All Aboard!

By the Shores of Silver Lake

Out of college, my husband taught in a private Christian school for seven years.  We loved ministering to the high school kids and living in Kansas.  They were formational years to our Christian life. Of course, we often joked that the three best things about teaching were June, July and August, but we loved working with teens the most.

When my husband went into the computer industry, he had the typical vacation schedule with only two weeks off.

Box T 1997

At the same time, he began teaching the Bible every summer for two weeks at  Box T Bible and Saddle Camp run by Florence and Lewellyn Tewksbury in the middle of North Dakota.  We loved the teen ministry and didn’t mind having no time off.  Our ministry together was our family vacation.

However, driving from North Dakota to Montana to visit my parents each year with a car full of little children and no husband was a challenge.  We found help one year when we bought a Disney video and it came with an Amtrak coupon for buy one adult fair, get one child for free.  The baby was free, the middle children were half fare, so we had a deal. 

I  took the train for the first time in my life.

It was an exciting adventure, even if we couldn’t afford the sleeper car, and even if it ended up taking longer than driving.  They placed us in a smaller handicapped room with two seats that faced each other.  I had a cooler of snacks and a huge bag of books and new toys.  My favorite memory was reading Ransom of Red Chief by O.Henry aloud. I think I was more excited than my kids.

North Dakota 295(pics from Ritzville, WA train depot and museum)

The Ingalls’ didn’t quite share my enthusiasm for taking a train when Ma and the girls moved by train from Plum Creek to Dakota Territory. There were too many unknowns for them.

p. 6  Pa said to Ma, “I’ll go with Docia tomorrow morning…  Nelson’s agreed to haul our stuff to the depot, and you’ll all come out on the train.”

p. 7  “Laura knew, of course, that people did travel on trains.  The trains were often wrecked and the people killed.  She was not exactly afraid, but she was excited.

Ma said in her quiet way, ‘I am sure we will manage nicely with Laura and Carrie to help me.’ ”

 

North Dakota 293

p. 16, “Clean and starched and dressed-up, in the morning of a weekday, they sat in a row on the bench in the waiting room while Ma bought the tickets.”

North Dakota 270

p. 16, “At the ticket window, Ma carefully counted money out of her pocketbook.”

 

North Dakota 280

p. 16, “The two satchels stood on the sunny platform outside the waiting-room door.”

North Dakota 274

p. 16, “Traveling on the train cost money.”

p. 30, “She knew now what Pa meant when he spoke of the wonderful times they were living in. There ha never been such wonders in the whole history of the world, Pa said.  Now, in one morning, they had actually traveled a whole week’s journey.”

In the end, Laura, of course, decided it was a thrilling adventure, to the point of wishing her pa was a railroad man.

 

 

For further study about the wonders of the train world:

Northern Pacific Railway Museum

Great Northern Railway History

Friends of the Burlington Northern Railroad

Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association

Central Pacific Railroad

Railroad Hall at the Smithsonian (pics)

Advertisements

“…and Mary was blind.”

Shores of Silver Lake

Chapter One

As if the pain was too great, Laura simply tells us:

p. 2 “Far worst of all, the fever had settled in Mary’s eyes, and Mary was blind.

She was able to sit up now, wrapped in quilts in ma’s old hickory rocking chair. All that long time, week after week, when she could still see a little, but less every day, she had never cried. Now she could not see even the brightest light any more. She was still patient and brave.

Her blue eyes were still beautiful, but they did not know what was before them, and Mary herself could never look through them again to tell Laura what she was thinking without saying a word.”

I don’t know about you, but I was amazed. I’ve pitched fits over lesser hardships in life. I often wonder if the Ingalls were really this stoic, or if Laura uses poetic license to write the story the way she wants their family to appear. Either way, the Ingalls continue teach us all how to press on through life’s hardships.

I wouldn’t be so brave if I lost my eyesight.

eye-worksheet_thumb7

We printed out this worksheet with the unlabeled parts of the eye. Used website Kids Health to label the parts of the eye. We read about blindness.

We enjoyed reading about Mary’s ability to cope with her new life challenge.

p. 17 ”Ma, Laura’s fidgeting, too. I can tell she is without seeing.”

Mary is thrilled to tattle on Laura fidgeting, not because she loves to tattle, because she is learning to “see” without eyes.

Later, as they stand in the prairie sunshine, Mary asks Laura if she has her sunbonnet on.

p, 79 “Guiltily Laura pulled up her sunbonnet from where it hung by its strings down her neck. YEs, Mary,” she said.

Mary laughed. “You just now pit it on. I heard you!”

Fanny-Crosby_thumb

Another assignment was to read about Fanny Crosby, (link contains beautiful stories of conversions because of her hymns) so we pulled this from my bookshelf to read a chapter a day.

Then, I showed Rebekah how to look up authors in the hymnbooks. She was amazed at how many hymns Fanny had written that she was already familiar with.

Miracle-Worker_thumb10

While sewing Pioneer Shirts, we watched this video about Helen Keller. What a captivating movie! I wept as Helen spelled w-a-t-e-r, even though I’ve known the story since I was a little girl and watched this several times.

While talking about blindness, Beka asked the cutest question.

“How do blind people sleep? Do they close their eyes?”

I assumed they did, but still had to Bing it. Yes, they close their eyes to keep them from drying out and to keep them clean.

Then we learned about Anne Sullivan and the Perkins Institute for the Blind. It was exciting to know they are still open and serving people. Their website is a great source of information. Most of my links below are from their site.

I was surprised to learn how Charles Dickens played a part in Helen’s life. After the Kellers read his account of the successful education of deafblind child Laura Bridgman, at Perkins, they contacted the school and asked for help for Helen. Anne Sullivan, a friend of Laura’s, was sent to their home. (The link isn’t working. Type in Anne’s name on the website and scroll down to find her entire biography.)

Click on the link to read an AP article with rare photo of Anne and Helen.

Even though Anne was nearly expelled several times, she graduated. Read her Valedictory Address and rejoice in her gracious encouragement and thanksgiving.

We loved even scrolling through the online store, to see what technology is available today to help the blind. It’s one thing to read about Braille, it’s another to be able to see the tools and the code.

A historic painting of the Perkins campus from the Charles River.

This is a postcard of the Perkins campus from around 1913 and is used with kind permission coutesy of the Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, Mass.

I love this quote from their website:

“We are not in the education business or the rehabilitation business, or any other business; we are, each of us, in the dignity business.”—Michael L. Wehmeyer, Professor of Special Education

This unit study had a personal impact, my great-grandfather was blind. He lived next door to his daughter, my grandmother, and lived like Mary, with quiet acceptance and determination. A Norwegian immigrant, he had the same pioneer spirit of determination.

He was a tall man, and as a very young girl, always short for my age, his loving voice seemed very far above me. I remember seeing the bottom or his curling mustache and his smile.

Thorvald-and-Clara_thumb9

He loved to tease. I was sitting across from him at the small kitchen table and eying the bowl of sugar cubes in the middle of the table. One of the relatives quietly signaled me to take a sugar cube. Of course, I did, feeling sneaky. Then Grandpa with the Mishmash, I couldn’t say mustache, asked me why I was sneaking his sugar cubes. I never understood how he could “see” me. I knew he was blind.

Sometimes I would test him and reach my chubby, dimpled fingers to the dish, sure that just once I could fool him. I never could.

That same visit, my Aunt Hedi, always the instigator of laughter and fun, insisted I give Grandpa directions to his radio on the shelf in the living room so he could turn it on and listen to music. I had a moment of self-importance, being big enough to help.

I walked into the next room and I pointed. Grandpa didn’t move. He reminded me he was blind. I tried again with words. We were center stage in the middle of happy older relatives, who were giggling and coaching.

In final desperation, I reached up on tiptoes, grabbed his large hand and tried to drag him to the radio. He knocked into furniture and laughed and played along. I wasn’t a very good guide, but we made it to the radio.

My Mom shared about her Grandpa with the Mustache.

Grandpa’s blindness kind of slowly snuck up on him. He had a workshop in the basement of the house (next to mom & dad’s) with his turning lathe, coping saw, etc. He worked on many projects, making rolling pins and fixing stuff over the years. He seemed to sense when something wasn’t straight or smooth enough. His touch was pretty good for locating things, and finding his way around. I remember that his sense of hearing improved tremendously as his blindness progressed.”

He had cataracts and possibly also macular degeneration. In those days, (50’s–60’s) they weren’t as capable of dealing with cataracts as they are now. As an example (1966) when I first worked at the hospital in Helena, our cataract patients had to lie flat in bed with bandages over their eyes, window shades drawn, no lights on, and had to use a bed pan. They didn’t get out of bed for about a week, or more. They were given sponge baths and were spoon fed. When I had my first cataract surgery in 2000, I checked in at 6:30 or 7 AM, and was out by 10:30, with dark glasses. We went out to breakfast, then shopped for groceries. It is so different today.”

Today, my Great-Grandpa with the Mishmash’s sight would be restored with a simple out-patient surgery. Like Mary, he figured out how to see with his hands and his ears. He continued to be a kind, patient and serving man until his death. He dealt with his blindness so patiently, I never grew up thinking of it as a handicap. It was just a characteristic of my grandpa.

Now, I “see” his life differently and I admire him even more. It makes me long for one more chance to sit on his lap and twirl his mishmash with my fingers.

And I want one more chance to steal his sugar cubes, because I’m pretty sure, just this one time, I wouldn’t get caught.


Living Under the Bank on Plum Creek

On the Banks of Plum Creek

 

We started On the Banks of Plum Creek a few weeks ago, and I still haven’t gotten over the move.

At the end of Little House on the Prairie, Pa had to leave Indian country. He moved his family back to Pepin, WI for two years before taking that covered wagon west to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. So, Ma had another tearful goodbye with her family.

image

It was a long drive for the Ingalls family. Of course, we have GPS, Mapquest and even old fashioned printed maps, but from what I’ve read, there were only rugged trails.  The Ingalls family traveled 196 miles in a bouncy wagon on a journey that offered no amenities, no fast-food restaurants and no rest areas.  Certainly no free coffee or vending machines at those wayside stops for the weary.  If they had good travel days and were able to travel 10-15 miles per day, the journey would have taken  13-20days. If they traveled 5 miles a day, the journey would take 39 days.  Can you imagine eating on the road that long without McDonalds?

After traveling the dusty trail,  they get to live in a dirt house.  Not even a sod house, a house made with bricks of sod.  It was a dugout. The Norwegian, Mr. Hanson, dug out under a grassy creek bank like a bear’s cave, then made the front wall out of sod.  He’d even made a real door and a greased-paper window. I loved how Laura described the usefulness of the window, p. 11.  “But the wall was so thick that the light from the window stayed near the window.” The interior walls were white-washed, which I find amazing. How do you paint dirt?  I can believe a Norwegian would paint dirt, I come from a long line of strong, Norwegian women who waged a lifelong war against dirt and disorder.

I didn’t really enjoy the way Laura described Mr. Hanson on p. 2. Norwegians are very handsome people. “His hair was pale yellow, his round face was as red as an Indian’s, and his eyes were so pale that they looked like a mistake.”

But, Pa stereotyped my people correctly when he was describing the dugout to Ma on page 6. “I think you’ll find it very clean,” Pa told her. “Norwegians are clean people. It will be snug for winter, and that’s not far away.”

Ya’ got that right, Pa, Norwegians are very clean people.  My Grandpa Arne came from Norway as a young man, lying about his age to come to America sooner.  He ended up in Kindred, ND and married Geneva, the daughter of Norwegian immigrants, then lived  next door to his in-laws the rest of his life. I always admired him for that.

My grandparents lived in a tiny house, less than 400 square feet, with only a tiny bedroom, a tiny kitchen and a tiny living room for years.  Running water and electricity were added sometime when Mom was in junior high. Yes, that means they had an outhouse, and as a child we used it. The house was tiny, sparsely furnished, but always clean. The best part?  My grandparents never, ever, ever  moved.  My Gramma was as content to stay in her little tiny home as Ma Ingalls was to move from state to state with her husband.

Grandpa Arne died when I was a senior in high school, and Gramma lived alone for about 12  years before moving into a nursing home.  When did we know it was time?  When she could no longer keep her house clean.  I remember my own Mom being so distressed to notice Gramma’s decline, noticing  “Last time I went to visit her, there were drips down her walls.”  A sure sign of decline for Norvegians, fur shur. (There were other signs, too, please don’t think we were a bit over-anxious clean freaks.  My dear Gramma suffered from Alzheimer’s.)

My mom is equally a great housekeeper, even while raising six kids.  We were all taught to cook, clean and garden.  Our clothes weren’t always new, but they were always clean, mended and pressed.  We were even taught how to iron creases into our jeans.  Mom always taught us, “Soap and water are practically free.”  In other words, the condition of your pocketbook didn’t need to reflect the condition of your home.  We were taught to take care of what we had.

The bead situation with Ma frustrated me slightly, but with this move, my admiration for Ma increased greatly.  She moved into a dirt home, because that was the home her husband found for the family.   

Plum Creek dugout1

Of course, Laura the Adventurer, is the first one in the door of the dugout. See the original site here. She’s enthralled by the morning glories growing around the home.

 Laura recalls her mom saying, “It’s small, but it’s clean and pleasant.” (p. 11)  Ma doesn’t complain, she looks for things to admire.  Anybody else feeling that the lessons in the Little House books aren’t only for the kids?  I marvel at Ma for following Pa from state to state without complaining.  Of course, we don’t know about the whispered conversations after the kids were in bed, but Laura portrays their life as all bliss and contentment, so we won’t look for dirt, since Ma is living in it. 

On p.17 we hear a little more about the root of her contentment.  “It is all so tame and peaceful,” she said.  “There will be no wolves or Indians howling tonight.  I haven’t felt so safe and at rest since I don’t know when.”

Ma is thankful for the peace and safety, but Pa is excited the town of Walnut Grove is ONLY three miles away. I don’t wanna’ walk across the street to the mailbox, let alone three miles to the nearest town. I Mapquested the Target and discovered it’s 4.28 miles away. I definitely would have to have a LONG list before I wanted to walk there.

As she is putting the girls to bed for the first time she says, “It’s bedtime.  And here is something new, anyway.  We’ve never slept in a dugout before.”  She was able to laugh even though she was living in a dirt cave.

 Oh fur shur, you betcha, it probably was a gut move for dem, ya know. In case ya’ wanna’ know how tu speak MinnusOtan, I rote about dat once, ya’ know. Pa vas lucky enuff to lif around Norvegians, they’s gut people, ya’ know, fur shur.  I tink I’m gunna’ like dis book, On the Banks of Plum Creek.

 

Lessons from Colored Beads

 

In Little House on the Prairie, Pa took Mary and Laura on a walk down the trail near their to the abandoned Indian camp.  The girls were delighted to explore, but I’m pretty sure Laura was pretending she was an Indian princess.

When they first settled in the area, It amazed me that apparently Pa didn’t know the trail was active.  Aren’t homesteaders supposed to know all that good stuff about tracking, footprints, and Indian trails? Maybe he just wanted the land, so he told the family it was old.  Maybe he didn’t know.  But, after living there awhile, the Indians had sadly  moved off their land, and Pa was free to explore the area.

They saw holes left by tent poles and charcoal remains of fire pits.  Pa read the tracks of large moccasins, small moccasins, bare toes, rabbits, birds and wolves for his two little girls. He had them examine the bones around the fire to determine that the women had cooked rabbit for dinner.  A homeschooling father in all his glory, turning an adventure into an education.

When Laura finds a blue bead, the educational moment ceased, and a treasure hunt began. Living in such simplicity, those beads were a prize. I wonder if Laura dreamed of that moment for years to come, the thrill of bending over to pick up yet another bit of brightly colored glass.  When they were through, Pa tied Laura’s beads in one corner of his handkerchief and Mary’s in another.  Since the girls rarely owned anything of their own, I loved Pa’s wisdom in keeping them separate.  At home they unwrapped them to show Ma.

Laura remembered, “The beads were even prettier than they had been in the Indian camp.” (p. 179)

What happened next I still have a hard time sorting through in my mind.  Mary, the Good Daughter, gives her beads to Baby Carrie.  Laura felt the pressure to be good and gives her treasure away, too. They strung all the beads together into a necklace for a baby. When the baby began pulling at the strand, Ma put it away in the trunk for when she grew up. For the rest of her life, Laura felt naughty for wanting those beads.

I don’t understand why Ma didn’t stress sharing, instead of just giving.  The girls had so little, and the beads brought no joy to the baby.  She deprived two girls of a joy that would have brightened their prairie life by giving a treasure to someone incapable of enjoying it.

The assignment  for the prairie primer was to make a beaded necklace. Like Ma, I’ve made some mistakes in parenting, micro-managing projects has been one of them.  A type A person, I like things done correctly, on schedule, and according to directions.  I like to tell them exactly how to do it.

It took me awhile to realize nurturing creativity is just as important as nurturing the ability to follow directions.

For this project, I said, “Make a beaded necklace.” I let Rebekah know what types of beads I had and the types of beading I could teach her.  I offered to run to the craft store if she wanted to learn something more complicated.

She went for the simple plastic pony beads and yarn.  I didn’t say anything.  Ya’ know, I sure don’t want her to write a book about her disappointing bead experience years from now.

 

pumpkin, grandparent dolls 179

I was  surprised  to see her book propped open in the tub of beads.  When I asked why, she said, “I only want to use the colors that Mary and Laura found.”

 

Yea, she totally owned that project.

 

pumpkin, grandparent dolls 180

She’s learning to multi-task, a necessary skill for a woman.

 

beka 010

 

It was beautiful, it was simple, and it was done according to her standards. I was happy she finished.  She had fun creating. Years from now, when she reads Little House on the Prairie with her kids, and they get to the part of Laura’s bad bead memories, I hope she speaks of her beaded necklace and her mother with fondness.

It’s Simply Providential!

Little House on the Prairie 001
Chapter 5

 

 

If you are an Anne of Green Gables fan, you’ve heard the term
“providential” in several situations.

The time that stands out in my mind is when Marilla is thinking of bringing Anne back,
because she wanted a boy,
and Mrs. Spencer is letting her know Mrs. Blewett would surely take Anne,
because she has a lot of kids and needs help.

In walks Mrs. Blewett, whom Anne describes later as looking like a “gimlet.”

The friend sing-songs out,
“There’s Mrs. Blewett now.  I call it positively providential.”

From the book,
“Marilla did not look as if she thought Providence had much to do with the matter.
Here was an unexpectedly good chance to get this unwelcome orphan off her hands,
and she did not even feel grateful for it.”

 

The Ingalls family, although we don’t know
exactly what they believed,
also recognized the providence of God in their lives.
When Ma and Pa are building their new home in Kansas,
and a log rolls onto Ma and only gives her a bad sprain,
Laura wrote p. 61,
“It was Providential  that the foot was not crushed.
Only a little hallow in the ground had saved it.”

 

By calling it Providential, they are simply acknowledging  that
God caused or allowed events and provisions in their lives.

Today, the majority of people now attribute circumstances
to karma, chance, luck, Mother Earth or any other being
they choose to worship instead of the Creator.

 

Contrast the dictionary entries for

PROVIDENTIAL,
our assignment for chapter five from the Prairie Primer.

 

image

This was snipped from Dictionary.com, our favorite online dictionary to use.
I am not pointing this out to discredit them,
but to show merely how times have changed.

 

 

image

Compare this to the online dictionary from the 1828 Noah Webster dictionary.

Of course, I keep this site on the heading of my Prairie Momma blog, in case you forget.

 

Saying something is Providential, doesn’t imply the person has
saving faith in the Lord Jesus,
they’re only acknowledging the God in Heaven.

Today people might say,
“God bless you!”
when you sneeze but they aren’t bestowing a true spiritual blessing on you.

 

People might say
”Thank God!”
when they escape being run over by a car,
but that doesn’t mean they are really bowing in thankfulness
in true humility before a Holy God.

When we study history, we might read true saving faith into someone’s life
only because they use the term Providential or acknowledge God.

Understanding the language patterns of the times
is the first step to discern if people from “The Olden Days,”
as my daughter likes to call it,
had true faith.

We combine what they say, how they lived and what they put their faith in
to try to discern if they were professors or believers,
just like today.

But, the ultimate decision of whether someone has saving faith in Jesus Christ,
is determined by the Lord God, who sees into the hearts.

It’s simply Providential.