This week’s chapters seem full of ambivalence and contradiction.
As the family settles into Pa’s store building in town and Ma focuses on furniture placement, Laura is antsy for something else.
“Can we put up the curtains now?” Laura asked. The two windows were like strange eyes looking in. Strangers went by in the street, and across the street stood the staring store buildings. Fuller’s Hardware was there, with the drugstore beside it, and Power’s Tailor Shop, and Loftus’ Groceries, Dry Goods and General Merchandise.
About a dozen boys and girls pass by as Ma and Laura hang the curtains. School must be out for the day. Ma happily tells Laura and Carrie that they’ll be going to school in the morning.
Laura did not say anything. No one knew how she dreaded meeting strangers. No one knew of the fluttering in her breast and the gone feeling in her stomach when she had to meet them. She didn’t like town; she didn’t want to go to school.
A few chapters later, as the girls get ready for bed during the latest winter storm, the air in the bedroom “was so cold that it shriveled the insides of their noses.” But Laura’s not ready to get under the covers. She chips a peephole through the frost on the window, hoping to see a speck of light from a neighbor somewhere. Nothing.
“I was trying to see a light,” she explained [to Mary]. “There must be a light in some house.”
Here’s what it feels like to me: Laura knows the map, but she can’t find her YOU ARE HERE point.
It happens with the grownups too. Ma tells Pa, “I’m glad you see some good at last, Charles, in staying in a settled place.” He assents, then counters with five fingers’ worth of “on the other hand.”
Pa enjoys gathering with the other menfolk at Fuller’s, though. Several mornings later, he’s heading into a storm “to hear the news.”
“Must you, Charles?” Ma asked him.
“Somebody may be lost,” he answered.
Then Laura asks a question that must have been building, a question that has nothing to do with the structural advantages this building has over the claim shanty.
“What good is it to be in town?” Laura said. “We’re just as much by ourselves as if there wasn’t any town.”
“I hope you don’t expect to depend on anybody else, Laura.” Ma was shocked. “A body can’t do that.”
I don’t know about you, but I find Ma’s words more shocking.
On the other hand, when that storm hit on Laura and Carrie’s first day of school, and Mr. Foster came to lead Teacher and the children home, it was Laura’s running into a building that saved them all from wandering into oblivion. (Here’s a question that troubled me as a child and troubles me still: Why didn’t Cap Garland try to persuade them that he knew the way and they were off course? Especially when the teacher was his own sister?)
And yet. It’s no spoiler to say that the 75 to 80 souls in town will have to depend on each other.
Pa came back from Fuller’s with the equivalent of the lights that Laura longed for: “Luckily, everyone is accounted for. Nobody’s lost from town.”
A few more observations:
- Mr. Edwards! As a girl, I loved Mr. Edwards, both in these pages and on the TV show. He’s full of surprises. He may be legendary as the man who met Santa Claus, but if there were two lines, one to meet Santa and one to meet Mr. Edwards, I’d choose the latter.
- I suspect Garth Williams’ illustrations have something to do with the popularity of these books. I studied those drawings as a girl, and tried to copy a few. Just as I was horrified in the first section by the cows being trapped by their own frozen breath, I felt uneasy (as a child and now) by that illustration of the men trying to get to the train on the handcart. So brave, and so exposed. So large in their winter wraps, yet shrinking as they traveled down the tracks toward that vanishing point.
- Last week, Laura and Carrie had a bonding moment when Laura expressed a fear. This week, there was a similar opportunity, and she didn’t take it. Maybe that’s not any more contradictory than being resistant to school, yet longing for a neighbor’s light. We want, we need, other people: just not too close.
What struck you this week? What good is it to be in town? Any thoughts on independence from and interdependence on your neighbors? Ambivalence about moving? And if some equivalent of Cap Garland’s ball comes flying toward you, will you surprise everyone, including yourself, with the strength and will and agility to run and catch it?
Thanks for being here.
Feb. 3 — “Make Hay While the Sun Shines” through “Indian Warning”
Feb. 10 — “Settled in Town” through “We’ll Weather the Blast”
Feb. 17 — “One Bright Day” through “Where There’s a Will”
Feb. 24 — “Antelope!” through “Breathing Spell”
March 3 — “For Daily Bread” through “Christmas in May”