True Grit - Little House on the Prarie
The American Pioneering spirit has fascinated me for a long time and I've recently become deeply interested in researching more about the details of the lives of these courageous people. I'm particularly interested in the domestic details. If I ever think I'm working hard and have to grind in the domestics each day I only have to compare my lot with theirs.
I've spoken to some of my American friends and they are helping me to tailor my research. Although the 'Little House on the Prairie' series are written as children's books they make fascinating reading and are a good, general start to my research. Don't be misled by the slightly cheesy (though still much loved) 70s TV series, the original stories based on Laura's life on the trail, are the real thing!
I've heard it said, many times that writers should be readers. Long before I ever put pen to paper I learned to love reading and can easily lose myself in a book. I not only read for pleasure, I also read for sustenance and inspiration. It's easy to get lost in the day to day toil and it's far too easy to lose perspective and forget that these daily tasks are what matters most. I always remember reading the quote, 'Though a man may travel the globe he must do so one step at a time. It is by the quality of these footsteps that his life is measured.' I often read material that will keep my feet on the straight and narrow. I read to remind myself that it is usually the forgotten or unseen things that actually matter most. I read to shape and guide my own life and subsequently I read to guide and shape my writing. Years ago a lecturer commented (it may have been complained - I'm never quite sure) that reading my essays was like reading a Jane Austen novel. She said my writing style had a hint of being centuries old. 'What do you actually read?' she asked. Unsurprisingly my reply was, 'Jane Austen.' It was ruminating on her appraisal of my writing technique that was one of the factors that has finally steered into writing - if I 'sound' like Jane Austen and my perspective on life has an Austen-type approach, why not embrace it? (I hasten to add that I don't claim to actually be as good as Jane Austen - I just sound like I live a few hundred years ago and my point of view is usually jolly polite!)
I'm always eager to read new books but there are always old favourites that I return to, time and time again. Proverbs 31 gives unending inspiration to aspire to be a 'virtuous woman' and a good wife. I used to make an annual revisit to 'Little Women' as, although fiction and maybe a little moralistic, I love and cherish it. However, more recently I'm not content with fiction and want to learn from real life accounts. We began our research into the Pilgrim Father's when we were home schooling the children. Life is always about learning and I don't need to be teaching a curriculum to continue to research and benefit from accounts of those before me.
We may feel hardship when recession hits, or business isn't so good, or for whatever reason we need to cut our cloth according to our circumstances and I may feel sick and tired of the endless rounds of cooking and cleaning and trying to earn a living, but I'm humbled when I read about what Laura Ingalls Wilder braved. How on earth did her mother manage to feed her family with such basic ingredients and nothing but a small stove pipe to cook on? They travel for hundreds of miles to start afresh. The father builds a log cabin with his own hands (having run out of nails) only to be told that the Government have changed their policy and the land is no longer available to settle on. They then travel hundreds of miles further to set up again. The father ploughs hard unbroken land but all their hopes are dashed by a swarm of grasshoppers. They avoid starvation because the father walks three hundred miles in old boots to find paid work. During this time the mother and children must maintain the homestead and care for the animals. After the land is ravaged they have the chance to move on but a bout of scarlet fever leaves them weak and one daughter is left blind! If this were merely fiction you could pass it off as a good story - but it's an account of Laura's childhood. It's true - and was for so many! What fascinates me is their enduring spirit and the way that beauty still finds a way into their hard lives. Despite it all the father still picks up his violin and plays music to restore their spirits. Even though the daughter is now blind she can still stitch beautiful patchwork if he colours are arranged for her - her stitching is still probably neater than mine! Even though they have practically nothing they have skill, resourcefulness and inspiration to make gifts for each other. Up-cycling at it's most creative and ingenious!
I'm looking forward to where my reading will take me. I'm grateful for the advice of my friends who are helping and steering my reading and I'm grateful for the example that these admirable role models have set. I doubt they ever took thought of how they might affect some failing housewife in England in the Twenty first century. They put one foot dutifully in front of the other and their lives withstood the measuring rod - I applaud them and am humbled.