“Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs…As far as man could go to the north in a day, or a week, or a whole month, there was nothing but woods. There were no houses. There were no roads. There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them.” ~ Little House in the Big Woods
This past summer on a trip to the library, my heart and my hands found themselves pulling a Little House book off the shelves, and for our family, the rest is history. Before our pool opened at 10 a.m. each morning, we entered into the adventures of Mary and Laura and their lives in the wilderness of Wisconsin in the late 1870’s.
I watched my girls eyes light up as they heard the tales of three sisters (not too different from them) who lived over a century ago. One day as we were reading, my eldest daughter Grace, who was about to turn five, looked at me with eager eyes.”Mama,” she said slowly, “Can we have a Little House birthday party?” Chesed joined in immediately, “Can we?!” “Of course,” I said…”What a lovely idea!” And so the planning began.
I must admit, our family fits the early Little House books perfectly – we have a Mary, Laura, Baby Carrie, Ma and Pa. Grace saw the connection and ran with it! As I planned this party, I realized how different it was from the “princess” parties I’d had for the girls before. This time, my girls weren’t longing to be dolled-up imaginary princesses (at least on this day!) This time, they wanted to represent real people – little girls in history who endured great hardships, faced treacherous circumstances, and only had a few precious belongings…but were very, very happy. I was overjoyed at the prospect.
So for one day our family traveled back to the 1870’s. We made the cake from scratch. We had a mercantile store selling candy for a penny.
We whittled ivory soap. I bought an old fashioned washing board for $15 on Ebay and the kids at the party took turns vigorously scrubbing clothes, to their parents great amusement! My mother and mother-in-law sewed beautiful aprons and bonnets for each girl in attendance.
But I must say my favorite part of the party was when my 93 year old grandmother read, “Ox Cart Man” to the children. They sat quietly eating their cake and listening intently as she told them about the life of a pioneer family. A child of the Great Depression, she passed on a few nuggets of wisdom to the kids such as, “..things were much harder back then…you had to work very hard to put food on the table.”
As the party wound down, I found myself longing to pause and soak awhile in the 1870’s. Not because I don’t love my dishwasher and washing machine and the fact that I can go buy clothes for my kids at a store down the street – because I do! It is the simple way of living that the Little House books bring us back to that had enraptured me, drawing me in to learn more.
In Richard A. Swenson’s powerful little book, A Minute of Margin, he gives the following as a prescription for our overloaded, stressed-out society:
“Live one day in 1850. You might be surprised at how interesting and slow-paced this adventure turns out to be. Use only the technology that existed during that era. This, of course, never precludes walking, reading, conversing, or sleeping. By suspending our hurried technologies, it will quickly become apparent just how large a role these modern devices play in the unreasonable pace of modern life.“
How about you? Do you find yourself desiring to simplify your life? What are some ways you can experience the joys of simple living with your children this holiday season, tuning out the siren-like lure towards packed shopping centers and frenzied schedules?
As for us, we had our day in 1870 and it was simply fabulous. But I have a feeling our adventures with the Little House crew have only just begun.