The nineteenth century brought us nostalgia, the yearning for an earlier, simpler time when everything was better. The holidays are an especially potent time for nostalgia, as we (or at least I) imagine a Christmas in a small house with a large family, in which the tree and greenery are cut fresh outside, gifts are handmade, relatives get along, children are grateful, and we all need the extra calories.
I’ve been re-reading Farmer Boy because it’s the Laura Ingalls Wilder book that is the least terrifying to me. Laura’s own story is, at this point in my life, a little too gritty for pure enjoyment. I prefer Almanzo’s comfortable house, big barns, financial security, and varied diet. The workload and intellectual stultification are still plain, though. The whole family work like dogs and could lose everything in a minute–a tornado, fire, or flood.
No, nostalgia for “simpler times” is just nostalgia. It’s an emotion, not a valid desire. I like living in the age of plastic and penicillin. I like to have books to read and time to read them; I like having television to watch. I like having the leisure to play with my daughter, and to let her play. I like having insurance. I like having hospitals comfortably staffed with certified doctors and nurses, and well-stocked with modern drugs. I like having a car. I like having big box stores.
And to tell the truth, a lot of American Primitive stuff creeps me out.