I recently stumbled upon a Little House on the Prairie marathon on the Hallmark Channel, and was immediately sucked into the Walnut Grove vortex.
Little House was the only show my sister and I were allowed to watch until about age 13. Many programs were off limits based on the title alone: My Two Dads was out because my father thought it was about same-sex marriage, and my mom said she would be the one to teach us The Facts of Life. Still waiting for that conversation, Mom. Even The Golden Girls got the ax when we got caught watching the episode when Blanche goes through “the change.”
So I find it ironic that while the issues of the geriatric set were considered too racy for adolescent viewing, my parents had no problem with a show that involved dead babies, burning blind schools, kidnappers, drug addiction, child abuse, and A MIME RAPIST. I am pretty sure there were no mime rapists on My Two Dads. Just sayin’.
That being said, I did love Little House. I took away some valuable life lessons: Avoid cornbread in the off chance it may be infested with diseased rat-fleas, clean your dog’s ears when your mom says or you will come home to a dead dog, and Just Say No to morphine unless you want to end up like Albert.
Watching it as an adult was interesting, as I noticed things I missed as a kid. For example:
Questionable Parenting: Now that I am a mother, I see Ma and Pa through different eyes. As a kid I thought they were the perfect parents, but now I see that even Charles and Caroline used loose judgment from time to time.
Feeling the need for a romantic getaway, Ma and Pa left the kids with Mr. Edwards for a week. A gruff yet loveable bachelor, Mr. Edwards was prone to violent mood swings and was often found sipping from the canteen before quittin’ time. Not exactly Mary Poppins material.
A few hours after Laura read HIM a bedtime story, a spooked Mr. Edwards shot a hole through the roof, thinking Laura and Mary were chicken thieves. Really? Because chicken thieves wear nightgowns and ruffled bonnets? I don’t background check my babysitters or anything, but I would have serious doubts about leaving my kids with this guy:
Other parental missteps included giving Laura a rabid raccoon as a house pet, and their inabilty to keep tabs on Carrie. Ma was always telling Laura and Mary to “keep an eye on Carrie.” Good call, Ma. One of your kids is blind and the other killed her own dog. Left to her own devices, Carrie falls down a mine shaft, tips over in a locked outhouse, falls asleep in a runaway hot air balloon, and experimented with mind altering drugs (see “Carrie on Quaaludes”).
I also have a bone to pick with Mary Ingalls regarding the blind school fire. All these years I blamed Alice Garvey for not knowing how to stop, drop and roll. Clearly not educated in fire safety, Alice used Mary’s baby as a sledgehammer to bash the windows of the burning building.
But in watching this episode again, I watched in disbelief as Mary shepherds the blind children through the smoky hallway. She pauses briefly when she hears her baby cry, and says: “Oh, the baby,” as if she were saying, “Oh shit, I forgot the potato salad.” Alice responds, “Oh, I’ll get the baby,” as if to say, “Oh let me get it, I was just about to grab the Dijon mustard.”
As Alice enters the burning ring of fire, Mary sits outside Indian style like she’s ready to sing Kumbaya. I know she’s blind, but you don’t need to be 20/20 to know that this ain’t no campfire. Then she says casually, “Wait…where’s the baby?” Like, “hey, did we forget the marshmallows?”
Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?: Seeing that he directed and produced the show, I am pretty sure Michael Landon structured the storyline around taking his shirt off. Granted, Pa was easy on the eyes, but breaking your ribs in a kite-flying accident just so you can show off your bronzed, baby-oiled pecs? That seems a little narcissistic to me.
Fed up with all the Bible reading and popcorn eating in bed, Pa takes Ma on a second honeymoon. Cuddled under the stars in the same sleeping bag, I noticed Ma was not wearing her Puritan nightgown!
Yet even with Caroline wearing nothing but her prom hair and a splash of Lemon Verbena, Charles still can’t seal the deal. Then he acts all put out, like, “What does a guy gotta do around here?” Well, springing for a motel room might help. Or at least a tent.
But prairie men do what all men do in this situation: sulk. On the way home he says to Ma, “If our first honeymoon was anything like this one, there never would have been a second one.” Smooth, Rico Suave. Way to sweet talk your lady.
Somebody’s Got a Case of the Crazies: As a kid, I thought the citizens of Walnut Grove were eccentric and colorful. Now I realize that the majority of the characters were a few peaches short of a cobbler. I guess when it takes all day just to do your laundry, you don’t have a lot of time to process your issues. So instead, you just pretend like nothing happened. Your daughter dies in a tragic drowning accident? No problem! Just kidnap her best friend, pretend she’s your daughter and lock her in the basement. Experiencing empty nest syndrome? No worries! Just go adopt a new kid and dress her up like the old one! Before long you won’t even know the difference!
Not sure what Doc Baker had in that medicine cabinet besides some cotton balls and candy….maybe if they had paid him in something other than chickens he could have been doling out Zoloft instead of gumdrops.
Carrie on Quaaludes: Ok, I forgot this episode even existed, probably because I thought I made it up while under general anesthesia. While chasing a butterfly, Carrie falls down a rabbit hole and follows a white rabbit in a hot air balloon through what I think is supposed to be heaven…with lots of large fruit and spiders. It’s Willy Wonka meets Alice in Wonderland…on the prairie. Either they served hash brownies at the refreshment table on set, or Michael Landon was just into trippy dream sequences. And mime rapists. It was the 70′s, after all.