Summary: Inspired by several recent personal experiences. Words to the song “Beautiful Dreamer” quoted from several websites in a Google search, words and music by Stephen Foster, c 1865, portion of Psalm 23 quoted from King James Version of the Bible.
Category: Little House on the Prairie
Weeks of snow, rain, wind followed by more snow, wind and rain had practically trapped the Ingalls family inside this past winter. It had been a harsh one, even for Minnesota.
Normally a soft-spoken woman, Caroline Ingalls brushed back a strand of her blonde hair, opened the door to their little house this early morning, and practically hollered “Thank you, God, for this beautiful day” as she stepped out onto the snowless ground.
“What are you so happy about?” her husband, Charles, asked before he stole a kiss on his way in from the barn.
“Charles, the girls…”
“Aren’t even up yet,” he’d finished, kissing her again.
Breakfast was cooking on the wood-burning stove, thanks to him bringing wood in from the pile just outside the door before he went out to milk the cow and tend to the horses. Fortunately, there was a creek nearby, so she wouldn’t have to haul water very far for the day’s chore of laundry.
Everything would be dried on the clothesline, after it was hand-washed to her satisfaction.
Their middle daughter, Laura, would feed the chickens before school today, and their oldest daughter Mary also had chores before they left for the day. The youngest, Carrie, was too young to go to school, but today she wouldn’t have all three of them underfoot at the same time.
Caroline sighed, then smiled as she watched her husband cross the room and pick up the coffee pot, pour a cupful for himself and for her.
He set the cups on the table he had built for her when he built their house several years earlier. They had moved to Minnesota after they were forced to leave a home in Kansas, where they settled after leaving family and friends in the Big Woods of Wisconsin.
Someday I’ll get back to the Big Woods, she thought to herself, knowing that at the cost of traveling by train, stagecoach or wagon, it wouldn’t be very soon.
There wasn’t time to wish for what could be years away as she considered the full day ahead — washing the family’s laundry, the dishes, and anything else that would need washing by the end of the day.
She would also be cooking an evening meal for the family. Tomorrow there would be more washing, more meals, and restocking the family’s supply of butter, soap, and other household items they were nearly out of after weeks of little more than moving between the barn to milk the cows and tend the chickens in the coop.
She wouldn’t go to town to restock; that meant churning the cow’s milk herself until it had the right consistency for the butter and using lye to create soap from scratch.
Looking at that list of chores, why was she happy?
As she was going about the business of pinning her family’s now-clean laundry on the clothesline later that spring day, she particularly enjoyed listening to the singing birds. She was outdoors, absorbed in the sights, sounds, and smells, as she attended to the task at hand without snow, rain, or wind interfering or stopping her altogether.
She looked around for her youngest daughter, Carrie, who’d been playing with Jack, the family dog. Neither daughter nor dog were in sight.
How could I be so careless?
She smiled and breathed a sigh of relief as Carrie and Jack approached her. The little girl was in her father’s arms and the dog followed his footsteps.
Then it occurred to her that Charles might have bad news, because it wasn’t like him to come home in the middle of the day from his job at the mill in town.
When he stood a few feet away, barely able to smile at her, she knew it wasn’t good news he was about to tell her. He set Carrie down on the ground, and told her to stay in sight while he talked with her mother. Carrie nodded, then ran off with the dog.
“That’s far enough,” Charles told his daughter, then handed an opened letter to Caroline, addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Charles Ingalls.”
She knew who had written the letter — one of her sisters still living in the Big Woods. She took a deep breath, pulled the letter out of the envelope and started to read. Charles put an arm around her shoulder as she started to cry. “Poor Hannah,” she said, sobbing.
Carrie ran to them, pointing into the sky, “Pa, birds!”
They looked overheard, and there was a pair of butterflies flying through the sky.
Caroline smiled a little, remembering how much Hannah had loved butterflies when they had seen pictures in one of her mother’s books one day. She always brought up those butterflies whenever we saw each other. Perhaps this is Hannah’s way of saying goodbye?
Supper that evening was simple — leftover stew with cornbread she had baked the day before. The meal passed quietly, and Caroline assumed that Charles had told the girls something about today’s bad news.
With the cow’s evening milking and other evening chores over, she decided to break the silence. “Charles, would you play us some music this evening?” she asked, once the meal was over and it was time to wash dishes.
“What’ll it be?” he asked as he pulled out the fiddle case and tuned the instrument.
“How about ‘Beautiful Dreamer’?” Laura had asked, her brown-haired braids swishing back and forth as she looked from one parent to the other.
Caroline quickly left the house in tears, nearly dropping the dish in her hand.
“Beautiful Dreamer, wake unto me, Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee. . .” danced in her mind as she opened the door, then slammed it shut behind her.
Fortunately, the warmer weather of the day had held, because she left the house without her coat.
Her little girl had no way of knowing that “Beautiful Dreamer” was her cousin’s favorite song, sung at her wedding all those years ago, anymore than Laura would have known that Hannah and her husband, Ezekiel, had waited years to have a child and that now they had one, a little girl. Or that Ezekiel was left to raise little Emily now that Hannah had died in childbirth. As if that wasn’t enough to cause her sorrow, she also felt guilty about not being able to go to Wisconsin to help.
She closed her eyes in prayer, asking for strength and wisdom. Knowing better than to expect quick answers or an immediate solution to her struggle, she stayed outside for a few more minutes.
As she was returning to the house, her middle daughter was bringing her a coat to wear and apologizing. “You didn’t say anything wrong, Laura,” Carolina told her daughter.
“But I made you cry.”
Caroline took the coat and said, “You didn’t make me cry. It was the surprise of . . . well, I didn’t expect you to pick that song.” She smoothed one of Laura’s braids, and they walked to the house.
“I’m glad I didn’t make you cry, Ma.”
“You’re a big enough girl to know that when someone we love dies, it’s natural to cry.
That’s God’s way of helping us to heal.”
“Sort of like sweat?”
“What do you mean?”
“Pa told me once that God gives us sweat so we can get rid of…what did he call that again?”
“I think a better word would be perspiration, Laura. I see what he was telling you.”
The child nodded, then said, “I thought big girls aren’t allowed to cry,”
Caroline paused, remembering she had told her daughter that one day when she was crying about something now forgotten. “Remember how you cried when you broke your doll a couple of years ago?”
“Well, Hannah wasn’t my doll; she was my cousin. We grew up together, and I’m going to miss her, because she’s no longer here where I can visit her.”
“It’s getting cold out here. Can we go inside now?”
Later that night, after the girls were tucked in bed, Caroline sat in her rocking chair, reading the family Bible. Re-reading the story of Hannah from the Bible had only intensified her sorrow. Psalm 23 comforted, except that she still felt that she should go to Wisconsin to help. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”
“You have a busy day tomorrow,” her husband scolded in a whisper as he passed her to check on the fire in the fireplace.
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“Caroline, if you think you want to go to Wisconsin and help Ezekiel, we can manage here.”
“I don’t want to go to Wisconsin,” she insisted, sharply.
“You’re not fooling anyone with that tone. It’s spring — a time to go home, or to want to.”
“This is home, Charles. Our home.”
“Sure it is, but if you want to go and see the folks, we can find a way, somehow.”
“Grace Snider could see to what the girls can’t do yet,” she thought out loud.
Charles grinned at her, shook his head. “Caroline, all you had to do was ask.”
“But the expense…”
“Write your sister and find out if they need help.”
She covered her mouth in embarrassment, because that thought hadn’t occurred to her.
As it turned out, her sister’s next letter indicated that the neighbors had taken turns helping Ezekiel, and there was no need to return to the Big Woods. Caroline wondered if they had received her letter asking if help was needed, because the reply came weeks earlier than she had expected it to.
In fact, she would have been in the way because his mother had moved into the house to take care of the baby and neighbors were fighting with her to get turns to help.
Relieved that the trip was unnecessary, she also was sad knowing that it would be a long time before hearing “Beautiful Dreamer” wouldn’t make her want to cry.
With the passage of time, she found comfort because Hannah’s dream of having a child had come true. Maybe someday she would meet little Emily and tell her all about her mother.
In the meantime, she had her own family to tend to.