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Nostalgia welcome in ‘Little House’ trip

Tuesday, April 12, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:59 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Several years ago, someone gave me a special diary in which to record my Missouri memories. It’s a handsome piece, but because I have other diaries, I’ve put off using it. Finally, last week, I decided to whip it out. The occasion? A friend and I decided to make our first spring road trip. Destination? The home of Laura Ingalls Wilder in Mansfield. We both have a soft spot in our hearts for cozy memories, and they don’t get any cozier than the “Little House on the Prairie” books.

I admit, I’m not a big fan like my friend, who until last week had collected all but two of the series’ books. She is a Florida native, and unlike her, I’ve heard these kinds of tales all my life. Ingalls Wilder’s stories, for me, strike a familiar note. Most of us who grew up in the Midwest in an earlier generation have been hearing about the situations described in her books for much of our lives. Still, it was a wonderful visit and time well-spent in the home where Ingalls Wilder wrote all of her books.

The famous writer was born in Pepin, Wis., in 1867. In her books, she tells the stories of her pioneering parents and the places where she grew up. After Pepin, she lived in Independence, Kan.; Walnut Grove, Minn.; Burr Oak, Iowa; and DeSmet, S.D.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, with her husband, Almanzo, and her daughter, Rose, moved to the farm a mile east of Mansfield in 1894. There in the beautiful Ozark hills, they began their farming operation and built their permanent home, which they ultimately named Rocky Ridge Farm. The Wilders proved to be successful farmers, raising cattle, hogs and chickens.

Although their daughter, Rose, built them a handsome rock house a short distance away from Rocky Ridge Farm, the Wilders only lived there for a short time before moving back to their beloved farm. The farm is currently owned and operated by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association, which was organized by her friends and neighbors following her death, as a nonprofit organization. The house remains pretty much as they left it, filled with personal touches that reflect Laura Ingalls Wilder’s skills in needlework and her husband’s exquisite carpentry.

At the rear of the house is a museum named for Laura and Rose that is packed to the brim with a marvelous collection of memorabilia, including her sewing machine and her much celebrated Pa’s Fiddle, as well as treasures that were culled from the life, career and travels of author and journalist Rose Wilder Lane. Of special note, of course, are the collections of handwritten manuscripts of some of the books.

In reflecting on the trip for my diary, I was struck by a siege of nostalgia, a longing for what we now think of as “the good old days.” In comparing the Wilder house to today’s average home, I think my most striking observation was the lack of distractions in the house at Rocky Ridge. I let my imagination wander as my eyes explored the book-filled shelves, the comfortable chairs and the scenic view as the silence seemed to envelop every room. In the distance, I could hear the voice of the tour guide and the ticking of the grandfather clock, but the sense of serenity and tranquility nearly held me spellbound.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized what great impact quietness has on the spirit. It is the thing most lacking in society today, and it’s more than the absence of noise; it has to do with the inability to find space where one can summon a stillness of the mind that allows even the gentlest of whispers to convey significance. Perhaps it is the eternal busyness of our world that holds us in a state of perpetual stress.

From the front parlor to the back porch, I could see the little house as a place where great symphonies, magnificent novels and wonderful poetry could be created. It was a place where flowers could bloom, love could blossom and joy could unfold beyond belief. I could envision why such a place would draw deep from the heart memories of a life well-spent.

Maybe what I profited most from this day trip was a seldom-realized opportunity, these days, to dream big dreams. The past few weeks, sadness has hung like a dark shroud over our national arena. I welcomed the chance to gaze above the clouds.

There are many magnificent little hideaways tucked in the heart of Missouri. Take a day, any day, and venture down a road untraveled. Give your spirit the freedom to grow. East, west, north or south, the highways beckon.

Why not take time out and decorate your soul?

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at nolen@iland.net


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