Prairie Girl

Monday, April 5, 2010



"She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true. I had not been mistaken. She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things. She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little crab tree and look up at the apples, to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last. All the strong things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions. It was no wonder that her sons stood tall and straight. She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races."

Oh, my goodness. Those words stopped me in my tracks. They are the narrator's description of Antonia towards the end of Willa Cather's My Antonia. A classic, which I recently stole from my parents' shelf. They've got lots of classics, and I was in the mood for . . . something. My Antonia was it.

It took a few chapters for me to get hooked, but I stuck with it because of the red prairie in sunset on the cover. I was a Midwestern girl, see. Raised in an area of the country where everything is flat. Where all roads meet at a 90 degree angle, and you can drive straight forever. I loved it. Loved growing up there, loved being a part of something vast and fruitful. But my love had a sentimental aspect to it, because I always knew I would leave it one day. I always felt that I would eventually settle elsewhere, so I studied it, to remember.

In the Midwest, you grow up learning a lot about pioneers. At least I did. I grew up in the Land of Lincoln. Young Lincoln, the pioneer. The guy with the rolled up shirtsleeves, standing next to a tree, with an axe. My Dad's ancestors had a well documented relationship with young Lincoln, and we often visited the state park which preserved that historic settlement. I devoured the Laura Ingles Wilder books, and loved watching Little House on the Prairie on TV. I wanted to be a "prairie girl" one Halloween, so my mom had someone make a dress for me, and I wore my great grandmother's bonnet. Great Grandmother Ada from my mom's side, who probably never stepped foot out of Mississippi, and was not in the least bit "Midwestern," (perish the thought!) - BUT she actually wore that bonnet. She worked hard, and she shared the characteristic I most admired in all those pioneers: she was hardy.

As a young girl, I stood in awe of her, and all women who actually wore bonnets, worked in plowed rows, and had babies in their bedrooms. I tried to imagine what they went through, and I still wonder if I could have done it. When you grow up surrounded by farm land, often divided by stands of trees instead of fences, you can look out and think, "It probably wasn't all that different years ago." You feel a connection to the land, and the people who have touched it. You feel gratitude. I have always been grateful that those people, especially the women, did what they did. That they were brave, steadfast, and true. I want to be those things, too.

Sooo, that leads me back to My Antonia. It is the story of Antonia, a Bohemian girl whose family immigrates to Nebraska. It is written from the perspective of her younger neighbor and friend, Jim. When he returns to Nebraska many years later, she is still there. Devoted wife, mother to nearly a dozen children, pioneer. Still connected to the land she learned to love. Jim loved Antonia his whole life, and his summary of her at the end, is beautiful. It made me think about all the things I've written about here, and more. It made me think about how fortunate we are, here and now, and how I hope I can find the meaning in common things, be tireless in serving, and help my sons to grow tall and straight.

Like corn.

Okay, that last bit was a joke for Hubby. Things were just getting way too serious, and he always teases me about how much I like corn. (I really do.)

P.S. Thanks for finding that picture, Mom!


share this on »
{Facebook}
{Twitter}
{Pinterest}
3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Prairie Girl”

  1. Sweet! Even though you're a Midwestern girl with deep roots on your mom's side in Mississippi, and notwithstanding the fact that you're happy living in South Carolina now, your Midwestern heritage is rich and has helped make you who you are. I'm glad you're proud of it. And I'm so happy I found that picture of you as our little corn-fed "Prairie Girl" back in 1986(!) Now for another search - I know that bonnet is in a box somewhere! (Ada would be proud of your writing too, and of that picture!)

    ReplyDelete
  2. OMG. DId you see my facebook posting from 3 hours ago? I saw about a dozen English books at a used book market yesterday in Lviv, Ukraine, and picked up Wilder's LHO the P for about 45 cents/ 4 hyrvnias.
    You and I always seems to have things like this happen to us...it amazes me and makes me grateful that the Lord has blesseed me with such a special, special friend.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sweet! Even though you're a Midwestern girl with deep roots on your mom's side in Mississippi, and notwithstanding the fact that you're happy living in South Carolina now, your Midwestern heritage is rich and has helped make you who you are. I'm glad you're proud of it. And I'm so happy I found that picture of you as our little corn-fed "Prairie Girl" back in 1986(!) Now for another search - I know that bonnet is in a box somewhere! (Ada would be proud of your writing too, and of that picture!)

    ReplyDelete