Minnesota Family Fun and Slattery Family Reunion: August 20-24, 2004


Laura Ingalls Wilder Birthplace in Pepin, Wisconsin

After a hectic morning spent swapping cars and people and convening at Mark and Vanessa’s house, two vanloads of us set out for what for me was one of the highlights of the long weekend: the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society and birthplace cabin reconstruction in Pepin, Wisconsin—also known as the Little House in the Big Woods. I rode in Jennifer’s green minivan, with Lexie, John, and Emily, and a VCR that alternately played Cinderella, Teletubbies, and a child-centered documentary about cotton, silk, and the making of fabric. John was fascinated by that final one, which he called the tractor movie, and Lexie was bored by the Teletubbies, but peace nonetheless reigned supreme in our van as we nibbled peanut butter-pretzel snacks and spotted cows and horses by the side of the road. Jennifer and I got a nice chance to visit and talk, and we were pleased that the many detours (road construction!) weren’t accompanied by traffic. At left, Robert shows his great joy at now having visited three Laura historical sites; I think his exact words as I snapped this picture, saying, "Look enthusiastic!" were a dry, "How can I possibly look any more enthusiastic?"

We pulled into Pepin around noon, and waited for the second minivan, driven by Judy and containing Robert, Aurora, and Josie, to catch up to us before we went over to the cabin. After having been to Plum Creek in Walnut Grove, Minnesota (Little House on the Prairie) and De Smet, South Dakota (Little Town on the Prairie), I was of course thrilled. I even wore my hair in Laura braids for the occasion; unfortunately, because of my reddish dye job, I think I resembled Pippi Longstocking more than Laura Ingalls, but that wasn’t the end of the world. We wandered through the cabin and the area, taking photos and climbing around, and then headed into town for some lunch.

The town of Pepin, Wisconsin is a town of just over 900 people. We saw a restaurant called Tastebuds—ice cream, soups, and sandwiches—with a grand opening sign just at the beginning of town, and we decided to go there to eat. That was a good choice, because it really seemed as though there was just one other restaurant in the entire town, so there wasn’t really a point in holding out for something better to come along. As it turns out, the place was wonderful—really good homemade food, family-run, and extremely friendly service, even seeing as we had five kids among us. The ice cream was good, but the tortilla soup was really the best, and some of the sandwiches were great, too. I impressed Josie and Lexie by suggesting they use a discarded celery stick to scrape the mustard off of a sandwich that inadvertently had mustard on it, and everyone was happy during the meal.

As we sat outside on the patio in this small town, an old man walked by and said hello. Josie and Lexie and John all said hello back, and a short, amusing conversation ensued.

Man: Nice weather we’re having. Not too cold.
John: But it’s cold on Pluto, ’cause it’s too far from the sun.
Man: Eh?
Josie (to man, pointing at his tie-tack): I like your pin, that’s nice.
Man: It’s the Final Roundup—an old Indian scene. I bought it off some Indians. I’m going to give it to my grandson when I go, and I’ll be going soon.
Josie: Well, it’s a nice pin.
Man: You’re not from around here, are you?
Lexie: No, we’re from Minnesota—
Josie: and Chicago, and Boston.
Man: Well, that’s really not from around here. (to John) Where’re you from, young man? Chicago, I bet?
John (grinning): No!
Man: No?
Josie and Lexie (together): Yes, he is—right, John?
Me: Well, really you’re from—c’mon, John, what’s it called? Pl—
John: Plainfield!
Man: Eh?
Me: Right outside Chicago.
Man: Oh, that’s nice.
Josie: You should eat at this restaurant, they have really great food.
Lexie: Yeah, and really good chicken soup.
Man: Well, I always see the place, and I knew they were just starting up. I’m sure I’ll be by sometime—I just live across the street in that second house there. All right, have a good day now.
Josie, Lexie, and John (overlapping): Bye! Goodbye! Have a good day!

Soon after the man left, shuffling off across the street to his second house, and now duly informed about Pluto, Plainfield, and the restaurant, a youngish woman on a motorcycle drove by and paused at the corner, about to turn onto the main street. She looked over at us and the grand opening sign, and the following conversation ensued:

Josie: You should eat here, it’s really good.
Lexie: Yeah, they have great potato chips!
John: Potato chips!
Josie: Good for you, wearing a helmet. Everyone who rides a motorcycle should wear a helmet.
Woman: Um, I was just trying to read their hours.
Me: 11 to 9 everyday except Tuesday, when they’re closed.
Woman: Thanks.
Aurora (who has now wandered over to our table to join in all the fun): Yeah, good for you about the helmet. And don’t smoke! You shouldn’t smoke!
Woman: Okay, I won’t.
Aurora: Also don’t carry heavy things on your motorcycle, ’cause they could throw you off balance and make you fall.
Woman: Where do you learn this stuff? Do they teach you this in school?
Lexie: Anyway, the soup and chips are really good. Do you want me to get you a menu?
Me: I think they just opened, but the food’s good and they’re really friendly.
Woman (giving up and getting off her motorcycle to go inside): Okay, I'll go check it out.
John, Aurora, Josie, and Lexie (overlapping): Bye! Goodbye! Keep wearing a helmet! Enjoy the chips!

After that entertaining of a lunch, almost anything was going to seem anti-climactic, and the small three-room Laura museum down the main street was pleasant but not all that exciting. What was exciting, however, was the fact that we accidentally overshot it and, when we discovered that we had entirely left the town of Pepin behind us, we pulled into Bill’s Live Bait and Tackle to turn around. I ran in to confirm that the museum was somewhere between Bill’s and the Tastebuds, on the two opposite ends of the four-block town as far as I could tell, and that we had just somehow missed it. When I went inside, I realized that I was exuding femininity, with my hair in braids and my request about the Laura Ingalls museum, inside a live bait, tackle, and gun shop. The two grizzled men behind the counter (possibly Bill and a friend of Bill’s) had clearly never actually been to the “Lara Engers” museum, as they called it, but they assured me it was indeed behind me—in between the only two gas stations in Pepin.

Retracing our steps, we found it just where they said it would be, and we wondered how on earth we’d managed to miss it to begin with. I explained trundle beds, stoves and bootwarmers, the “sleep tight” ropes on nineteenth-century beds, bonnets with flaps to protect your neck, inkwells, and sock-knitting machines to the girls and John (“How do you know all that?” Lexie asked. “I read,” I said), and I bought myself a Laura Ingalls Birthplace tee shirt. The girls were excited about some of the things in the small museum, but no one took me up on my wild and enthusiastic offer to buy everyone matching Laura Ingalls tee shirts. Aurora looked at a bonnet for sale and said, derisively, “Why’re they selling that? No one would ever go outside in one of those today!” Wanting to make a point but not a fuss, I simply said mildly, “I used to—my aunt made me a Laura Ingalls outfit, and my cousin and I wore the bonnets, especially, lots of times when we were kids.” I wandered away, then, and apparently Aurora was so deeply impressed that she begged Judy for a bonnet. Judy bought a bonnet and apron set, distributing the bonnet to Aurora and setting the apron aside for her mother-in-law. Aurora wore the bonnet the rest of that day and part of the next, though when she once referred to it as a Pilgrim bonnet, I set her straight by saying that a Pilgrim wouldn’t have been caught dead in a yellow, pink, and blue print bonnet.

The drive home was swift and direct, with Judy navigating through all of the road construction and getting us all back in time for Josie to go to her seventh grade orientation and picture-taking at 4:30 and for Aurora to play with Lexie and Mitch and then spend the night with them.

Spending the Evening with Cousins (Old)

Robert and I then took Mark, Vanessa, Brady, Jerry, and Jerry’s friend out to Sidney’s, a nearby vaguely Italian restaurant. The service was good, the food was interesting post-modern midwestern chain, and no one seemed to mind the baby tossing cubes of bread on the floor (thankfully not on my lap this time). After a chocolate-chip “pizza” dessert, we went back to Mark’s house to watch “Donnie Darko” on DVD. Jerry and friend were too tired to join us, Vanessa put Brady to bed and fell asleep with him, and Mark immediately started an extremely impressive snoring jog on the couch next to us, but Robert and I were thrilled by the movie and can’t wait to see the director’s cut. Robert pronounced it “The Crow” meets “Mulholland Drive,” and I think he’s right. I kept poking him awake to rave about the movie late into the night.

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Created: 8/26/04. Last Modified: 8/26/04.