Many years ago, there lived a little girl in a big house in the woods of Wisconsin. Her name was Laura. She lived with her Pa and Ma and her older sister Mary and baby sister Carrie.
There were all kinds of wonderful things to do in those days. The little house, for example, had a door that could open and close with only the push of a hand. There were shoes that could be put on and laced up and then taken off again before bed. Most fun of all was Pig Carcass day, when Pa butchered a pig and then blew up the pig's bladder for Laura and Mary to play with. There was nothing more fun than a day spent among pig parts.
Unless, of course, there was a day spent playing with Pa's gun.
Oh, how Laura and Mary loved to watch Pa clean his gun.
"Now you watch closely and make sure I do it right." If Pa did something wrong like bring the hammer down quick, the gun would go off and they'd all be killed. But he never did. They also loved to watch him make bullets on the hearth. The little bullets did shine so temptingly that often Laura and Mary couldn't help touching them and getting burned. But of course it was their own fault. And anyway, the blisters were so bright and pretty to look at, they were yet another perk of living in the little house.
On Christmas, Laura's Uncle Peter and Aunt Eliza and her cousins came. On Christmas Eve, they hung stockings, and the next morning, they went to see what they got. For Laura, because she was the youngest--a doll! Each child was also given a lick of peppermint candy. Laura was given two licks of hers because she was the youngest. Each child also received one mitten. But not a full set--because only spoiled, privileged Town children were permitted two. And so that was Christmas.
A Tale of Two Bears
Pa had gone to Town to try and sell his furs. Laura was to help Ma with the milking. They went to the barn to milk Sukey, the cow. When they got there, to their surprise, they saw the big brown shape of Sukey at the barn gate. Ma leaned over to open the door. "Get over, Sukey," she said, slapping the cow. Suddenly, Laura saw long black fur and glittering eyes. "Laura, walk back to the house."
Back at home, Ma said, "It was good that you didn't question authority and went straight back to the house, Laura. Real good." It turns out that they had seen a bear!
When Pa got back, Ma and Laura told him all about the bear they had seen.
"A bear?" said Pa. "Well! When I was walking back from Town, I saw lots of bear tracks. I wished I had my gun but I'd left it home for some reason. Then I saw a huge black bear standing on its hind legs, staring at me. I stared back. I picked up a club, and I knew I"d have to rush the bear, or be eaten. I ran and brought the club down on its head! But it was nothing but an old stump."
Pa laughed and picked up the old fiddle as Ma sighed and said, "So, you didn't actually see a bear, then, did you, Charles?"
On Sundays, Ma, Pa, Laura, and Mary had to sit and read the Bible to make up for the decadence of the rest of the week. No pig bladders or first degree burns on Sundays. But one Sunday, Laura was bored. She started to play with Jack. She got excited and ran about until she finally let out a whoop and a couple of hollers. Before she knew it, she'd even raised a hullabaloo.
"Laura," Pa said sternly. "Come here." Laura came, knowing she was going to be spanked. But Pa put her in his lap and told her a story about her grandfather, his father. "When Grandpa was a boy, he and his brothers worked on a sled. By the time it was ready, it was Sunday, and they couldn't play with it. They could only read the Bible. Not the more relaxed New Testament, either. Only the Old. But that Sunday, their father fell asleep while reading.
"Grandpa and his brothers looked at each other and off they went, sledding! When they came down the hill, a pig came out of nowhere and they rode down the hill on the sled, too, squealing all the way. Suddenly they saw their father staring at them. He went back into the house. Wordlessly, the boys put the sled away, slaughtered, butchered and dressed the pig, put the pig's bladder away for later, and went back inside to read their catchesism and compose a monologue on the first several books of the Old Testament.
"That night, their father tanned their hides till they could barely sit down.
"So you see, Laura. Back then children were physically abused when they acted out. Today, they just have to hear thinly veiled threats disguised as reminiscing. Isn't that better?"
Laura nodded, and Pa hugged her. "Now, Half-Pint, go cut me a switch."
The Deer in the Woods
Pa set out a salt lick near the house so he could hunt deer more easily. One night he went out to hunt them. In the morning, Laura and Mary went to the window, eagerly, hoping to see a mutilated deer carcass in the tree. But to their shock, there were no adorable butchered animals. Not even a pair of chipmunks for hors d'oeurves.
That night, Pa explained what had happened. He took Laura and Mary onto his knees. "I went out into the woods. First, I saw a stag. He was so great and majestic and strong and free, I couldn't kill him. He reminded me of myself before I had Mary and Laura and Carrie and the passel of stillborn babies out back. But then I reminded myself that I had to kill the next animal that came or we'd surely all starve.
"The next one was a huge bear, almost twice as big as a regular bear. I almost shot him, but I got so distracted watching him use a primitive form of toilet paper and then shaking his hindquarters thoughtfully. It wasn't until he was gone that I realized that my children were at home, hungry and waiflike. I had to kill the next one--after all, the forest was full of animals. Finally a mother deer and its baby came over and I lifted my gun to shoot them, and I realized I'd plumb forgotten my gun."
"That's all right, Pa," said Mary. "We can eat bread and butter."
"And that story distracted me from my blurred vision and lowered blood sugar!" chimed in Laura.
Ma sighed. "Charles, you passed out in front of the salt lick again, didn't you?"
Pa smiled and brought out his fiddle and everyone sang Auld Lang Syne.