Monday, July 9, 2018

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Long Winter
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1940

This was my fourth or fifth read of The Long Winter, of which I have written about a few times, in different ways, including during the longest heatwave summer I have ever experienced in California.
The Long Winter, during the longest heat wave in California. This time, I found myself experiencing this read quite differently than I had in the past.

But first let me recap before I become opinionated.

At the start of the story, the Ingalls family was settled on their own claim when winter crept in; Pa immediately recognized the signs of nature that caused him to suspect a hard winter. But when an elderly Indian man warned the town that seven months of blizzards were coming, the men moved their families to the town buildings, closer to supplies and one another. The Ingalls moved into Pa's store building, which was a better shelter than the claim shanty.

Unfortunately, the blizzards were more than they expected: school was closed, trains could no longer run, and supplies were unable to be delivered for several months. They were buried in their homes, unable to make contact with neighbors. They ran out of common supplies for food, heat, and light, and resorted to unconventional alternatives to survive. Even Laura asked, "Will we starve?" 

In my own petty personal miseries, I was bothered that Pa did not kill his livestock to feed his family, though I understand why: Pa, in his compassion for his family (especially for Laura's big heart), held out as long as he could because it did not get to that point; they always had wheat to grind to make bread; and so long as they had bread, they had food. 

In addition, Ma's optimism was grating on my patience. Maybe because I already knew those supply trains were not coming; but, come on, Ma! The trains were not coming. 
Likely the train will get through in time.
I suppose prices depend on when they can get the train through?
Of course, Pa did not help either, always mentioning that darn train coming through. But finally, he had to tell his family: 
They can't get the trains through. And at Tracy the superintendent ran out of patience.
And Ma lost it.
Patience? Patience! What's his patience got to do with it I'd like to know! He knows we are out here without supplies. How does he think we are going to live till spring? It isn't his business to be patient. It's his business to run the trains.
To calm Ma down, Pa reminded her that they had been getting along all right for more than a month; they can make it another three months. Then he proceeded to tell them a funny story about how the superintendent came to that final dreadful conclusion, to give up trying to get the trains through; and it made them think about the issues of pride, patience, and perseverance. At that moment, Laura understood that she was old enough to stand by her family in hard times. "She must not worry; she must be cheerful and help to keep up all their spirits."


Toward the end of the winter, Almanzo and Cap risked their lives to find a stranger who supposedly had wheat, which the town hoped he would be willing to sell to them. Their risk paid off, and after the boys brought back the wheat, the storeowner, Loftus, who purchased it, wanted to resell it to the townspeople at a much higher price; but Pa gave him a lesson in capitalism and the free market system. Loftus said,
That wheat's mine and I've got a right to charge any price I want to for it.
That's so, Loftus, you have, Mr. Ingalls agreed. This is a free country and every man's got a right to do as he pleases with his own property. Don't forget every one of us is free and Independent, Loftus. The winter won't last forever and maybe you want to go on doing business after it's over.
Threatening me, are you?
We don't need to, Mr. Ingalls replied. It's a plain fact. If you've got a right to do as you please, we've got a right to do as we please. It works both ways . . . you're business depends on our good will. You maybe don't notice that now, but along next summer you'll likely notice it. 
That's so, Loftus, Gerald Fuller said. You got to treat folks right or you don't last long in business, not in this country. 
We don't object to your making a fair profit, Loftus, Mr. Ingalls said, but Loftus shook his head.
No, I'll let it go for what it cost me.  

Oh, let us talk about Mary for a while. She was a show off (and she does admit this in the next book). Laura was understandably burned by Mary's little remarks. Given the difficulty of darkness during the long winter storms, Laura complained because she could not see while tediously making lace. And Mary added,
The dark doesn't bother me. I can see with my fingers.
Well, no one asked you, Mary.

And later, when Ma suggested that they save their "reading" for Christmas Day, Mary shared,
I think it is a good idea. It will help us to learn self-denial.
Laura argued that she did not want to, and Mary reminded her that, "Nobody does, but it [was] good for them." Mary was such a killjoy. (And Laura knew she was always right and wise.)

All sarcasm aside, The Long Winter is abundant in values and life lessons: patience, perseverance, resourcefulness, joyfulness, and trust. In the end, the storms ceased, spring arrived, the trains came through, and they had Christmas dinner in May. Everything worked out in the end.


Via the Ingalls:
Needs must, when the devil drives.
Work comes before pleasure.
Nothing keeps you from learning.
I hope you don't expect to depend on anybody else . . . a body can't do that. 
Via the Wilder boys:
Be sure you're right, then go ahead.
Better be safe than sorry.
A farmer takes chances. He has to.

Last month, Laura Ingalls Wilder - unbeknownst to her - was surreptitiously branded a racist, and her ALSC self-named honor was stripped of her name. See my complaint HERE. Our culture is so enlightened that we punish authors who wrote history from the perspective of their own time and culture. So I cannot help myself but point out the obvious offense(s).

CASE IN POINT: Almanzo was arguing with his older brother about taking that risk in between blizzards, to find an unknown individual who lived at an unknown location, to buy seed wheat in order to save the people starving in town. His brother did not want him to do it, but Almanzo declared,
I'm free, white, and twenty-one . . . or as good as. Anyway, this is a free country and I'm free and independent. I do as I please.
So there you have it.


  1. I like the Long Winter very much -- it's a favorite of mine that I have re-read often. I do admire Ma's determined cheerfulness (and Laura's realization that she can also do it). When I was a kid, our family went through some hard times that must have had my mom completely freaked out, but we kids never realized how bad it was, because she never seemed bothered. I tried to do that too when we had difficult times some years ago. Still, I don't know if we can say it all worked out for the Ingalls; IIRC, lack of food had a permanent effect on Carrie's health.

    1. Hi, Jean.

      Caroline was so wise and patient and encouraging, and she taught and expected the same from her girls. I think she completely relied on and presumed those supply trains would get through, regardless of the blizzards, and she didn't make room for the possibility that it may not happen. BUT since I was having such a bad month (in June) while reading it, my bad attitude was affecting my reading; in other words, I was feeling like: "Caroline, let it go and deal with the disappointment already."

      All I know is, as an adult - a parent - it is so hard to keep your chin up and teach your kids the same when times are hard. It's best not to pad the disappointment -- kids should know it -- but they also have to know how to carry on and make the best of it. And Caroline and Charles did just that.

      Also, Carrie was already very fragile, and I think Charles was greatly affected, too. Laura mentions his sunken eyes and cheekbones a lot.

  2. Funny how the more "progressive and liberated" we've become, the more narrow-minded we've become. But that's another topic. I hope there is serious back lash on this latest escapade from the "erudites" in charge of naming book awards.

    Also, I never thought about the lesson in capitalism. I need to break open these books again.

    1. Exactly what I was thinking! The more enlighten we think we are, the more intolerant, insensitive, and offended we become. Imagine what our future generations will think of US!

  3. I meant to add that I absolutely love your water color of the books for your cover photo. Did you paint it?

    1. Oh, thanks. That was my attempt. :D I also fooled around w/ a little photo manipulation. Painting has never been my forte, especially water color. (I prefer pencil and marker.)

  4. Great summary. I wonder if Pa would've eventually killed the livestock if the blizzards had stretched beyond 7 months. You'd expect he would, but thank heavens it didn't come to that. And yes, Loftus learned a valuable lesson. And I can't help thinking Almanzo was great at talking someone else into doing what he refused to do himself, which was sell his wheat. I'm happy to move on the warmer weather of Little Town on the Prairie now.

    1. I think Little Town is my absolute, absolute favorite of all the series. So excited to read it again. : )