I have a special treat for you today. We're talking to Reverend Jim, the proprietor of Laura's "Sweet Memories," a store in Mansfield, Missouri. I met Jim online when he contacted me to tell me about his blog. I added him to my blogroll here and have visited from time to time. I hope you will too. It's definitely like taking an online trip into Laura's world.
Welcome to Laura’s Little Houses, Jim. It’s wonderful to have you here. Can you start off by telling our readers a bit about yourself?
I’ve lived in Mansfield for 10 years now. Before that I had a 40 acre farm about an hour east of here. I raised fruits and vegetables there for about 5 years, selling them in a farmer’s market. Before that I lived in the big city of Chicago and served as a church pastor. The only thing I knew about Laura Ingalls Wilder was that she wrote some books that were the basis for a nice, moral TV show. So, I was a late-comer to her writings, but now I consider myself a big, big Laura fan!
What’s it like living in Mansfield, Missouri, where Laura Ingalls Wilder spent most of her adult life?
Mansfield is a nice small town, with a population around 1300. I live in the oldest house in town, built in 1881; before the town was even here! Laura was a frequent visitor to my house when she belonged to a Women’s Club. I’ve even met some people who knew her! Living in Mansfield gives you a real close feeling to Laura; like you’d expect to meet her on the street. There are some special perks; like visiting Rocky Ridge Farm during Christmastime. And it’s always great to experience the annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Festival as a “Home Boy”!
What made you decide to set up Laura’s “Sweet Memories?”
Before opening the shop I had run a B&B out of my home for about 7 years. I really enjoyed meeting the people. People come from all over the world to visit here. So, when I decided to move on to something new, I knew I couldn’t give up my connection to Laura. I wanted to give all those 50,000 annual visitors an experience that was much more memorable. So what better way than to open the only souvenir shop in town? And I wanted to offer some old-fashioned confections to meet the desires of the children. But now I’ve found that the grown-ups like that old-fashioned candy as much as the kids!
I’m guessing with a name like that you have tons of sweets for people like me who give into their sweet tooth from time to time. What are some of the special products visitors will find inside?
Besides all the handmade souvenirs, the shop provides its visitors a glimpse into an old-time candy shop. There are buckets of hard candies of all sorts, loose candies in bulk, and handmade fudge from the Ozarks. At last count there were over 100 different flavors and varieties! And there are a few sugar-free candies and varieties of trail mix as well. Candies start as low as 5 cents a piece in my shop, so you don’t have to spend a lot to meet the craving for a taste of nostalgia!
I understand that Laura’s “Sweet Memories” also has historical pictures and displays. Can you tell us about some of those?
Rev. Jim and Doc Baker (Kevin Hagen) at Rocky Ridge Farm
I have put together some 200 pictures covering the combined lifespan of Almanzo and Laura, which covers 100 years of history. The pictures on the “Wall of Memories” show history of advertising, entertainment, personalities and events pertaining to the United States, from the years 1857 through 1957. And there are printed sheets telling what happened to some of the people Laura wrote about in her books. I’ve also dedicated a corner to a historical display, which has old-time tools like Pa Ingalls or Almanzo might have used. Visiting Laura’s “Sweet Memories” is almost like visiting a mini-museum!
The tagline on your website - http://www.laurassweetmemories.com/ – says, “Dedicated to Preserving the memory of Laura Ingalls Wilder.” Since you’re located in Mansfield, I’m sure this is important to the town’s tourism. What does this mean to you personally?
As I see it, Laura’s writing is a national treasure. I think more people can identify with what pioneer life was like because she wrote about her life as a pioneer. And because of the manner in which she described things in her books, we can identify closely with her personality – like we know her personally. It would be a tragedy to lose her to our modern times. She once said, “Looking back helps us see what lies ahead.” Today, with our fast paced lifestyles, we need to learn how to live our lives based on what has gone on before us. We need to learn from the past, so that we don’t make the same mistakes again. Laura’s legacy should be that we learn how to live a simple life from reading her books.
You started a blog this year - http://laurassweetmemories.blogspot.com/. Why did you decide to make that move?
I felt that I had more to offer than just a shop full of good things for people to take home with them. I wanted to share some of my feelings along the way and open a new line of communication with them.
What are some topics readers will find on your blog?
I like to give folks an idea of what it’s like living in Mansfield. In addition to informing people about life in Laura’s hometown, I have begun to include some old-timey recipes. Some of the recipes are from my family’s hand-me-down collection, which spans over one hundred years! I also have links on the blog site to other contributors who have a Laura connection. I hope to expand those in the future.
You don’t sell your products online. Why not? Wouldn’t that help you reach more people?
My main intent is to have people come and visit Laura’s hometown and have a “Laura” experience. Selling products is secondary. It may help keep the lights on for me, but my main emphasis is to have people go home having had a great time visiting us. Anybody could sell candy or souvenirs online! But I am thinking about compiling some recipes into a book form and, if there is enough interest, I may offer that online as well as in the shop. I will decide on that soon and share that decision on my blog. (Interviewer's note: I think that's a fabulous idea. Sign me up for one!)
Where do you see Laura’s “Sweet Memories” in five years?
Is there anything you would like to add?
I feel a great responsibility to carry on Laura’s legacy and provide a quality shop for people to enjoy. And I hope that many will join me on my blog as well.
Thanks for your time today. God bless you.
Thanks for joining us today, Jim. We wish you much success.