In the spirit of seasonal reading, I pulled our old yellow copy of The Long Winter out of the boxed set of Little House books. I read them all over and over as a child, but it’s been a while since I did more than flip through one. Some parts I remember vividly – like the stack of pancakes that Almanzo and his brother eat, or the snow piling up on their beds during the night – but I don’t really remember the structure of the story or the style – apart from copious descriptions of food. And since I’m snowed in, and realized this morning that I care more about having good food on Christmas than any presents that family members may or may not have been able to shop for, I’m looking forward to those food descriptions.
Page 4: Ma objects to Laura helping with the haying (“make hay while the sun shines”), because “she did not like to see women working in the fields. Only foreigners did that. Ma and her girls were Americans, above doing men’s work.” But of course since Pa spent all the money on the mowing machine and can’t hire help, it’s the only way to get things done. All those girls! Wasn’t there a boy in real life? Oh – he died as a baby.
8: 1st mention of food. While Pa and Laura are haying, Ma sends out a jug of ginger water, a treat that makes “an ordinary day into a special day.”
12: (Cue ominous forshadowing music) Muskrat walls are, as always, a dead giveaway that it will be a cold, hard winter. Which leads to an interesting discussion about why muskrats know and humans don’t, the nature of free will, and how God takes care of animals vs humans. “A man can build any kind of house he can think of,” says Pa. “So if his house don’t keep out the weather, that’s his look-out; he’s free and independent.” Sadly, the claim shanty is not as snug and cozy as a muskrat house.
22: “If they were lost, they were lost. There was nothing to say about it.” All the details of prairie life are fantastically vivid – the noise of the grass, the heat, walking down the middle of the road to save their shoes – I think that’s what I loved about these books as a kid.
23: Ooh, is this Laura’s first encounter with Almanzo? Lazy and sunburnt. “His blue eyes twinkled down at her as if he had known her a long time.” And then Laura thanks him “primly” for directions.
28: Here we go: “She knew that the bitter frost had killed the hay and the garden…It would leave every living green thing dead. But the frost was beautiful.”
29: More food – Ma resourcefully turns the green tomatoes into green tomato pickle, “a treat with baked beans this winter.”
31: Forshadowing alert: “‘Why such a hurry to get the pumpkins in?’ Ma asked. ‘I feel in a hurry. As if there was need to hurry,’ Pa tried to explain.” Clever Ma is going to make a green pumpkin pie. Laura says she’s never heard of such a thing, but Ma says “we wouldn’t do much if we didn’t do things that nobody ever heard of before.”
33: “Sewing made Laura feel like flying to pieces. She wanted to scream.” Yeah, I would feel that way, too, if I had to sew two pieces of cloth into a sheet that must lie smooth “with not the tiniest ridge down its middle.” Are these really essential skills when you’re surviving on the prairie? Resourceful cooking, sure, but perfect sheets?
34: I seriously got a chill when Pa came back empty-handed from hunting, since all the birds are flying south early.
37: “Ice crackled on the quilt where leaking rain had fallen.” I will never complain about cold toes again.
40: Bean broth soup with bread for lunch, and the beans baked up again with salt pork and molasses for supper. And tea – but cambric tea for Grace – “hot water and milk, wuth only a taste of tea in it, but little girls felt grown-up when their mothers let them drink cambric tea.”
48: Frozen cattle! Pa’s all gloom and doom and Ma’s all cheerful optimism about the weather – which makes Ma seem awfully dim-witted since we KNOW what will happen!
61: Stereotypical wise old Indian appears at town store to warn then of “heap big snow” for “many moons.” But at least they have the sense to listen to him and move to town. “‘There’s some good Indians,’ Pa always insisted.”
70: I forgot that Laura was so afraid of strangers and disliked both going to school and teaching. She’s definitely a country girl and hates the idea of living in even this tiny town.
74: “Living in town, we’re in no danger of running short of any kind of supplies.” Oh REALLY?
Nice – “Oregon’s the place to be nowadays.” Not in this weather!
More to come – doesn’t that sound like a threat? Can you tell I’m getting stir crazy? Can you tell the library is STILL CLOSED? Is it sad that I don’t mind going to my other job because it gets me out of the house?