Chapter 1 - Unexpected Visitor
Chapter 2 - Grown Up
Chapter 3 - Riding in the Cars
Chapter 4 - End of the Rails
Chapter 5 - Railroad Camp
Chapter 6 - The Black Ponies
Chapter 7 - The West Begins
Chapter 8 - Silver Lake
We learn that everyone but Pa and Laura has been sick with scarlet fever, and Mary has lost her sight. However, check out this article on CNN about theories as to how Mary really lost her sight:
I was surprised there was a doctor nearby enough this remote location to visit the family every day.
Did anyone else think it strange that the family reacted so calmly (though they were exhausted from being sick) to Aunt Docia showing up as a total surprise? I'd think there would have been exclaiming, hugging, kissing, shrieking, etcetera? Scary to think of her driving all that way alone in that time period.. yikes. She miraculously shows up in time to offer broke Pa a job? I sort of wondered if Laura Ingalls Wilder took some liberties with the timeline to make this storytelling easier.
Did anyone else have to look up what a "timekeeper" was? (Pa's job offer as well as bookkeeper and storekeeper).
As always, Pa is itching to go further west, so this gives him a reason and a way to do it. This mysterious Nelson neighbor conveniently has $200 to buy the farm, and kindly lets Ma and the girls live there another couple months until Mary heals up.
Anybody else tear up when Laura's dog, Jack, is too old to walk under the wagon, and she plans to send him in the wagon with Pa and be separated from him for a couple months? And then she finds him dead in the morning? Sniffle! Pa refers to doggie heaven as "The Happy Hunting Grounds."
Laura is almost 13, and considers Pa leaving and Jack dying to be her final moment of childhood, and she's now grown up.
I remember the chapter about the train ride was my favorite when I read this book as a child. I probably re-read the chapter twice every time I revisited the book!
Who here hasn't been on a train ride yet? (My 60 year old boyfriend hasn't!)
How funny that everyone dressed up to ride on trains, which belched huge clouds of smoke, brought in dust, and were dangerous! I'm pretty sure the descriptions of their calico dresses in this chapter in particular began my obsession with Laura Ashley and Gunne Sax dresses!
I remember when I was young, pretending in my head that I was describing everything I saw for a blind person or for Mary. Anybody else do that after reading this book as a child?
In the "End of the Rails" chapter, I was thinking how hard and stressful it must have been for Ma (a strong and capable woman, nonetheless) to eat dinner in a hotel surrounded by so many strangers, after years of living in tiny houses in near isolation! I rejoiced when the brakeman, understanding the situation, offered to walk Ma and the girls to the hotel.
I was pretty mad at Pa that he hadn't found a homestead yet and his little family of girls had to stay in a nasty railroad camp! Of course Laura found it an adventure, but I bet Ma didn't!
At least they're at the camp with family and cousins their age to play with, etc.
Anyone else shocked to read about the homesteader's daughter (Lizzie) who got married at 13?!
I really enjoyed reading about Laura enjoying an afternoon with ponies!
The family crosses the Big Sioux and heads to Silver Lake.
Read more about the Big Sioux River here:
I got nervous when first one and then two riders come up behind the little family's wagon on their way. We meet Big Jerry. Pa had a knack for making helpful male friends, didn't he? This is the first book in the series where I've thought the family was in danger from people, rather than the weather or animals!
I was glad that the Ingalls ended up at a shanty with more cousins - family is so important and even more so back then in such an isolated area!
Finally the family reaches their new shanty at Silver Lake. I love reading about how Ma makes it homey and cosy for the family.
Pa warns Laura and Mary to stay away from the "rough men" with their "rough language." I shudder to think of what could have happened .. I bet this is the part of "Prairie Fires" that talks about dark and dangerous times for the family.
What are your thoughts on this portion of the book?
It is amazing how the descriptive story telling genius of Laura really comes to the fore IMHO in this story. Maybe its the variety of new experiences or perhaps the new reality of Mary's blindness but I find her ability to let you hear and see so well the environment around seems exceptionally honed. I think we're all aware that much editing was done in later life to Laura's childhood journals ie. nothing is mentioned of the death of Baby Boy Ingalls which makes sense seeing the targeted reading audience were children. The loss of Jack makes a coming of age moment of a sorts for Laura, a keenly sad one to be sure. I think Plum Creek in the end had too many bad memories attached, the grasshoppers, their illness, Mary's blindness, the baby's death and their failure to take hold on the land. I think the house was the brightest spot and you can see their joy in its freshness and hominess. I sincerely believe it is the Plum Creek house that the TV series models upon as actually the house is built on the creek in the book.