Laura and Valentino

One of the books I'm reading for my Forced Migrations class is called "What is the What", the story of a man named Valentino Achak Deng, one of the thousands of Lost Boys of Southern Sudan that were resettled in the United States.

I've read some pretty depressing pieces in my life (including lots of them from last quarter, which my last blog post can attest to) - but the story of Achak is beyond tragic. Imagine everything awful in this world coming upon one person in the span of a few short childhood years. I read and I'm shocked and I think that it'll soon be over (like how most of my hardships in life eventually came to an end at some point) - but it keeps going and I keep reading and the tragedy never ends. I keep reading not just because it is assigned for class but because I am beyond belief about his life. Not exactly bedside reading material.

In order to cope with such a depressing topic, and so I can get some decent sleep at night, I decided to pick up another book to finish off my day with - something I can read myself to sleep with. I thought to myself, what is one book that makes me feel the exact opposite of Achak? Not heavy, but light. No violence, but peace. No destruction of childhood, but playfulness and wonder. I knew exactly what I needed: Little House on the Prairie.

One of my favorite books of all time (right behind Little House in the Big Woods). It's been awhile since I have read this children's story, but it still evokes feelings of everything pleasant. I can feel myself bumping along in the covered wagon with Laura as they move out West, and I can smell the prairie plans that she describes so well. I started reading and realized that not everything in Laura's circumstances were perfect, either. First of all, she had to wear a sun bonnet (so that she wouldn't turn into a brown Indian, her mother commented). Second, her family was actually squatting on Indian territory, which was why they eventually were forced to leave. Her mother almost got her leg crushed while lifting one of the logs while building their home. They almost lost their beloved guard dog Jack when they forded the raging river! Intense circumstances for any 10 year old, perhaps, as those stories are still vivid in my mind from so long ago. I love Little House on the Prairie. I love Laura, Pa and his fiddle, and how her Ma is always mending while Mary is minding baby Carrie, but I think what I loved about it the most was the life that they lived. I wanted to travel by wagon out West, live on the Prairie, in a little house that smelled like sweet cut wood. I wanted to run barefoot chasing rabbits and wading ankle-deep in the river with the fish nibbling at my toes. I wanted to eat molasses and enjoy tiny candies that cost a penny a handful and could only be found in Independence, the nearest town 40 miles away. Let me make a correction: I not just "wanted" but I also "want". Still. When we were driving back and forth from Phoenix in December, I told Reuben that I think I would have been one of the courageous adventurers to head out West. At least I like to think I would have. I was, after all, enormously successful at playing the Oregon Trail. And one of my favorite childhood movies was "Far and Away", and my favorite part was when Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise claimed their plot of land once and for all.

I wish wagons still existed and there was still land to claim. Then I would pack up all of my meager belongings (or get rid of most of them) and head out. I'm sure Reuben could learn to make a log cabin. What adventure!

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