A while back I remember reading a poignant article about a mother and daughter team who had moved back to New York City, to a small “fifth floor walk-up apartment.”They had recently given away many of their things due to their need for a smaller place. They were reading Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, which was bringing out their inner resilience.
“It was several weeks of reading before I noticed how the uncomplaining dignity of those people was slowly entering us,” notes the author Marie Howe.
These were the kind of things I was thinking about when I took my children to the Georgina Pioneer Village this summer.
It was hot, dusty and virtually empty. I imagine the place fills up with a hubbub of school excursion/camp activity on other afternoons. But on this day, it was just Us and History.
What did I notice?
I don’t know if this is actually the way it was then, but the stark simplicity of the room arrangements would make anyone wistful for a more streamlined cleaning routine.
Also, the sense of a calm community through thick and thin. Here was the church. The general store. The bandstand. The children would have lived through so many laughs together in that one-room schoolhouse. I wonder what the school pickup was like after school. Were parents lining up for their kids outside the school in horse and buggies?
Probably children walked in groups of twos and three with older children watching younger ones. Along country roads. In the dusk. As Laura and Mary did, too.
When they got home, the settler children of Georgina probably had chores to do. Howe describes how she and her daughter began to refer to housework as “chores.”The more immersed the author became in Little House on the Prairie, the more inclined she was to feel satisfaction from “putting every single dish away – as Ma did. Sometimes I’d stand in the hall looking in – as if the tiny kitchen were the world, ordered, clean, and in the little table-lamp light, lovely.”
By the time New York author Marie Howe and her daughter had reached the middle of the series, they were hand-making all their Christmas gifts. This included warm numbly knitted scarves and embroidered pillowcases. Hardship was endured with greater ease. Lugging heavy bags up five flights of stairs in cold weather now seemed like nothing. After all, the Ingalls family had lived through blizzards, drought and scarlet fever.
Howe and her daughter joined forces with others in the city, (inviting neighbours to their apartment for tacos, for instance). They felt happy. They were only sad to see the series end, to reach the last book.
My children and I left the Georgina Pioneer Village feeling that way too. A simple kind of happy.
Photo credits: TDeep