You see, in my attempt to pack a trip to Rocky Ridge in on the way to Texas, I needed to find lodgings near RR. There was only this one option in Mansfield, MO, the other hotels being half to one hour away. And it was a cabin in the Ozarks. It sounded delightful. Quaint, picturesque. Those are the terms the web site used to describe it. And in a way, it sort of was. Five cabins were perched on a hill overlooking a sort of swamp. Check in was located at the owners’ slip-shod house, and she was very accommodating and hospitable, however there was still a deliverance-esque type vibe we were getting, and the kids were uneasy.
Once huddled down in Cabin #3, we were warm and had indoor plumbing. Now don’t act like this is some sort of “given.” In the Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls and her family use a bucket for the bathroom that they take turns emptying outside, and I’m pretty sure they had exactly no heat. If you haven’t read that book, stop reading my blog and go read that book. It’s in my top 5 and I’ve read it at least 3 times. No words. Just read it. Anyhow, despite the floors that moved when you walked and the musty bathroom, the bed was comfortable and the kids, on the floor, were tucked in cozily.
Our cozy cabin
Jeanette’s childhood home. Obviously, I exaggerate.
The kids, however, say I cannot pick out our lodgings anymore.
I digress. How this cabin slash RV Park resembled Jeanette’s childhood home is in the sense you get of, well, for lack of a better word, I’ll use the word my kids have attributed to it – sketchville. But it’s not that bad. My kids are just spoiled and not used to roughing it. Mansfield does look like it needs a cheering up, but it’s an older, rural town and my kids are used to superstores and fast food. Here they had a greasy spoon called “Ma and Pa’s,” a bakery called “Sweet Nellie & Caroline’s,” and a grocery store. There is the elementary school named after Laura as well as the public library she helped start. In the town square there is a bust of LIW, and around the corner is the cemetery where Laura, Manly, and Rose are buried.
Our time at Rocky Ridge was emotional for me. I thought about writing one of those “everything was perfect” pieces but it wasn’t that simple. Because life never is. The weather was unseasonably cold for southern Missouri, and I had not brought a coat. I had 3 layers of sweaters on, but the 14 degrees just seeped through them all.
Rocky Ridge, as it looked in Laura’s day and still does today!
Laura’s house was perched on a lovely hill looking down over the new museum built in 2016, with a chicken coop off behind the house. You could just see through a few breaks in the curtains into the living room of the house from two different window angles. That was pretty exciting, but also difficult because I just wanted to go inside. I did, however, run my hands all over the siding of that house and stare for awhile at the “sleeping porch” upstairs where Rose slept and did all her writing.
The “sleeping porch”
Laura’s beautiful fireplace that she insisted Manly build with stones from their farm
The whole experience was also a bit disorienting for me because the house and grounds were so different than I had envisioned them, and much closer to town. For example, the Rock House that Rose built for her parents wasn’t a short walk between the two houses. The Rock House is significant because even though Laura and Manly lived in their beloved farmhouse for most of their 40+ years in Mansfield, the short time they spent in the Rock House Laura wrote all of the Little House books!
As close as we could get to Rock House
The Rock House used to be on the original Wilder farm land, but as time went on and the Wilders got older, they sold off most of their land. So now, you have to go back out on the highway and drive a quarter mile to another road, and it’s down that road a half of a mile. Just one more thing to disorient me:).
It was all exactly as the pictures looked online, but you know how pictures make something look one way, and in person the perspective is so different. I couldn’t reconcile the two. I still can’t. I think that what I was expecting (illogically/stupidly) was to meet Laura there. But I never saw her going out to feed the chickens or pump water or bake her famous gingerbread. I know, it’s silly of me, but she’s dead and I wish she wasn’t.
Pregnant and emotional. Please don’t judge, Mansfield peeps.
It didn’t help that the night before we had visited her grave. The cemetery wasn’t how I imagined it either. The whole town was a little bit of a letdown. I’m very sorry to think/write that, but in all my readings of her biographies and blogs, they painted Mansfield as a more progressive farming town a bit out of the everyday because of all the intellectual clubs she formed and her influence on getting the library going, as well as writing her Farm Journalist columns, so good that someone who knows basically nothing about farming (me) gleaned a whole bunch of wisdom from them. She even ran for politics, not to mention serving on many boards. Probably it was a thriving town in the early to mid 1900’s. Certainly at her house and grounds they have worked hard to preserve her memory, and perhaps I shouldn’t be negative in any way toward Mansfield. Let’s just say it wasn’t what I expected. The people there seemed happy enough though, and that’s really the most important thing! Also, we had a delicious breakfast at Nellie’s Cafe. Very polite wait staff and customers in there. I know it was unrealistic of me to expect Mansfield, Missouri circa 1946.
Back on the road not far from Mansfield the next day, Josie kept asking “when are we gonna be in Texas already?” I opened up my map to check out our route, and low and behold realized we were only one hour from the site of Laura’s first book in Independence, Kansas, where Little House on the Prairie is based. So I said hold on to your seats, y’all, we are taking a detour on our way to Texas. Stay tuned…