Wednesday, November 21, 2012

These Happy Golden Years

Annie's been working her way through the entire Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and right now she's in the middle of These Happy Golden Years. Some nights I read a few pages of it to her and then set her free for half an hour before lights-out (she's become a read-herself-to-sleep girl, like her mama), so I don't know or remember everything that's going on in the book, but I do love the title.

We've started watching the series sometimes, too: a special treat on a Sunday night after dinner is pudding, a fire, and an episode of Little House. It's become a bit of a tradition, though the episodes are not exactly they way I remember them. Some are a little, er, dicey - Jason and I will scroll through the DVR queue, reading the little descriptions, and wince: one titled "Injun Boy"; an episode about gambling and fighting over land in gold rush country; Mary defending the children from an attack of wolves or Pa coming to blows trying to get the country doctor to come to his illness-ravaged town. Compared to the silly, kid-sized "problems" that appear in most of the books and movies our kids are used to, these problems are not joking around. People die, families run out of food, kids get in real trouble for disobeying their parents, everyone has much less of everything.

It's tempting to read or watch the series, then, and think about the good old days and how different everything was. But, looking closer, I can see that some things are still the same as they ever were: golden-ringletted Nellie Olson is the town mean girl, some families have less than others, siblings bicker on their way to school and over doing their chores, and moms and dads have serious talks at the kitchen table after kids are tucked into bed for the night. Annie and Jemma, I can tell, are silently fascinated by the glimpse into "the olden days," with its outhouses and horses, wide-open fields and dusty towns, but their favorite parts are the parts they can relate to: Laura getting in trouble for reading a mystery at school, Carrie falling down adorably in the opening credits as she runs down a hill of tall grass.

A good friend gave me a card for my birthday, and I keep it on my desk. It says, "Those were the good old days - but so are these." Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and I've been trying to up my gratefulness quotient this year in particular ever since I stumbled on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts this spring. I've kept a gratitude journal (poorly, with limited success), and our family begins lots of meals together by each saying one thing we're grateful for at that moment. Annie's teacher this year has somehow done a bang-up job of teaching the kids that saying "it's not fair" is unacceptable, and Jemma brought home a plethora of Thanksgiving-related items in her folder yesterday. (Things she is thankful for: "My Hose (house), My FaMiLy, Grese (grass), THe CLooSe (clouds), GOD, and FEDS (friends).")

I'm often struck by a sense of nostalgia in the moment, by knowing in advance that I'm going to look back on these years and miss their innocence and goodness, and I feel like that when a folder full of construction-paper turkeys comes home and when our foursome is curled up on a Sunday night together watching Little House and eating homemade pudding. This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for all the usual things - home, family, friendships, great teachers, good food, freedom, books, health - but mostly I'm thankful for the good old days: the ones when Laura and her family made their way on the prairie, the one when baby Annie fell asleep on the floor after Thanksgiving dinner and we left her there, covered with a blanket and walking around her until she woke up while I was eating pie; today, when my family eats oatmeal and pets kitties first thing in the morning, and the ones that will surely come in the future despite the changes that will inevitably come too.

"And that, to me, is the meaning of Thanksgiving . . . Nothing lasts; everything changes. People die, and marriages dissolve, and friendships fade, and families fall apart, whether or not we appreciate them; whether or not we give thanks every waking moment or one night a year. For the act of returning to the same table, to the same people and the same dishes - to the same traditions - can blind you to life's transience. It can lull you into believing that some things, at least, stay the same. And if that's what you believe, then what have you got to be grateful for? None of our Thanksgivings are ever coming back; we've lost them. They're gone. And so this year, let's go somewhere with strange customs and unfamiliar recipes and the latest collection of ill-assorted chairs, and give thanks - not for everything we have, but for everything, instead, that we have lost." - Michael Chabon, in November's Bon Appetit.


  1. I love this post, Stephanie. One of your finest.

    and OH that Michael Chabon quote! I must steal that for... something.

    All those things I've lost, I'm so very grateful for them.

  2. I really enjoyed this one! I adored LHOTP, too, but yes, some dicey episodes--I'm probably a little scarred still by the one in which Albert gets addicted to morphine (??).

    It's such an ongoing quest to remember to acknowledge the beauty of life right now, today, in this moment. I'm glad we keep trying!