it's been dragging here at Dwanollah.com during the
dog days of summer
and not just because I've been re-organizing
the place, either. I've been BUSY, guys! Let's start at the
beginning, shall we? In June, for my birthday, The Husband-Type
Man whisked me away to fulfill one of the top items on my
or at least, part of it: The Laura Ingalls Wilder Grande
I'm a Little House fan, and I don't mean that vile, sappy,
evil TV version, neither (although it's good for a laugh now
and then). I mean the books. Downstairs in the Playroom, I
have two bookshelves crammed with not only the original series,
but also a few of the newer serieses (Rose, mostly
can't get into Caroline or Martha
.), tons of critical
work, and, especially, as many out-of-print books by Rose
Wilder Lane as I can dig up. Rose Wilder Lane
Laura's daughter. The woman who ghost-wrote
the Little House series. Yes she did! Don't argue with me!
Rose and Laura were co-authors, collaborators. Rose was not
merely a "light editor" or "helper"
she was an integral part to their creation!
I love these books, and these two women, so much that I've
actually devoted graduate study to them. For a class on "Literature
in the Public Sphere," I researched the political theories
and rhetoric in the LH books and analyzed their context in
children's lit and their presentation through an autobiographical
character. Hardcore stuff, y'all, yeah? That doesn't mean
I don't still just simply delight in Pa playing "mad
dog" or snicker at "long-legged snipes!" or
shiver when I read about blizzards from October to May
but these books - and these two women, Laura and Rose - are
more than just near-forgotten places and shadowy figures from
the land of kiddie lit. It's been a dream of mine for decades
go visit all the possible sites
ever since, when at age
11, I picked up an "extra" Little House book called
The First Four Years . Although written by Laura, it
was much shorter and sounded somehow quite different than
the previous books. The chapters and layout and tones and
voices were different. And depressing things kept happening:
crop failures, the death of a baby son, and, at the end, a
house fire that destroyed everything the Wilders had worked
for. I was vaguely disappointed and dissatisfied
I got to the last page. There was yet another Garth Williams
pencil-drawing, not the usual people and prairies, but just
a close-up of a glass bread plate embossed "GIVE US THIS
DAY OUR DAILY BREAD." Underneath the picture was the
The oval glass bread plate Laura and Manly bought
for their first Christmas together. The plate survived
the fire and was found among Rose Wilder Lane's things
after her death. It is now at the Laura Ingalls Wilder
Home Association in Mansfield, Missouri, for all visitors
There was a Laura MUSEUM out there?!
I vaguely comprehended "Mansfield, Missouri" only
as "someplace far away"
but I vowed someday,
despite the fact that I'd never been more than 200 miles away
from San Diego, I'd go see this Laura museum myself.
In the intervening decade or so, I just tried to get my hands
on as much raw info about both Laura and Rose as I could.
I made my first small-scale pilgrimage on my Solo Adventure
to San Francisco, my groundbreaking "awakening"
trip all by myself in January of 1994. After re-devouring
West From Home, Laura's letters to Almanzo from San
Francisco while she was visiting Rose and the 1917 Panama-Pacific
Exposition, I decided to find Rose's old pad at 1018 Vallejo
Street. It took some doing; on my first trip to SF, DumbAss
was too impatient and thought my Quest was dumb, so I never
found it (and instead got to spend unremitting hours standing
around record stores. Gee). But on my own, yes, the Quest
was fulfilled! High on a hill, on a blocked-off part of Vallejo
Street, the apartment was instantly recognizable from the
black-and-white pictures in the book (well, except for the
basketball hoop). That was my first Literary Pilgrimage, and
I gooned appropriately!
My love of Laura and Rose was given free reign when I worked
at The Bookstore. With the release of the "Rose
Books" (a LH knock-off series written by Roger Lea
McBride, the heir to the Wilder-Lane estate), I got to plan
kiddie events and decorate windows and order books and even
buy all sorts of kewl-rad junk from the various museum gift
shops! Woo hoo! I began stockpiling postcards, pictures, paraphernalia
and, of course, books. I started tracking down Rose's stuff
through special orders, and discovered just how popular and
widely-respected she was as an author and as a woman during
more so than her mother, in fact! But in
the shadow of Michael Landon's demonic creation, no one remembers
Rose at all. She was a remarkable woman, in general
genius-level-intelligent, talented, headstrong, radical, nontraditional,
just plain fascinating! Even if I don't usually agree with
her politics (and believe me, the woman was political), she
intrigues me to no end. Girl crush? Perhaps! I sent off more
letters and ordered more books from various LIW museums
When I compiled The List,
I also opened up a copy of the Rand McNally US Road Atlas,
and plotted out a basically rectangular route covering the
greater part of the Midwest, hitting sites from De Smet, South
Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, and all points in between,
adjacent, and even not-so-adjacent. The Laura Ingalls Wilder
Grande Tour. Yeah!
Right before my birthday this summer, THTM found out he'd
have to go to Milwaukee for a round of business meetings.
Since I was in between classes, he sprang the idea of taking
the Grande Tour as my birthday gift! Kick ASS! Well, with
only 4 days, we weren't able to do the whole Grande Tour,
but we were able to hit the southern half of it. We left from
Milwaukee on a summer Saturday afternoon and drove the hell
out of all sorts of Route 66 fragments, major highways, and
little 2-lane roads, Questing together. With the help of my
daily journal entries (hey, if it was good enough for Laura
in the peddler's wagon traveling south from DeSmet to Mansfield,
it was good enough for me and my well-worn notebook in the
rental car!), here's the tale of our journey:
Saturday, June 23, 2001
Final destination: Springfield, IL
Left LA this morning at 5ish for our flight. The trip got
off to an immediate phenomenal start thanks to our cab driver.
Never in all my New York cab rides have I experienced anything
quite like this
. Thankfully, The Husband-Type Man documented
it all in a mass e-mail. Here's his tale:
It's a well
know fact that Vegas cab drivers are some of the craziest
mofos on the planet (as all you Vegas alums will attest),
so I thought I'd share this amusing story. Los Angeles
is giving Vegas a run for it's money:
5:00 a.m. Stumble
out of bed. Shower, shave, dress, pack. Call a cab to
the airport. Lock up the house. Yawn. 6:00. Cab arrives.
Dawn and I pile in. English speaking driver! Sit in
silence, listen to news. Yawn again. Cab driver asks,
innocently, "So, what do you think about the energy
says I, "with all the political spin I don't know
enough facts to have an opinion yet."
"I have a theory."
"Y2K. This is a delayed effect of Y2K."
the most absurd conversation Dawn and I have ever had
with another human being. The energy crisis question
was just his lead-in to his true passion: France. The
man firmly believes that France is responsible for most
of the ills of Western society (or as he put it, the
"Western hemisphere.") He talked passionately,
and at length on the subject. We encouraged him, naturally.
Among the interesting things we learned about France:
Tower is really a gigantic communication device. The
French were centuries ahead of the rest of the world,
apparently, in communication technology. Remember all
the press at the time of the Tower opening about how
ugly it was? Propaganda, of course, to deflect attention
from its true purpose.
of Liberty is really a 2000 year-old communication device.
Did you know the Statue of Liberty is pointing toward
France? I can only infer that it's communicating with
the Eiffel Tower, because this is what he began explaining
when I asked what the Tower was communicating with.
the seat of the original Catholic Church, not Rome.
Specifically, the Isle of Corsica (which he also claims
houses the cathedral of Notre Dame, actually located
Royal family faked their own deaths during the Reign
of Terror. Even today, the royal family conducts a propaganda
campaign in the popular press. Notice how every once
in a while a story pops up in the press, completely
unprompted, about how they've now established conclusively
that the royal family actually died? This is the work
of the royal family (living secretly in France) to combat
the persistent rumors that they used body-doubles to
escape execution (which is true, naturally.)
what the Nazis real intentions were in attacking the
"French underground", as he called it, during
WWII? Why, they were looking for the "real"
(French) Red Baron, of course!
was in the know. His first official act after being
sworn in 1992 was to march into the White House kitchen
and fire the French chef. He did this immediately and
publicly, as a slap in the face of the French royal
family. While most Americans were unaware of the significance,
any French person would understood the meaning.
explained that all of this is absolutely true, and that
anyone who seriously examines French history will uncover
this stuff, and "much more."
When I asked
if he had ever been to France, he turned around and
"Only in my head."
I tipped him
generously, of course, because you just don't get entertainment
like this in the real world.
I swear, we aren't exaggerating this in the least!
flight to Milwaukee, by comparison, was uneventful. After
retreving our bags and waiting in an endless car rental line
with the slllloooowwwwwesssssst "customer service rep"
in the history of car rentals, we trudged on out to the rental
car outpost, loaded up our shitty American car with our heap
of luggage (I, of course, have one entire carry-on full of
LIW books. It had to be done!), turned on local news (a tradition
we like to know what the local haps are), and forged on down
I-94. Dan took the first leg of driving, having done the Milwaukee-Chicago
road trip before
and we promptly hit traffic heading
into Chicago. Ah, well, it gave me a chance to admire the
We got through the city, and headed in a primarily-south-but-vaguely-westerly
direction, with the goal of making it to Springfield, Illinois
by evening. Once outside of Chicago, the scenery looked drastically
(to me) different than what I'm used to, both east coast AND
west coast. It's flat. Totally, utterly flat, as far as the
eye can see. But there was a sleepy, pastoral-Americana charm
in the differences. Fluffy white things, like clumps of dandelion
fuzz, floated thick in the air, and I was delighted to see
all the bunnies doinging around in various roadside fields.
Of course, that also meant road kill
but we'll get to
As we burrowed further and further away from any major city
and dug into the deep Midwest via the 55, I, in all my SoCal/NYC-ness,
was both fascinated and repelled by the differences in scenery,
in people, in culture in this part of the world. In my journal,
after a quick stop at a McDonald's (the only food option available),
I scrawled a list of observations:
- white folk who look like they eat oatmeal for every breakfast
- plaid shirts
- florid people
- family-style restaurants
- gunssavelife.com [sic]
- "It is not a choice" signs on van for moving
- "Choose life: your mother did" billboard
- road kill
Yes, the road kill. Never have I seen a wider variety of
wildlife in its natural habitat
and it was all squished
on the sides of the road. Armadillos, turtles, jackrabbits,
deer, assorted birds- Good grief.
And speaking of the road, by mid-afternoon, we'd hit a chunk
of old Route 66. THTM was driving (slow, as always). After
stopping quickly for some Road Trip Food (beef jerky and cheese-flavored
pretzels), I took over driving duties. Just me, a snoozy husband,
and the open highway! Without him watching nervously and gripping
the oh-shit handle above the door, I let loose! Get yer kicks
As I was bookin' it along the 55/Old Route 66, I saw a guy
in a ratty blue pickup barreling down on me. While traffic
wasn't heavy, there were quite a few big trucks on the road,
and it was only 3 lanes. Blue Truck Asshole aggressively weaved
in and out of traffic, hot on my tail. He zoomed up behind
started flashing his lights on and off. Which
pisses me off. Especially considering 1) I'm going 85 and
2) there's no place for me to move! Dickwad. I hold tight
at 85-90. Blue Truck Asshole finally sees a break to the right
and zips over
only to get stuck between two semis.
Asshole kept up his Agro-Driver/Headlight Flasher behavior
for miles and miles, sandwiched between semis and slow-moving
hatchbacks. I ignored him for the most part, once he was offa
my ass. Finally, Asshole exited the freeway
but as he
did, he started honking again. At me. And as I glanced over,
he'd stopped on the freeway offramp, despite being in such
a hurry, to flip me off and yell at me. I giggled uncontrollably
I mean, gee, I didn't know that I got to be the Source
of All Freeway Evil! If I'd known, I woulda patted myself
on the back sooner! What a weenie. I hope he has ingrown toenails.
even though I wasn't going fast enough for Asshole Truck Driver,
I still managed to get us to Springfield, Ill., - over 60
miles away - in 40 minutes. Just call me Speed Demon.
We exited at a place that held promising signs of civilization
- well, a McDonald's and a Burger King - in hopes of finding
a place to stay the night, but discovered that two fast food
joints on the corner does not = civilization. At least not
in central Illinois. We drove aimlessly around a winding,
BFE-type of road before stumbling upon the only sign of life:
Todd's Auto Body Wrecking. Um. So I turned us back to the
freeway. Two more exits and paydirt! Motels and hotels, a
shopping mall, a bunch of chain restaurants
. We made
tracks for A New Experience: namely, Bob Evans. A hot turkey
sandwich later, and we checked into the hotel next door, watched
blurry TV on one of the three channels available, and plotted
the next day's route.