25 October 2009

A Man Is But The Product Of His Thoughts...

Just a short while ago, I revisited an old childhood favorite...The Little House On The Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I'd forgotten that reading something written so simply could bring me so much happiness.  The books allowed me to relearn the lessons I'd been taught as a child and then forgotten in all the rushing and changing that's been going on since I was 15. 

This is what struck me most about the lives of the Ingalls.  Through thick and thin, Laura's family stuck together.  Through several difficult cross-country moves, Indian home invasions, prairie fires, chimney fires, locust plagues, disastrous debts, and blizzards, they remained a very tight-knit, loving family.  Never fought, never complained, and always made the best of a rotten situation.  Even as they all nearly starved to death in the long winter of 1880 they made do and survived by never letting themselves fall into despair.

When Laura was 15 years old she received her teaching certificate and traveled to a nearby settlement to teach school for a semester.  She was boarded by the school superintendent, Mr. Brewster, and his spiteful, angry wife who resented the move from the east to the prairie.  She kept a dirty house, let her baby cry for hours without noticing, and wouldn't even respond to Laura's repeated attempts at politeness.  When Laura tried to make pleasant conversation as she helped the woman prepare dinner, she'd simply ignore Laura as if she hadn't spoken.  In the mornings when Laura would rise and greet her with a smile and a "good morning", she'd get no response.  In a moment of epiphany, I read the words "Laura had never realized it took two people to make a smile".

When she finally returned home, she asked her sister Carrie if she'd ever thought how lucky they all were to be living in such a nice home with a nice family.  Carrie answered, no, she hadn't thought of it.  To which Laura responded, "Just wait until you leave home.  Then you'll see."

Not that their home was in any way extravagant or built more richly than anyone else's.  During those years, their homestead house was a mere claim shanty, but it was always cozy and always neat and clean.  Small touches here and there, like the gingham red tablecloth and their Ma's china shepherdess lent whatever house they were living in, a warm, cozy feeling.  Even the mud house built into the bank of Plum Creek was kept as clean as it could be with a dirt floor.  Laura's Pa sang a happy tune about sunflowers whenever they found themselves in bad times and his fiddle was always ready to lift their spirits or celebrate some good fortune.  Before Laura left home, she hadn't realized that all this was done deliberately, and with effort, in order to make a better home and a better life for the whole family.

I couldn't help but hold myself up to this new-found standard.  So many times, as I've met with ill fortune, I've let my smile go.  I've complained and struggled and I've forgotten to remember that the things for which I have to be grateful, far out-numer the things which suck.  Plain and simple.  It seems second nature to seek out cheerful people when I'm less than cheerful, myself.  But it does, indeed, take two people to make a smile and it's unfair of me to expect anyone to shoulder all the responsibility of cheering me up. Positive thinking has been pushed to forefront of new age philosophy these days but back then during the homestead rush, new age wasn't even an inkling of a thought yet.  Ma and Pa Ingalls were wise.  Whether they stumbled upon that way of living on accident or were just raised that way, the fact remains that their resilient, can-do attitudes got them all through some sticky situations that others may have not survived.  What is just a childhood story for some was a revelation to me, and a confirmation of what I'd always expected...attitude is everything.

There's a lot more that can be said on the matter, but I've promised you as well as myself to keep my posts short and sweet this time around.  I need to be getting up and out to spruce up my for-sale rental today in hopes that someone will come along and snatch it up quickly.  I'm hoping for a miracle.  And I'll be smiling and softly singing to myself because a light heart really does make life better.

"Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; love more and all good things will be yours."
     ~Swedish Proverb~


Annie said...

This I know for sure, worry and being negative never improves a situation :-). NEVER. xoxo
P.S. Hope your miracle comes through.

Gary Carden said...

I just finished reading Silas House's novel, Eli the Good. Eli, the ten-year-old protagonist has the same values that you discuss and is an enthusiastic follower of Little House on the Prairie (circa 1970's).

julochka said...

i recently reread the Little House books too and i was a little shocked at a couple of things...

1. they knew how to do EVERYTHING! from tapping maple trees and making maple sugar and syrup to butchering a hog to building a house out of nothing on the prairie.

2. they were so strict! think about almanzo pulling his calves out of the snow himself when his father had run him off the road pulling logs. or the scene where the river rises as they're crossing it and pa has to get out and swim with the horses or they'll all be swept away and laura says she didn't cry because a great big girl of 8 doesn't cry! what? or those sundays when they couldn't do anything but sit still.

i loved those stories so much as a child but didn't find them as magical as an adult. it makes me a little sad, actually, because i grew up dressing up in old-fashioned dresses and playing little house.

but, as ma always says, "all's well that ends well..."

and you (and laura) are right that it takes two people to make a smile. :-)

corabela said...

I'm a little behind on my comment review again...I guess some things never change. : )

Annie - Thank you so much for the good wishes. I know they help. : )

Gary - I'm intrigued by this book. Thank you for mentioning it; it promises to be inspiring!