Little House: Let's Read Big Woods, Chapter 5

Content Note: Depression, Religion, Corporal Punishment, Racism

Chapter 5! Which was, and still is, my personal vision of Hell. 

Because Chapter 5 describes the Sunday routine. Which, I must remind you, comes every seven days.

One seventh of your lifetime is spent on Sundays. Yuck.

I have a complicated relationship with Sundays. When I was a child, Sunday was emphatically not a day of rest. There was waking up early to do, and getting cleaned and fed, and dressed in clothes that were horrifically painful (I have very sensitive skin and it took about a decade for my mother to accept that certain types of fabrics and clothing schemes literally cause me pain), and driven to church. Church meant Sunday School and then Sermon, followed by a quick lunch, maybe an hour of play time, and then back to church again for Choir Practice and Sermon some more. This was not restful in the least.

Now Sundays are a day of rest, but not one of relaxation. Sundays bring a lot of guilt and anxious reflection to my life; Sundays are when one is "supposed" to be having fun, but there's the ever-looming threat of Monday and stress hanging over everything and the more you don't do what you're "supposed" to do, the more you feel damaged and guilty. And the more you feel damaged and guilty, the more tempted you are to self-reflect on what is wrong with you that you feel this way and ... yeah.

So when Douglas Adams talked about the long, dark, Sunday afternoon, tea-time of the soul, I GET THAT.

Anyway. Sundays are SACRED, so there is nothing allowed to be done that day in Laura's daily routine except look at dolls -- not play, look -- and read the one childrens' books in the entire house.

All day.

For hours.

Every seventh day.

For the rest of her life.

SCARY TWILIGHT MUSIC HERE.

Also, go read this freaking awesome blog post that was linked in the comments. It's very perspective-inducing. I loved it.

   On Sundays Mary and Laura must not run or shout or be noisy in their play. Mary could not sew on her nine-patch quilt, and Laura could not knit on the tiny mittens she was making for Baby Carrie. They might look quietly at their paper dolls, but they must not make anything new for them. They were not allowed to sew on doll clothes, not even with pins.
   They must sit quietly and listen while Ma read Bible stories to them, or stories about lions and tigers and white bears from Pa’s big green book, The Wonders of the Animal World. They might look at pictures, and they might hold their rag dolls nicely and talk to them. But there was nothing else they could do.

Anyway. Laura gets fussy and Pa decides to entertain her with a story about how things really used to be way way worse. And it's a hilarious story -- Pa's grandfather and his brothers sneak out of the house on Sunday to ride their sled and accidentally scoop up a horrified, squealing wild hog on the journey and their father witnesses the whole thing.

   “WHEN your Grandpa was a boy, Laura, Sunday did not begin on Sunday morning, as it does now. It began at sundown on Saturday night. Then everyone stopped every kind of work or play.
   “Supper was solemn. After supper, Grandpa’s father read aloud a chapter of the Bible, while everyone sat straight and still in his chair. Then they all knelt down, and their father said a long prayer. When he said, “Amen,” they got up from their knees and each took a candle and went to bed. They must go straight to bed, with no playing, laughing, or even talking.
   “Sunday morning they ate a cold breakfast, because nothing could be cooked on Sunday. Then they all dressed in their best clothes and walked to church. They walked, because hitching up the horses was work, and no work could be done on Sunday.
   “They must walk slowly and solemnly, looking straight ahead. They must not joke or laugh, or even smile. Grandpa and his two brothers walked ahead, and their father and mother walked behind them.

DOESN'T THAT SOUND LIKE FUN?

   “Then just as the sled was swooping toward the house, a big black pig stepped out of the woods. He walked into the middle of the road and stood there.
   “The sled was going so fast it couldn’t be stopped. There wasn’t time to turn it. The sled went right under the hog and picked him up. With a squeal he sat down on James, and he kept on squealing, long and loud and shrill, ‘Squee-ee-ee-ee-ee! Squee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee!’
   “They flashed by the house, the pig sitting in front, then James, then George, then Grandpa, and they saw their father standing in the doorway looking at them. They couldn’t stop, they couldn’t hide, there was no time to say anything. Down the hill they went, the hog sitting on James and squealing all the way.
   [...] “But when the sun went down and the Sabbath day was over, their father took them out to the woodshed and tanned their jackets, first James, then George, then Grandpa.
   “So you see, Laura and Mary,” Pa said, “you may find it hard to be good, but you should be glad that it isn’t as hard to be good now as it was when Grandpa was a boy.”
   “Did little girls have to be as good as that?” Laura asked, and Ma said:
   “It was harder for little girls. Because they had to behave like little ladies all the time, not only on Sundays. Little girls could never slide downhill, like boys. Little girls had to sit in the house and stitch on samplers.”

And so ... yeah.

Then it's Laura's birthday and she has a ceremonial spanking.

Chapters so far: 5. Mentions of corporal punishment: 4. (Technically there have been 5 mentions, but we won't count that Laura dreaded a spanking for being fussy on Sunday since she didn't actually receive one.)

And then Chapter 5 ends with a song about a "darkey" named Uncle Ned. Considering that there is apparently only one black person in this entire series and thus the books have been vigorously white-washed because black people did actually exist in many of the places where the Ingalls lived, I ... yeah.

7 comments:

Brin Bellway said...

I never understood the whole "not doing work on the Sabbath" thing. It always sounded like you did way more work bending over backwards in order to "not do work" that you would have if you treated it like a normal day. (Fortunately we never bothered in my family, though there were certain Jewish houses I had to skip when selling Girl Scout cookies on Saturday afternoon and come back a different day. Because handling money is "work", don't you know.)

★☆ keri ☆★ said...

Oh, that blog post is great! It really changes my perception of things, where I thought the poor-old-fashioned was exaggerated for storytelling purposes, and instead it may have been softened...? But it's especially interesting in light of the next chapter, when we learn about Caroline's delaine dress.

We did get similar "no work on Sabbath" lessons in Catholic school, but usually it was framed as "don't put off your homework until Sunday just to get out of church" which confused the heck out of me, because 1) I didn't have homework on the weekends, usually, and 2) if I did, it was never so much that I would have to miss church to work on it. (And church was only an hour in the morning anyway, and we got free donuts after!)

The whole concept is strange to me, though. It made sense when I was a kid, the idea of keeping Sundays "holy" by not working or playing, but as I grew up and started to think about things instead of just accepting what I was told, it all fell apart. Even here with Little House, I can kind of see how a day of not working would be a nice reprieve, but farm work never stops, does it? the animals need to be fed and the planting/harvesting won't wait if it's time - the frost will come and you have to finish before then. And anyway, if it's a day of resting, wouldn't play be exactly the thing to do, when you're not exhausted from manual labor? It just doesn't make sense to me.

JenL said...

The whole concept is strange to me, though. It made sense when I was a kid, the idea of keeping Sundays "holy" by not working or playing, but as I grew up and started to think about things instead of just accepting what I was told, it all fell apart. Even here with Little House, I can kind of see how a day of not working would be a nice reprieve, but farm work never stops, does it? the animals need to be fed and the planting/harvesting won't wait if it's time - the frost will come and you have to finish before then. And anyway, if it's a day of resting, wouldn't play be exactly the thing to do, when you're not exhausted from manual labor? It just doesn't make sense to me.
For me, growing up, it was Saturday, not Sunday. Couldn't watch TV Friday nights after sundown (and those were good shows!) or Saturday until Sundown. Couldn't do homework, couldn't listen to the radio.

The idea was that you were supposed to only do things that are religious or spiritual. So, church and Bible study. Or you could do volunteer work, because that was helping others, not doing for yourself. Of course, my dad was never one to volunteer - but he was big on being outdoors. So we actually spent a lot of Saturday afternoons picnicking or off-roading. And if we were camping, Saturday was pretty much like any other day. Mostly, I cheated by reading all day - I'm sure mom knew I was reading secular stuff, but dad never paid any attention to what I read.*

But Saturday mornings at home were really unpleasant for me. We'd get up about the usual time, maybe a little early, and have this big huge family breakfast. Which sounds great, right? Except my folks LOVED fried eggs, and they were big on the "eat what we put in front of you" line. And I have this reaction to the texture of egg whites, and it's worst when they're fried. So I'd be trying not to throw up. And I'd eat the absolute minimum of egg white that I could get away with. But you couldn't fill up on other stuff, because that would make it more obvious you weren't eating the egg whites. So I'd be hungry.

And then we'd get in the car and drive way across town to the church my dad liked. Sabbath School was fun, and that was 45 minutes or so. And then there'd be a break while everyone got into the sanctuary for church. And parts of it were fine, but every single pastor of every single church seemed to think it was just fine and dandy, kinda funny really, to go over his time. Every week. It would be scheduled to be done at noon, and he'd still be going strong at 12:15.

And so, you'd get back into the car at maybe 12:30. For a one-hour drive back home. And I would be SO hungry. Have I mentioned I get carsick? Or that it's much, much worse if I'm hungry? It was misery...

* Actually, there was one time dad paid attention to what I read, because he noticed the title on the book. It was one of those stories everybody knows, but I'd never actually seen it on the shelf. I was in junior high and read adult sci-fi/fantasy from the public library - some of it had some fairly descriptive sex scenes. Did Dad notice any of that? Oh, no. Nooooo. The book that made him freak out and insist that my mother take it from me and return it to the library before I could read it? Peter Pan. Cause that's, you know, fiction. Can't have our kids reading fiction now, can we? SO glad he could never be bothered to pick up one of my Piers Anthony books and actually read any of it...

Trynn said...

I'm curious... Did you grow up sda? Because that sounds soooo similar to my childhood, minus the eggs, and my parents were less careful wih what I read. Also, there was much yelling and swearing on sabbath mornings...

JenL said...

SDA, yes. For us, Sabbath was the one day there wasn't all that much yelling and swearing. ;-)

Silver Adept said...

Interesting to see here how the commandment/mitzvot about doing no work on the Sabbath has been interpreted here. It appears to be a commandment to have no fun, which makes sense if you are all about Calvinism, perhaps, but the bit about making a joyful noise seems more likely for this frontier crowd.

I do agree, though, Ana, that Sunday sounds awful.

Notoftenpunctual said...

I remember this chapter vividly from being a child. When I re-read the books as a teenager, this is what sunk in from it:

A) Earlier generations hated the autocratic, oppressive upbringing they got so much that they decided to not subject their own children to it. (WIN!) And this is a process that is still ongoing, because those parents didn't fix everything ... just some bits. Laura's Sundays were oppressive-sounding to me ... because somewhere over the next two or three generations after hers, other Americans would decide that they didn't want to raise their children that way. The result is that Ma and Pa often look horrible to us, but you can also consider that they were a part of a long, ongoing process of changing culture so that children are more respected and treated better and people stop imposing ridiculous, unnecessary rules on themselves. There's some stuff that even they were like, "Ooooh, shit, that's messed up and I'm not going to do that."

B) WHAT YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO DO, in the religious dogma sense, changes. And god does not smite you for it. In fact, perfectly god-fearing people today can look back at the god-fearing people of the past and go, "Oooooh, shit, that's messed up and I'm not going to do that."

C) A+B = You can't tell me that what you consider to be the right way to do things right now can never change ... or shouldn't change. Because change has already happened. And we all agree it was for the better.

In retrospect, this chapter played a HUGE role for me in learning to be okay with questioning my religion and cultural traditions and learning to trust that it was okay for me to say, "Ooooh, shit, that's messed up and I'm not doing that."

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