little house on the prairie
Every time I look at this picture of my great aunt, Mary Estella Pattan DeWitt, I marvel at just how much she looked like Karen Grassle…better known as Carolyn Ingalls of “The Little House On The Prairie” fame. Oh, I know it isn’t exact or anything, but I have to do a double take every time. I don’t recall an awful lot about my Great Aunt Mary, even though she passed away in 1996, giving me plenty of time to know her. And I did know her, but whenever the great aunts were around, so were a lot of other people. Everyone was talking at once, and there weren’t many times where you could just have a quiet conversation with someone, and I can’t guarantee that I would have had the forethought to ask her the right questions then. I was interested in the family history, but not to the degree that I am now.
Nevertheless, I believe that Aunt Mary was always a gentle spirit. Her soft face and features tell me that she was. I don’t believe that the word kindness was missing from her thoughts either. She just looks to me to be the type of person who loved everyone around her in a very special way, and I think she might have truly been a lot like Carolyn Ingalls was. I don’t recall if I ever ate any of her cooking, but she was pretty famous for it…especially her pies. Her husband, Clinton Paul DeWitt loved her choke cherry pies so much he would even pit the cherries for her so it was easier to get to have the pie. While Aunt Mary didn’t really live during the same timeframe that the Little House series was about, I have a feeling she very much could have. She was a gentle soul, but she was not a weakling. She was a strong woman, who built her life into what it was. She didn’t just expect that things would be handed to her, while she did nothing. She worked hard on making her house a wonderful and welcoming home to be in.
It’s funny how there can be people in this world who look enough alike to be sisters…even though they are not related and even years apart in age. That is what happened with my Aunt Mary. While there is no relation that I know of, she and Karen Grassle could easily have been sisters, or some other close relationship. Other people may not see the resemblance that I see, so I’ll leave that confirmation up to each of you. As for me, she will always look like Carolyn Ingalls in these pictures.
When my girls were little, they rode the bus to school, and of course, ate their lunch at school too. As a kid, we only lived 5 blocks from school, and since Mom didn’t work then, we went home for lunch. In days gone by, the kids walked into town to school. There was not time for them to come home for lunch…only the town kids could do that. You wouldn’t think that these situations have much in common, but the thing they do have in common is the lunch container…so to speak. When my girls were little, their first lunch box was the Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox. They loved it. And every year after that, they got a new lunchbox, because as we all know, a first grader can’t have a Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox. That is totally not cool. By the first grade you would need something cool, like Care Bears or My Little Pony. The right lunch box made that first day of school, and the wrong one, ruined it. Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite that serious, but we all know that for a kid, very specific things mattered in school.
Things were a little different in the old west, as well as in the early 1900’s. Fancy lunchboxes didn’t exist. Instead of a lunchbox, the children took their lunch to school in a lunch pail, and it was really a small pail. I remember watching the Little House on the Prairie shows and seeing the girls bringing their lunch to school. It seemed so primitive…like taking their lunch in the same container they might just as easily have played in the sand with. I don’t know if they purchased the pail for the purpose of taking their lunch to school in, or if the pail was purchased with something else in it, and then used for lunches when it was empty, or just how it came to be a lunch pail. Who thought of that idea? Was it someone, who like me, tries to find a use for things that just look like they are too good to throw away, and maybe something could be made from them? In researching this thought, I found that often the children would try to create a lunch pail out of the containers that biscuit mix came in, so I guess that kids have always wanted a fancy lunch box.
From what I read, the lunch box used to be a kind of low status symbol too…at least in the working world. The worker who carried his lunch was viewed as someone who could not afford a hot lunch at a restaurant. Thankfully that isn’t the way it is view now, because I know a lot of people who bring their lunch to work. For most of us these days, it is more a way to eat healthy, and avoid the fast food places. So in that way, I guess the status symbol has taken on a whole new meaning.
In years gone by, when it wasn’t as easy to get to your job site as it is today, many people lived as near their work as possible, especially when their work was out in the woods. Jobs in the cities and towns don’t require long drives, but when you travel on a horse, and work from sunrise to sunset; it’s nice to be close to home. Working in the logging industry, like my grandparents did, living in the woods was just part of the job.
I’m told that their little cabin in the woods was near International Falls, Minnesota, where their daughter, my Aunt Laura was born. I would imagine that the winters were very cold there, and the best thing for anyone who could was to stay indoors, but them I seriously doubt that my grandmother was a woman who was afraid of a little but of cold and snow. Still, the cold and snow would really make it hard to work out in the woods…nevertheless, that was the job that had to be done. Maybe that was another good reason to live near your work. You could get home to the nice warm house sooner, and maybe even be able to go home for lunch.
When I look at these pictures, it reminds me of the “Little House on the Prairie” books. Everywhere you look seems to be a new adventure. I can imagine how the Ingalls girls felt living there…the adventures they must have had…the adventures my Aunt Laura must have had there, playing with the children of the other logging families that lived in the woods too. I’m sure there was an abundance of forest animals to see and be in awe of. I love photographing the animals…when I happen to be in the right place at the right time. The pictures can be amazing. I can imagine all the beauty all around the little cabin in the woods.