Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Inspirations from The Little House on the Prairie

The other day I was listening to NPR while cooking dinner and heard a story about a woman who traveled to every place the Ingalls family lived and wrote a book about it. She went to Laura Ingalls look-alike contests, watched every television adaptation of the  show, even foreign and Asian ones, and cooked meals from the cookbook. She said that ultimately she thinks her obsession with the books and show were a way to return to her childhood after the death of her mother.

I thought it was funny that segment aired that day, as I had just listed a Little House doll set in my store. It's strange to me how sometimes things you haven't heard about or even thought about for ages are suddenly "in the air" and many people are thinking of them at once. I must be around the same age as this woman as I too had a Little House saturated childhood. I remember reading the books until they fell apart, being read to from the books at school, wearing long calico dresses, and having many Holly Hobbie dolls and branded items. The Little House franchise seems to have been strangely unmarketed, as I don't remember having any dolls or lunch boxes or figurines from the books or the show. Maybe there were such items but they weren't available in my small town.

I do know that in many ways our lives seemed similar to the Ingalls. We lived in Ohio on the very edge of Indiana, where the great plains begin to stretch out flat and endless, seemingly beyond any imaginable horizon. Several years at that time were record-breakingly cold. We had moved from California when I was three because my father had died and I, who had never seen snow, was greeted by a blizzard. We lived with my grandparents and I can still remember sitting by their picture window while the snow was falling so heavily the window seemed to have been painted white. Later, we moved to a house with no central heat. It was too cold to go to bed after our baths with wet hair, so we would sit by the Buck Stove in our living room combing our hair dry while my mother read to us from the Little House books. I don't know why we didn't seem to have a hair dryer. We did have one of the bonnet dryers you sat under, but it took forever and there were too many of us. We had a big garden in the summers and preserved a lot of food, and my aunt had a farm we would visit to have hay rides and pick apples in the fall. The whole family would participate in making cider and applesauce. I had a lot of homemade toys. Our Hollie Hobby, or Prairie-style dolls, were handmade by my aunt. My grandfather made the wooden barn shown behind the dolls. That was my absolute favorite toy; when he first made it I could climb inside! My husband has a lot to say now about having to store a 4 foot by 5 foot barn! So I could relate to the many stories of Pa in the blizzard, or the descriptions of the family preserving their food. Most of those stories were in the Little House in the Big Woods book, as I remember. The first time I read that story to my son (he was about 5 at the time), he said, "This book teaches you to survive!" It's very true, I think; you could use those books as a manual for homesteading.

Recently I have attended several classes at the Church of the Latterday Saints on food storage, budgeting, making your own soaps, etc, and it is really amazing how many people are still utilizing the frugal practices of Ma and Pa. I guess this was what got me thinking of the Little House theme when I was working on my latest My Friend dolls. The My Friend dolls are my favorite vintage dolls to remake. Probably this is because they were my main play dolls when I was a child and I spent many hours imagining them in various roles. They are also relatively cheap and plentiful and come with several hair colors. They are easy to clean and repair since they are washable.

My Friend Mandy and Jenny as Mary and Laura Ingalls with Nettie and Charlotte

They sit and stand alone.

They have clean faces.

They have nice hair.
For this set I used a Mandy doll for Mary. I bought a box of distressed Mandy dolls last year and have been working on them ever since. This Mandy had to have her head removed so I could re-stuff her torso. She doesn't have the central armature inside her body. The later dolls have them, but the early ones don't, so their heads are prone to flop around. You have to stuff the torso really tight to stabilize the head. This gave her a rather pigeon-breasted appearance, but she's still a cutie. The Jenny I used for Laura was in great shape and just need a wash and hairstyle. Their dresses are made from vintage calico prints, probably period to the dolls--late 70s to early 80s. My mother has amassed such a collection of fabric in her attic that I always "shop" there first!

Nettie and Charlotte are made from a very detailed vintage dollhouse doll pattern. They have floppy rag joints and felt clothes that are removable and have tiny Velcro closures. They even have teeny shoes! I had such a good time making them!

Making the storybook dolls is such a wonderful break from the monotony of the housewife day. I love my children and I love being a mother and wife, but I need something to think about during all the episodes of Curious George, the endless housework, and the hours spent sitting in the bathroom with the 2-year-old I am potty training! Writing this blog and my eBay descriptions also gives me some much-needed practice in writing daily again. I wrote and sketched daily throughout college and until I had children and then it fell away. I am trying to make it a habit again.

When I look at these dolls I see myself and my sisters, ensconced in the voluminous nightgowns preferred by my mother, warm by the stove in the seventies orange glow of our living room, our wet hair dripping on our shoulders as these stories unwound.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.