When I was a kid, we had a black and white TV set that had two channels. I think they were channel 13 and 6, if I remember right, and I used to love watching Little House on the Prairie on Sundays.
As soon as the intro started, I was glued to the show from beginning to end, and wished badly, that I was Laura Ingalls or her sister, Mary. I read all of the Little House Books and still have copies on my shelf years and years later.
Recently, while I was on some time off for a recovery period, I was searching channels, bored out of my mind and came across the show on one of our weird, obscure channels. I have fallen in love with it all over again. Not because I wish I was Laura or Mary, but because of it’s values and lessons.
The simplicity of the lifestyle that the characters lived is absolutely breathtaking. Fishing in creeks with rolled up dough balls from a day of bread baking, pie baking contests, old country fairs and living off a homestead with laying hens and horsedrawn buggies. What an amazing time in the world.
Just the other day, there was an episode about house taxes, and how the government was “evil” for taxing folks on their homesteads. As the disgruntled townsmen stood in line to challenge and ask for lower rates, they discussed that they had “heard” that one day, they would all be taxed on their income. One of the men in line laughed and said “Income tax? That wouldn’t happen in a thousand years!” And they all laughed in their quiet, gentlemanly fashion, donned in stirrup trousers and fedora “town” hats. The women stood at their husbands’ side, in long dresses with layered aprons and bonnetts. Absolutely quaint, and as I discover more and more with each episode, totally controversial for its time.
The show was based on 1880–1890, and it’s so interesting to see the children going out to the outhouse with candles to light their way, lighting oil lamps in their small homes and having “chores” to finish before they sit as a family for supper. Following family supper, they pull out their slates and paper and pencils, and sit by the light of the fire and do their homework. It was such a hard time, yet so simple.
Michael Landon, who directs the series, and the father “Charles Ingalls” is such a lovable, kind, perfect father, with religious values and a strong work ethic. Caroline Ingalls, the mother, has a heart of gold and would do literally anything for her 3 daughters. The 3 girls, Mary, Laura and Carrie are bright, beautiful girls who charm everyone. It is an easy show to “fall into” and really makes you think about the world we are in now.
The show ran from 1974 to 1982. Even now, as soon as the opening music starts, I feel an odd nostalgia rip through me, as I remember racing into the living room and zoning out on mom and dad’s old couch to see what shenanigans Nelly Oleson and her brat brother Willy were up to. Or what kind of heartwarming drama was the basis of the episode. As a kid, of course, you relate to the children characters. As an adult, I relate to the controversy and the poverty of the adults. A couple of the episodes I watched recently had me close to tears. (Yes, I am an emotional TV watcher).
*Funfact-I never knew until recently that “Willy Oleson” is Jonathon Gilbert. He is Melissa Gilbert’s (Laura Ingalls) little brother! The two of them torment each other and are enemies throughout much of the series. I find that hilarious, now, as an adult.
The guest appearances are actually amazing, too. I just watched the episode called “The Collection”, where Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash both starred. He portrayed a poverty stricken fellow who lived with his wife (June) and happened upon an unconscious Reverend Alden in his horse carriage. June’s character takes care of him, and Johnny’s character dresses in the Reverend’s clothes to ask Walnut Grove folks for donations for a neighboring town that was ravaged by fire. Johnny’s character was trying to keep everything for him and his wife and saw it as their “windfall”. As he received donations of gifts and money, he stashed it away, thinking he would steal it while the town wasn’t looking. He would then meet his wife and ride off into the sunset. In the end, he was so moved by the overwhelming giving of all of the town folk, his guilt and by the grace of God, he just couldn’t do it. Plus the Reverend was onto him, and busted him in the church while he gave a “fake” sermon.
Louis Gosset Jr. starred as a runner for explosives in “The Long Road Home” episode. He was portrayed as one of the only black men on the show, and of course it stirred up racism among a couple of the men in the same episode. It ended with the racist men befriending Louis’s character.
I have seen episodes of drug addiction, poverty, abuse, PTSD, racism, bigotry, rape and death. It has premises of very real, and very current issues that are still approached on modern shows. The way they introduce the controversy though, is just so heartwarming, and almost sickenly sweet, you cannot take your eyes off of it once it reels you in. There are no swear words or cussing. People say things like “dadburnit” and “golly”. Could you imagine?
The scenery of the show, which I never noticed, when I was a kid watching it on black and white TV, is also unbelievable. Mountains, rivers, streams, wildflowers and farm land surround “Walnut Grove” and it is like watching a postcard from another planet. Untouched nature without litter or traffic. Dirt roads and horses and people walking to get around to the local general store and post office. The bank is a tiny wooden shack, with polished wood, that was built and finished by Charles Ingalls himself-by hand!
Laura Ingalls Wilder went on to marry a lovely, kind, hardworking man, who dealt with battles and demons of his own. Mary became blind at age 15, from Scarlett Fever, and overcame so much, that it is both painful and exciting to watch. Watching Charles and Caroline’s undying love for each other, is something that our world will most probably never know again. It was such a simplistic and trying era, yet everyone evolved and everyone fought for survival.
Women made clothing for themselves and their children out of fabrics purchased for .40 cents a yard (That was the high end materials). Men and women wore nightcaps to bed to keep from getting chilled if the fire went out. Laundry was washed on a board and hung to dry. The men smoked pipes and chopped wood to heat their family’s homes. People who had money ordered china and dolls from France and Italy. Eggs were traded for grocery items and milk was drank right from the cow’s teet. The school playground has a teeter totter made from a 2 x 4 plank and a wooden board makes a swing with two ropes hanging from a tree. Our children would never be allowed to play on such a “scary, unsafe outdoor space”.
The lessons on this show, would do our children well. Unlike The Walking Dead and shows like The Bachelorette or Big Brother, this show has concrete, strong messages about being a good human being, and how to find support through surrounding people who care about you. In our world, people would rather rant about it on Social Media or become Emos, or Snowflakes or whatever the new terminology is for “Entitled”.
I know I am aging myself by writing this blog, but I feel like the world needs more shows like Little House. It needs more Laura and Mary Ingalls and more Carolines and Charleses. It needs less Kanyes and Kardashians, and less nudity and sexting. It needs more values and heartfelt moments that were a part of the years of Little House and The Waltons.
Our world, simply needs more simplicity and less drama. More homemade and homegrown goodness and less manufactured bullshit. It just needs more kind humans and less filters. More gentleman, more ladies and less judgement. Less hatred and anger, and more kindness to strangers. More thoughtfulness and gestures, more lessons and learning. More appreciation and less envy. More freedom and less helicopter parenting. Less swearing and more caring.
We just need to go back in time, and be more like the folks of Walnut Grove.