Guest post by Susan Barton Malphurs
Another bone-chilling sunrise, more ravaging winds with “wild voices,” yet Pa sings. He calls to Caroline that he is headed to the barn, but the fires are going. Ma advises the girls to remain in bed until the house is warmer. Laura can’t rest. The howl of the rushing wind whirls about her mind.
The vicious nature of the weather encroaches on the sanctity of their home. “The frosted nails in the roof above her were like white teeth.” Laura escapes their snarl and abandons the warm bedcovers to join Ma downstairs. The warmth radiating from the hot stove is swallowed by the cold air, leaving the room still dark and chilled. Laura heats the frozen water in the wash basin so that she and Ma can scrub their faces.
With a snowy, rosy face Pa returns. He had used Ma’s clothesline for stability and navigation to and from the stable where he had to carve the snow away from the entire height of the door. Laura readies the breakfast table as he cleans up. Ma pours hot tea to go with their hotcakes, browned pork, dried-apple sauce, and sugar syrup. She rations the scarce bit of milk to Grace and Carrie with an admonition that they all remain thankful for even their sparse supply, “because there’ll be less before there’s more.”
After breakfast and a bit of warming around the stove, Laura and Ma set about morning chores. Seeing Laura hesitate before climbing the steps to the even colder two upper rooms, Ma suggests that Laura leave the beds unmade until the house warms. Pa fetches his wraps, despite Ma’s objections, and heads across the street to “hear the news” in the event someone might be lost. He assures his girls he knows the steps precisely.
Laura tries to watch for Pa, but he is enveloped by the snow before he ever moves away from their door. She resents being in town if it still brings isolation and the added danger of helping others… and says as much.
Ma tries to chase away the fear and unsettledness hovering in the frosty air with a turn toward faith. Is she seeking assurance for herself, or for the girls, or both? She challenges the girls to test their Scripture memory. Mary, Laura, and Carrie draw Bible verses from their hearts, reciting one after another. (I wonder how many of their verses came from the 23rd Psalm which Laura held fresh in her heart during the last storm.) Carrie soon concedes; next is Laura. Mary beams at Grace’s cheers and Ma’s praise. But her expression is quickly overshadowed, and she admits that she really hasn’t won. She can’t recall another verse either. Laura is ashamed of herself for wanting so desperately to win against Mary when she considers that her sister not only has a good mind, but is a good person. The light missing all morning from the room suddenly floods Laura’s heart. She would be a teacher! She would be the one to make Mary’s dreams of college come true.
The strike of the clock startles Laura and Ma from their thoughts, and they set to preparing the noon meal. Pa returns obviously subdued. Ma apologizes that she’s not been able to warm the house. He answers the lingering question of the day. It is 40 degrees below zero. At least no one is lost.
Pa, too, turns to faith, just as Ma had earlier, to cast off the weight of fear. Out comes the fiddle. The music accomplishes what the stove could not. In melody and harmony the Ingalls’ voices and spirits join singing assuring hymns, favorite hymns, rousing hymns until they are all on their feet in joyous praise.
“There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar….”
Their eyes cannot see through the swirling snow driven by the relentless gales. But their hearts see clearly. They are not alone.