books, childhood, history lesson, little house on the prairie, winter

Scarlet fever and other Little House stories

We’re battening down the hatches here in Rhode Island: there’s a blizzard on the way! Josh and I both have a snow day (it never gets old), and we’re planning on waiting out the storm with movies, books, and cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven.

Winter storms always make me think of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, where the Ingalls family (and Almanzo Wilder) have to weather a brutal winter in the Dakota territory. We’re not slated to get 11 feet of snow as the prairie did that winter (yes, really!), but when the snow drifts pile up, I can’t help but think of Pa tying a rope to the barn so he can feel his way back to the cabin in the driving snow. What is it about those books that sticks with you long into adulthood?

There’s been some buzz in the news recently about a pediatrician who uncovered the medical truth about Laura’s sister Mary losing her sight after a bout of scarlet fever. The cause of Mary’s blindness is mentioned only briefly at the beginning of By the Shores of Silver Lake, but it’s devastating. How can an illness, one that kids still get today, make you go blind? I remember struggling with that concept as a child. The pediatrician did, too, but during her medical rotations she learned that it was impossible for scarlet fever to cause blindness. So she set off to uncover the truth.

You can read or listen to her discoveries on NPR, and it’s a fascinating story. What might otherwise be a minor family tragedy stayed with countless young readers for generations, and encouraged one of them to dig into the past.

I’ll be thinking about this story today, and lots of other more wintry stories from Little House. What Little House tales have stayed with you?


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