Big Love, Prairie Style
You know that line in "Pretty In Pink" where Andie says "Iona, You're going to O.D. on nostalgia" while tenderly patting Annie Potts' jet black beehive? That line always makes me laugh because I could indeed O.D on nostalgia.
Last Christmas, Husband gave me the season one boxed set of "Little House on the Prairie." It was my absolute favorite show growing up and The Little House series was my favorite reading material as well.
I still have the original set of books that I received for my 9th birthday tucked safely away. I get them out every once in a while and breathe deeply of the musty, dusty pages. That smell always takes me back to long lazy afternoons sprawled upon my bed, lost to that long ago world beyond the baby blue binding.
Ah. Good memories.
Anyway...I know a lot of you thoroughly dislike all the corny cheeseball Christmas specials that glut the airwaves this time of year, but I truly love them all.
Last night Husband and the boys and I watched "Christmas at Plum Creek", which is featured in that boxed set. It has joined our holiday viewing rotation, along with "A Christmas Story", "It's A Wonderful Life" and "The Year Without A Santa Clause".
There is a point in this episode where husband I both try, and fail, not to break down into sobs, every single time. And then we laugh at each other while the boys exchange bewildered and mildly alarmed looks.
In this episode, the Ingalls family members are all puzzling about how to buy one another gifts with the very meagre amount of money they have managed to save. Laura wants to buy Ma a stove, but it is so very, very expensive that she has no hope of being able to do so.
The stove costs $7.87.
Nelly has been begging and pleading with Laura to sell her horse Bunny, but Laura has steadfastly refused because she loves Bunny with all her heart, and also because she knows Nelly would not treat Bunny with kindness. But finally, because she knows how much Ma wants the stove, she agrees to trade Bunny to Mr. Oleson for the stove. She doesn't know, however, that Pa has made her a saddle for Christmas.
The scene that destroys Husband and me, is the one where Mr. Oleson comes to pick up Bunny. He and Laura leave the house to go out the barn, and we, the viewers, are left inside with Charles and Caroline, who is fighting tears.
"Oh Charles, her pony, I can't..."
Charles takes her by the shoulders and looks into her eyes.
"Caroline, she had the right." he says earnestly.
"But she LOVES that pony!"
"She loves YOU more."
Then Caroline breaks down and then Husband and I break down and pretty soon everyone is sobbing because we are all overcome by the sweet aching bigness of a child's love for her mother.
This scene didn't make me cry when I was 9, but it did evoke powerful emotions. I felt terribly sad that Laura had to give up Bunny.
But there was more than that for me.
I remember being a child, and thinking about how my mother deserved to have beautiful things and hating that she didn't; hating that I couldn't give them to her.
I wanted her to have a new dress for church every week, like the other ladies did. (Yes, I grew up in a Christian home..that surprises you, doesn't it?)
I wanted her to have a car without rust spots that didn't backfire like a cannon when it was too cold.
I wanted her to have things just because they were pretty and not because they were useful.
Most of all, I guess I just wanted her to have all the things I thought she deserved. Because my mother worked very, very hard. She still does.
She cooked and cleaned and worked outside the home as well.
And every Christmas she made dozens upon dozens of cookies, the really fussy kind that you have to roll and shape cut. She made divinity and almond bark and popcorn balls and rosettes. She shopped and wrapped and decorated.
I love my father. He was and is a terriffic Dad. But as a domestic partner, I think he was definitely lacking, having been raised in an era where the man was the king of the castle and the woman was at his beck and call.
So my mother did it all and then some. And she rarely got any help, much less a thank you.
One Christmas, when I was probably ten or eleven, while browsing in Prange's, the most upscale department store in town, and one in which our family rarely shopped, I spied a thing that was so beautiful it took my breath away.
It was a silver ice skater, in a short skirt that twirled stiffly away from her metallic thighs, suspended above a mirrored lake on a fine, almost invisable filament, where she danced and whirled with magical, if sometimes maniacal locomotion.
This...this was a thing my mother deserved to have.
It was $10, which was everything I had. I would have nothing left to buy gifts for anybody else. Oh how I contemplated, ruminated, and calculated.
In the end, I bought it.
I don't remember if or how I managed to buy gifts for anybody else, but I do remember the breathless agonizing wait as I anticipated the opening of that amazing gift. I couldn't stop envisioning the look on my mother's face; imagining the envy on the faces of guests to our home. I was so excited to give my mother something she could be proud of.
Years later, I ran accross that thing in an old box. The silver paint was peeling to reveal yellowing plastic underneath. The mirrored lake had blackened and silver thread was fraying. It was a terribly cheap and tacky little bauble.
But when she opened it, my mother acted as if it was as beautiful, as valuable, as tasteful as a Faberge Egg.
And do you know...that silly thing sat in our living room for years?
So then, as now, I could relate to all the complicated emotions that episode embodies. Nothing, nothing in the world could be more meaningful or more valuable than an opportunity to make a mother happy. Nothing, nothing in the world could be more important than keeping a child from being hurt.
As we sobbed, Diminutive One wordlessly climbed into the chair with Husband and slipped his arms around his neck. He's really too big to sit in the chair with Husband like he used to. But Husband's tears were too much for him...he needed to do something, even if it was only to touch and comfort.
That's a pretty big thing, that kind of love.
If I didn't understand it then, I certainly do now.