Princesses and prairie girls

Published on: 4/29/2011

Spent a good part of today with my girls, Catherine Middleton and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I turned on the royal wedding while finishing paperwork in a hotel room because I wanted to see The Dress. Even for someone who's not a "girly girl," a princess's wedding gown holds some allure. It was worth enduring Barbara Walters to see it.

A splendid dress it was, though the lady with the green and orange mumu eating Raisin Bran in the lobby sniffed and proclaimed it "plain." Simple, elegant--a beautiful dress for a beautiful young woman who doesn't really need much adornment. Some commentators are hoping its style heralds the end of the porn/prom/wedding gown, a swing from Lady Gaga back to Grace Kelly, and I hope they are right.

I never understood why girls (here's a nod to a few boys who did, too) played at being princess. It seems a lonely life, restrictive to the extreme. Hats and gloves and tiny waves and smiles. Not really much fun: the dresses didn't compensate enough.

Though there was a brief moment when I imagined marrying Prince Charles. I thought I could cheer up this lonely, unhappy boy. And then there were the horses and palaces. Horses, mainly. I wondered whether I could convert the family to Golden Retrievers and get rid of those stumpy Welch Corgis.

But that didn't last long. It was boring. And unhappy boys, well, they don't usually get happy, no matter what happens.

When we were kids, we played pioneers, not princesses, our imaginations fired by Little House on the Prairie and Little House in the Big Woods. Barefoot in calico or overalls and dirty was more my style. Not shopping but building lean-tos and cooking over wood fires: our parents would have killed us had they known what we were up to. Luckily, benign neglect was the parenting style of the day.

So I was delighted a few hours after the glut of pagentry to hear an interview with the author of The Wilder Life. Wendy McClure not only lived in the same kind of imaginary world I did as a child but set out to follow Wilder in her life as well as in her works.

Either you know this love for old things, old times, old values or you don't. If you do, you'll resonate with the woman who called in to tell of her fifth grade year. Each day, the teacher read to the class for a full hour from Ingalls Wilder books, working through the entire series. And the stories and their messages still informed the caller's life today.

I can't imagine a fifth grade teacher doing that now. How sad, because there's nothing better than stories that tell us who we were, who we are, and who we might still become. Imagine a class listening quietly for an hour, no electronic devices or screens involved. Pa would have said "These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves--they're good things to have, but the trouble is, folks get to depend on 'em."

We spend a lot of time teaching girls to want the princess life. I'm not sure why. I do know that Kate Middleton, intelligent and lovely as she is, doesn't really have anything much to say yet. Ingalls Wilder stories remind us "that the things that are truly worthwhile and that will give you happiness are the same now as they were then--courage and kindness, loyalty, truth, and helpfulness are always the same and always needed."

Maybe a royal wedding will lift our spirits a bit, shake us from our paralyzing sadness. The folks in the woods and the prairie knew that too much "sadness was as dangerous as pathers and bears. The wilderness needs your whole attention."

After we've toasted the royal couple, time to put aside the tiara and pick up the hoe.