Santa, can you bring me Laura again?

I recently visited my niece’s fifth/sixth grade classroom where the kids asked me questions about writing.

Their inquiries ranged from “What was the first thing you ever wrote?” to “Do you ever get sick of writing stuff all day long?”

One of the main questions of the day, however, was “Who inspired you to be a writer?”

That answer comes without thinking. It’s simple. There is one inspiration, one writer, who made me pick up my first pencil and scratch something on a piece of paper.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, I told them.

Hands flew up instantly.

I expected they were going to ask me who Laura Ingalls Wilder is  . . . but it was quite the opposite. Turns out, they love her writing as well.

Who knew that after so many decades, the little girl on the prairie is still as popular as she was with my generation?

Oh, how I loved the “Little House” series. I read my first after a suggestion from the Clearwater librarian, Hilda, that I was probably old enough to appreciate Laura’s work.

From the first page, I was hooked. With each chapter, I grew more in love with my new best friend.

Laura told stories about everyday life with her parents and her sisters. She talked about how they took little to nothing and made it something.

I guess I could relate to her in a number of ways. Granted, she was a pioneer kid who lived in sod houses and shanties. I had electricity and running water. She was born in 1867, I was born in 1967. But somehow our lives were still similar.

We both worked in the garden, cooked, did laundry, fed calves and cared for our siblings. Laura and I had daily chores, one-room school houses and admiration for our parents. We wondered about the future, remembered the past and marveled at our present.

I literally think Laura taught me to read and write. I had the fundamentals of both when I was first introduced to her books – but it was her descriptive simplicity that taught me to love the English language and recognize the power it could hold when conveying a story.

Each Christmas, we got to make out a wish list. It could hold the most outlandish things or the most practical. It was entirely up to us. We’d fill pages of ideas – knowing that only a small percentage of the items would be under the tree.

The Christmas after I met Laura, I remember writing only one line on my list.

“Laura’s Little House books.”

It’s all I wanted because I always had to return my borrowed copies to the library so other people could share them. I wanted to read them again and again and again, I told my mother . . . plus there were so many in the series I had yet to get to. It was with great sadness that sometimes I would have to wait maybe a month before I could jump into the next installment because one of the neighbor kids had checked it out.

Christmas Eve arrived and the family went on our annual “look for Santa drive” around the neighborhood. When we returned, I knew that somehow the Big Guy had mysteriously entered the house to leave behind the holiday stash.

My father opened the front door and we excitedly ran inside. My eyes instantly darted to the space that had been reserved for me (we had to leave Santa name cards because there were so many of us). That’s when I saw them.

I knew those gold-colored pieces like the back of my hand. Tears came to my eyes as I lovingly touched the glossy new covers of three Little House books.

Three whole books! They were brand-spankin’ new. And they were all my own.

“To Melanie,” Santa had written in the front covers, with penmanship that remarkably resembled that of my mother’s. “May you always love to read and write as much as Laura did.”

I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up into the sparkling eyes of Mom.

“Three whole copies, three books that are my own!” I gasped. “The next three, in a row!”

“You can get started tonight,” she said, smiling. “Those new books smell so good.”

And they did. I held them up to my face and took in the scent of ink and maybe some hazardous plastic coating. They smelled like heaven.

That night, my parents allowed me to sit up late, after everyone else had gone to bed, so I could dive in. I’ll never forget that night, sitting in my new blue pajamas under the rag quilt sewn by Mom.

By the glow of the Christmas tree lights and the orange hue from the ugly 1970-something lamp, my eyes scanned word after word, page after page. I read until I was exhausted – and then dreamt about all I had absorbed.

For the next few years, I collected Laura’s books until every single one was mine. Anytime I was due a present, the books would arrive . . . and I was just as thrilled each and every time as I was that first.

When I finally closed the cover on the last book, I was sad that the stories had ended. But as my mother quickly reminded me, I could just start over again.

So I grabbed at the other end of the shelf and began to read. I realized that because so much time had passed by as I worked my way through the series, I’d forgotten some details from the earlier books.

Plus, I think I’d gained some maturity along the way that provided a deeper insight into what Laura was trying to convey.

Over and over, I worked my way through that stack. Over time, the gold covers became frail and torn. Pages were creased where I had bent down the corners to hold my spot. The binding glue grew weak and stains from everyday life were evident on the once glowing works of art.

But the more tattered they became, the more I loved them.

I remember at a school function, a girl I’d just met asked one of my friends if they’d read the Little House books. I remember my friend proudly proclaiming that not only had she read them, “My friend, Melanie, actually has the whole entire collection! Every single one of them!”

I guess I had just reached high society status of our little rural community . . . just because I was the proud owner of every book ever written by my beloved Laura.

Moving forward to the present, to talk about Laura with those elementary students and hear how they love her as well . . . I feel a longing to touch my books and read her beautiful words once again.

Sadly, I have no idea what happened to my beloved collection. I left them at home when I went to college – I remember carefully packing them for safekeeping. My mother put them in storage so I could have them for my children someday.

Life became crazy, keepsakes were moved around as I grew older. If they even exist remains a mystery.

The fabulous realization I’ve had, however – from hearing those grade-schoolers say they’ve read Laura’s work – is that they are still out there somewhere. Her books are surely for sale somewhere on the internet! In today’s world, nothing is impossible.

So here we go:

“Dear Santa. I know I haven’t written in a long time – I didn’t mean to neglect you, I’ve just been kind of busy the last 35 years. Anyway, just touching base to see if you could bring me Laura’s books again. I loved them so much. They were the best presents you ever brought me. And if it’s possible, could I have real books that I can hold in my hand? I’d like it better that way. If they’re torn, stinky and yellowed . . . even better. Well, do what you can and I’ll do my part on this end. Merry Christmas.”

Here’s hoping.

 

 

 

 

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