A friend of mine emailed me yesterday to ask if I were planning to attend last night's meeting of the local History Book Club. I wasn't, I didn't even know about the meeting, but they were talking about The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and between that and some other details, I decided I would attend. The meetings are held at the Cultural Heritage Center, which is the location of the above photo of the Pirate. I was the first car to arrive and the museum looked dark, so I waited in my car for a while until a few others arrived. (And let me tell you, those 10 minutes alone in my warm, dark, QUIET car? Best 10 minutes of my day.)
The speaker for the evening was Nancy Tsytad Koupal, the director of Research and Publishing for the South Dakota State Historical Society. The SDSHS Press is hard at work on publishing Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiography, Prairie Girl. They have a website devoted to the project that includes such things as videos of Laura's house, the desk where she wrote, and Pa's fiddle. The autobiography itself is a handwritten document that they are carefully transcribing into an electronic form. Previous typed copies included edits by Laura's daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, and the SDSHS Press would like to use the original document. (Interesting side note: back when I lived in Alabama and worked at Burritt on the Mountain, one of my jobs was to transcribe the handwritten diary of Dr. Burritt's first wife, Pearl Budd Johnson, from 1892. It took me a very long time before I could even decipher part of the text- her handwriting was incredibly hard to read. It was not completed before I left.)
Ms Koupal gave a very interesting talk about Laura Ingalls Wilder in general, and then we all talked a bit about The Long Winter in specific. For many of the people at the meeting, The Long Winter is their favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder book. In many cases, this was because they would relate to the blizzard and it was fascinating to them to see how the pioneers made out in a storm. Despite not having read any of them in nearly 30 years, The Long Winter is also the most memorable for me. Since I am from Alabama, had little experience with snow, and NO experience with blizzards, the entire book seemed like pure fantasy. So much snow you'd get lost on the way to the barn? Impossible! The entire conversation makes me compelled to read the book again as an adult, and as a South Dakota resident, and see if I find it plausible now. (Spoiler: it is.)
A couple weekends ago Mike and I took the kids to the Children's Museum in Brookings, SD. On our way there we drove through DeSmet, SD, which is where Laura grew up, and the setting for both The Long Winter and By the Shores of Silver Lake . Several of the buildings and homes from her life have been preserved and there is a formal tour for visiting and touring the site. Unfortunately, they are closed on the weekend, so the best I could do was take pictures from the curb. We have plans to go back in the summer and check it out in better detail. (The snow in the pictures is pure coincidence, but I think it adds to the authenticity of this post, no?)
For more information you can visit the SDSHS Press, the Prairie Girl Project, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, or the Ingalls Homestead site.
I'll let you know when I re-read The Long Winter, and how it stands up to time.
Edited to add: The Little House on the Prairie Read-a-Long is taking place! Go here for details.