The reason for our trip was to visit my grandparents in Kansas and my grandmother in Missouri. But we're homeschoolers - if there's a cool place to stop along the way, we're going to stop, and we're going to learn all we can.
Well, it just so happened that we'd have to drive right through Mansfield, Missouri on our way to Grandma Elda's house. Mansfield, Missouri, where Laura and Almanzo Wilder moved about seven years after they were married. Rocky Ridge Farm.
When I looked at the map and realized this, I did a little dance. I think I even squealed a little. Anyone who knows us knows our love for Laura Ingalls Wilder. I've read each of the books out loud to the girls, and they just thrive on the play that stems from pretending to be pioneers. (Cora is always stuck playing Mary, because of her blonde hair, but she can never be nearly as well-behaved as Mary was, and Chloe is always getting frustrated with her because of that!) My reading has gone further than just the books she wrote to biographies, etc. that describe more of who she was as a person, and I've become even more enthralled with the woman that she was as I learn more about her. Wisdom like that is hard to come by.
We arrived at Rocky Ridge Farm after rain had poured down on the area for five hours. It was soggy and damp and chilly outside, but we still enjoyed walking around the grounds, imagining Laura raising Rose out there among the huge native trees, and the trees that Almanzo planted.
The biggest disappointment of the whole place was that no photos were allowed of anything indoors, meaning I have very little to share with you in the way of pictures.
We started with a guided tour through the house, left very much the same way Laura left it when she passed away. Almanzo built the house, and he was clearly an ingenious carpenter. Everything he did just made so much sense, and he did it all with Laura's comfort and convenience as his priority. I'm terribly envious of the baking station in her kitchen - windows on both sides, a counter low enough to knead the bread comfortably, bins below for sacks of flour and sugar and cupboards in easy reach for other ingredients. Throughout the whole house were all the little things she treasured - framed calendar prints on the walls, handmade pillows and embroidery (even some that Almanzo did!) and it was just so perfectly homey and cozy. She had a library nook that looked lovely, another thing I'd love to have some day. Unfortunately, our time in the house was short. Chloe and I could have spent hours looking at every detail, but the tour guide pushed us through in order to make space for the next group coming after us. I would have been content to stay there all day but they wouldn't let us.
After the tour was the museum they've set up to house many of the more precious artifacts from her life - including Pa's fiddle. The real fiddle, the thing that got them through all the hard times of pioneer life, that celebrated the great times. That fiddle held that little family together. It was central in each of the books, as Laura's earliest memory on into her teen years when it was still such a great comfort to her. To see it was really, really special. We also bought a CD in the gift shop of the fiddle being played by a local - neat stuff! We were able to spend as much time as we wanted in the museum, moving at our own pace and taking it all in. There was a lot of "Mom, look! Remember when she talked about....." and "Oh, Chloe, it's the ......." We were both so excited to see firsthand so many of the little things mentioned in the books: Laura's first embroidery sampler (at age four), the lace given to her on her wedding day, the tiny box with porcelain flowers. Cora mostly just followed along patiently, listening and asking questions, though she enjoyed looking at the pictures of Laura and her family, seeing what they really looked like.
We visited "The Rock House" that Rose had built for them after she'd become a successful writer. We could sit on the back porch and imagine Laura there.
And I did manage to snap a quick shot of Laura's beloved blue willow table setting from outside the kitchen window.
Truly, the whole visit was a treat. We were able to, for a short time, immerse ourselves in all of Laura's things, imagine so much more clearly her life after what we know from the books. To be able to add sight to the stories made them that much more real.
I did buy some postcards of the most special things inside the house and museum - Pa's fiddle, her writing desk, the kitchen. And I bought a china shepherdess in hopes of someday having a mantle of my own on which to put her. When we arrived at my grandmother's house later that day, she gave us a painting of the white house, done by someone native to the area. On the back, the artist wrote "I knew Laura as a nice person and as a friend." A painting of Laura's house, done by someone who considered her a friend. Awesome. It will hang in our hallway now, treasured.