Long-time readers of Daddyzine may have noted my daughter's long-standing affection for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series. We have read all the books in the series at least a couple of times and we can say with some certainty that Laura dominates the slot in our preschool daughter's personal pantheon otherwise occupied in some other kids by the brachiosaur or the pteradon.
My mom, who knows her way around a sewing machine, obliged my daughter with a complete Laura outfit for her fourth birthday last year -- calico pantaloons, a pinafore, a long skirt. The works. The kid dons her outfit with some frequency and with the introduction of a strategic tiara and a running monologue manages to create that sort of hybrid universe of juvenile liminal spaces where princesses and pioneer kids and talking dogs and razor scooters all work together under the umbrella of a single identity for the betterment of mankind.
Given my choice to follow the antiquarian book trade, the allied choice to work at home, and my affinity (both commercial and personal) for Americana, the boundaries around this household between the present day and at least minor tokens of 19th century material culture might also seem pretty fluid at times. The fact that I have for the past three or four years been taking my kid along on errands at the local research library devoted to the study of American history and culture (otherwise known to my kid as "the place that gives me cookies") has also further eroded the mystery for the kid of having old-timey stuff around. And without romanticizing the century -- certainly there are aspects of slavery, child labor, typhoid, etc., that are troublesome at best -- I would of course argue that I can't understand myself without trying to understand the complicated roil of the 19th century.
Anyway, it was on one of our visits to the Clements that somebody suggested to my kid that she wear her Laura outfit to Greenfield Village. (I'll assume here that most people have heard about Henry Ford's fetish for importing historical buildings -- say, the Wright Brothers' bicycle shop -- to create a simulacrum of the gauzy American pastoral whose demise he had pretty much insured; given my mania for cultural artifacts, which co-exists with a heavy-duty ambivalence about attempting to recreate the past, it's little wonder that the whole Greenfield Village experience produces in me a vaguely queasy giddiness that is likely the closest I will ever come to the emotions of an illicit affair.)
So this idea of rocking the Laura dress at the Village took root and the kid finally pinned me down on a date to visit the place. We've been out there before and she has shown a tendency on past visits to loiter around the Firestone farmhouse for periods of an hour or two trying to recapture the Laura experience. We might drag her away to the carousel or something but pretty soon she'll start agitating for a return to the farm.
So yesterday we showed up at the farm in full Laura drag around 10:00 AM. The women working in the kitchen and the garden were friendly enough but were busy doing the work of a farm--weeding the garden, making dinner, feeding the pigs, etc. My daughter's tendency to lapse into a sort of hysterical monosyllabic giggle by way of answering questions when she's excited certainly didn't help her make her case that at root she was essentially a 19th century farm girl. But she seemed to be having a pretty good time exploring the farmyard at sort of soaking up the experience.
True to form, we left the farm a couple of times to look at other stuff but after a while she would suggest we return to the farm. By mid-afternoon the women in the kitchen would say in a perfectly friendly manner "It's you again!" And as we stood in silence in the kitchen watching the women make cookies, my daughter finally blurted out, "I'm dressed like this because I love the Laura stories!"
Guess what? It turns out the women who work on the farm at Greenfield Village all read the Little House series. They started swapping stories with my kid, comparing favorites (all agreed that Plum Creek set a pretty high standard) and by the time one of the women decided to give my daughter a chore to do, my kid was ready to fall down at the feet of the workers in adoration.
After about 45 minutes spent in search of eggs laid by the free range chicken in the yard (the kid was unsuccessful but showed a certain era-appropriate pluck) she returned to the kitchen and reported her failure. A little surprised at this latest reappearance of my sweaty, red-faced daughter, one of the farm women thought for a moment and began to rummage around in the pantry until came up with a couple of day-old biscuits.
And with that, my kid was out in the yard grinning like crazy and tossing hunks of biscuit to the chickens. We eventually left around 4:30 and the farm girl fell into a slack-jawed sweaty slumber on the drive home. She has been plotting our return to the farm since she woke up this morning.