A post by writer and reader Carynne McIver Button:
The summer I was five years old, my best friend was named Laura. She lived in a cozy cabin in the woods and, like me, she loved to play outside. She had adventures I had never imagined, such as seeing wolves on a prairie, helping to cut hay, and traveling in a covered wagon. Laura even inspired me to name my favorite doll after her own–Charlotte. Laura was the first of many “book friends” I’ve been lucky enough to have in my life. Since then, there’s been Lizzie, Anne, Scarlett, Lucy, and Claire (plus lots of real life ones!).
But Laura Ingalls was the original and always holds a special place in my heart. Even though she was shaped by words on a page, she was not a flat character. Laura was spunky, curious, occasionally jealous, and (usually) helpful for her parents. From her many stories, I learned the proper way to bale hay (and jump on it afterwards), how to efficiently pack a covered wagon, what it takes to live in a dugout, and how a china shepherdess can turn a house into a home. Sometimes the exciting moments in Laura’s life seemed dull when I attempted to recreate them (apparently molasses poured on snow is not nearly as delicious in the 20th century). Others–like Pa’s fiddle music in the prairie twilight–are memories I never experienced but for which I still feel deep nostalgia.
I have reread Laura’s books countless times throughout my life, returning to them when I felt homesick or missed the comfort of an old, familiar friend. Laura’s values of simplicity, a sense of home, and wonder in the natural world have shaped my own life. As a college student in Massachusetts, I even had my mom send me my worn copy of The Long Winter just to help me get through a March in New England!
I recently read Prairie Fires, a new biography about Laura Ingalls Wilder written by Caroline Fraser.
The book was fascinating and illuminated many of the difficulties Laura left out of her books–including significant debt, government support that dispels the myth of “self reliance,” and Laura’s own complicated relationship with her daughter and editor. My book friend Laura has always been different from the author Laura whom I admire, so these stories didn’t cause any harm to our friendship. Rather, they helped me understand more about how my friend came into being and why she still means so much to readers like me.
When my grandmother passed away a few years ago, I inherited a figurine she often kept on her bookshelf. I had seen the graceful, barefoot woman for years, but when I took her home for myself I realized I had my very own china shepherdess. I placed her on my mantle and I knew I was at home. She lives just a few feet away from my original well-loved copies of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books.
Carynne McIver Button is a grant writer and book lover living in Durham, North Carolina. When she needs a break from words, she enjoys yoga, gardening, and hiking with her husband Garrett. Visit her website at: www.mciverbutton.com/