Between Robin Williams and Michael Brown, the news of late has put quite a damper on my usually sunny disposition. There's a crack in my rose-colored glasses; not so deep that I'd throw them away, but enough to alter my outlook. So I was delighted to read in Sunday's Maui News that a new Laura Ingalls Wilder book is about to be published.
Wilder's autobiographical "Little House" books were my most treasured possessions during my childhood and adolescence. The pioneer saga of the Ingalls family enthralled and inspired me. I received the first, "Little House in the Big Woods," when I was 6 or 7 years old, and by the time I was 12, I had the entire eight-book series, all of them sent to me by my dear Aunt Esther.
Aunt Esther was the wife of the Rev. Theodore Schulz, who led the restoration and reopening of Makawao's Po'okela Church nearly 70 years ago. In a 1948 newsletter, Aunt Esther wrote of their "hope for a truly inter-racial venture at Po'okela." Their hopes were realized, and my mother, as a young woman, became a member of the historic church and a close friend of the Schulzes. When the couple relocated to California, Esther kept in touch with Mom and they corresponded by mail for decades.
Aunt Esther was an avid fan of literature and a writer herself, and she sent me a new book for each birthday and Christmas throughout my childhood. "Blue Willow," "The Secret Garden," I liked them all, but the "Little House" books were special. Over and over, I would read my favorite chapters, escaping to Plum Creek, Silver Lake and, of course, The Big Woods.
While other girls dreamed of fairy tale castles and enchanted forests, I harbored fantasies of churning butter in a log cabin and running barefoot through fields of wildflowers on a Wisconsin prairie. At the age of 10, I was sure that I was the reincarnation of Laura; she seemed to share all of my tomboy emotions and desires. And, as I learned from the book jackets, the author had passed away seven months before my birth.
Ten years ago, when my mother and I traveled to Branson, Mo., we rented a car and drove to Mansfield to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum. Walking through Laura's and Almanzo's farmhouse, seeing her handwritten manuscripts and the writing desk at which she penned them, I was overcome with chicken skin. Laura would have called them goose bumps, of course, but in any case, it took hours for the thrill to subside.
I felt the same rush of emotion when I read that the South Dakota State Historical Society Press will release "Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography" this fall. Written by Laura for an adult audience, the memoir was never published and instead served as the basis for her children's series. In "Pioneer Girl," we get to read her original rough draft along with extensive footnotes by a team of editors.
Going online to place my order, I saw representations of the original "Little House" book covers, and it occurred to me that part of my emotional ties to Laura came from the beautifully detailed illustrations by Garth Williams. I did some Googling and came across a fascinating story.
Best known for his artwork in "Charlotte's Web" and the "Little House" series, Williams also wrote and illustrated several children's books of his own. "The Rabbits' Wedding" was a sweet little love story about a black rabbit and a white rabbit who chose to be together "forever and always." In 1959, a year after the picture book was published, the Alabama State Senate fought to have it banned from the library system, claiming that it was an attempt to brainwash children into accepting miscegenation, or interracial marriage.
Williams reportedly commented, "I was completely unaware that animals with white fur . . . were considered blood relations of white beings. I was only aware that a white horse next to a black horse looks very picturesque." He said the story was written for children, not adults, who "will not understand it, because it is only about a soft furry love and has no hidden message of hate."
Hawaii is one of only 10 states that has never outlawed interracial marriage. About a dozen states repealed their anti-miscegenation laws in the 19th century, and another dozen followed suit in the 1950s. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court declared those laws to be unconstitutional, but it wasn't until 2000 when the last state - Alabama - formally repealed its anti-miscegenation statute. Astoundingly, more than half a million Alabamans voted to keep the law on the books. In the year 2000.
I ordered a copy of "The Rabbits' Wedding," too.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.