The Wilder Life

After more than two decades, Wendy McClure reached for the books of her childhood and rediscovered the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder. One year and seven states later, McClure emerged from her journey back to the 19th century with a new book detailing what she discovered — and what she thinks about it. She joins us on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm to discuss The WILDER LIFE: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie.

Wendy McClure

The following is an excerpt from the book:

I wanted to go to Laura World: I wanted to visit the places where Laura Ingalls and her family had lived, in Wisconsin and Kansas and Minnesota and South Dakota and Missouri. All these years I hadn’t quite believed that the places in the books existed, but they did, and house foundations had been unearthed, and cabins reconstructed, and museums erected. I’d even met a few people who’d been to them. My friend, Brian, for instance, had claimed that his wife’s knees had bucked – buckled! – at the sigh of Pa’s fiddle while visiting the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum in Missouri. The sites were all tourist destinations now, with gift shops and annual festivals and pageants. I learned there was even a “lost” homesite that Laura hadn’t written about in the Little House books, a town in Iowa where the Ingalls had lived in the years between On the Banks of Plum Creek and By the Shores of Silver Lake. To me this discovery was astonishing as a breakthrough in physics. Imagine it, a wormhole to another Laura dimension!

Just like Grandpa Ingalls

But in a way all these homesites seemed otherworldly to me. How could you not want to go to a place that you remember but have never been?

It was fall when I started thinking seriously about exploring Laura World and all it entailed, which naturally involved seeing all the Little Houses or their facsimiles thereof, but there were other things that I found myself itching to experience as well. What was it like to wear a corset, or tap maple trees, or twist hay? The details of the books were in such sharp relief that I had the urge to grab at them, the way Laura in Little House in the Big Woods had wanted to taste the blackberry-shaped buttons on her aunt’s dress at the sugaring-off dance. This past life, which I knew was not really mine, kept surfacing, bubbling up in my head. It seemed to insist, the way past lives do, that there was something I needed to remember, and if I just found the right place or the right motions, I would know what it was.

Wendy McClure in an historic Illinois village, trying to recreate the "Little House on the Prairie" book cover.

Reprinted by arrangement with Riverhead, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from The WILDER LIFE: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, Copyright © 2011 by Wendy McClure.

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