Back during the Great Recession of 2008 I had a newborn baby and a lot of anxiety. As is my way I panicked a little, and then looked for a book to read. One book that came up over and over again was The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I decided to give it a go, and my journey with the Ingalls family began.
I was looking forward to getting to this book in my re-read of the Little House series!
My first time through I loved this book. Ma could do so much with so little! They ate so many baked potatoes, and they all sounded delicious.
When the books starts we’re back on the homestead by the Big Slough, and Pa’s harvesting the hay. He starts to see troubling signs. The walls are too thick in a muskrat house, and the frost is coming too early. I wonder what Pa would say about this winter in DC where we haven’t had any snow, and my kids sometimes go to school in shorts? Would he find these signs just as troubling as the ones just before the Long Winter?
When the family harvests their garden there’s not an overwhelming amount of food. They put up some tomato preserves and a bunch of potatoes. After an early blizzard they decide to move into town where they can be warmer and close to the general store.
They know they weren’t able to produce enough on their homestead to make it through the winter.
Laura hates living in town with so many people around. Ma likes living in town because Laura and Carrie can go to school. Laura is not thrilled about going to school, but knows she has to be a school teacher when she grows up. It’s the only way her blind sister Mary can go to college.
Laura does make friends at school, and she meets Cap Garland. Laura never comes right out and says it, but I always get the feeling she wished she had married him instead of Wilder.
Maybe I’ve just read too much fan fiction?
Anyway, blizzards soon start slamming the little town of DeSmet and school and everything else gets shut down. The Ingalls family is in town, but you would never know it because the blizzards keep everyone locked up in their houses without any chance to visit. Only the men sometimes get to go out and play checkers.
Even the trains cannot run. Every time a team of men gets the tracks cleared another blizzard comes and buries them again. Eventually the train people give word that they won’t be going anywhere until spring.
The Ingalls family has no choice but to hunker down, and use all their energy just to survive.
Laura Ingalls Wilder does a good job of portraying what it must have felt like to be trapped in the house while storms howled on for days.
Without the trains to refill the stores the town eventually runs out of food. They were all new to that country, and no one’s garden did well the first year. They all assumed the store would keep them supplied during the winter. For people big on self reliance they sure were caught out that winter.
At one point Pa says,
“These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves – they’re good things to have, but the trouble is folks get to depend on ‘em.”
It sounds like it was pulled from a campaign speech, and was most likely an example of how Laura’s daughter Rose inserted some of her anti New Deal views into the stories.
Politics aside, the fear and depression they must have felt at being locked in a house for months with snow above the windows is palpable. Pa stops playing the fiddle, Laura can barely make herself move, and Ma even yells at Pa. (Finally.)
They survive of course. There are still three more books to go.
Ma saves the day at one point when she somehow managed to find a fish she had hidden somewhere in the house. (I don’t get it either.) Wheat is secured in various ways, and the family keeps themselves in bread by grinding it in the coffee grinder. The train doesn’t come again until May, and the Ingalls family impresses the heck out of us by surviving until then.