Thursday, January 15, 2009

Little House Days

On Thursdays in first or second grade, maybe both—every Thursday, mind you—I donned an olive green calico print dress and asked for my hair to be parted down the middle and braided in two long, low pigtails. There's nothing remarkable about this, but let's not forget the finishing touch: I insisted that my mom use her brown eyeliner to pencil a sprinkling of "freckles" on my cheeks. They looked real enough to me, though I'm sure I was the only one who thought so. What was I playing at? Well . . . Every Thursday evening, beginning on September 11, 1974 (that date now seems to strike hard at the heart of what an innocent life I led then!), the one-hour television drama series Little House on the Prairie aired on NBC. My parents were strict about limiting television exposure (hours and content), but this was a show with strong values and good topics for discussion, so we watched it together every week. The morning dress-up routine was just one way to build anticipation throughout the day. My mother indulged me in this, freckles and all, so I went to school looking like Laura Ingalls; rather, looking somewhat like Melissa Gilbert, the child actress who played Laura on the show. I didn't care what anyone would say, and if they did say anything, I don't recall. I was lost in my fantasy of being a true prairie girl, despite riding the CTA through clogged city streets to get to a school that resembled not a bit Miss Beadle's one-room schoolhouse (I always heard "Miss Beetle" and thought that was an odd name). But a child's determination to believe, her ability to slip so thoroughly into imagination, can be powerful; I was convinced somehow that I really became Laura every Thursday. I practiced running downhill as she did, tilting my outstretched arms this way and that like the wings of a banking airplane (never mind the incongruity of that image, given the historical time period of the show, 100 years earlier, this was how the opening credits always ended); I began to call my parents "Ma" and "Pa" (though that didn't last, as my mother made it clear that she was no Caroline Ingalls in a white ruffled nightcap: "mom" or "mommy" were more than fine with her, thank you very much), and I seem to recall a request for the nickname "half pint," which is what Laura was called by Charles Ingalls, her father, played by Michael Landon. Now there was an interesting character. Struggling farmer, rugged Frontier man, hard working and honest; a man who loved his family and had an especially soft spot for his middle daughter—I felt that he could be my own father, there was clearly a special bond between this televised parent and child. True, my father was no farmer and did not go to work in suspenders, rolled shirtsleeves, and a battered hat. He worked behind a desk, not a plow. He wore a dark suit and wide ties—though his hair was on the long side, as was Michael Landon's curly mop (it was the 1970s after all, which also pardons the wide ties). All the residents of Walnut Grove interested me—as did their logging, butter churning, and pie baking, plus the possibility of a raccoon as a pet—and it was easy to get caught up in their hardships, their conflicts (small and large). Every week, I waited impatiently to discover what would happen to the Ingalls family and especially to the exuberant, feisty girl I longed to be. I delighted in knowing that Laura would best her nemesis, the spoiled and nasty Nellie Oleson with her blond banana curls and satin ribbons (I was mortified that the actress who played this character shared my name, taking small consolation in the fact that she spelled it with only one el). Perhaps I relished this aspect the most; I had my own "Nellies," after all, and victory over them seemed much less certain. But in my calico dress and pink bonnet (yes, eventually I had one of those, too), in my braids and freckles, nothing and no one bothered me. No, Thursdays were "Little House Days," and thanks to some costuming and Mom's makeup, I was carefree and bold.


  1. Oh my God, Little House on the Prairie is picking up some steam!

  2. I loved this show too! Didn't we all??

  3. UPDATE:
    Just found out in today's edition of the industry newsletter "Publisher's Lunch" that Alison Arngrim, who played the villainous Nellie Oleson, has a book deal for a memoir titled: CONFESSIONS OF A PRAIRIE BITCH. In fact, she's got a pretty entertaining Web site: that includes a demonic set of photos on the homepage, a "Don't Mess With Nellie" game, trivia, and more links. The photo of Alison now is great to see... she looks like someone you might want to know (unlike the nasty girl she played on TV)!