A favorite gift is Kathy’s time machine

Many times over the years, I’ve written about how much I loved reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books as a kid.

Over and over, I turned the pages many times, devouring every word, every sentence.

Laura made me want to read, with her stories about growing up as a pioneer child.

Most importantly, Laura made me want to write.

As an adult, I lamented the fact that my well-worn collection was no longer – over time, the books disappeared. Oh, how I longed to read them once again.

And then I became the recipient of a great surprise a number of years ago – it was a wonderful gift that allowed me to do just that.

It was about 7:30 a.m. and I was typing away at my computer. I heard the back door of the office open, close, and I opened my mouth to start mumbling the usual greetings to co-workers as they entered.

But that morning would be different as all I heard was the clumping sound of something being placed on my desk.

I turned to see our then-advertising director, Kathy Larson, standing near me and next to a large, neatly arranged stack of familiar yellow books.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. There they were – the beautiful covers of Laura’s Little House books.

Kathy had taken it upon herself to search the internet for authentic copies that were published decades ago. And she found them. For me.

Can I say how grateful I was? Can I ever express how grateful I still am?

She had them tied tightly with a red ribbon – which was good. I didn’t want to ruin the bow – and I didn’t dare start leafing through the many installments because it would surely snatch up all my attention and leave my work undone.

I did, however, find myself running my hands over the familiar covers and smelling that strange fragrance of old books. It was so incredible. Her beautiful gesture even brought tears to my eyes.

Half-way through the day, I noticed how the copy of the “First Four Years” was smaller than the rest and I could jimmy it out of the stack without disturbing the others or ruining the bow. I slid it out and opened it.

There were the words describing the day when Laura was married to Almanzo and had to say good-bye to Pa, Ma and the sisters. I found myself nearly reciting the words from memory – I’d read them so many times. And although I had experienced those words decades earlier, I could still remember reading about Laura’s dress, how she cleaned their first house and had to cook for threshers during what should have been their honeymoon.

I couldn’t stop reading, it was as if I was in a trance, transported to the 1800s with Laura and also the 1970s when I was completely addicted to her words. Eventually meetings and other tasks commanded that I put the book down.

At the end of the day, I found myself glancing through the beautiful prose as I sat in my vehicle, in the parking lot of the grocery store. Eventually, I had to pry myself loose and move on with my life.

The collection of Little House books has a special place on a shelf in the main room of my house, next to family keepsakes and special antiques. Those books, those stories . . . I don’t know what it is about them. I can’t explain it.

Every time I clean, I make a point of pulling out one of the books with the promise of reading just one chapter . . . which always leads to at least four.

I read about Laura’s life and remember my own as I’m almost sent back in time to when I first fell in love with her words.

I remember sitting on the top of the garage as a kid, reading about Plum Creek and how the Ingalls family ate something called salt pork, and how Laura nearly froze to death in a horse-drawn buggy on her way to teach school.

I remember standing in front of my classmates in our country school, proudly presenting yet another book report about the stories told by the woman who inspired me.

I remember lying in my bunk bed, long after bedtime, being so intrigued with the little house in the big woods of Wisconsin and in wonderment about Laura’s excitement over getting an orange for Christmas.

I remember sitting on a bucket by the clothesline, reading out loud to my mother the tragic tale about how Mary, Carrie, Grace and Ma got scarlet fever and “the fever set in Mary’s eyes and now she was blind.”

And I remember sitting on the bank of Dorothy’s Creek, my feet in the water and my hands wrapped around the precious yellow cover of “These Happy Golden Years.” At this point in the series, Laura was only 15 years old and she had to leave home for the first time. She was teaching kids older than herself and living with a family that wasn’t the nicest. I remember feeling sad for Laura . . . and proud when she conquered her difficulties.

Isn’t it amazing that just by looking at old yellowed pages filled with timeless stories, we can somehow transport ourselves back in time?

So thank you, Kathy. Yours was much more than a beautiful, thoughtful gift – you gave me a time machine wrapped in a bow.

 

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