Thursday, July 26, 2007

Reading in Snatches

I don't know why I keep trying. Maybe I secretly hope that one of these evenings, dinner will be a silent, uneventful affair, and I will read aloud chapter after chapter from our book.

But it was not to be on this particular night. Daddy is away, directing a teen camp all this week, but we have still been sitting down to meals while he is gone; it helps us to keep a sense of normalcy and routine. On Monday, we had read three chapters from The Long Winter at different points during the day. By suppertime, my boys had cajoled me into cooking "authentic" Ingalls fare; baked beans, whole wheat flax and apple muffins and tall, cold glasses of milk. That's all. We pulled the curtains closed in the house. The overcast sky made the natural light dimmer than usual, so the lit lanterns cast a cozy glow that bespoke an hour later than it really was.

We gathered around the simple table and served hearty helpings of beans and muffins. The boys munched quietly, and Eliana crumbled her muffins into a thousand pieces and then used the tip of her finger to eat them, one by one.

I began to read. In snatches, while I fed her bites of baked beans. We stopped and started, paused for milk clean-up and retrieving Eliana's cup from the floor, but the beauty of the lesson we gleaned that night shone through the happy chaos.

(The Ingalls are experiencing seven months of hard winter - three days blizzard at a time, and few days respite in between. A bundle of papers have made it through the mail, sent by Reverend Alden's church, and the family has been looking forward to reading them as diversion.)

Pa put on his cap again and asked Ma to make dinner a little late. He had time to haul another load of hay if he hustled. He went out and Ma said, "Come, girls, put the bundle of Youth's Companions away. We must get out the washing while the weather's clear so we can."

All that day Laura and Carrie and Mary looked forward to the Youth's Companions and often they spoke of them. But the bright day was short. They stirred and punched the clothes boiling on the stove; they lifted them on the broom handle into the tub where Ma soaped and rubbed them. Laura rinsed them, Carrie stirred the blueing bag in the second rinsewater until it was blue enough. Laura made the boiled starch. And when for the last time Ma went out into the cold to hang the freezing wash on the line, Pa had come for dinner.

They they washed the dishes, they scrubbed the floor and blacked the stove, and washed the inside of the windowpanes. Ma brought in the frozen-dry clothes and they sorted them and sprinkled them and rolled them tightly, ready for ironing. Twilight had come. It was too late to read that day and after supper there was no lamplight because they must save the last of the kerosene.

"Work comes before pleasure," Ma always said. She smiled her gentle smile for Laura and Carrie and said now, "My girls have helped me do a good day's work," and they were rewarded.

"Tomorrow we'll read a story," Carrie said happily.

"Tomorrow we have to do the ironing," Laura reminded her.

"Yes, and we should air the bedding and give the upstairs a thorough cleaning, in this good weather," said Ma.

*My boys mouths froze in mid-chew at this point*

Pa came in and heard them. "Tomorrow I'm going to work on the railroad," he said.


When he had gone to the stable, Ma dropped into a chair near Mary. "I'm afraid, girls, this will be a poor Christmas," she said. "What with these awful storms and trying to keep warm, we've had no time to plan for it."

"Maybe the Christmas barrel..." Carrie began.

"We mustn't count on it," said Mary.

"We could wait for Christmas till it comes," Laura suggested. "All but..." and she picked up Grace who was listening wide-eyed.

"Can't Santa Claus come?" Grace asked, and her lower lip began to tremble.

Laura hugged her and looked over her golden head at Ma.

Ma said firmly, "Santa Claus always comes to good little girls, Grace. But girls," she went on, "I have an idea. What do you think of saving my church papers and your bundle of Youth's Companions to open on Christmas day?"

After a moment Mary said, "I think it is a good idea. It will help us to learn self-denial."

"I don't want to," Laura said.

"Nobody does," said Mary. "But it's good for us."

Sometimes Laura did not even want to be good. But after another silent moment she said, "Well, if you and Mary want to, Ma, I will. It will give us something to look forward to for Christmas."

"What do you say about it, Carrie?" Ma asked, and in a small voice Carrie said, "I will, too, Ma."

"That's my good girls," Ma approved them.
Solemnly, I closed the book and rose to fetch the dishcloth to clean Eliana's hands. Somehow, there didn't seem to be any more words of my own to add to this passage. I am sure that we were all thinking of how little diversion the Ingalls had in their lives, and how the simple pleasure of the promise of a story was enough to put wings to their feet for their work. It had to be done.

How often I reward myself before I've finished well.

My boys were thinking quietly for a few moments, and when the wind picked up outside, and I sent them to put away their bikes and cover the toy box, they went quickly and without complaint. They called each other "Royal", and "Almanzo"; Eliana, "Grace". And I was Ma.

This Ma rose to her task of washing dishes, bathing the children and putting them to bed by herself with a more joyful spirit than when she had begun. It had to be done.

The pleasure of the promise of another chapter before she tucked them into bed gave wings to her feet.

22 fellow travelers shared:

Andrea said...

Oh, man, you can learn so many lessons from that series.

My girls would have a blast playing "Little House" with your boys. I'm always Ma over here, too. :)

henryteachers said...

How fun to bring the book alive for your kids with a special dinner. I'm so glad reading helped you be in good spirits putting the kids to bed alone. It can be so draining doing it by yourself for a whole week. I totally understand, my husband was gone last week for a week long camp too.
We've just started the series and read Little House in the Big Woods today. I just love sharing these books with my children too.
Take care friend,
Mindy :)

TaunaLen said...

What a beautiful lesson for you and your boys. I love to see the impact of a simple truth in stories like this one. Gave me a fluttery feeling, just reading about it. I miss these days with my children. Now they come to me to read a passage out of a book that has spoken to them. I am go glad God pressed into their hearts and minds the hunger for words and reading. The rewards are endless. I will whisper a prayer tonight that God will comfort and bless you as you spend the week without your husband.


tonia said...

Oh for crying out loud. *wink*

Now I have to go get some work done.
And here I was settling in to wasting quite a few minutes reading blogs. :)

This line?

How often I reward myself before I've finished well.

That's going in my journal today and these thoughts will make a difference in my work.

Thanks as usual, Elise.

The Small Scribbler said...

I love this. I felt like I was in your kitchen with you, dodging crumbs and leaning on the table with my elbows listening to every word.


Amy said...

Can I come to your house to listen tonight? :)

My mom used to read Little House to us all of the time...great memories!

What a great lessons to learn over and over, Elise.

love, Amy

Beka said...

I'm quite speechless-- that was such a beautiful, cozy post. Those are the kinds of times I wistfully imagine having with my future children, if the Lord wills, some day.
Funny-- we seem to be reading the same books recently-- I have been reading through the Little House series and read The Long Winter while recovering from my surgery at the beginning of last month. I was struck with so many things we spoiled people can learn from that story.
Anyway, sorry for such a rambly comment, but I really appreciated this post.

EEEEMommy said...

"How often I reward myself before I've finished well."

Ouch! Conviction! But good conviction!

Kate said...

My husband is gone this week, too. Having to tend to 3 children by myself is incredibly difficult and it always makes me more thankful for the help my awesome husband offers me when he gets home. It also makes me respect all those single moms out there who do it constantly! May God give you an extra measure of grace for the rest of the week! Loved the post, as usual.

Me said...

We love Laura and her books around here. I made my girls Little House costumes for Christmas. My oldest wears hers all the time - my youngest isn't so keen on hers and has only worn her bonnet once...I would love to give it to Eliana bu then I wonder if that would be cheating K?

You are right...the finishing well can be difficult.

Grafted Branch @ Restoring the Years said...

We've got Mary, Laura and Carrie over here.

That book was surely humbling.

Beverly said...

Oh I love this glimpse of your evening with your children!! Elise, this is precious. I just love the fact that you brought that story into being with your children. And you know how much I love classics like Little House! I thoroughly enjoyed this.

And right now, Lena is singing to your playlist and rocking back and forth! So we have both enjoyed your blog in this quiet morning at home.

Shelley said...

Warm smiles.

What powerful lessons stories can offer us.


Christine said...

I just got your message! What an amazing birthday treat!!

I couldn't call you back because your number came up unavailable, so email me your number and I'll try to call you back this weekend. We'll touch base at some point. :)

I am blessed by you. Thanks for your birthday wish and prayer.

Love you!

Munchkin Land said...

*Sigh* We grew up on Little House on the Prairie; both the books and the tv series. Thank you for making this come alive for me again. =) And a valuable lesson too.

You are heaven-sent, dear friend!

Joel and Jaime said...

I remember my mom reading the Little House books to us.I must have read them over myself about a trillion times! I have memories of being a little girl and wanting to live in a cabin in the woods :)Oh, the day-dreams of little girls! We never quite out-grow them though, do we? ;)

Roberta said...

We're also reading this series and in The Long Winter right now. (I think you may be a few chapters ahead of us though.) I loved in the last book when they moved into the surveyors house how Ma swept the floor, Laura and Carrie made the beds, moved a box upstairs..and that was pretty much moving in. Gosh if moving were just so easy!

Sarah said...

Elise, I was in your kitchen today! Drinking in every word from the book and feeling just as you did. As soon as I got done reading your post, up I jumped to work. Not guilted into it, but brought back to the sweet simplicity of the value of serving my family through honest, unglamorous, mundane hard work. Thanks for sharing! Little House is so much a part of my childhood sometimes I think Laura's memories are my very own.

Beka said...

Hi there-- something special for you over at my place! I know you just did this, so I'm not tagging you... just awarding you :-)
Much love and many blessings!

Patti Gardner said...

You made a sweet memory with your children by doing dinner like that. I think those kinds of dinners are such a joy!

Katherine@Raising Five said...

Oh, I need to get those books out again for my younger two. Precious and inspiring!

Tracy said...

We love these books. Isn't it fun to be transformed to another time and place? I love that you made an authentic dinner!

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