Monday, March 29, 2010

By the Shores of Silver Lake Book Discussion - The West Begins

Early the next morning they climbed back into the still loaded wagon. "See you at Silver Lake," Lena called out to Laura. She and her family would be along soon; that was as soon as Uncle Hi settled his business. Once again Laura began to see out loud for Mary. She described the road winding down to the Big Sioux River; there was nothing but big sky and grassy land. The river was dried up and trickled along from pool to pool. It was enough for the horses to drink from though. In Laura's words to Mary, "the road pushes against the grassy land and then it ends." For beyond the Big Sioux there were no more fields, no houses and no people. There really wasn't a road either, only a dim wagon trail. There was also no more railroad grade; but as Pa called them, there were surveyor stakes for the railroad grade that was not yet started.

All morning as Pa drove, they seemed so small against the vast wide open prairie. When the sun finally reached overhead they stopped to feed the horses and themselves. This prairie felt different. It was enormous and very, very still. Pa talked about his new job and of his excitement about being one of the first settlers and having his pick of the land.

Soon the sun was lowering in the west and they were about ten miles from Silver Lake. Glancing backward they noticed a rider closing in on them. Pa slapped the horses with the lines to hurry them along. Laura looked back again and spotted a second rider on a white horse. This rider overtook the first one as they approached the Ingalls' wagon. "Everythings all right now," Pa said. "That's big Jerry, he wouldn't let anbody hurt us." The riders soon came up beside the wagon and Pa greeted each of them. "Hullo Ingalls," Big Jerry answered. The other man just snarled as he rode on by. Soon after Jerry galloped off behind him. Pa assured them that Jerry would make sure they made it into camp safely.

Wild ducks and geese were honking as they settled down for the night on the lakes ahead. There was Silver Lake and the twin lakes Henry and Thompson. The dark blob between them Pa pointed out was a huge cottonwood tree. "We will get some seeds from it and plant them on our homestead," Pa said. They traveled the last eight miles in the dark aiming for the lights from the shanties in the distance.

When they finally reached the shanty with the lights on, Uncle Henry greeted them in the doorway. Pa surprised Ma and kept it a secret that Henry was there. Cousin Charles, now all grown up, had helped everybody down from the wagon. Charles was not that little boy anymore who always caused trouble and got chased by those bees back in Wisconsin. Cousin Louisa came outside and hustled everybody into the shanty for a warm meal. After they ate, Uncle Henry escorted them to a new shanty the men had built for Pa. In the shanty there was a bunk on one side for Pa and Ma, and on the other side there were two narrow bunks, one on top of the other for the girls. Louisa had seen to it that the bunks were already made. In no time at all Laura and Mary were cuddled on the fresh hay mattress with the sheets and quilts drawn up to their noses. Pa then blew out the lantern.

Synopsis provided by Lorrie

By the Shores of Silver Lake Book Discussion - The Black Ponies

The girls awoke to sunshine coming through their canvas tent. "Hurry up, we're going for the washing," laughed Lena. They didn't need to dress since they hadn't undressed the night before. Breakfast was jolly. Aunt Docia had made pancakes and afterwards there was a huge stack of dishes to be washed, but nothing like Lena was used to. Most days she and her ma would be busy cooking and cleaning, three times a day for forty-six men. This was why they hired out the laundry work.

After their chores were done, Laura helped Lena harness the buggy to the black ponies and the girls took off. It was within minutes that Lena had them running. Faster and faster the ponies flew while the girls laughed and sang. They knew they were safe for there was nothing out there but wild grass to run into. After a while Lena slowed the ponies down to let them breathe, but it wouldn't be long before they wanted to bolt again. Lena promised Laura she could drive them on the way home.

They arrived at the claim shanty and the homesteader's wife came out carrying their basket of clothing. She apologized for her unkempt appearance. Her daughter Lizzie had just gotten married the day before. Lena and Laura couldn't believe it. Lizzie was only thirteen; she was their age. Both girls told each other it would be quite some time before either of them got married. They weren't ready to settle down and they were having way too much playing around.

As promised, on the trip home Laura did get to drive the ponies. She too had them running in no time. When they finally stopped to unhitch the horses, it was then they discovered the top layers of clothing from the basket ended up on the buggy floor under the seats. They quickly straighted out the basket and brought it into the shanty.

After they ate their dinner and finished the dishes they ran back out to the ponies. Jean and Lena rode them bareback, hanging tightly to their manes for balance. Lena then persuaded Laura to climb aboard Jean's pony. With Lena's help Laura mounted the pony before the horse bolted. She hung on to the mane for dear life. An afternoon of scratched up legs, a bloody nose from the pony's head hitting her and falling off twice; Laura had a wonderful afternoon. When Aunt Docia finally called them in for supper, Ma looked at Laura in shocked amazement. She looked like a wild indian. Her hair was no longer pulled back in tight braids, but flowing wildly about her face. She and Lena made quite the pair. It had been a long time since Lena got an afternoon to do as she liked.

Synopsis provided by Lorrie

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

By the Shores of Silver Lake Book Discussion - Railroad Camp

Early that next morning they were all in the wagon heading west. Grace sat between Ma and Pa on the spring seat and Carrie and Laura sat with Mary between them on a board laid across the wagon's box. They traveled without the wagon's canvas. During their journey Pa told them that Uncle Hi had finished his contract and was moving to a new camp further west and most of the men in camp had already cleared out. In a couple of day's Pa told Ma, they too would be moving on. He would find a claim for them further west.

Laura did not find much to see out loud for Mary because there was nothing to see but empty prairie. The jolt and jiggles of the wagon came up through the hard board on which they sat. The girls didn't complain but were grateful when Pa finally stopped the wagon to feed the horses and themselves some lunch.

The afternoon was longer than the morning and darkness soon overcame them. Everybody was getting tired but the jolts of the wagon didn't allow for much comfort for sleep. Finally, in the distance Pa spotted the light in one of the shanty windows. Aunt Docia and her children greeted them upon their arrival. With a little nudging from Aunt Docia, cousins Lena and Jean greeted the girls. Laura liked Lena; they were very close in age. Lena told Laura bout her two black ponies and asked her if she would like to go riding. Tired from her journey Laura was finding it hard to stay awake. Of course she would love to go riding but she would have to get that approved by Ma first. Soon they all sat down to a hot supper and that evening the men slept in the bunkhouse while Laura and Lena slept outdoors in a tent. As soon as Laura laid down on the blanket she was sound asleep.

Synopsis provided by Lorrie

Friday, March 19, 2010

By the Shores of Silver Lake Book Discussion - End of the Rails

When the train pulled into the depot Pa wasn't there. The brakeman offered to take Ma and the girls to the hotel as soon as he unfastened the engine. It seems he was heading there himself. The girls stood bewildered as they watched the steel rails under the engine slowly turn in a circle. Laura was so amazed she couldn't tell Mary. The unhooked engine then passed the remaining train cars and then backed up to be connected to what was previously the last train car. The entire train was now ready to head back east. The brakeman laughed at them in a friendly way and told them "that's the turntable, at the end of the rails something has to turn the train back around".

Finally after all the rail cars were unloaded, Ma and the girls were followed by the men that worked the rails. Once they spotted the girls though they cleaned up their salty language. They had to hurry along because they had just heard the dinner bell chime.

The man who rang the chimes told Ma he had plenty of room for her and the girls. He then allowed them to wash up in a small room next to the dining area. After scrubbing the dusty soot from their hands and faces, they joined the men in the dining room. They were left spots at the end of the table so they could all sit together. There was all kinds of food and every platter was covered by a wire screen to keep the flies off and at each table setting was a slice of pie. Everyone was very kind and passed each platter around for the offering. There was so much food to eat, but the excitement took away the girls' appitite. The dinner cost them twenty five cents.

After they finished their meal, the young girl clearing the tables offered them the parlor where they could sit and wait for Pa. Ma sat in the rocker with Grace on her lap. Carrie took the chair near Ma and Laura and Mary sat on the couch. The girls were told to be quiet and still, so Grace could take her afternoon nap. Carrie and Ma dozed off for a spell themselves. It was a long afternoon before Laura finally spotted Pa's wagon.

Synopsis provided by Lorrie

Monday, March 15, 2010

By The Shores of Silver Lake Book Discussion - Riding in the Cars

Laura could hardly believe that the time had arrived for them to board the train and catch up with Pa. Plum Creek and the house they knew so well was now gone. They stood on the sunny platform near the ticket window, all of their clothing packed into two satchels. On that September day they were dressed in their finest as they sat and waited for the train to arrive. Mary could feel Carrie fidgeting, she also sensed and made it known that Laura too was fidgeting. "I can tell it without seeing," Mary smiled. Seemed they were all very nervous. "Pa will meet us?" Carrie asked concerned. Pa had to drive a day from camp but Ma reassured her he would be there.

When the train finally arrived at the station they took each other's hands and proceeded to board the very last car. A man in a dark suit helped them aboard and then grabbed their satchels. The red velvet seats on the train were filled with lots of people. Ma sat with Grace and Carrie, while Laura and Mary took the empty seats in front of them. Laura became Mary's eyes and proceeded to describe the train's interior in great detail. "I see," Mary said.

The engine whistled and the cars lurched forward. As the train built up speed the outdoor scenery flew by their windows. In one hour that train would go twenty miles; as far as the horses would have traveled in a whole day. A man in a dark blue suit with lots of buttons collected their tickets and punched each of them. The hat he was wearing told them he was the Conductor. Laura explained all this to Mary.

"I will see the people now," Laura told Mary. A boy came down the aisle carrying a basket on his arm. People took things out of his basket and gave him money. Ma purchased a little box of Christmas candy for ten cents. "We must celebrate our first train ride," Caroline said and she gave it to the girls to share. They each ended up with two pieces.

It was noon when they arrived in Tracy. "I hope you girls haven't spoiled your dinner with that candy." Ma then told them they would be eating their dinner in the hotel that night.

Synopsis provided by Lorrie

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Sad Day for Little House Fans: Merlin Olsen Dies at 69

What a shock it was to hear of the passing of Merlin Olsen on March 10th. He played Jonathan Garvey on Little House on the Prairie.

While many in the sports world knew Olsen as a player for the NFL, and later, a sports announcer, it was as Jonathan Garvey that I, and other Little House on the Prairie fans, got to know him.

The Garvey family, which included Jonathan's wife, Alice, and their son, Andrew, first appeared in Season 4. Like the Edwards family before them, the Garveys were great friends to the Ingalls family. Laura and Andrew, and later Andrew and Albert, got into plenty of mischief together.

Jonathan and Alice did not always get along. In The High Cost of Being Right, Jonathan and Alice argue over her taking a job as the post mistress after their barn burns down. When phone lines are installed in Walnut Grove in the episode Crossed Connections, Mrs. Oleson uses her time on the switchboard to snoop on her neighbors, which leads to her discovering that Alice Garvey had been married before. Angry that she kept this secret from him, Jonathan moves out. It takes an old, tired bartender to get Jonathan to realize just how lucky he really is.

We are devastated right along with Jonathan and Andrew when Alice is killed during a fire at the Walnut Grove School for the Blind. Jonathan takes to drinking, while Andrew is left to deal with the loss of his mother alone. With the help of friends, Jonathan is finally able to accept Alice's death, and he and Andy work on rebuilding their lives. Eventually, Jonathan and Andrew move to Sleepy Eye, which brings with it a new set of troubles for the Garveys.

Olsen left Little House on the Prairie to star in his own short-lived series, Father Murphy. And then the series, Aaron's Way, which only lasted one season.

Whether you remember Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen as a member of the L.A. Rams' Fearsome Four, Jonathan Garvey, Father Murphy, or as the spokesperson for FTD Florist, his distinctive voice and his larger-than-life presence cannot be denied. Many called him a "gentle giant". This is definitely how I have always pictured him.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this time of loss. He will certainly be missed.

By the Shores of Silver Lake Book Discussion - Grown Up

There was a great deal of work to be done before Pa left in the morning. As Pa assembled the bows and canvas cover over the wagon, everyone else pitched in to prepare for Pa's journey. Jack stood looking on. Poor Jack was old and he was worn out and tired. His body was troubled with rheumatism. Laura soon realized what was troubling Jack--due to his age, he wouldn't be able to make the journey beneath the wagon, and he must leave with Pa in the morning because they would be following by train. Pa decided to make room in the wagon for him, but he didn't seem to want to go.

Since Mary, Carrie, and Ma had been sick with scarlet fever Laura had been neglecting Jack. "I didn't mean it," Laura told him and he understood. They always understood each other. Jack was her dog, her protector. That evening Laura fed him a good dinner and cleaned and refluffed his bed. Jack watched while she made it comfortable, all the while smiling and wagging his tail. After turning three times he nestled himself in and held his head high to look at Laura. "Good Jack, good dog," Laura chirped as Jack touched her hand with the tip of his tongue. Then he sunk his nose into his paws and closed his eyes. He wanted to sleep.

The next morning Pa found Jack's stiff body when he went to do the chores. They buried him on the low slope near the path he used to run up and down so gaily. Laura cried for Jack. It was then she realized she was not a little girl anymore. At thirteen, with both Pa and Jack gone, she knew it would be up to her to help Ma take care of the others.

Synopsis provided by Lorrie

By The Shores of Silver Lake Book Discussion - Unexpected Visitor

Laura was washing dishes when Jack's growl alerted her someone was coming. Looking out the window she spotted a buggy being driven by a strange woman she didn't recognized. The house was untidy and both she and Ma were ashamed to have such company now. Mary, Carrie, baby Grace and Ma had all come down with scarlet fever and there hadn't been anybody around that could help Pa and Laura. The doctor had been there every day and Pa worried about how he would ever pay the bills. Far worse, the fever had robbed Mary of her eyesight. Laura described the woman in the buggy for Mary because Pa had said that she must now be Mary's eyes. The woman turned out to be the girls' Aunt Docia.

After a few hours of catching up on news from back home she explained the main reason for her visit--Docia's husband Hi was a contractor for the railroad. He was in need of a good man to be store keeper, bookkeeper and time keeper. Pa could have the job should he choose. It paid fifty dollars a month. Pa knew what that money would mean and he was itching once again to move further west. The grasshopper plague left a meager crop these past two years and the winter months didn't provide much meat to hunt and feed the family.

With Caroline's blessing Pa was able to sell the farm for two hundred dollars cash. It would be enough to square up on what they owed with a little extra left over. It was settled that Pa would leave with Docia in the morning, and in a couple of months when Mary was feeling stronger, the rest of the family would come to him by train.

Synopsis provided by Lorrie

Friday, March 5, 2010

Reading Group and Discussions of By the Shores of Silver Lake

Every once in a while, our group gets together and reads through the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It has been some time since we've had a chance to read, but we are starting with By the Shores of Silver Lake this weekend. Actually, I have over 60 books to review right now, so I won't be joining in, only participating in the discussions with the others using my memory of the many times I've read these books.

I'll be posting a synopsis of the chapters as they are provided to me by the coordinator. I hope you'll offer your insights and thoughts into this pioneering classic.