Monday, April 22, 2013

April, when We Long to Go on Pilgrimage

On Friday night, before the Hobo Code Poetry reading, we talked about the whole hobo ethic.  One friend completely doubted that ANYONE would have chosen that life.  She said that the Great Depression FORCED people into that life, which was true of a certain segment of the hobo population.

I said, "Haven't you ever wanted to just sell everything you own, buy an RV, and take off to see the nation?"

One friend (the doubter) looked at me in horror, while the other nodded enthusiastically.  She pointed out that I'd be travelling with a house, essentially, so I'd be sheltered in all sorts of ways that hobos weren't.  She said, "And you wouldn't be stopping to work."

I said, "Maybe I would.  I would stop at the Laura Ingalls Wilder house and get a job where I'd show people around."

And then some hilarity ensued as we tried to imagine what we'd say.  "Stand at this window and close your eyes and experience the blindness of Mary.  Run your fingers across this braille."

Does such a place exist?  I don't know, but I'd love to work there, if I needed a bit of extra cash.  Me and multiple generations of women who read those books as girls.  Or maybe it's my inner drama major who wants a job where I can dress up in a costume from a different time period.  Or maybe it's because of the brilliant episode of Parks and Rec that I saw on Thursday night when Leslie made a bet about who could last longest living the way that people did in the 19th century.  It was hilarious.

Laura Ingalls Wilder became one of those topics that we returned to throughout the night.  One friend is reading the series again.  I found myself envying her.  Of course, I, too, own the series; I could read them all again.

What I'd really like is to read more about the Ingalls family.  I've gotten some sense of the reality of their lives, as I've come across more facts about that time period and the westward expansion, and I've written a bit about that before on this blog.  For example, when I was young, I was so angry that I had missed the time of the Homestead Exemption when I could have gotten a chunk of land for free had I just managed to farm on it for 5 years.

In later years, I'd learn how hard it was to do that:  60-70 % of Homesteaders failed, either because they couldn't make the land produce or because they died (harsh disease, harsh weather, harsh natives) or because they fled back to the East because of the intense hardship or the intense loneliness.

So yes, I'd buy that RV and go on the Laura Ingalls Wilder trail.  Again, does such a thing exist?  Probably not, but it should.  I think of all the authors who have influenced me who have come from the Dakotas.  What does it mean that I LOVED Laura Ingalls Wilder as a child, and then, in my early 30's, I LOVED Kathleen Norris?  I could perhaps write an interesting essay, academic or popular, about the Dakotas sensibility and its influence on American writing.  But I won't do that right now.

My spouse is still under the spell of Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove and would love to follow the path of that cattle drive--but without the cattle.  Instead of an RV, he'd like to do it on motorcycles, the modern answer to a good horse.

But for now, I have a job that pays well and provides benefits, so I won't be buying that RV or a pair of motorcycles.  It may well be the last full-time job I ever get--full-time jobs seem to be disappearing from the landscape the way that buffalo once did.  I'll read the Dakota writers whom I love and satisfy my wanderlust that way.

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