Day after day the Christmas feeling lasted. Each day after her chores were done Mrs. Boast would come and spend time with the girls. Thus far they were having a warm winter season and Mrs. Boast invited them all to her house for New Year's dinner.
Laura showed up early to help Mrs. Boast rearrange the furniture to make room for everyone in the small shanty. The table sat in the center of the house, one corner almost touching the stove. Mrs. Boast sat there and served the food from its hot top. First there was oyster soup and with this soup she served oyster crackers. The girls had never seen nor tasted anything so good. Next came hot buscuits with honey and dried raspberry sauce. Followed up by a dishpan full of tender salty popcorn. All of which was served on Mrs. Boast's pretty dishes on top of her brand new tablecloth.
"It's a good beginning for 1880," Pa declared. "If this is a sample of Dakota winter, we're all lucky we came west."
Mr. Boast agreed and mentioned he was thankful he had his claim already filed. He only wished the same for Charles. During the upcoming week Pa too would have his claim filed. He figured he'd set out in the morning for the land office in Brookins. That night a wind full of snow was blowing and Ma worried about Charles leaving.
Mrs. Boast would come over almost daily during those winter days and played in the snow with the girls. Late one afternoon she took Laura to her house and gave her a tall stack of newspapers that she'd brought with her from Iowa. When Laura read them all, she could return them and take more back with her. Mary was excited when Laura plopped them into her lap. They couldn't wait for the supper work to be done so Laura could read. Seems neither could Ma. "Never mind the work Laura, read us a story." While Laura read, Ma and Carrie got supper ready. She read stories of a dwarf and caves and where a beautiful lady became lost in the cave. At the most exciting part Laura read the words "To be continued". They scrambled to find the paper with the end to their story. It was a story that continued on and on through the whole stack of newspapers.
On stormy days Mrs. Boast brought her sewing and knitting. One day she told them about whatnots. She taught Pa how to make and adjoin three shelves, each with three corners and of various sizes. All were then pieced together to fit snugly into the corner of the room. When Pa finished the one he was working on for Ma, the women cut pasteboard and made scalloped edges to place on them for a trim. Pa then carefully painted the whole whatnot, Ma just loved it.
Ma and Mrs. Boast talked about homesteads. Mrs. Boast had brought with her enough seed for two gardens, Ma need not worry about seeds. Every evening Pa also played the fiddle and the Boasts sang. Laura had never been so happy. For some reason she was the happiest of all when they were all singing.
Laura quickly dressed and hurried downstairs to help Ma with breakfast, but Mrs. Boast was already there helping her. "Merry Christmas," they both said as Laura glanced at the Christmas table. Each table setting was placed as usual, but on the bottoms of the plates were packages of all different sizes. "You see Laura, we didn't hang our stockings last night," Ma said, "so we will take our presents off the table at breakfast."
Laura went back upstairs and told Mary and Carrie about the Christmas table. "We can't have presents," Mary worried. "There isn't anything for Mr. and Mrs Boast!"
"Ma will fix it," Laura answered. She then took Ma's present, hidden in Mary's box and held it behind her back as they headed downstairs. She quickly placed it on Ma's plate and noticed there was a little package on Mr. Boast's plate and another on Mrs. Boast's plate.
It wasn't long before the men came back into the house from doing the morning chores. They were all so happy in the warmth, full of good smells from the cooking and in the presence of good company. Mrs. Boast got to open her present first since she was company. In her package Laura recognized Ma's best Sunday handkerchief. Mrs. Boast was delighted. So was Mr. Boast; his present was the wrist-lets that Ma had knitted for Pa. Pa loved his socks and he admired the necktie Laura had made for him. Ma then unwrapped her apron and complimented the girls on their sewing and stitches. She was even more surprised when she found a new Sunday best handkerchief tucked away in it's pocket.
They then all admired Mary's bed shoes and Carrie loved her red, white, and blue mittens. Then Laura opened her package. Inside was an apron made out of the same calico as Ma's. Each didn't know the other was making an apron for the other and although Mary and Carrie helped make both of them they kept it their little secret. Then came the best part of all, Ma put the blue coat on Grace and pulled the swan's down hood over Grace's golden hair. She looked beautiful, but Ma took it off her right away as she didn't want Grace to be spoiled with all the attention. There was still one more package at each of the girl's plates. They quickly unwrapped them and found a pink cheesecloth bag full of Christmas candy, a present from the Boasts.
Christmas breakfast consisted of golden fried mush, hot biscuits, fried potatoes codfish gravy and a dish full of dried applesauce. After they were done eating, Pa and Mr. Boast went to get the bobsled, which was still stuck in the Big Slough. The girls cleaned up the house while the women washed the dishes and started preparing for dinner. With such good company the morning flew right by.
When the men returned with the bobsled, dinner was almost ready. They cleaned up and everybody took their places around the dinner table. The table once again looked beautiful. There was roasted rabbit, bread and onion stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, johnny cakes, hot biscuits and cucumber pickles. After their meal, Ma surprised everyone and brought a dried apple pie from the pantry.
When clean up was done, Laura and Mrs. Boast put on their outer gear and trudged through the snow to a tiny nearby house. Pa, Mr. and Mrs Boast, and Laura set all of the Boast's possessions inside and helped set up house. Then they all headed back to the surveyor's house for the remainder of the day. While the men played checkers Mrs. Boast had one more surprise. She made them all fresh popped corn. They all sat around eating and talking and laughing till chore time and supper time and the time Pa would play his fiddle.
"Every Christmas is better than the Christmas before," Laura thought. "I guess it must be because I'm growing up."
It snowed all day. "Well it's going to be a white Christmas," Pa smiled. The surveyors house was full of secrets. Mary knitted socks for Pa's Christmas present and Laura made him a neck tie. Together in the attic she and Carrie made an apron for Ma and Mary stitched a fine piece of muslin to make a handkerchief to tuck in its pocket.
From an old blanket Ma cut bed shoes for Mary; Laura made one and Carrie made the other. And every morning while Carrie made her bed in the attic, Laura and Mary knitted as fast as they could a pair of gloves for her. Grace's present was the most beautiful and they all worked on it together. From a swan's skin Ma cut a little hood. She then sewed every stitch on the hood herself because of the delicate hide. Laura and Carrie pieced out the lining and Ma sewed it in its place. Then out of one of Ma's old woolen cloth dresses she cut a little coat. Laura and Carrie sewed the seams and Mary sewed it's hem. Ma then added soft swan's down to the bottom and to the cuff of each arm. The coat was as blue as Grace's eyes. They were anxiously waiting for tomorrow morning to come.
Pa had gone hunting earlier and brought home a big jack rabbit. It was now skinned and cleaned and hanging frozen in the lean-to. It would be roasted tomorrow for Christmas dinner. That evening snuggled in the warm house they settled in for a bowl of hot cornmeal mush.
At supper they talked about other Christmases. Tucked away upstairs was Charlotte from the Christmas in the Big Woods. The tin cups from Indian Territory were now gone, but the thought of them made them think of Mr. Edwards and they wondered where he had ended up. "Wherever he is let's hope he's as lucky as we are," Pa said. They then talked about the Christmas when Pa got lost in the blizzard for three days and nights. Only to find out he was no more then a hundred yards from the house. Mary's favorite Christmas was the Sunday school Christmas tree. They all decided this would be the best Christmas yet because Carrie was older and they now had Grace.
When supper was finished Pa went and got his fiddle. He played while everybody sang. Through the music and the roaring storm outside, Mary could hear the faint holler of a man's voice. Ma started up "Charles! Who on earth?"
Melissa Gilbert shares her life in a courageous, edgy memoir. In Prairie Tale, Gilbert tells the story of her complicated life that was very different from the life of the character who made her famous as a child star, Laura Ingalls.
Talking about the loving and often tense relationship with her mother, the death of her father, her time hanging with the Brat Pack, her television career, Michael Landon, and more, Gilbert opens her heart to draw the reader into her life story. Gilbert shares how she met her biological family, dealt with feelings of being unloved because she was given up for adoption, how she buried the pain with alcohol, and eventually overcame her addiction.
Inviting readers into her roles as wife, mother, and actor, Gilbert shares her story with eloquence. Perhaps this is why the many vulgarities caught me off guard. Not because I expect her to be as wholesome as her characters, but because unlike Alison Arngrim's memoir, where the style allowed for the inclusion of some vulgarities without interrupting the flow of the prose, the cruder words in Prairie Tale, seem to be dropped into the middle of an elegant story and leave you wondering if they are placed there for effect. This took away from my overall enjoyment of the book, but I still thought Gilbert did an excellent job with how she brought the reader along her journey.
Little House on the Prairie fans and fans of Melissa Gilbert will enjoy this one, even if the language is a bit shocking.
Title: Prairie Tale Author: Melissa Gilbert Publisher: Simon Spotlight Entertainment ISBN-10: 1416599142 ISBN-13: 978-1416599142 SRP: $26.00