“The Wilder Side” — Christine Moore
The Wilder Side
Crouched near the tree wall, hovering over the garden hose, I whipped around to meet the glossy blue eyes of a boy much too small for his flannel shirt, his pre-pubescent knobby knees peeking from behind ragged denim cutoffs. With harnessed intensity, I rose, my gingham dress cascading back over my legs to conceal my own pre-pubescent knobby knees. Forlornly gazing at the faded, dirt-speckled hose, I quietly explained to my fellow frontiersman, “The stream’s gone dry.” Dramatically inspired by each school day’s new reading, I felt like an Elizabethan actor forced to wait for the newly revised script from the playwright before each rehearsal. Emboldened by my new identity, I reenacted each chapter’s highlights, be it confronting the pack of wolves, knitting blankets for the sick neighbors, or dreaming of seeing a real “papoose.” Eventually discovered mid-ax swing by my snooping kid brother, I lamely offered, “Uh. Mom is making me do this.”
Mockingly arched, his eyebrow mirrored the coy smile stretching across his face. “Yeah, right. You’re freaking out the neighbors. Just tell me what you’re doing.”
This acceptance and affirmation of my odd creative exploration catalyzed an excitement and momentum within me. Eventually I became a director’s nightmare, ignoring the original plot, slicing and dicing lines as I pleased, even creating new characters to move the story’s ever-revised action. My favorite original addition was when I foiled a bank robbery – I wonder if the Wilders even had a bank to be robbed – aided by my equine sidekick Dolly Rae (my single-speed bicycle). Naturally, my feats inspired unadulterated love from the sons of three different neighbors who even resorted to a shoot-out for my affections. Oh, and I wasn’t “Laura” anymore. I went by “Emma,” simply because for as long as I could remember I had wanted to be named Emma. Sure, I was just a little girl playing dress up. But as I pretended to be this heroine of literature and history, I was discovering and nurturing her ingenuity and security in myself. Those traits of hers I idolized became traits of mine I mastered. In a non-threatening, incubatory environment, assuming another’s name and circumstance, I got the chance to rehearse assertiveness.
Wilder infused in me a new level of introspection and self-articulation. A frequent reader has an ever-maturing intuition and breadth of expression. Through sharing and relating all forms of human interaction, stories possess an unmatched ability to expand borders of thought and vicarious experience; they can inspire assessment of value and character before it must ever actually be made. By preserving the individual words and ideas of others, literature instills timeless cognizance and understanding. As author C.S. Lewis expressed, “We read to know we are not alone.” And as I am convinced, we also write to know we are not alone. So when I interpret and translate my feelings into thoughts and those thoughts into words, they are extensions of myself offered in the hope of informing, persuading, instigating, entertaining, linking, or intriguing as honestly as I did in my own backyard. I wish that checkered dress still fit.
Although my childhood backyard in the Las Vegas city was certainly no wilderness and my little brother and I were definitely no struggling homesteaders, my nine-year-old self would have given up Nickelodeon, my Razor scooter, and strawberry Pop-Tarts to be a pioneer, like Laura. Seemingly just another assignment for my home schooling mom’s third-grade reading syllabus, Little House on the Prairie’s allotted six pages per day to be read after tackling multiplication worksheets soon became its own math problem as I made six pages become eighteen pages so that I could discover how Laura would handle the cabin’s Indian invaders and if she had gotten lost chasing those snakes and varmints. To me an exemplification of perfect feminine strength, bravery, and ethics, Laura Ingalls Wilder embodied all I was not; she was a resilient problem-solver, a girl with boisterous confidence and boundless compassion. And I was the self-conscious, pigeon-toed, nail-nibbling dweeb too shy to ask the sales associate at Macy’s for the whereabouts of the bathroom. Even though the book may have been physically closed to move on to cursive practice, the story and its significance never close for me. When my other assignments were self-proclaimed done, I raided the cardboard box in my bedroom closet labeled (in green Sharpie) “HALLOWEEN…BOO!” and retrieved my blue-and-white checkered Dorothy dress circa Halloween ’97 from its sandwiched spot between the Belle gown of ’95 and the Nancy Drew trench coat from last year’s chocolate-filled fiasco. Dissatisfied with my shoe collection’s lack of “frontier girl” pieces and embarrassed by my purple sneakers’ anachronistical defiance of pioneer America, I opted to go barefoot. Sporting braided pigtails and an assortment of kettles, dishrags, and other cooking paraphernalia confiscated from my mother’s kitchen, I progressed through my house, counter-clockwise, shuttering all the windows facing the backyard. I slipped out the screen door with the broken handle. As the hiss of the door’s mechanical spring faded into a precise clink, the backyard became my prairie, the pinecone tree became my woods, the hose became my stream, and I became Laura Ingalls Wilder.