of relationships.  Pure-grit when it comes to working towards an important goal.  I also pray that we learn to handle it all with the wisdom and grace of Ma and Pa Ingalls.  Handling hardship with grace and elegance.  Not holding grudges when something doesn’t go our way.  Being a positive influence in our family and circle of friends.  Putting God and the Sabbath day of rest in a position of priority in our hearts.  Loving our family and working together to achieve more than we could ever achieve separately.

I am so thankful for the heart lessons and life lessons I learned from Ma which were so eloquently worded in the Little House on the Prairie book series.


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