Old Chestnuts

Anyone who loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books knows by now that like so much else from our childhood, those books, and that liking, have suffered a sea change.

Propaganda for an America that never actually existed in the first place, it’s hard now to read the Little House books in the spirit in which they were intended. (In what spirit were they intended?). It feels a little suspect to admit liking them, and probably will feel more so as time passes, but here’s the thing, or a thing: Wilder was really good at talking about food.

Thursday, Thanksgiving, is just a regular day here in Madrid, but I was able to snag canned pumpkin and cranberries at the American-food chain store last week (everything else on its shelves is either candy, cereal, or bbq sauce, which speaks volumes about America). Because the girls are still in the U.S. having their own peculiar versions of the holiday, our Thursday will just be the two of us. Maybe I’ll use that canned pumpkin — maybe I just won’t bother.

The plot of The Long Winter, the Laura Ingalls Wilder book that was always my favorite, basically boils down to this: it snows a whole lot, the trains with their carloads of supplies can’t get through, and for most of the book, Laura and her family grind flour in their coffee grinder and twist hay into kindling in order to survive.

Survive they do, of course, because The Long Winter is a kid’s book after all. By May the snow that blocked the train has melted, and Pa arrives home from the train station with the Christmas barrel sent from back east six months before.

“Now I wonder what this can be?” Pa said, as he lifted from the very bottom of the barrel something bulky and lumpy that was wrapped around and around with thick brown paper.

“Je-ru-salem crickets!” he exclaimed. “If it isn’t our Christmas turkey, still frozen solid.”

He held the great turkey up where all could see. “And fat! Fifteen pounds or I miss my guess.” And as he let the mass of brown paper fall, it thumped on the floor and out of it rolled several cranberries.

Carrie shrieked with delight. Mary clasped her hands and said “Oh, my!” But Ma asked, “Did the groceries come for the stores?”

“Yes, sugar and flour and dried fruit and meat — oh, everything anyone needs,” Pa answered.

“Well then, Mr. Boast, you bring Mrs. Boast day after tomorrow,” Ma said. “Come as early as you can and we will celebrate the springtime with a Christmas dinner.”

In a few hours, the Madrid government decides whether to keep our health zone, already pretend locked-down since mid-October, locked down for two more weeks. Every morning I wake to ominous shared FB posts from health care workers in the States, the sorts of posts that thankfully dwindled during the summer.

The idea of a raincheck becomes more and more attractive, particularly the way Laura Ingalls Wilder describes it:

And as they sang, the fear and the suffering of the long winter seemed to rise like a dark cloud and float away on the music. Spring had come. The sun was shining warm, the winds were soft, and the green grass growing.

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