Little House on the Prairie

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

Rather than power drive 12 hours from point A to point B, my wife planned an overnight stay to break it up. It was against my objection, but that stay would be to see The Little House on the Prairie in De Smet, a.k.a. nowheresville South Dakota.

“Now I don’t know if this is the best little house site because there’re five or six across the Midwest,” my wife revealed casually.

My translation was – Great. Torture for the day.

Unlike the television show in real life, the Ingalls family didn’t live all that time in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. They were there just a few years. They actually lived in many places, including De Smet, South Dakota. And it was here that many of the books in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series were based. Much of the family is buried in the De Smet Cemetery.


We tumbled out of the vehicle, stretched, and wandered into a building adjacent to the parking lot. Inside it was a store. A nice lady took our money, explained a few things, and handed us a map.

WOW! From our vantage point on a hill, a beautiful panoramic view of deep green grass met the blue and white sky. It was as flat out there as flat could be. The wind breezed through our hair as if it were right on queue, and the sun shone, and the birds sang. Welcome to another world.

A teenage boy appeared by our side and said a group was about to head off to the schoolhouse by horse and covered wagon. We walked with him. The kid was as nice as nice can be and very informative.

Once we joined the other families on vacation in the covered wagon, we were off. One by one, each and every kid had a turn to take the reins and drive the horses. The trip to the schoolhouse wasn’t short, so it allowed us to marvel more at the lush green grasses that swayed back and forth in the gentle breeze against a contrasting blue-white sky. The colors were saturated to the point of seeming somewhat cartoonish.

There went the outhouse. Way up yonder, we saw the schoolhouse. A day later, we arrived. Not really. The whole ride probably only took 10 minutes at best.

As we rolled up in our horse-drawn wagon, the bell atop the school roof rang loudly. The schoolteacher invited us in, and instead of giving a boring description of this and that, she had the kids dress like prairie school children. Once they donned their new duds, they took their seats at desks in the one-room schoolhouse. Parents gathered along the walls and some desks in the back and watched the school take session. Each kid was asked to stand at the front to participate in hands-on learning demonstrations.

They LOVED it!

The session ran long, so a couple of fathers and I headed back outside. After some small talk, we haphazardly did a series of solo circles kicking rocks, gazing around, breathing the prairie air deeply, and listening to the kids enjoy themselves inside, ringing the school bell. We reconvened with a mystery that seemed to dawn on us simultaneously.

What happened to our guide?

Considering the flat fields of tall grass allowed us visibility to see forever and a day, the mystery began to unfold. Where did the kid go? We all seemed to receive non-verbal orders and went searching. One gent walked around the schoolhouse, another checked around the horses and wagon, I meandered back into the schoolhouse, scanning every nook and cranny.

When we reconvened at the schoolhouse steps, we laughed aloud, “WHERE DID HE GO?”

We squinted, looked as far as the eye could see, and determined the boy couldn’t have walked back to the house and barn. It was simply too far to cover that kind of ground in that short a time.

By now, the kids and wives had had their fill and filed out of the schoolhouse. Instinct kicked into the women, and they noticed, too, something was awry. In fact, it took them much less time to question the whereabouts of our guide.

Once we all did another round of rounds, we reconvened in a large group in front of the schoolhouse. Only this time, laughter at the situation faded, giving way to thoughts such as, “That’s a far walk back” and “Will this throw the day’s schedule out of whack?”

Interestingly, the kids didn’t give the fact we were all standing around stranded a thought or care in the world. They picked up sticks, rocks, and tall grass, made things, played with things, and then disappeared deep into the rhythmic blowing fields to where you could only see little heads bobbing up and down.

A light went off in several mothers’ heads. They whipped out cameras quicker than a gunslinger could draw his six-shooter. My wife captured our kids running through the golden glow of majestic grassland right at us with ear-to-ear grins. It was just like the opening scene of the TV show Little House On The Prairie. You could even hear the music!

Once the diversion ended, we summoned the schoolteacher. She picked up an amazing piece of technology called a telephone (go figure) and called the main complex. A handful of minutes later, a much-anticipated call came back. No sign of the kid anywhere.

Now, there was restlessness and murmurs of disapproval.

Just then, as if someone said “POOF,” the boy was among us. Our minds were as one when our puzzled looks revealed the same thought – “How did he do that?” This was followed by, “Where did he come from?”

Upon closer examination, we noticed his hair was awfully messy – a kind of matted mess as opposed to wind-blown. His eyes were unfocused, and one side of his face was beat red with some long stringy impressions in the skin. I think there may have even been a trace of drool that wasn’t entirely wiped away by his flannel sleeve.

He kind of looked puzzled as he looked back at us, going about his routine of getting the horses set for the ride back. After the schoolteacher said something to him that none of us could hear, his entire face turned beet red. He could barely make eye contact with anyone. His voice even cracked with humility.

So it goes.

On the return trip, everyone began chatting about the other things to see and do back at the Ingalls homestead. Our guide pointed out how crops were planted and explained how you can see clearly between each row straight on and diagonally. It was pretty cool to see.

It was because we were transfixed by the planting precision as we slowly rolled by that we noticed a section that was completely off. It zagged and zigged in no coherent pattern at all.

Our teen guide had a self-effacing chuckle in his voice when he saw how intently we all silently gazed at this section of mess.

“This section here is the section I planted.”

Everyone rolled in their seats with pure belly laughter. And so did he.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

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