I’ve always been a big “Little House on the Prairie” fan. As a little girl I watched the shows and read the books. On my honeymoon my Handsome Hippie Hubby took me wading in Plum Creek. Now I’m a mom and I get to read the Little House books with my girl.
I’ve written before about how, as a child, I wanted to be like Mary Ingalls but, lately, I’ve been noticing Caroline. Caroline is the wife and mother in the stories. Everybody talks about Laura but I think maybe they’re missing a major theme of the stories.
I think, maybe, the mom was the real star in the Ingalls family.
This woman went to work as a school teacher when she was 16 years old. She then married Charles and they moved, with 2 small daughters, from Wisconsin to Kansas. Charles had thought that the territory was available for settlement but he was misinformed. It turned out they were on an Indian Reservation and they were told by the government they needed to move. So, with baby Carrie only a few weeks old, they loaded their wagon and headed back to Wisconsin.
After about 4 years Charles got itchy feet and packed the family up again. This time they moved to Wisconsin. They lived in at least 3 places in Wisconsin, over a period of about 2 years. During that time Caroline gave birth to her only son, who died at the age of 9 months. 40 years later she gave an interview in which she spoke about still missing her baby boy and wondering how life would have been different had he lived.
The family then moved to Iowa, back to Wisconsin and finally on to the Dakota Territories where they very nearly died from cold and hunger.
There were times when her husband had to leave the family alone in the wilderness in which they lived to go earn money by working in town or for the railroad. He left his wife and daughters, sometimes, for months on end.
If we are to believe all accounts (and there are actually quite a few), this woman never once completely lost it with her husband. She wrote letters and memoirs but not one of them says, “I can’t believe this LOSER didn’t take the time to figure out that the land WAS A DARN INDIAN RESERVATION!”
When grasshoppers and hail completely bankrupted the family she didn’t start using the corn to brew moonshine to drown her sorrows. She consoled her husband, asked him what he thought they should do next and carefully packed the family’s possessions into the wagon for yet another difficult long-distance move.
When her daughter went blind she found a way to earn the money to send her to a special school and give her every opportunity to live a full life.
When her son died, which surely must have been the most difficult of any challenge she faced, she carried on pouring her love into her daughters and husband.
She raised girls who became successful wives, mothers and businesswomen in their own right. She, through the strong moral values she imparted to her children, influenced generations of American children who have loved the “Little House” books, shows and movies. She was an amazing woman!
Her home was a place of love, safety, learning, nourishment and strength. Her house was peaceful. No one raised their voice in anger or spoke in a disrespectful manner toward another member of the family.
Every indication is that the girls felt free to come to their mother with their problems, but they were never allowed to have temper tantrums or act hysterically. The girls were expected to work hard, contribute to the well being of the family and always look out for one another. Caroline taught her children to care for their neighbors under all circumstances, to be thrifty, to find joy in the simple pleasures of warm sunshine and a thriving garden and to give thanks in times of lack as well as times of abundance for, truly, there is always something to be thankful for.
As a child, I wanted to be like Mary. I wanted to be pretty and clever and good. Those are great things to be but, now that I’m grown up I think I’d like to be like Caroline. I want to be a bright, shining example for my children. I want to guide them with firmness and love. I want to be a rock for my husband: the one thing he can count on when his world crumbles around him. I want to be thrifty and strong and inventive.
Some days I think I’m doing pretty well. Some days I have a little more room for growth. But, hey, last weekend I wore a long skirt and canned my own tomatoes. I’m on the road…
Which women from history inspire you? I’d love to hear about them!
Are you, too, seeking to save the earth, promote world peace and raise productive citizens without expending too much effort?
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