What Jenny's Reading

{October 1, 2014}   Review: By the Shores of Silver Lake: How Many Plagues of Egypt Can We Go Through?

Happy October!  I have the next Little House book review today.

The book starts with everyone still on Plum Creek, a couple of years after the last book. In that time, Pa’s had two poor wheat crops and half the family caught scarlet fever. Oh, and Mary is now blind from the fever. So this is going to be a cheery book!

Incidentally, while scarlet fever isn’t boils, I’m going to go ahead and call this one. Also, Mary’s blindness isn’t “death of the firstborn” but I happen to know that in real life, Laura had another sibling who died very young, and around this same time I think. So that, combined with the blindness, I’m calling the plague of the death of the firstborn. It’s barely a few pages in, and we’re at two plagues, and five total. Halfway there!

Oh, and Jack dies of old age. I will not be discussing that, except to say that reading it when I was little scarred me, so I won’t be revisiting it.

Well, I will say this. I had read somewhere that, in actuality, the family left Jack back in “Indian Territory” for reasons I don’t know, and that Laura was heartbroken about it. So maybe writing Jack into her stories having a good life and dying peacefully in his sleep, was her way of working through that trauma.

The family is going to go West again, to Dakota Territory. One of Pa’s sisters came by the house to ask Pa to take a job with her husband as a bookkeeper. Ma doesn’t want to go, because they’re settled on their farm. I know I tease about Pa always wanting to go West, but here I agree. That creek is cursed, so the sooner they get away from it, the better.

They get West by the train, which terrifies Laura and the other girls. Can you imagine being afraid of everything, the way these girls are? Solid parenting, Ma.

Laura acts as Mary’s eyes, telling her everything around them. Mostly Mary is grateful, but she doesn’t appreciate Laura’s imagination. Mary is still dull.

The trip is uneventful but exciting. Laura encounters her very first ever drinking fountain, and her very first ever dinner at a hotel.

The camp is still a long way off, and it takes them most of the day to get there in Pa’s wagon. When they do, they meet their cousins, Jean and Lena. Cousin Lena is pretty cool. She and Laura take to each other very well, and ride ponies all over the prairie.

Of course, the fun doesn’t last. They head out and stop at Pa’s temporary shanty at a different camp. There are lots of men and things happening, and Laura describes it all and tells Mary they’ll take a walk. Ma and Pa sternly tell the girls to stay away from the men, and to especially make sure they are home when the men come back for the night. They use the excuse that the man use “rough language” and they don’t want the girls to hear it. But I know what they really mean. They don’t want the girls to be raped.

There’s a weird little interlude about possible horse thieves. There’s a man named Big Jerry, who is half Native American, who is kind and good and gambles with the teamsters. He is a better player than them, so he always wins. Pa tells Ma about horse thieves in other camps, and how everyone thinks it’s Big Jerry. Based on their conversation, it seems like people hate Big Jerry and are contriving a reason to shoot him. I can’t tell. There’s a night that Pa goes out and is out a long time, and says that Big Jerry won’t come that night to camp. Did he go find him to tell him? I have no idea. It’s weird. Maybe Pioneer Girl will explain this?

So, I have an awkward question that the books never address. Where did they go to the bathroom? I know they didn’t have indoor plumbing. Did they dig latrines? What did they use for toilet paper? See, these are the things that interest me. Like when I read the Hunger Games series, all I could think was where did Katniss go to the bathroom, and did everyone in the world get to see that on TV too?

Of course I Google it. I guess indoor plumbing has been around much longer than I thought, though it wasn’t used regularly until sometime in the nineteenth century. Also, there is a thing called an “English Regency shower” which appears to be some sort of torture device. And I don’t care what the Internet says, I will never believe that “Thomas Crapper” invented the modern toilet.

Cousin Lena’s family moves out to the camp, so she and Laura can spend some time together again. Not very much, because they’re both very busy. Ma puts the kibosh on that friendship, though, because Lena is fun and Ma wants her girls to be sweet and ladylike. I mean, there’s no reason that you couldn’t be a fun person and still be sweet and ladylike, but I get the feeling that Ma thinks “sweet and ladylike” is sitting around, knitting, and keeping house. She also doesn’t understand why Laura would want to leave the house at all. I think you’ve just uncovered the fundamental difference between yourself and your daughter, Ma.

Anyway, so Pa takes Laura to see the men building the train. It sounds super boring to me, honestly, but she thinks it’s great fun.

Then there’s almost a riot, when Pa pays the teams, because he apparently can’t figure out how paycards work. I guess he’s doing two paychecks a month, and running two weeks behind. The men want to be paid for all the work they’d done till that point, which honestly sounds fair to me. Pa says no, and there’s a big argument and Big Jerry comes in. He pretends to take sides against Pa, and leads the men to another camp where there is already a riot in progress, for the same reason. It seems that the standard for this type of business would be payment for all work done, rather than running behind, if everyone is expecting it. I mean, I have no idea, obviously, but what’s the big deal with paying people for the work they’ve done? Withholding wages is a huge deal, Pa. You can get sued for that.

Oh, and BTW, Laura – you’re going to be a schoolteacher! Because Ma was one before she married Pa, and she wants one of her daughters to be one, too. Mary would’ve done it, but I guess because Mary is blind she can’t, and for some reason Carrie and Grace couldn’t either. So Laura has to teach. Yay?

This book’s theme is growing up. With Jack dying, the move, the discussion earlier about a friend of Lena’s who got married, and now the teaching, it’s obvious. And growing up sucks. This book doesn’t suck, but growing up really does. Poor Laura.

The building is all done and the teams move on. Pa moves the family into the surveyor’s house for the winter, as it’s a real house and has all sorts of supplies, like coal and food. I was going to make a joke about the Ingallses eating up all of the surveyor’s supplies and him coming back in the spring, all pissed, but from the text it appears the surveyor said they could have them.

Before they can move in, though, we meet Mr. Boast. He comes to see Pa because he’s been stiffed on payment for some work. He and Pa devise a scheme where they’ll pretend the law is after the guy who stole the money. Pa draws up a fake writ, and they get another guy to pretend to be a sheriff and serve the writ. It works, and Mr. Boast gives Pa some of the money as an expense. I know I should be all, this is a horrible abuse of process, but come on. That was hilarious. Even Ma laughed.

Breaking news: prairie air cures consumption, a/k/a tuberculosis! But I thought breathing prairie air caused malaria? Who can keep these things straight? I had to Google this, of course. The first thing that came up was something called a “prairie oyster” and it apparently cures hangovers. But then I found a website that indicated this was a real thing. It was thought that fresh air and good, nutritious food was the best thing for TB. No word on whether or not it actually worked.

They manage to find ways to amuse themselves in the winter. Laura and Carrie go ice skating on Silver Lake (well, without ice skates, but you know what I mean), they all sing and listen to Pa’s fiddle in the evening, and Laura even somewhat enjoys afternoons sewing and talking with Mary. Everything is awesome until Laura and Carrie got out on what is likely a full moon to go ice skating, and run into a giant wolf.

The wolf just looks at them, and they look at it, and then they run. The wolf doesn’t chase them. Pa goes hunting for the wolves the next day, but doesn’t really find them. Laura is glad, because she didn’t want him to shoot the wolf. The wolf didn’t chase them. Personally, I think that wild, free wolf was Laura’s spirit animal.

Oh! And Pa finds the homestead while searching for the wolves. He is very happy, and Ma is worried because he hadn’t found it sooner and hadn’t filed on it. He’s not worried, because he knows no one is there and he can file in the spring. Ah, foreshadowing, so nice to see you again! We’ve been missing you through this book.

Mr. Boast makes it back with Mrs. Boast for Christmas, which is very nice. It’s always nice to have company for Christmas. It makes things feel more special, you know? The best holiday my family ever had was when a bunch of non-family members came, and we all sat around, drinking and having a great time. They all have gifts, and Laura shows Mrs. Boast how to make sour-dough biscuits. She explains how to make the sour-dough, which honestly sounds to me like a fantastic way to poison yourself, but I guess it must’ve worked out all right.

Oh, yeah – Mr. Boast mentions that everyone and their brother is moving West, and that Pa is going to need to hustle in the spring to file on his claim. Should’ve done it last year, Pa! But whatever. This is something we expect from him at this point, I think.

And Pa is so pleased that the winter is so mild, and says they’re all lucky they came West. Uh, Pa, I hate to be a spoiler, but the next book is called “The Long Winter.” So…yeah.

Also, he’s finally arsed himself to claim his land. It takes him awhile to get there, because homesteaders keep coming every night and he doesn’t want to leave Ma and the girls alone with them. I mean, this isn’t stated, but it’s implied. Ma is a little pissed that all these men keep coming into their home, but Pa tells her otherwise they’ll die in the cold. So Ma tells him he needs to charge for the food and shelter, at least. I’m with Ma on this one. And that is how the Ingalls family ran a small bed and breakfast one winter.

Finally, Pa leaves to claim the homestead. He has to go and wait in line, in the cold. He’s first, but finds out there’s some sort of mutiny brewing behind him, since the land he picked is so good I guess. But guess who comes to help! Mr. Edwards! Remember him? Came and saved Christmas for Laura and Mary out in Kansas or wherever they were on the prairie, and now he’s come to save their land! Man, Mr. Edwards has a crush on Pa, or something I think. Anyway, Pa is lucky yet again, and they get their land!

Pa must have been a Sagittarius. There’s no other explanation for how good things keep falling into his lap. Except that the story is historical fiction and possibly didn’t happen exactly as Laura wrote it. Okay, just checked. Huh. January 10, so Pa was actually a Capricorn. That is surprising! Maybe he had Sagittarius rising, which I can’t verify.

And Reverend Alden shows up to be a little weird and creepy at the girls again. He’s come out to start a mission but says he’ll be back the next year to start the church in their town. He also tells Ma about a school for the blind in Iowa. Ma is eager to know more about it, and Laura is excited at the idea that Mary might leave. Ha ha, no – Laura is excited that Mary might be able to get an education. She decides she will be a teacher, even though she doesn’t want to be, to help pay for Mary’s school.

They move into town in the spring when the surveyors come back. Carrie makes friends with two girls who live across the street, but Ma doesn’t like Carrie leaving her sight. So Ma decides, how fun would it be for Laura to pretend to be a schoolteacher for Carrie and the two other girls? Ma has a vastly different idea of “fun” than everyone else. The two girls aren’t excited but agree, and you know they tell their parents every night about the boring ass games the Ingalls family plays.

They move out to the claim quickly, after a claim jumper murders someone. Laura and the girls are excited to move, but personally I think that is rather scary, to live out in the middle of nowhere with people coming up to maybe kill you for your land. But the noteworthy part of the move is our first sighting of Almanzo Wilder, Laura’s future husband, and his beautiful horses. Laura totally ignores Almanzo and watches the horses. She spends a long time thinking about how beautiful the horses are, and how they are something she could never have. Sure, Laura. You’re thinking about the horses now. I believe you!

The claim is halfway done, but Pa is happy to be there and finish it so no one can jump them. I would guess that if someone were determined enough, they would be able to take out one man and five women, especially considering Mary’s blindness, Carrie’s frailty, and Grace being just a toddler. But whatever. They are all happy to be there, even if they don’t even have a door.

But we can’t have too much happiness! Grace vanishes one day because they are paying more attention to a bunch of trees than to a child. Everyone runs wild, trying to find her. Laura finds her in a circular depression, filled with violets. She brings Grace home and tells Ma and Pa that she thinks it’s a fairy ring, because it’s so perfectly circular. Ma kills her imagination yet again, because she may be able to neglect watching her youngest daughter, but she’ll never neglect to crush Laura’s dreams. But Pa tells her it was buffalo who created it, and it’s called a buffalo wallow.

Then they have to deal with a ton of mosquitoes. Dare I say – a swarm? I know the original plague was flies, but aren’t mosquitoes even worse? They deal with mosquitoes, and Ma complains about the homestead. Because of course she does. But Pa fixes it up with some kind of smoke smudge and a screen door. So I guess they finally have a door. And on that happy note, the book ends.

Just as an update: we are now at six plagues.


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