"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 24
Guess what?! Someone else wrote a post for our book club! Visit Shaz's blog Scattershot for READALONG: Little House in the Big Woods.
As you remember from the Pet Sematary readalong, I like featuring different covers whenever I write a new post. And it turns out that two posts per book was a good idea after all, because Laura Ingalls Wilder's novels don't undergo as many "makeovers" as other books. That kind of makes sense. What you see below is, as far as I can tell, the cover of the current UK edition.
Once Aunt Lotty came to spend the day. That morning Laura had to stand still a long time while Ma unwound her hair from the cloth strings and combed it into long curls. Mary was all ready, sitting primly on a chair, with her golden curls shining and her china blue dress fresh and crisp.
Laura liked her own red dress, but Ma pulled her hair dreadfully, and it was brown instead of golden, so that no one noticed it. Everyone noticed and admired Mary's.
"There!" Ma said at last. "Your hair is curled beautifully, and Lotty is coming. Run meet her, both of you, and ask her which she likes best, brown curls or golden curls."
Now why should I have been surprised that there was sibling rivalry in the Big Woods? It's not all Man vs. Nature all the time. We also get some Girl vs. Girl--though I suppose we all end up rooting for Laura over Mary, if only because we see everything through Laura's eyes . . . and her vision is beautiful.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, aye, little sister? ;-)
Chapters 8 to 13
For me, the main theme of this readalong has been surprise. From its very first chapter, Little House in the Big Woods has been surprising me. Sometimes it's because of a preconceived and totally off-base notion of mine; sometimes it's because of an utter lack of context that isn't even my fault. Take the chapter on the cheese . . .
Laura and Mary liked cheese-making. They liked to eat the curd that squeaked in their teeth and they liked to eat the edges Ma pared off the big, round, yellow cheeses to make them smooth, before she sewed them up in cloth.
Ma laughed at them for eating green cheese.
"The moon is made of green cheese, some people say," she told them.
The new cheese did look like the round moon when it came up the trees. But it was not green; it was yellow, like the moon.
So had you known about that link between the moon and cheese? I hadn't!!! Right until I came to that episode, I thought that "green" meant green--and I wondered how anyone ever thought that the moon was the same colour as the grass, much less all the people needed to take up an expression in order to turn it into "oral literature." So when I learned that "green" meant not yet ripe--and that cheese that is not yet ripe is the same milky colour as . . . the moon . . . I can't even finish that sentence!
That's something I don't know partly because cheese-making has stopped being an essential domestic skill and is now a multimillion dollar industry. Not that I'm complaining; I'm just wondering, as I did last January, how many other things we lose without knowing it . . . and whether, when all the books are balanced, we may find ourselves the poorer for having made those bargains.
And I think the off-stage exit of the cheese is more ominous than the on-stage entrance of the grain separator.
[Pa said to Ma:] "It would have taken Henry and Peterson and Pa and me a couple of weeks a piece to thresh as much grain with flails as that machine threshed today. We wouldn't have got as much wheat, either, and it wouldn't have been as clean.
"That machine's a great invention!" he said. "Other folks can stick to old fashioned ways, if they want to, but I'm all for progress. It's a great age we're living in. As long as I raise wheat, I'm going to have a machine to thresh it, if there's one anywhere in the neighbourhood."
Did I imagine--I ask myself chidingly--that because Wilder wrote so beautifully about a lost past, she should also be some kind of Luddite? The "old" ways described in Little House in the Big Woods are charming not because they are divorced from modern methods, but because they have weight that I daresay the latter do not. Pa's and Ma's lifestyle is one that lets people go to bed at the end of the day happy, because of work well done during the day. Technology is utterly peripheral to their understanding of work.
As my friend Bob likes to say, machines are just amplifiers--extensions of our arms . . . or our eyes . . . or any other part of our bodies. And thus they are benign.
That's why I'm sure that when the food industry first got started, it was equally benign--envisioned as an extension of a hard-working mother's arms. Cheese-making is great, the early adopters must have thought, but if we pay someone else to make the cheese, we'll get to do so much more with our time. I'm sure nobody planned for things to turn out as they are today.
And how are things today? Let me make my point, Pa-style, by squeezing a story into the end of this "chapter" . . .
A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a Spanish client about an activist group in Madrid called Comida Basura ("Junk Food"), which goes through garbage bins to salvage food that has been thrown out but is still fit to eat. Much of it, they find, is still in its original packaging. Then, to make their point that modern Spaniards waste too much food, they then clean what they have gathered, cook up a feast with it, and throw a block party.
Anyway, I asked my client if he was surprised at all the food the group was able to collect. He surprised me by saying he wasn't--because he and his wife throw out heaps of their own groceries each month, too! Then he explained that with both of them working full-time jobs, it's just more "practical" to guess wildly at what you might need for the month and to shop accordingly than to plan each meal as economically as possible to save money. Which makes them the anti-Ma and anti-Pa, I guess, although they both clearly work just as hard for their family. In their case, machines are not for amplifying, but for outsourcing. I suspect that is a view that we, their contemporaries, all share.
What are your thoughts on Chapters 8 to 13?
1. What "wonderful machine" currently in your home do you think children sixty years from now will find quaint?
2. If you had to take the job of Domestic Scientist / Home Economist / Household Manger tomorrow, would you be able to hack it?
Feel free to write your own readalong post to answer these questions or to bring up any issues from the second half of Little House in the Big Woods that you think I should have addressed! Link back to this one and I'll be happy to return the favour! =)
UPDATE: Here is a readalong post from Scattershot!
Image Sources: a) Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, b) Grain Separator