I loved watching Little House on the Prairie when I was growing up. For Laura things seemed so simple and pure. Only two outfits to choose from; the daily outfit or the church outfit. One piece of penny candy was the most special treat. Fires to keep you warm and the shade of a tree to cool you. There were no traffic jams, no cell phones, no Facebook. They listened to Pa play the violin or Ma read a story by the firelight for evening entertainment and anxiously awaited the new book Mr. Olsen would stock at the Mercantile.
I’ve thought about Ma and Pa and Laura and her siblings a lot lately. I’m out here “in the country” now. Only 7 miles from town and yet sometimes it feels like I’m in another world.
Our new home was built on the site of a former 1960s campground that hosted a music concerts by the likes of Johnny Cash and the Statler Brothers. Our yard is a museum filled with fossils from those wonderful summer nights of iconic music. Amongst the trees and land there are concrete pads where campers claimed their plot for the weekend, the old campground flagpole, a horse shoe pit and a shuffleboard court.
In the few short weeks since moving in, I’ve sat on the front porch watching my sons throw the frisbee and engage in heated games of shuffleboard. Ellie and I make our daily walks up the lane to get the mail and she has a new favorite pastime of taking tractor rides around the yard.
And yet there are the city conveniences that are no longer at our fingertips. The boys can’t ride their bikes to pick up a pizza, see friends quickly, or head to the gas station down the street to get their daily Big Gulp fix. I don’t have my friends, family and running buddies as close by and I definitely have to plan my trips to ‘town’ much more carefully to make sure I get everything needed to avoid another half hour round trip to get that one thing I forgot.
But the peace and beauty are a great return for the small sacrifices and bits of extra efforts. At night, the quiet and beauty of the darkness is overwhelming and the stars seemed to have multiplied ten thousand fold. In these summer evenings we are surrounded by a symphony of lightening bugs amidst a chorus of bullfrogs, coyotes and cow moos.
This morning Chris and I’s early morning walk led us to a beautiful adventure. At the end of the lane, we turned left instead of right as we have every other morning and stumbled upon the Ater Cemetery, a beautiful burial ground dating back to the early 1800s. The haze of the gravestones and the sun rising over the trees nearly took my breath away. I was immediately reminded how my Ellie calls cemeteries heaven – a direct result of her correlation of her Mimi being buried in one and her certainty of where her Mimi now resides.
As we walked amongst the graves, many of which were too worn to even pay respect to the name once carved in the stone, a figure appeared. Ms. Carolyn was picking berries for her morning meal. Clad in an all pink warm up suit under what was most likely her husbands old work shirt and ball cap. Her beautiful white hair reminded me of a cross between my Grandma Jean and the leading actress from the movie A Trip to Bountiful. She lives in the house in front of these graves which is surrounded by the most lush garden and free range chickens. She warmly welcomed us, her trespassers, and offered us eggs from her flock. Charlie, Ellie and I went back with money for the eggs and got a personal tour of the cemetery and her gardens after she finished up cutting up one of her roosters who literally and figuratively lost his head after he had ‘flogged’ her and one of her grandkids the day before.
Carolyn led us through the stones and brought us to one certain monument she wanted us to be sure to read. “Read it for yourself and be sure to go all the way around,” she directed. The dates were from the 1880s and marked the passing of 4 children ranging in age from 2 to 14 years old, and the Father that died in the same years with his kids, and finally the mother who lasted until her sixties surely mourning the loss of her husband and children alone. “It’s a good reminder of how much hardship people had to endure back then,” Carolyn said in nearly a whisper.
She’s so very right. That simple life Laura lived in Walnut Grove did not come without great work and sacrifice.
I found myself walking around that land with a great sense of thanks to all those who had come before us. Those who founded this area and withstood wars, disease and who knows what else to create this world I’ve stumbled into.
I think some are surprised that this city mouse has made the leap from fast-paced working girl only a few years ago to living on the prairie amongst the fields of corn and pastures of cows. But, I’m starting to think this house on the prairie is my own little piece of heaven.