I honestly can’t remember a time when Laura Ingalls wasn’t as familiar to me as I was to myself. I don’t remember the first time I read her books, and I can’t recall the first time they were read to me: I only know that there was never a time I didn’t know her name and her story. Laura Ingalls was as much a part of my everyday life as my teddy bear, my parents, and my house.
It can’t come as a surprise that I identified strongly with her. After all, we had the same name: the only two Lauras I knew of in existence until I was in high school. It seemed only right that we should also share a similar temperament: like Laura, I was stubborn and mulish, sensitive to criticism, an avid reader, a solid and smart student, and prone to bursts of righteous indignation and temper. Laura’s despair over her plain looks resonated with me, especially as I got older and my blonde hair starting darkening into the unimpressive mousy ash blonde it is today. Like Laura, I loved to run around outside, climbing trees and getting dirty, but I also wanted to be pretty.
We weren’t alike only in personality, either: it seemed to me that Laura’s family was my family, only in a different time period. Her Pa and my Pop: both brown-haired, bearded, blue-eyed, cheerful, sometimes stern, and always with a fiddle (or guitar) close to hand. Ma could have been my Mum: petite, brown-haired, able to cook anything and sew anything, master of all sorts of mysterious magics that make a house run smoothly.
Most familiar though was the relationship Laura had with her big sister, Mary. Could I relate? Well, I, too, had an older sister who seemed perfect in every way. My sister never got in trouble, always got perfect grades, was an exceptional athlete, and all around annoyingly good. She never seemed to make the missteps my brother and I stumbled into regularly.
Of course, as I grew older, I, like Laura, learned to recognize the human flaws and imperfections in the people around me, but as a child, I felt as though only Laura could possibly understand.
There was so much we had in common: we both loved the idyllic, rural areas in which we grew up—the pleasant valleys and hills of Western Massachusetts for me, the Big Woods of Wisconsin for her—and we both spent a large part of our time outside and active. We both hated household chores. We both dreamed of writing stories. Laura was a scrappy, flawed, human protagonist. She was me.
And now, she’s still reminding me of the things I love and the things I should do. Laura was proof that I could work hard and do well, even if I wasn’t naturally talented at something. That it was a good thing to love home, but just as good to leave it and see more of the world. And that bravery is more about what you do when you’re scared than not being scared at all.
From Laura Ingalls, I learned that it was as fine a thing to spend a day reading as it was to spend it outside playing and that work well done could be as satisfying or more than a game or an hour of leisure. Her struggles were both petty and expansive: she was a rascal who never quite managed to live up to the sainthood she aspired to. She was beautifully human.
As far as books go, I learned as much from Little House in the Big Woods and its subsequent sequels as from any thick textbook. Love your family. Trust that there will be good things to come after the bad. Work hard, and enjoy your time off. And, if you can, try to pick up just as many pretty pebbles as your pockets will take.