We are nearing the end of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter in our Prairie Primer study. From October 1880 through mid-February 1881, the Ingalls family and the others in DeSmet had already endured countless harsh days long blizzards with rarely more than a day’s clear, twenty-plus degrees below zero weather in between. Cut off from the trains by the ice and snow filled Tracy cut, the town was starving.

Tonight we spent the evening by lamplight. The Ingalls had already used the last of their coal, lamp kerosene, fat, butter, and meat when they found themselves with just six potatoes and a little wheat left for bread for the six of them.

We can never understand what the harrowing fear of absolute desolation is. It is simply impossible without complete collapse of our economic structures. Not that it would be a bad thing. But it would certainly be a grave moment.

In an effort to at least impart some of the moments that the Ingalls experienced, we attempted to have a night by lamplight with a simple meal of brown bread, baked potatoes, and hot tea like the Ingalls had day after day, meal after meal for months.

At first it was a well-received and exciting idea. Then, after a day of sun and mid-80F temps, it seemed less fun. Then, when the eldest realized he’d miss Sons of Guns, he began to gripe that tonight was the night.

Never complain of what you have. Always remember you are fortunate to have it.

So the time arrived as dusk was setting in.


Since it was so pretty out, I left this little reminder of our evening sit out while the children played a little longer. Then we began to sit down to our simple meal. Our simple meal that included things today we cannot imagine but the Ingalls no longer had – salt, pepper, and butter.


After a day full of sun and play, I was surprised at how well and with very little complaint the children ate. The only complaint, actually, was about how hot they were getting eating the food!

And then, after we processed our plates in a dark kitchen, I could not bear to send them to bed. It was just too nice out. We brought the lamp out for me to read aloud but some of the kids wanted to ride horses around Big Slough while I read and I figured that was too dangerous. So we compromised on a little more, less flammable light.


We didn’t knit and sing and play checkers by the lamplight like I planned we would, but it was a beautiful evening our way. I want to do it again. But not in a blizzard.

I am grateful.