Oh, Pioneers

laura10

So when I was little, I read all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and pretended to be a pioneer. I never ate a pig’s tail but I did convince my mother to let me pour maple syrup on the the snow to make maple syrup snow candy. At least that’s the way I remember it. The idea of traveling across the country appealed to me and I thought the dresses were pretty and the bonnets too. I wanted to have braids like the girls on the TV show. Cute braids on each side, freckles on my nose, and the clear-eyed gaze of a farm girl.

I was not a farm girl. I was a suburbs girl, growing up away from my extended family in a white house with a white door and a one-half acre lot. My parents left Cleveland Heights and we spent the 1970s in Mentor, Ohio. There were good schools and low speed limits. Nothing bad ever happened there.

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Pioneers were not from the suburbs. They did not have wall-to-wall carpeting, dishwashers, electricity, central heating, or indoor plumbing. They had wagons, horses, hardtack, dried fruit, the family Bible, and a vast store of optimism. They had no TV or movies or malls. In such a world, would my mind go blank from lack of distraction? Or blossom like a plant from the simple input of sun and rain? Would boredom lead to creativity, or to depression and stagnation? Today I have TV, a laptop, an iPad, an iPhone. Newspapers, books, magazines, DVDs, and a public library nearby. But how easy it is for me to be lost, purposeless, bored by my own witlessness, aimlessly clicking on links, flipping through channels. I focus on tiny details– the bump growing on my nose, dust bunnies gathering under the end table, bug bites on my arm, leaves and grass tracked into the house by the dog from her excursions in the yard.

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The yard! Full of weeds that need pulling, paths that need edging, bugs, plants, rocks, rabbits, and toads. I don’t know the names of the trees and plants. I have lived in this house for almost 6  years. I can tell you every single thing that is wrong with it– all the things that need painting and cleaning and replacing. This is where my mind goes. I’m tired of my mind and its lack of can-do pioneer spirit. I wouldn’t have lasted 20 minutes on the goddamn Oregon trail, walking alongside the covered wagon to spare the horses. A dusty mile out of town, the adventure wearing away and the reality of walking across America beginning to sink in, I’d be getting into the snacks and wondering when we could stop and rest. “Paaaaaaa,” I’d whine, “are we there yet?”

Photo Credits

Photo of Melissa Gilbert as Laura by Little House Memories.

Photo of Mentor, Ohio Water Tower by Erik Drost via flickr and licensed under CC 2.0

Photo of Lily the Dog by me with filtering from Aviary

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