Prairie Words Come Alive

July 16, 2010 | 29 comments

We tucked her in a half hour ago, but lamp-light spills under the bedroom door. It’s summer, so we don’t fuss. She’s reading again.

Every night, she’s been pressing open pages of a prairie girl’s story. These books were her father’s books. (And yes, my favorite farmer says his favorite Ingalls book is “Farmer Boy.”)

He handed the books down to his oldest daughter late this spring.

And the words
dance in bonnets and
taste like maple syrup and
whistle like wind through cracks of a pioneer shanty.

Our daughter finds friends in Laura and Mary and Pa, who carves melodies on fiddle strings.

Our oldest daughter is a 21st century baby. She loves Club Penguin and Taylor Swift and games on the Wii. But these days, she’s also dreaming of covered wagons and corncob dolls and a family named Ingalls.

So I ask her: “Do you want to see those words come alive?”

And she says: “Yes, yes, yes!”

So we call some friends, and we pack a picnic, and we caravan north to the place where Laura Ingalls lived the stories
that turned into the words
that found the pages
that met my daughter
on summer nights in 2010
on a farm in Iowa.

De Smet, South Dakota, is two hours north. We drive forward on the road, but backward in time, to find the girl in the story. And while we’re looking? Surprise! We also discover the girl in each of us!

We inspect candy jars and chalkboard slates and Mary Ingalls’ Old Testament. The words are embossed so a blind girl could feel the promises of the Father at her fingertips. Yes, those are the real words come alive. And this Lee mama — who once was blind but now I see — wishes she could have touched the words, too, but they’re kept behind the plexiglass now.

We walk along the wooden planks. We touch the board-and-batten of an old house, and we stand among the five cottonwood trees that Charles Ingalls planted. The trees still stand.

On a whim, we traveled back in time and slowed
to find ourselves here
by the Big Slough
and the lollipops.

Photo: One of the cottonwoods!

Might you share your favorite Laura Ingalls story?
How have those words come alive for you?


Have a wildly wonderful weekend where
the best Words come alive in you!
See you Monday.

by | July 16, 2010 | 29 comments


  1. Lyla Lindquist

    Funny, I was driving home on I29 the other night, saw the DeSmet sign and wondered if your girls had ever been.

    From my house next to the freeway I read of Laura and Mary and Almanzo and Pa right alongside Peter and Lucy and Aslan and Reepicheep. They were both as different a world as I could imagine.

    And then we left the city and moved to one of those worlds. I'm still waiting to see the other. 🙂

  2. Deidra

    I was so in love with those stories! I wanted to live that life…didn't we all? It was years before I realized that what drew me in was the simple way the Ingalls family lived and the love they shared. And God at the center of it all. What joy to discover that life is available to us all – no matter where. No matter when.

    Love that photo of your farmer and your girls ahead of you on the trail. It took my breath away. It did.

    Just like when I met you all in real life.

  3. Amy Sullivan

    Perfect post! Completely fed up with some garbage my daughter was watching, I recently started recording Little House on the Prairie. I fully expected her to turn her nose up at the show, but she's loves it, and so do I!

  4. Elisabeth LaMouria

    I come close to tears when I read/watch/hear the Little House on the Prairie stories. I used to read them as a girl, when I thought the world was peaches and cream…
    The other time I went through them was when my husband was in Iraq. I watched all the episodes from beginning to end to sooth my aching heart and give me something else to connect with. I felt like I became part of their family during those long months, but those stories also bring feelings of the loneliness I felt for the year my husband was gone.
    Beautiful post.
    The Lean Green Mommy Machine

  5. Red Letter Believers

    As a young boy, Little House on the Prarie was strictly for the girls. No way was I going to enjoy that. BUT now, I love the simplier days, the simple life. I want a Little House myself..

  6. Angel

    Beautifully written post! How neat that you were able to bring those great Little House stories to life for your family. Thanks for the inspiration.

  7. sara desmet

    Isn't DeSmet a wonderful place to visit? Jim was sooo excited to eat at the restaurant there and show his credit card with his last name of DeSmet on it! 🙂 It's just the little things! We plan on going there again this summer. The boys are excited! Thanks for sharing….wonderful story! Sara

  8. Karen

    What a special time with your daughter…I would love to visit De Smet. It is hard for me to choose a favorite story…I love them all!

  9. B. Meandering

    How wonderful that you could and would take your daughter and friends there! What a magical day!

  10. Megan Willome

    Who knows how many times I read those books, and "Farmer Boy" was my favorite, too. But if I'm gonna visit DeSmet, I need to move to a more central part of the country.

  11. Deb

    I just got done reading the first 2 Little House books to my girls … I read them all and now I'm sharing them all again with them. We will have to make a trip to DeSmet sometime!

  12. Kelly Langner Sauer

    I was four years old. I remember sitting next to my mama as she read about the maple syrup on the snow, and about Pa's big beard (that suspiciously never showed up on Michael Landon in the TV series – hmm). I remember feeling safe and noticed and loved, just listening to the sound of her voice. It's my favorite memory of that series.

  13. Missy

    I have always wanted to go there and see where Laura lived.
    I loved Laura through her books. I read them over and over and in fact, they are one of the sets of books that made me fall in love with reading.

    Mine were given to me by my uncle.

  14. Anne Lang Bundy

    The Long Winter has made an indelible mark on my life. No matter what "hardship" we've encountered, I've counted it a minor inconvenience after reading of that awful winter, of twisting straw together to keep from freezing to death, of Pa making trips across the snow on clear days before the next blizzard hit, of subsisting on planting seed from the Wilder boys.

    I don't succeed, but I honestly try to never complain.

  15. Angie

    what an amazing tale. My Grandma Lee-we share a common last name, u and me, but mine is my maiden name-passed her only book in the series, the first one, to me when I was 9 years old. My daughter got Grandma's and a boxed set of the 9 when she turned 8. The sentiment in your post made me cry.

  16. Graceful

    I love this post — I read the Little House on the Prairie Books again and again when I was a girl growing up in New England. I just couldn't imagine that big sky, those wide, wide plains. Who knew I would come to love them myself some day.

  17. Beth E.

    What a great experience for your daughter and you.

    Sorry, I was not a reader of the Laura Ingalls books. Back in my day, I read all about Cherry Ames, Trixie Belden, The Bobsey twins, etc. I loved reading mystery books.

  18. Michelle

    While my boys were younger I read through the series several times. They loved every bit of it.
    As they have aged we no longer read through every book, however during the Christmas season we read the chapters dealing with Christmas. My boys are now 28, 18 and 16, so I'm sure those days are passing as well. I will always treasure them in my heart.

  19. Lea

    Oh, what memories! Our 31 year old daughter absolutely loved Little House on the Prairie. What a memory you have made for your girls. So enjoyed the post. Blessings to you!

  20. Kristi L

    So…you know how much I love this post right? What a fun day for you and your girls!

    Kristi (aka "Laura")

  21. hope42day

    As a child I had the whole series. I still have them all, some more tattered than others. I also enjoyed watching the weekly series with Michael Landon. This post brought back many wonderful memories. I may just have to go downstairs, find my books and begin reading them again.

  22. patty

    Alas, I was not a reader in my youth so I missed them as a child–my sisters read them all and we took a trip to DeSmet but I was too young to appreciate it. But, as an adult, I've read them to my daughters (with a son or two listening in) and reveled in the world she recreated in our minds eye. This past winter, we made many references to The Long Winter as our own was compared to that one in terms of snowfall but These Happy Golden years is by far my favorite…I'm a sucker for a good romance…especially a true one. 🙂

  23. Shirl

    Thanks for the 'heart smile' today 🙂

  24. Jennifer

    Oh how neat! I spent a childhood reading those books, imagining I was Laura out on the prairie. My grandmother loved the TV show, but it just was never as good as the book, where I could imagine myself there. Love the pic of your youngest girl in the bonnet.

  25. Steph

    Two years ago I read the first three books to my boys- they really enjoyed it, then this summer we took them to the musical at the Pavilion. They thought it was awesome! Thanks for sharing

  26. Sandra Heska King

    Oh, you've stirred those embers again. I so want to follow Laura's path. I grew up with those books. And I've got Saving Graces and Little House in the Ozarks (rediscovered writings.) We always curled up as a family to watch the TV series.

    Sigh . . .

  27. Connie Mace

    Ah, memories…walking up steps into a bookmobile when I was a beginning reader. Walking down carrying stories of Ma, Pa, Laura, Mary, Carrie and Jack, the dog.

    Beginning a lifetime love with books and the Ingalls family. Years ago, I searched used book stores to find the 1950's version that I grew up with. Pictures by Garth Williams.

    Fast forward to my 7 year old granddaughter, head hunched over LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS that she borrowed from my shelf.

    Beautiful post and pictures Jenniferr, thank you!

    Please tell your girls that up against the Cascades, in Washington, there's a little girl, sandwiched in between younger sisters and a big brother. She loves LITTLE HOUSE books and would "SO LOVE!!!" to see what your girls saw:)

  28. grandma F

    Jennifer, Funny that you should post this now as Abe and I went to Walnut Grove, Minnesota last weekend. This was also a home of the Ingalls family, we went to a play they put on. It was very realistic, real horses, a prairie fire and was very well put on. Also had a dugout like the Ingalls family had lived in for a short time. This was during the time they had the baby boy and lost him and then had Carrie. Really enjoyed it. Bonnie

  29. grandma F

    stoppJennifer, Funny that you should post this now as Abe and I went to Walnut Grove, Minnesota last weekend. This was also a home of the Ingalls family, we went to a play they put on. It was very realistic, real horses, a prairie fire and was very well put on. Also had a dugout like the Ingalls family had lived in for a short time. This was during the time they had the baby boy and lost him and then had Carrie. Really enjoyed it. Bonnie


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