Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hit the road, Jack!

With the maple season over, I was itching to get as far away from my house and trees as humanly possible. So last week our family hit the road for a couple of days and headed where else but the land of great enchantment: Missouri.

Bear with me... you'll see why.

The whole thing was very 'lax.' We left home at Kitty Bill's naptime, and by dark we found ourselves where the Mississippi River meets the stunning display of architecture known as the Gateway Arch.

We gaped and drove around it a few times before heading off to a hotel with an indoor pool. There's nothing like a before bed swim for kids who have been trapped in the car for hours. Worth every penny!

Next morning we piled back in the car and headed south. By lunchtime we had arrived.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri. Sunburst was beside herself. We've been living and breathing Laura Ingalls for the past five years, ever since Sunburst picked out a few Little House picture books at the library. When we moved to Texas the following year, the girls and I volunteered as costumed interpreters for one season at a living pioneer history museum. To enrich our experience I began reading Sunburst the Little House series. Since then she's read the books at least three more times, and although we've moved on to other Little House character books (Martha, Charlotte, Caroline...) Sunburst still totes one or another of the original books around with her. I regularly find them wedged in the couch cushions, on the bathroom counter, and splayed in the backseat of the car. The covers are all coming off and some of the pages are even missing. They're that good.

When she's not reading, Sunburst regularly dons a sunbonnet and apron and pretends to be a Little House character. In the beginning she was always Mary. Even after she understood Mary's blindness, she continued pretending to be Mary-- trying her hand at rag rugs, stumbling around the house, and even knitting with a blindfold on. For years she would pretend our vegan dinners were bear meat and call us Pa and Ma at the table. Moonshine was Laura, on account of the dark hair. And when Kitty Bill came along they were delighted to finally have someone to play the role of "Baby Carrie." (He'll probably resent that someday, you think?)

So Missouri. Now you know. We spent about two hours in the museum checking out old artifacts from the books like Mary's first patchwork quilt, Pa's fiddle, and Laura's little porcelain tea cup jewelry box. We read old postcards and letters exchanged between Laura and Ma, and Grace's letter informing Laura that Mary had a stroke and the end was near. We saw pictures, and drafts from the books and old handwork and so many, many things. And then we toured the Rose Wilder Lane section of the museum...

They kicked us out at that point so we could join the tour of the house. We walked through the house at Rocky Ridge-- Laura's house with Almanzo. It was small and quaint and, as we were told, left exactly as Laura kept it before she died. Later on we drove down the street and toured the Rock House, a house comissioned by Rose for her parents. It was modern and lovely, but not as cozy and warm as the farmhouse. We could understand why they gave it up after a few years and moved back to the original home.

The kids all ran down the hill from the Rock House and played in the field before we loaded back up and headed towards the cemetary to see the gravesites.

The next day we were startled by a surprise snowstorm. Who predicted this weather?

Despite the flurries, we pulled back into St. Louis at lunchtime and were greeted by the same miraculous spectacle. At the first sight of the Arch, Sunburst was unrelenting. She begged and pleaded until we agreed to go up. All the way. To the top.

There is nothing like the sense of adventure of an 8-year-old. Personally, I'm a tad bit afraid of heights. When we first moved to Salt Lake City they had an old, dilapidated library. It was servicable and fine-- just give me books and I'm happy. But somewhere around the winter Olympics and the new electric city tram they also built a new library. When I say new, I mean more than just state-of-the-art. I mean crazy new. Fancy, fantastical, open and airy, hanging sculptures, shops, fountains, caves in the wall, billowing fabric, walls of glass, eye candy kind of place. If you've been there then you know what I'm talking about. The whole place freaks me out. The stairs? I can't walk on those stairs. They jut out over several floors of open space with glass railings. But don't take my word for it. Go look for yourself! Here's another. It's a stunning library, don't get me wrong. But in the old one I didn't lose my lunch.

The Gateway Arch, by contrast, is just like a really high stairwell that reaches into the clouds. Well, not quite. The sign from the top reads "630 feet." I think my understanding of height isn't so great because it seems so much higher than that when you're up there.

Yes, I did go up. Luckily for me and my bum foot you don't have to climb the 1,076 steps to the top. They have a tram that teeters up the inside railing in a mere four minutes, and you can't see out as you climb. Well, you can see the stairwell and a handful of the 105 landings, but you can't see outside, outside. Otherwise, our little tram car would have been a freakshow.

The tram car itself was endearing. Each car is a little pod and made me feel a bit like I was on set in a 1960's Sci Fi movie. I almost expected to be handed a Barbarella suit, though admittedly, I'm no Jane Fonda. It was great though. It was exactly like sitting inside a dryer. Small, hot, round, and a little tilty as it climbed and corrected itself. Ridiculously fun.

I don't know who these people are. Sorry people, but I needed to capture the moment and you were easy and friendly targets.

Once up at the top it wasn't bad. The minimal sway did funny things to our stomachs, but overall the view was spectacular. The windows were small. Very small, and it felt surprisingly safe to be up there suspended over nothing. The kids were all jumping up and down. Not just mine. It seemed to be the theme. Woo hoo! We're really high up!

On the way out of town we stopped in at Eternity and gorged ourselves on outrageously tasty vegetarian soul food. A perfect ending to a sweet trip!

1 comment:

  1. I learn so much living vicarously through you!!! Vegetarian soul food, amazing libraries (and it's about time a library was given a chance to look like that, rather than all the effort being put into shopping malls!), trips into the clouds inside a dryer drum!! Oh, and of course, the visit with the Wilder family, too...the thrills are never ending! Thanks so much for sharing all of this with us!!


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