I was just there in August as part of my big Laura Ingalls Wilder trip across the midwest. I had a Laura Ingalls Wilder summer as I spent part of June in upstate New York meeting Dean Butler, who played Almanzo on the Little House tv series of the 70's and 80's. He was appearing at the Wilder Farm in Malone, NY to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of the publication of Farmer Boy, the 2nd book in the Little House series, the one that featured Almanzo as the main character. Almanzo, for the uninformed, was the husband of Laura Ingalls Wilder - author of the series and personal hero of mine since childhood.
She grew up in Minnesota and South Dakota so that's where I was last week, visiting the various museums that have been put up in her honor. Walnut Grove, Minnesota is very nice but De Smet, South Dakota stole my heart. I didn't expect it to. I'd been there once before, about 25 years ago when my parents and I were on one of our annual cross country summer trips. Dad had meetings all across the US just so that we could find a way to drive out to Oregon each summer to see my grandparents. I've been in most of the 48 continental states although I must admit I spent most of my time either sleeping or reading in the backseat of the car so I don't remember much of most of them. Those yearly trips were not much fun for me although I did enjoy stopping each evening to swim. We probably could have made much better time each day if dad hadn't had to stop by 5 each night to find a motel with a swimming pool for his little princess.
One year, when I was right out of high school (the last year I went on the cross country trip with them as a matter of fact) I found out that dad had meetings in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, South Dakota. A book on Laura Ingalls Wilder had come out a few years earlier and it listed all the museums in the back. One of them was in De Smet, South Dakota, the settings of many of the books. De Smet was right between Sioux Falls and Rapid City! Well, not *right* between, it was really quite out of the way but it was the closest I was ever going to get. Unfortunately, in order to get from the meeting one night in Sioux Falls to the meeting the next night in Rapid City, we were only going to be able to go through De Smet at 6 in the morning. Not many museums are open at that hour, I'm afraid. So I took a big chance and sent a letter to the address listed in the book, asking them what I might be able to see that early. The lovely lady who ran the place wrote back and offered to open everything up just for us. Of course we took her up on that offer and my patient parents got up at 4 in the morning so that we could make it to town on time. It was a wonderful visit, I thrilled to be able to set foot in the Surveyor's House where Laura lived one winter with her family. I spent all my spending money at the gift shop and those purchases are still some of my most treasured items today.
Still, as much as I enjoyed that visit, I didn't really remember the town of De Smet or the countryside. 25 years ago is a long time and my memory is getting foggy so although I was thrilled to be able to visit again, I had no idea that I'd fall in love with the prairie the way I did. Last week I stepped foot onto Ingalls land and lost my heart forever, I can't explain it any other way. I'm back home now and all I want to do is look at my pictures and figure out how to get back there next summer. I want to sleep in a covered wagon again and listen to the night sounds of the prairie. I want to see the baby animals, walk along the wagon trail (watching for mule poop the whole way) and hear the sound of a miniature horse hidden in the prairie grass. I want to rediscover the buffalo wallow. I want to take way more pictures. I want to spend time in Ma's Little House and play the pump organ, make more rope and really learn to twist hay the way they did in the Hard Winter. I want to play with kittens and milk a cow.
This is so unlike me, I'm usually not much of an outdoor girl.....maybe it's prairie fever.