Ma & Pa

LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE -- Season 1 -- Pictured: (clockwise from left) Michael Landon as Charles...
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Hop In Your Buggy & Put On A Bonnet: Little House On The Prairie Is Turning 50

Little House on the Prairie gave us a window into another world, but it somehow also looked so familiar.

Were you a Mary, a Laura, or a Carrie? Ha, just kidding. Nobody was Carrie. In fact, anytime I played Little House on the Prairie, I preferred little baby Carrie staying in doll form while I worked through my multiple personalities by being Mary, Laura, and Ma Ingalls all at once. “Stay in the buggy,” was a common refrain, and now that the classic TV show is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, I think it’s high time to go back to the days of eating dinner with your family and pretending like a long, harsh winter is going to destroy all we hold dear. (We were all Big Bow Girls, weren’t we?)

While Laura Ingalls Wilder and her life on the prairie was well documented in the books the 1970s show was based on, it was seeing Melissa Gilbert as little Half-Pint and Michael Landon as Pa and all the rest of the characters (Nellie Oleson coming to life is really a treat) in Walnut Grove in live, technicolor television. It was seeing this family of three girls, a bustling homestead, a prairie life that none of us had actually experienced. It was like stepping into a time warp, and one where you know that, at the end of the day, everything is going to be OK.

And this world was rife with playtime options. From pretending to work at the blind school like Mary did to reenacting prairie dust storms and shouting for Doc Baker when your baby dolls had scarlet fever, there was a lot of drama and tragedy out on the plains. It was Big Bow Girl energy to the max — fueling our need to gather, to persevere, to endure, even if all we were actually doing was playing tug-of-war at fifth grade field day. Watching Little House on the Prairie gave you a window into another world, but it somehow also looked exactly like mine. I was also the middle of three kids, and I had a mom and dad who made damn sure every day that I knew how loved I was, who worked hard to provide for me and instill good work ethic and morals into my siblings and me.

And didn’t we all have a Nellie Oleson?

Little House on the Prairie ended its nine-season run in 1983, but the show has been in syndication ever since. It’s one of those comfort shows I can turn on at any point, knowing good and well that something horrific and terrifying is going to happen to this cast of characters, but that the village they’ve created out of their family and friends will always, always pull them through.

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And (usually) so will Doc Baker.

I don’t know if Little House on the Prairie managed to start any trends (the baby name Carrie did jump 20 spots on the national baby name popularity list after the show’s premiere) or if there was an influx of families in the ‘70s who sought to live a more simple life like the Ingalls, but I do know that the theme song sends me right back to being 8 years old and wearing one of my mom’s tea towels as a bonnet. I feel like I can do anything, handle any disaster that comes my way, carry any basket on my arm to fill with fistfuls of clover and pretend they are herbs for dinner — because I have a family to care for — and a family who loves me.