What Jenny's Reading











{September 14, 2014}   Review: On the Banks of Plum Creek: Mean Girls on the Prairie, Part the First

The book starts with Jack, the dog, walking under the wagon again. Because I guess these fools didn’t learn their lesson the first time. They get to wherever the hell they’re going and Pa trades their horses and wagon cover for a hole in the ground, some oxen, and a field.

Yes, you read that right. They’re going to live in the ground. Okay fine, I guess it’s technically a hole in the side of a hill, but there is a hole in the ground somewhere for their fireplace. Ma is thrilled, as I’m sure you can imagine. Pa promises it’s just till they get their first wheat crop, since the soil is great for wheat. He can’t understand why the guy they bought the house from had such a small, light crop. Does he think to ask? Of course he doesn’t! Anyway, they’re going to have a real house and a real buggy and all sorts of wonderful real things, once the wheat is harvested.

Pa’s been cozying up to his good friend foreshadowing again. Spoiler alert: take note that the first instance of it happened on page 7.

The girls enjoy playing in the little creek by the dugout house. One day Pa takes them around the bend to show them where the creek goes. It’s deeper here so they aren’t allowed to come alone. Ma also tells them to stay in the shallow water. Laura doesn’t listen, though, and Pa “ducks” her by grabbing her feet and pulling her under water. She’s frightened but also thinks it was great fun. Pa wants to know why she didn’t yell when he did it. Uh, Pa, she was under water. You should be happy she didn’t yell, otherwise you’d be doing CPR right now. Hold on. Just Googled and CPR apparently wasn’t invented till around 1960. So I don’t know what you would’ve been doing other than very likely mourning a drowned daughter.

Anyway. Laura decides to go back to the pool the next day, even though she isn’t supposed to. She’s stopped by a scary animal and runs home, but feels horrible that she broke her promise. See, this is how you know Laura is a good kid. No one would ever know, but she confesses anyway because she feels bad.

Pa and Ma are pretty cool about it, honestly, and she’s essentially grounded for a day. Man, I once accidentally kicked my sister off a swing set (I swear it was an accident!) and I was grounded for a week. Remember being grounded? That sucked. Laura agrees, but she is good the next day and is allowed to play outside again.

Laura and Mary are tasked with driving the cow and oxen into the barn every evening. This is surely an appropriate chore for kids under the age of nine! So, CPS wasn’t a thing back then, I’m thinking? Anyway, they do pretty well at this till one day the whole herd freaks out and one of them ends up halfway through the roof of the dugout. Shockingly, no one dies. Ma and Laura think this is hilarious.

Pa comes home one day and tells Ma that people keep calling the weather “grasshopper weather.” They have no idea what this means. Do they ask? Of course they don’t! That would be the smart thing to do. Instead, they decide it must be a weird Norwegian saying and brush it off. Yep. This is certainly a solid plan.

Next, Pa and Ma head to town for the day for…some reason. I don’t know. They take Carrie with them but leave Laura and Mary home. Laura and Mary fight and play and finally Laura decides she’s bored and heads out to the prairie. She then finds that cow herd eating all the hay Pa stacked for their own livestock. She and Mary try to shoo them away. Well, Laura tries, at least. Mary is frozen in fear, as any kid would understandably be. Because this is not a chore for children!

They are able to get the cattle away from the haystacks, somehow. Then they wait for Ma and Pa to come home. Because these children haven’t been traumatized enough for the day, they see the wagon coming really fast because one of the oxen was spooked. Pa is running beside it, trying to head them off before the plunge into the creek, while Ma and Carrie are trapped on the wagon. Luckily Pa gets them to stop and the wagon crashes, but everyone is okay, thank goodness!

I am thinking that this creek is cursed.  How many plagues of Egypt were there again?

There is further discussion of “grasshopper weather,” and how strange it is. There is no snow, not even at Thanksgiving. Again, do they ask their neighbors or anyone in town what exactly this means? No, they do not.

Christmas is coming, which sounds like great fun. Except, of course, if your mother is Ma. Ma tells the girls that Santa Claus means unselfishness, so if you are unselfish, Santa Claus will be with you. Ma also tells them that they need horses, and maybe if they wished hard enough for horses, they would get horses for Christmas. Nothing else, just horses.

And, pause. So Ma’s brilliant plan to get the girls to give up Christmas is to tell them that Santa Claus is really an unselfish nature. Oh, and you can be unselfish by wishing for horses! Which is something Ma and Pa want. So where is the unselfishness, exactly?

Remember that these girls believe in Santa. They don’t know about Ma and Pa not having enough money to buy gifts for them. They just know they are being asked by their Ma to give up their Christmas wishes so that Pa can get his horses. Ma lays down the guilt trip pretty hard, and Laura is super conflicted. She wants presents, but she also wants what Pa needs.
I’m grossed out by this. They already expect so very little for Christmas anyway (remember the year they were super happy about having a whole freaking penny?), and now you’re stealing what small joy they have, because you know the girls are going to do what you want. Suck it, Ma. And suck it, Pa, because no way do I believe you didn’t know about this little discussion.

Also, get this: even Mary is silent about the horses thing. When freaking MARY, queen of the goody two shoes brigade, thinks this is bullshit, you know it’s bullshit.

Laura caves, and then Mary does. So they will only have horses for Christmas.

Oh, but wait! Except for Carrie. Carrie will get a button string, which sounds like the worst gift ever this side of work horses, but at least it’s a gift for her.

They do get the horses for Christmas. Pa clearly traded the oxen for the horses, which begs the question: the fuck was with all the guilt tripping?

Then Laura nearly drowns in the creek. Nature: 0, Ingalls: Infinity.

Pa sows the wheat field and one day they see the tiny little green shoots come up. They are all very excited about this. The next day, Pa goes to town by himself and comes back with tons of lumber. He is going to build a house!

How can they afford such an expense? Why, he got it on credit, and when the wheat is sold he will pay it back. The wheat, mind you, that is just tiny green shoots. Any number of things could happen to that wheat before he’s able to sell it. And I’m sure the dugout wasn’t exactly exciting, but it was shelter that they owned. But nope! He’s going to build a house. And the house is going to have GLASS WINDOWS. What more can you possibly ask for?????

Ma is going to send the girls to school, now that they have a real house and they are close to town. Laura doesn’t want to go. Too bad! I am in agreement with Ma, here (first time ever, right?). School is awesome.

At school, Laura meets Pippi Longstocking. I mean, she’s calling herself “Christy Kennedy” here, but it’s clearly Pippi Longstocking. They become great friends, because Pippi is as awesome and fun as Laura.

Laura also meets Nellie Oleson, a hoity-toity little town girl who bosses everyone around and is bitchy to Laura and Mary for being from the “country.” Nellie is a Mean Girl in training.  Her father owns a shop in the town, and she has pretty dresses, so obviously she thinks she’s way better than everyone else. Nellie makes everyone play the same boring games at recess, every day, and because she’s a bully they all do what she says.

Until Laura shows up, that is. Laura basically tells Nellie to stop trying to make fetch happen and convinces the kids to play a different game. Nellie is rude and mean and pulls on Laura’s braids. Oddly, no teachers seem to think this is bad behavior and put a stop to it. Maybe Nellie bullies them too. Well, when the kids play Laura’s game, Nellie cries and cries because she doesn’t get her way.

Oh, this is hilarious: Pa is horrified that the teacher is letting Mary and Laura use her slate, so he has them buy one. I mean, how awful to borrow a slate, am I right? I guess that’s different somehow than (essentially) borrowing a whole house?

Anyway. Nellie has a party and invites Laura and Pippi. Nellie’s party is just the worst. Her mom is polite, but you have to wonder about a woman who raises a kid as awful and bratty as Nellie. The party is at the store in town, and Nellie shows off all of her expensive toys and dolls. She has a real china doll, which Laura finds impressive but that Nellie clearly couldn’t care less about. She also has something called a “wax doll” which I am assuming is more like the dolls that kids these days might play with. It talks and looks lifelike. Laura is enchanted, and touches the doll’s clothes. Nellie freaks out and tells Laura never to touch her doll, and puts it away. Poor Laura is so embarrassed by this awkward display that she sits alone for the rest of the party and reads.

I realize that Nellie probably had the party as some form of making Laura and probably Pippi feel bad. But if the doll thing was the worst she could do? Well, let’s just say I don’t think she has it in her to be a real Mean Girl. Maybe someday, but not quite yet.  (In case you are curious, that is my own form of foreshadowing!)

Lucky for her, Ma had decided they need to have their own country party, to pay back Nellie’s hospitality. And you can’t spell “country party” without R – E –V – E – N – G – E!

Everyone has a great time at Laura and Mary’s party, except for Nellie. Nellie is rude to Ma and to Jack also. Laura takes everyone down to the creek to play. She spooks the huge crab out and uses this as an excuse to chase Nellie into the deep, muddy water. Where she knows there are leeches. Which of course then attach themselves to Nellie, who is horrified. Laura plays it up, screeching at Nellie and freaking her out till she cries about the leeches and runs around on the bank, trying to get them off.

I think we have all learned a very important lesson here. Do NOT fuck with Laura Ingalls.

The town builds a church, and Ma is so happy to go to church again. Laura and Mary are a little less thrilled, since they find out this means they will need to go to Sunday school, and they think having to go to school on Sunday is bullshit. The Sunday School teacher is a little bit condescending, too; she assumes that the girls don’t know Bible verses, and tries way too hard to be Laura’s new best friend. Laura acts like any kid at church – that is, she ignores all the sermon stuff and looks out the window. What? Don’t tell me you paid attention to church when you were a kid. I won’t believe you.

Then Laura meets Reverend Alden and takes a liking to him. He tells her that he’ll expect to see her every Sunday for Sunday School, and Laura knows he won’t forget. Hmm. Kind of feels like a cult, from that description. (No “all religions are cults” jokes, please.)

Reverend Alden really likes Laura. Like, really. I’m not saying anything. I’m just saying. He’s weirdly forward for a stranger, even a pastor.

And on that note, do you remember me asking earlier about the plagues of Egypt?  I sure hope so.  Let’s chat about them a bit more! Specifically, locusts. One day Pa is getting ready to harvest the wheat and tells Ma he thinks a storm is coming, since there is a cloud. Except it doesn’t look like a storm cloud.

Guess what happens, I dare you. You get one guess! What’s that? “Giant fucking grasshoppers descend on the prairie and start chomping on Pa’s wheat field”? DING DING DING! We have a winner! Sorry, but the only prize is self-satisfaction.

The grasshoppers munch and munch. At first, the family tries to get rid of the bugs and save the wheat field. A valiant effort, but ultimately futile. For days, they are trapped in their house. DAYS. All the while they listen to the chomping and chewing of thousands and thousands of grasshoppers. It’s pretty amazing they didn’t go crazy. Well, more crazy.

Amazingly, they also do other things while the grosshoppers (typo and it stays!) are destroying their field and home. One day Pa takes Laura and Mary to church. Ma stays home with Carrie. The girls’ good church dresses get ruined by the grasshoppers spitting all over them. Disgusting! Also, at church, they find out that a lot of families are going back East, because of the grasshoppers. Laura has to say goodbye to Pippi, which is sad.

And the wheat is all gone, eaten by a plague of locusts that would’ve made Moses tremble. IF ONLY THERE WAS SOME WAY THIS COULD HAVE BEEN ANTICIPATED. Like maybe, and I’m just spitballing here, asking even one person what the fuck “grasshopper weather” is.

Pa’s not leaving, though. He’s determined to make this work! He goes out to sow a new field for new wheat next year. I mean, I guess he has to. At this point I’d probably concede I’ve been beaten by nature and retreat. But then, I am not an Ingalls.

Of course, Pa does decide to go East. But only briefly. He found out that there are jobs back East for harvesting, because the grasshoppers were only in a small section. (What did I tell you? That creek is CURSED!) He leaves the next morning, walking all the way. I can’t imagine having to walk 100 miles or more for work.

While he’s gone, the girls don’t go to church, but on Sundays they read the Bible and repeat verses. Ma reads them to story of Moses, and the locust plague. Laura finds this particularly ironic.

I do have to point something out. Ma reads the part about the land flowing with milk and honey. Laura thinks they might have to walk in it, and that would be sticky and gross. Ma explains what it really means. I point this out because, as a child, I thought the EXACT SAME THING. “Ick, we’d have to walk through it? How does that do anyone any good?” Nice to know I wasn’t the only one!

Sometimes Ma’s friend Mrs. Nelson came to visit, to break up their days. You know, Laura never talks about any fun things they do. She talks about work mainly. I know work and chores took up much of their days, but I’m sure they did fun things sometimes.

Well, one of Mrs. Nelson’s visits was extremely not fun. She brought her daughter Anna with her, who was about Carrie’s age. Mary and Laura would try to play with her, but she was a child with a more destructive nature. She ripped up their paper dolls and screamed, so Mary told Laura to get Charlotte and let Anna play with her. So Laura did, but when it came time to go Anna wouldn’t give her back. And then Ma told Laura to give Charlotte to Anna, because she was a baby and also a guest. Okay then. Give away her beloved doll just because some bratty toddler refused to give it back. And Mrs. Nelson doesn’t say anything at all! What the fuck is up with that???

Laura does it, and is very sad, and Ma tells her not to be so selfish, and continues to berate her when she is sad. Yeah, Laura’s super selfish, expecting to keep her possessions to herself. You’re a bitch, Ma.

It all works out and Laura does get her back, but that’s only when she rescues her from an icy puddle because Anna tossed her away. Yes, clearly it was an excellent idea, giving a toy to a child who didn’t really appreciate it and couldn’t properly play with it. Good thinking, Ma!

I guess Nellie Oleson’s family stayed West, because they run into her again at her father’s store. She’s bitchy and rude and shows off her fur cape, then mocks Laura for not being able to afford one herself because her Pa isn’t a shopkeeper. Well, guess what happens next! They go to church at Christmas, and there’s a big Christmas tree that has gifts on it for everyone there. Most of the gifts are weirdly inappropriate for children – like Laura gets a nice jewelry box and toddler Carrie gets a china dog. But then Laura gets a little fur cape and muff! Take that, Nellie! She gets to rub it in Nellie’s face, too, which I think is the best Christmas present of all.

Then it’s summer again, and the grasshopper eggs all hatch and the gross grasshoppers eat everything. Again. Which is why they should’ve moved the year before, but whatever. The noises drive them all to peak craziness till one day, the grasshoppers all just start marching West. They march right through the house and right over Carrie, which makes my legs and arms crawl with creepies. Ick! Do not want. But they leave. I Google “grasshoppers marching en masse” and get nothing, so I try “grasshoppers marching together” which leads me to “marching locusts” and apparently when an infestation gets large enough, the grasshoppers just start leaving. For some reason, they all leave together, even though the reason they’re leaving is to get away from such a large number of grasshoppers. I could continue to research this, because it’s actually interesting, but I am tired of looking at pictures of giant grasshoppers, so I won’t. Also, I’ve typed “grasshopper” so often in the last five minutes that it doesn’t seem like a word anymore. Grasshopper! Grasshopper!

Anyway. They leave. Hooray! Pa leaves, too, to continue working so he can pay for the house. And then Ma and the girls have to battle wheels of fire in their house and outside on the prairie, because God forbid they have any down time between disasters. I mean, seriously. WHEELS. OF. FIRE.

So at this point they’ve endured two of the ten plagues of Egypt: locusts, and storms of fire. And they still stay. I think they’re just mocking nature.

Pa comes back and he and Ma go into town. It blizzards while they are gone, because of course it does. I guess they couldn’t exactly turn on the weather channel. So the girls rush about to bring in the woodpile so they don’t freeze to death. When Pa gets home, he laughs at them for doing this, even though it’s his fault. Before they left, he told them all a story about parents leaving to go to town and a blizzard happening. The kids burned all the furniture but still froze to death before the parents could get back. Foreshadowing is still Pa’s best friend, I see.

Then there are more blizzards, and finally one day they stop. Pa decides he needs to go to town to get some things, even though Ma asks him not to. Then a blizzard comes up, and Pa doesn’t come back. For three days. Ma does well here, trying to keep the girls distracted and doing the chores. I’ve also decided this is another plague of Egypt: darkness. Technically it’s all dark during the blizzards, and no one can see outside. So now we are up to three.

Oh, and their house catches fire, but they put it out. Seriously, by this time they should just kind of shrug their shoulders at fire.

Pa finally does make it home, on Christmas Eve. He got stuck in the blizzard and ended up hiding out in their old dugout to keep safe. Luckily he had bought some food in town, so he didn’t starve. He did eat their Christmas candy, but they are okay with that. They have a celebration/Christmas dinner. So the book does manage to end on a slightly upturned note.

Plaguewatch: three (locusts, storm of fire, and darkness). We are still missing rivers into blood, frogs, lice, swarms of flies, diseased livestock, boils, and death of the firstborn child. I’d watch my back if I were you, Mary.

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