Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Delayed Gratification

During The Long Winter, a Christmas barrel arrived from the Ingall's former church in Minnesota. In it was a bundle of Youth's Companion, periodicals for Laura and Mary to read.

"Come, girls, put the bundle of Youth's Companions away. We must get out the washing while the weather's clear so we can." All that day Laura and Carrie and Mary looked forward to the Youth's Companions and often they spoke of them. But the bright day was short. They stirred and punched the clothes boiling on the stove; they lifted them on the broom handle into the tub where Ma soaped them and rubbed them. Laura rinsed them, Carrie stirred the blueing bag in the second rinse-water until it was blue enough. Laura made the boiled starch. And when for the last time Ma went out into the cold to hang the freezing wash on the line, Pa had come for dinner.

Then they washed the dishes, they scrubbed the floor and blacked the stove, and washed the inside of the windowpanes. Ma brought in the frozen-dry clothes and they sorted them and sprinkled them and rolled them tightly, ready for ironing. Twilight had come. It was too late to read that day and after supper there was no lamplight because they must save the rest of the kerosene.

"Work comes before pleasure," Ma always said. She smiled her gentle smile for Laura and Carrie and said now, "My girls have helped me do a good day's work," and they were rewarded.

Next day...

" I'm afraid, girls, this will be a poor Christmas," Ma said. "What with these awful storms and trying to keep warm, we've had no time to plan for it."

"I have an idea. What do you think of saving my church papers and your bundle of Youth's Companions to open on Christmas day?"

After a moment Mary said, "I think it is a good idea. It will help us to learn self-denial."

"I don't want to," Laura said.

"Nobody does," said Mary. "But it's good for us." From The Long Winter in the chapter entitled Merry Christmas

Wow! It's interesting that Mary instantly knew that self-denial was a good thing, and she was willing to suffer. But where did Mary learn it? From Ma, of course. Ma, by example, taught several important things through this one incident:
  1. Christmas does not have to be shiny, new, expensive surprises. They had no money, but they had a way to make Christmas fun. The stories in the Youth's Companions were unread, which made them new!
  2. The winter was already dragging on and getting old, with 3 day blizzards with a one day break in between, no more school, no visiting friends, and few supplies. Ma could have indulged the girls and let them read stories all day and put off the work until another day. But she knew character training was important.
  3. Ma always said "work comes before pleasure" and she added a gentle smile and a positive word. Notice she didn't yell. She smiled a gentle smile and told the girls how she appreciated their work. "...and they were rewarded." Today we call it positive reinforcement, and if you've used it, you know it works wonders.

On Christmas day, after they ate their dinner:

"Come, girls," Ma said. "We'll get these dishes out of the way, and then we'll open our papers and have a cosy afternoon."

Laura opened the bundle of Youth's Companions and she and Carrie looked eagerly at the wealth of stories printed on the smooth white paper.

"You girls choose a story," Ma said. "And I will read it out loud, so we can all enjoy it together."

So, close together between the stove and the bright table, they listened to Ma's reading the story in her soft, clear voice. The story took them all far away from the stormy cold and dark. When she had finished that one, Ma read a second and a third. That was enough for one day; they must save some for another time.

"Aren't you glad we saved those wonderful stories for Christmas day?" Mary sighed happily. And they were. The whole afternoon had gone so quickly.

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