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Life Lessons From ‘Little House on the Prairie’

"People are finding values, comfort and a message they long for..."


When I was 4 years old, my parents took me on a short trip to see the “Little House on the Prairie” pageant in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, one of the many towns that Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in during her rather nomadic life across America’s Midwestern states. I was a huge fan of the TV program—even though the show was in reruns by that time! That TV show recently hit a big milestone in turning 50. To celebrate, cast members and fans gathered in California. Three of those cast members were Melissa Gilbert, Karen Grassle, and Alison Arngrim, who played Laura, Ma, and Nellie Oleson, respectively. The three offered theories on the show's staying power. “People are finding values, comfort, and a message that they long for,” Ms. Grassle said. Her comment gets to the heart of the matter—namely, that America is going through hard times and people are looking for hope, encouragement, and values to get through. But while some turn to the TV version of “Little House on the Prairie” to find those values and lessons, some even better ones can be found in the books. Here are a handful that have remained in my memory for years: Savoring the Little Things If anyone knew how to appreciate the small things in life, it was the Ingalls girls, especially at Christmastime. Recieving gifts such as a tin cup, a penny, and a sugared cake, they acted as if they were the crown jewels. One Christmas, their only "gift" was reading some children's magazines a friend had sent—savoring one story a day. Why don’t we enjoy the little things in life? Perseverance in Suffering That same long winter gave the Ingalls family many opportunities to learn perseverance. Snowed in until May and unable to replenish supplies, the family survived by grinding their dwindling wheat in a coffee grinder to make coarse bread while twisting straw into sticks to burn for fuel. Sluggishness from the cold and starvation circumstances set in, but Pa, Ma, and Laura refused to give in to it. Instead, they did their best to stay cheerful. Postmodern Americans certainly aren’t on the edge of real starvation, but present circumstances seem to easily turn each of us into a Gloomy Gus! Don’t let that happen. Take each day as it comes, purposefully noting the good things happen, no matter how small. Expressing gratitude for what you have, can cheer up even the most discouraged among us. Putting Family First Earning her teaching license meant that Laura could contribute financially to her family. Her first teaching experience was a nightmare—but she refused to quit, knowing that doing so would hurt her future teaching chances and hence her chance to contribute financially. Several instances show her generously putting her earnings toward her family's comfort and well-being rather than spending her hard-won cash on herself. Can the same be said of us? Sure, many of us are likely diligent in business like Laura, but is that diligence expended for our families or at their expense? If it’s the latter, then perhaps we need to take a page out of Laura’s book, making sure our resources—not just wealth, but time as well—are shared with them. Making Time for Fun Like everything else in their life, their fun was simple and made use of the resources they had at hand. When their town organized evening gatherings, the entertainment included spelling bees, games of charades, and music provided by those with musical abilities. Church suppers, family reading nights, and popcorn made over the stove were also on the agenda. In our world of entertainment overkill, such simple amusements likely seem trite. Try purposely stepping away from the streaming services and gather your family and friends and try some of these old-fashioned, simple pastimes. In all likelihood, you’ll find that their simplicity will bring amusement and laughter like you haven’t experienced in ages.

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