While I was writing My Life as Laura, one problem I faced was how much biography to include and how to include it. I didn’t want long passages stuck in, dragging the narrative. At the same time, I was obsessed with all I was learning about Laura the real person. One day I was goofing around, or maybe high on Cheetos, when I came up with this idea that I would have these chapters written from the point of view of Laura where she herself would explain the differences between the Books and her life.
Yep, that’s right. First person LIW.
Eventually my advisor, Dinty W. Moore, helped me see that this idea was really not working—really, really not working—and I cut the chapters. I mean, I knew they weren’t working, so when I got that sideways look the visual feedback felt right. I also had to admit that all I was doing was rewriting Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life by Pamela Smith Hill, which if you haven’t read I recommend. And thus a decision was made that I was not writing a biography of Laura, that was for other people, but a travelogue/immersion memoir.
I cut those chapters.
But I did save them! And hey, maybe they make for a few semi-entertaining blog posts.
So here goes. Here’s the first where I-as-Laura explain the transition between Little House on the Prairie and On the Banks of Plum Creek, as well as why the actual town name of Walnut Grove wasn’t used. As Laurafans know, only the television show actually referred to the town by name.
From the Desk of Laura Ingalls Wilder — Walnut Grove, Minnesota
It was my seventh birthday when we crossed the frozen Mississippi. I had heard tales of cracking ice and families drowning in the cold, dark water. I trembled under the quit, cringing at every wagon wheel creak and snuggled up to Mary for comfort. Land was a great relief. Once we were safe in Lake City, Minnesota, Pa went out and back with a book of birthday poems, Flowret.
Although I wrote that we left Pepin once, we in fact left twice. Once for Kansas and once for Minnesota. In between the family regrouped for awhile in Pepin. When I described our journey to Kansas in Little House, I drew upon the story of the lake crossing to Minnesota for dramatic effect. At any rate, when it came time to begin Plum Creek, there was no need to repeat the story, so I began with our arrival at the dugout. This decision also covered up the family backtrail to Pepin, which went against the spirit of my family always venturing west.
In Plum Creek, I never mention Walnut Grove by name. I simply call it “town.” Later folks’ feelings were hurt so I apologized. I claimed the omission was unintentional and that “I didn’t know I was writing history.”
Neither these statements are true.
Of course I knew I was writing history. That was the point. What did come as a shock was the success of my written history. Because of the success everyone then grew very particular, and I had to smooth things over. I claimed ignorance since Ma showed me how a modest approach always works best. These days everyone inflates their importance, a strategy that only leads to disappointment. I find it’s wiser to play a close hand and then pleasantly surprise.
As for calling Walnut Grove “town,” I admit that was a deliberate choice. “Town” and “country” as words have a better ring, a better sense of opposites. The wording made the lines drawn between town girl (Nellie) and country girl (me) more finely drawn in the sand. And yes, reducing Walnut Grove to merely “town” leveled the playing field. Why should “town” get to be Walnut Grove and “country” merely be “country?”
Later, when I became a town girl myself, then “town” could become De Smet. But not before.