“…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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.


What About Those Missing Years?

Shores of Silver Lake

 

As soon as we  cracked open the new Little House book, we had a few surprises. (click on links below to find sites to validate times, places and events)

 

Laura is now a teenager.  There are three missing years, since the Ingalls family only lived in their Plum Creek dugout from 1874-1876.

 

Between reading Shores on Silver Lake and doing research, we discovered some pain in those three years.

1. Ingalls family moved to Iowa and back. While there Pa helped run the Masters Hotel.  (See amazing  photos here. Really amazing photos.)

2. They had a son named Frederick who died. 

3. The family faced Scarlet Fever and Mary lost her sight.

4. Ma and Pa disagreed over moving west for several years.

 

As a wife and mom, my heart ached for Ma. Losing a child would be pain enough, but add in illness and poverty and I can only imagine how Ma was able to keep waking each morning. Some people air their pain like laundry on a clothesline, others hide it away.  But, it never goes away.  In one place I read, Ma was known to have claimed things would have turned out differently if only Frederick had lived. Laura loses a son, as does her daughter, Rose.  The family chooses to say very little about their pain, but we know it goes deep.

 

As a very young mom, I met a dear older woman who was visiting our fellowship and I asked if she had children.  The tears began flowing. She struggled for words to tell me about the death of one of her children.  Even though the death had occurred over 50 years ago, and she wasn’t bitter or angry at the Lord, she still missed that child.

 

My imagination and my experience in life fills in the blanks about these missing years.

 

 

I feel a little annoyed each time Pa decides to move them again, I long for them to settle.  This is the first time you get the idea that Ma actually put her foot down and kept it there for two years.

p. 3  “Pa did not like a country so old and worn out that the hunting was poor.  He wanted to go west.  For two years he had wanted to go west and take a homestead, but Ma did not want to leave the settled country. And there was no money.”

 

 

When a relative showed up offering him a job, Pa made a quick decision to pack the wagon and move to Dakota Territory.

p. 4 “Ma still did not want to go west.”

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Docie had driven her wagon 196 miles to offer Pa a mouth-drooling salary of $50 a month to run her husband’s store. They have another 111 miles to go fro Minnesota to Dakota Territory.

Pa sold his entire farmstead for $200.  He has a chance to make $600 a year, enough to buy three farmsteads.  No wonder he didn’t wait very long to answer. 

p. 6 “I hope it’s for the best, Charles,” Ma replied, “But how –“

“Wait till I tell you!  I’ve got it all figured out,” Pa told her.  I’ll go on with Docia tomorrow morning.  You and the girls stay here till Mary gets well and strong, say a couple of months…you’ll all come out on the train.”

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Ma lifted her foot and Pa left her alone with two small children, one teenager and a newly blind teenager. 

 

 

p. 7  “I am sure we will manage nicely with Laura and Carrie to help me.”

 

With amazing strength of spirit, Ma accepts more change,  loneliness and having to start over again.

 

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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

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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.

Bladder Up!

It never fails.

We’ll be sitting at a baseball game,
like an All American family,
and my hubby will embarrass me.

He never yells,
”Batter up!”

He has to yell,
”Bladder up!”

After 26 years of marriage,
I am still madly in love with this guy,
but still don’t think this is funny.
Nor is the fact that he only has about three jokes,
and none of them make me laugh.

Good thing he’s so stinkin’ cute.

The Ingalls girls were so hard up for toys,
they were thrilled to play with a blown up pig’s bladder
after helping their Ma and Pa butcher.

 

SERIOUSLY DUDE?
THAT IS TOTALLY GROSS!
That’s what this generation would say.

 

EEWW!
Was anybody else totally disgusted by this?
My daughter, Beka, and I tried to talk through this.
We discussed how they had almost NO toys.
They had almost no friends.
Work was a daily part of their life.
Surely, if we were in their shoes,
we’d be thrilled with a bladder balloon, too?
Right?!?!?!?!?!?!?

I dunno.
Maybe Laura didn’t understand anatomy at her age,
and that her toy used to have urine in it.

No matter how much I love Little House,
I wasn’t going to buy a pig’s bladder.

Instead of visiting the butcher, we went to a party store.

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I pondered for awhile,
then asked Beka what color looked the most like a pig’s bladder,
silk white, silk ivory or milky white.

With slight pre-teen annoyance she answered,
”I don’t know, Mom, I’ve never seen a pig’s bladder before.”

Yea, DUH, I knew that.

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We opted for Silk Ivory.

 

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My adorable granddaughter, Brookelyn, joined us for this educational activity.

 

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So did her our neighbor, Norah,  the daughter of Kelly-Across-the-Street
featured occasionally in my
Momma Mindy’s Moments blog.

 

It makes it extra fun to come to Gwamma’s house AND
have a best friend across the street.

 

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Plus, it adds life to our Gifted and Talented Class with only one student.

 

 

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We popped a few and lost a few over the fence.

 

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Volleyball didn’t quite work out and neither did catch.

It  wasn’t a long-lasting thrill.

Maybe our kids have too many toys to be thrilled by a balloon.

Maybe a balloon isn’t that fun.

Maybe Laura made it seem so fun so butchers for the next 100 years
would be selling bladders.

Maybe if you’d never owned a ball in your life,
it would have been a blast.

It’s really, really hard to walk a mile in Laura’s shoes,
and be thankful for the bladder entertainment,
so it makes her writings even more special.

But maybe our activity wasn’t that special because we didn’t have Dad yelling,

 

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“Bladder up!”