Monday, January 6, 2014

Snow Day

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe

I am as giddy as a child at the prospect of a snow day. Others fret about climate change when they see -40 windchills on the weather and can’t push the door open into a snowdrift. I think about Laura Ingalls
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Wilder’s memoirs and relish the prospect of stoking the fires of memory and imagination.

Wilder’s books sparked my early interest in the past. Some of Wilder’s tales seemed similar to my own grandmother’s recollections of learning and teaching in a one room school house. My grandmother had a comparatively stable life on a comparatively prosperous farm in Illinois.  Laura followed Pa Ingalls from Wisconsin West in a series of tentative land claims. My mother read the stories aloud at bedtime. My father would pass through and groan every time Pa uprooted his family and chased further west in pursuit of a half-baked dream. I didn’t need the New Yorker to tell me Pa Ingalls was not the saint his daughter imagined him to be.  Even as a child, I couldn’t stomach the television version of Wilder's tales. Michael Landon’s Pa was so angelic that the actor needed no adaptation to his performance when he moved on to play an angel in Highway to Heaven. I craved the bits of terrifying realism that remained in the prose and faded from the screen.

My favorite moments in the memoirs involved the Ingalls family hunkered down for fearsome but intimate winters. Little House in the Big Woods featured maple syrup drizzled on snow cakes that still make my mouth water. Little House on the Prairie offered the enduring image of Mr. Edwards making in through a blizzard to deliver Santa’s gifts to the Ingalls girls. During the heavy snows of the last week in Chicago, I have thought often of how Pa strung a rope between the house and the barn so he could find his way between them in a white out. I don’t need a rope quite yet, but I am glad no animals need feeding in my garage.

As my family gathers round the fire to wait out a negative forty-four degree windchill, I imagine the Ingall’s envy at our well-insulated walls and well-stocked pantry. We don’t need Almazo to save us from starvation during The Long Winter. I’m fortunate not only compared to Laura but compared to most of humanity past and present. I know that. A snow day drives that home.

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