Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sister Conversation, Shared References, Shared History

I'm rereading On the Banks of Plum Creek, fourth in the Little House on the Prairie series. It came up on the child lit listserv as a good example of... something, so I put it on hold at the library, and by the time I picked it up, I'd forgotten what was supposed to be so interesting about it. This is what usually happens; I put books on hold at the library because they're mentioned on child lit as an example of something interesting--a specific type of voice, POV, setting, relationship between characters--but by the time I get them I forget what it was I'd wanted to examine. The good part is I generally just appreciate them anyway.

So I've been rereading On the Banks of Plum Creek as I'm in Seattle with my sister for Christmas, and one or both of us has remembered every major incident: the dugout ceiling caving in when the ox runs across it, the leeches in Plum Creek, Nellie Oleson being insanely unbearable from the moment of her first appearance. I think it's interesting that neither of us remembered how beautiful the prose was. My parents read the whole series out loud to each of us--so I got to hear them twice--and now I can see how that must have been such a pleasure for them in so many ways. I know some of the books in the series have some problematic Indians, but not this one (at least 200 pages in). (That may be why it got mentioned on child lit, in fact.)

Last night, reading in bed, my sister and I had an awesome moment. As I've been reading, we've been talking about both the books and the TV show, and last night Nellie Oleson showed up for the first time, when Mary and Laura go to school. So I was like, "Em! Nellie Oleson! And she's already awful!" I read her the following:

Nellie Oleson was very pretty. Her yellow hair hung in long curls, with two big blue ribbon bows on top. Her dress was thin white lawn, with little blue flowers scattered over it, and she wore shoes. [Laura and Mary walk the two and a half miles from their farm, barefoot.]

She looked at Laura and she looked at Mary, and she wrinkled up her nose.

"Hm!" she said. "Country girls!"

We harumphed about that, but talked about how Laura always got Nellie back, in that way that you do when the character you're discussing is part of your family and really part of you, too.

On a related subject, I said, "So Laura was a dyke--I mean--"

My sister says, "No--not Laura, her sister, but in real life." She starts laughing.

"Yeah, Darlene!" I say. I start laughing.

Em says again, "Except in real life."

It cracked us both up so hard for so long. I love that sister.

We spent a while laughing, then we outlined the unsaid: on the TV show Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls is played by the actress Melissa Gilbert. Later, Melissa Gilbert's sister Sara Gilbert played Darlene on Roseanne, another show my family watched religiously. (Well, me and my sister and father. My mother hated it.) Sara Gilbert is an out lesbian.

Then my sister and I discussed Michael Landon and John Goodman for a while, before falling asleep.

Postscript: I also just learned that Sara and Melissa Gilbert's brother Jonathan was also on Little House! He played Nellie Oleson's nasty brother Willie! Gotta love Wikipedia.

1 comment:

ccp said...

I've never read the books, but have intended to for quite some time. I loved that show as a kid. And Nellie's line, "Country girls"--I vividly remember that scene on the television show. She was terrible. Oh! That reminds me: there's a great article in a magazine titled "Brain, Child" written by a woman who is an English professor and obsessed with the Little House books. She took her daughters on a car trip to visit all the sites mentioned in the books. I can scan it and send it to you if you'd like. I'll check the website first and see if it's up there. xo, celia