“Just one more chapter,” she pleaded as I shut the book with a snap. But it was late. And the story was a little frightening ... to me.
True stories of our pioneer days always make me a little antsy.
Can you imagine having to survive the harsh winter without electricity or all-night supermarkets? To grow your own food? Build your own house? Make your own clothes? Butcher your own meat?
Whenever tales of human perseverance trickle into my consciousness I can't help but transport myself into the storyline, and stand stock still in its glow, my eyes fixed like a deer in the headlights.
Should the economy implode and we were to start from scratch … I would surely perish. Page after page tells me this truth is self evident.
Laura Ingalls Wilder's “Little House in the Big Woods” might as well have been Cormac MacCarthy's “The Road.”
Most people see herbs on the windowsills, small kitchen gardens and backyard chickens as pleasant little hobbies from a bygone era. A link to simpler times. Something to connect us to the natural world.
But … if you've ever considered how you'd survive should the modern conveniences you've come to know and love suddenly vanished off the face of the Earth and thought: “maybe I should start a small garden,” you'd be thinking like me.
Only trouble is … I can't even consistently grow weeds.
This troubling lack of ability is not lost on my children, who are vocal in their concern about my potential to take a wrong turn on a country drive and the natural implication that the threat of starvation would loom large.
Without boxes and microwaves and simple directions we would surely expire. Man can not live by the crumbs in the crevices of the upholstery alone.
Which is why I've harbored the notion that our true salvation was in my choice of mates: I married a very capable man whose natural tendencies put him squarely in the classification known as hoarder.
If we can't grow a tomato, he could probably barter for one. There must be someone who grows eggplant who needs a rusty tool from the 1950s or salvaged building materials.
We just have to have faith.
Of course when you put it that way, the idea that you maybe should try and correct past mistakes seems at least worth a bit of the old college try.
After all … how hard can it be to, say, make bread?
I may not have a bread machine, but I have a Kitchen-Aid and enough flour to make homemade clay for a small army of primary school sculptors. Five ingredients is all a person needs, right? Flour, water, sugar, salt and yeast.
Oh. … Yeast.
That living organism that comes dry to the pack.
Warm water is all it takes to revive it.
Except when I'm at the mixing bowl.
“I don't understand … your dough didn't rise? Did you proof the yeast?”
Proof? As in let sit for a few minutes to double in size? Yes, I did that. The only thing I proved in the process was that I can kill yeast with the best of them. Too cold? Too hot? Brick loaves.
“It's really not as hard as all that,” they all said. And truth be told, they were right. Pretending I was going to use the water for a toddler bath time was helpful. Sticking my elbow in the measuring cup proved a little awkward at first, but effective.
Following directions didn't even seem all that cumbersome -- bread gets more naps than my kids: Knead, rest, knead, rest, shape, rest bake.
And when that first loaf came out of the oven, crusty and golden brown, I saw a future I barely thought possible and one that I quickly tried to harness.
Before it even had a chance to cool, I sent the kids to the neighbors' bearing steaming baguettes and crusty loaves.
By week's end, the investment had paid off in a dozen cookies, a hot casserole of eggplant Parmesan and the strength to finish reading “Little House” without feeling alone in the big woods.