The Son is always shining, regardless of the weather

Big Surprise on the Prairie/Meeting Melissa Gilbert

“If I had a remembrance book, I would surely write about the day we came to Plum Creek”(opening quote by Laura as Little House on the Prairie series began in 1974)

Thankfully, Laura Ingalls Wilder shared her life memories with the world through the “Little House” books. This blog has been sort of a “remembrance book” for me as well. Last weekend was certainly a memorably sweet one. It began the moment we walked into the home of two of the sweetest people on the prairie…Nonnie and G-pa Uh-Oh (my mom and dad). We were greeted by both of them offering us freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (or “cook-cooks” as Dad likes to refer to them). Ah…there really is no place like home sweet home. That six hour trip in the car is finally over, and now the fun begins! (Warning: This post is a bit long, as I wanted to write down all the details, but I promise it’s not six hours long:))

A little background…

We were planning a trip for our girls to come visit their grandparents in Ft. Worth for the week. Our boys had their fun week with them earlier this month. Meanwhile, my mom discovered that Little House on the Prairie:The Musical was playing at the Bass Hall in Fort Worth, and …Melissa Gilbert  (the actress who played Laura in the television series) was playing “Ma”. Exciting, huh? So, my parents had graciously included me. Dad/G-pa Uh-Oh suggested I take his ticket and the boys/men would go fishing. I did not hesitate to accept! So, you can imagine we were looking forward to the musical/fishing for two weeks!

On Tuesday (6-8-10), my mom called  to tell me that she had a surprise. My mom could hardly get the words out…so Dad, her helper in life, took over. They are such a great team!  Dad proceeded to mention that he had suggested to Nonnie that she write Melissa Gilbert a thank you letter for all she meant to our family through the years…esp. regarding her role as Laura on Little House on the Prairie. We had been reminiscing about her recently as we were anticipating seeing her in the show. So, my “Ma” sent this letter to “Ma”…

Dear Ms. Gilbert,

My daughter and four granddaughters have tickets to attend the Saturday matinee performance of Little House on the Prairie:The Musical, and we are all so excited.

When my oldest granddaughter was eight years old, she was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a very aggressive cancer in the muscle behind her eye. Throughout the year and a half of surgery, radiation, and chemo, your excellent work in Little House on the Prairie sustained all of us. It allowed us to escape into a different time and place, and we were all so grateful. We were especially thankful for the extremely talented young girl who grew up before our eyes. Your acting ability not only endeared Laura to us, but you also.

Make-a-Wish asked Paige (I changed her name in the letter to protect her privacy) what one place she wanted to go more than any other. Of course, her immediate answer was Laura’s homestead in De Smet, South Dakota! In the history of the Make-a-Wish organization, we were told that Paige was the first to ask for a trip to South Dakota. Again, Little House on the Prairie distracted all of us from the  difficult, painful realities of cancer.

Paige is sixteen years old now, and in many ways cancer was actually a blessing for her and for us. It taught us the value of the moment, and we do treasure time differently now. She not only survived cancer; she thrives in some ways because of it.

I simply want to thank you for your professional work as a child and now as an adult because you have enriched our lives. Your talent is amazing, and we appreciate your willingness to again become involved in Little House on the Prairie.

With best regards,

(my mom’s name)

My mom mentioned to me that she did not ask to meet Melissa, she just wanted to thank her. However, she said that she just received a call from Ms. Gilbert’s manager at Bass Hall. He relayed that Melissa was touched by reading the letter, and really wanted to meet Paige (and our group) after the show! Wow! I’m totally excited! The hardest part would be trying to keep this surprise from the girls. We all agreed that the surprise would be fun for them, and we have learned from our Little House friends, and our own lives/mistakes, that you “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched”…ever. So, this mum kept “mum” on meeting that mum. I made it through by only telling two others (not related to us)! It was hard, but thankfully it was only four days (I know…how sad, right)!

When we arrived on Thursday night, the girls took off on beginning their new quilts. Each girl finished one block on their quilt. Yeah! Project “make four quilts in a week” was off to a great start! On Friday, the girls had a major fabric-sewing day. Mom and I had a major fabric-cutting day! By the end of the night, each of my beautiful daughters had assembled the front of their beautiful quilt (35 blocks…7 rows with 5 blocks per row). We were tired! We felt a bit like pioneers that day. That evening, my brother Jay came over for a shared b-day spaghetti dinner with my daughter Faith (they share a birthday). The girls and Nonnie baked a lovely three-layered yellow cake with homemade chocolate icing.

On Saturday morning, the funny, yet scary thing was that Mom was trying to find the tickets! The menfolk were out fishing on the boat. She had placed the tickets on the counter weeks ago, and they were not there! Some time passed. She called Uh-Oh to see if maybe he could help. Well, he did not seem to know where the Bass Hall tickets were, but evidently he did know where the bass fish were biting.

The Lord really blessed their time. The boys were catching a bunch of black bass, catfish, and sand bass. Bradley even caught an 8 lb. catfish! It sounded like they were having a lot of fun! Benjamin and Bradley (my boys) were the only ones catching anything for awhile there. My dad said he was a little worried about BC and Jay:). But they caught on, and soon everyone was catching everything. The fish were schooling. Dad said they had doubles and a triple (You would think that they were talking about baseball?). That meant two fish were on two rods at the same time. My dad had prayed that he might have an opportunity to fish with his grandsons when the fish were schooling…what an answered prayer!

Now…back to Nonnie fishing for the missing tickets…

I asked my mom  if I could help, even though I really didn’t exactly know where to look. I have been a frantic seeker before (keys, ins., etc.) and I have learned that a frantic “looker” is often an “overlooker”. A calm seeker usually will be a finder. So, I tried to stay calm, and prayed that the tickets would be found. Thankfully, the Lord directed me to discover the tickets in a small pile on the counter. Praise the Lord…another answered prayer!

So, quicker than  rabbits, we hustled out the door. We had a thirty minute drive to the Bass Hall. We parked and rapidly walked down the beautifully clean block in Fort Worth. We arrived at the door, and were greeted by an expecting attendant, who was asking us for the tickets. Boy, were we in for a surprise!

Nonnie searched her purse, and could not find the tickets. Incredible! Then I frantically searched Nonnie’s purse and…nothing. Nonnie had a look of disbelief on her face. “What do we do?” she uttered. The kind attendant asked us if there was anyone at home who could bring us the tickets, and if home was nearby. We both answered with double negatives (no, no).

Then, Nonnie remembered that she had purchased the tickets on credit card, and asked if they would have a record of the transaction on the computer. They directed her to the “will call” ticket desk. We followed close behind. I was whispering a prayer that they would honor her credit, and I was hoping to vouch for her credibility with my tears. Three minutes later, we had our tickets in hand, and we were headed up the elevator. Well, my pa and Laura’s pa have a lot to say in regards to the policy of “cash on the barrel”, but I was truly thankful that we had a paper trail, as those tickets were valuable. Like they say…”A ticket in the hand is worth six in the kitchen”:)

We were seated pretty high, but we still had great seats. The Bass Hall is so beautiful. (My dad watched this being built because his office was across the street.) When we arrived at our row, a smiling man greeted us and introduced himself as Eric. He asked which one was Paige. He said he wasn’t sure if she knew about it or not. My mom mentioned that we decided to surprise her. So, he said he would let Grandma tell the surprise and he would see us later.

Without further ado, Mom told Paige. She was so surprised…pleasantly surprised. All of the girls were giddy with excitement. The looks on their faces were like they were on Cloud Nine. Nonnie and I both asked Paige if it was okay that we surprised her. She replied, “This is a great surprise”. She had no idea. I managed to take a few pictures of the girls before the camera police reminded me (with a shake of the finger) that no pictures were to be taken inside Bass Hall. Oops!

Nonnie and I congratulated each other on keeping the secret from the girls. On the same row there were young girls with bonnets. Nonnie and I remembered our girls and their bonnet-wearing years (Sigh). As the lights went down, I was already trying to fight back the tears.

The girls sat next to each other, and I sat by Mom. As Melissa Gilbert entered the stage, more tears streamed down. I was trying to tell myself to pull it together. I had no idea how many experiences/emotions I would identify with during this musical. It was a flood of various memories. We cried. We laughed. We shared binoculars, and we were thoroughly captivated by the songs, the background, the characters, the lights, the memories. It was awesome. We only wish our other family members could have been there too!

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” was a great quote that many of the pioneers lived by. We have frequently used that quote at our house. We don’t want to waste time worrying over nothing! Hard times will visit everyone, yet great ones will too. One of the reasons I loved the “Little House” books and the t.v. series was the fact that I could identify with many of Laura’s life experiences…

  • moving into new places, and dealing with a few “Nellie Olesons”
  • being a tomboy
  • being a teacher
  • family growing closer as we faced adversity (the one I grew up in, and the one my children are growing up in)

We enjoyed the fact that most of the play took place around De Smet…a familiar place we know in our minds (through the books), and in our experiences (through our trip). We were thrilled that we could be transported to pioneer days, and be encouraged yet again by the faith, hard work, family togetherness, and community love that was shared by so many pioneers. We found it hard to complain when we would watch the “Little House” shows and hear about all of their trials. The loss of Mary’s vision was hard on the family. I remember watching those episodes and praying that if Paige went blind, like Mary, God would encourage us. However, we were mostly praying for her survival. Like the pioneers, we were praying for a better tomorrow. God’s Word encouraged us that there would be a better tomorrow, no matter the outcome, because of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

As I was watching this play, reruns of memories filled my mind. Here are a few of them…

  • when Melissa Gilbert walked on stage, I cried just overwhelmed by her thoughtful desire to meet my daughter
  • how brave my baby girl and her sisters and brothers were when cancer visited our home. They kept us smiling through that storm, and with child-like faith helped us to keep looking to Jesus
  • how sweet all of my children, family, and friends had been when we were going through our pioneering/chemo days which had us facing a lot of unknowns . We were touched by so many kindnesses (homemade bread every week, meals, gifts, money, babysitting, the complete series of “Little House” DVDs, etc.)
  • When I was watching the scenes with the unruly kids at school, and at the Fourth of July celebration, it reminded me of our super trip to De Smet, South Dakota, where I had watched my Paige and Michelle act out these parts in their annual outdoor play. They were extras, and had a blast!
  • Michelle (in blue) and Paige (in yellow) signing autographs with "Laura" and "Nellie" in De Smet...2003

  • when “Ma” was talking about her daughter going blind, I cried
  • When Almonzo came for Laura, I cried…thinking of my dear beau (BC) who came for me…22 years ago
  • Then I cried when I thought of my children (almost three teenagers now) who are growing up before my very drenched eyes. My mom whispered to me, “These next few years will be very exciting.” I nodded, and fought back more tears thinking about how quickly time goes by

It was an emotional play for me, but I was thankful to be able to cry and to laugh. I sometimes shove these hard memories into a far away place in my brain. It was therapeutic to recall these.There was comic relief in the play, too. Nellie was a great antagonist, and Laura had some great lines too. Laura was dealing with growing up pretty fast, and “Ma” was dealing with letting go. Pa did a great job too! I’m sure Laura Ingalls Wilder and Michael Landon would have been very proud of the entire cast.

After the performance,we went out of the Bass Hall and straight through the crowd, who was eagerly awaiting autographs. We were so thankful to be able to zoom straight through the door. We waited in one area, and I reminded myself to ask Ms. Gilbert if I could take her picture before I took any (remembering my earlier warning about no pictures in Bass Hall).

Melissa Gilbert was very kind. She said she liked our plaid shirts, and mentioned how the play was more like the books, rather than the t.v. show. We knowingly agreed (having read the books and watched the shows). She mentioned that they added more stories (fictional) to the t.v. series because otherwise it would have only lasted nine episodes. This was true. I asked her if I could take a picture, and she said sure. I must add, it was cool to hear a familiar voice from t.v. land talking with us. She asked which one was Paige, and then gave her a hug. Then, she excitedly went over to her dressing room while saying that she had something for Paige.

She mentioned that the cast was in South Dakota last week and they all went into De Smet (the setting where most of the musical took place) for a day trip. She told Paige she was touched by her grandmother’s letter, and she thought Paige was so brave. I started tearing up, and said to Ms. Gilbert, “Okay, now you’ve made me cry for like the thousandth time.”. She talked about being a mom of three boys that were driving. We then met her son, Michael Boxleitner (age 14), also in the musical. He did a great job, too.

She told us that she was given a replica of Ma’s shepherdess doll when they started touring. She had brought it to each performance. If you remember from the books, this was a small, breakable china doll that Ma Ingalls had brought from her home. She used it in each of her homes, placing it on the mantle, to signify that their house was now a home. (I’m shocked it survived all of those rough roads, and hard times.) Well, Melissa Gilbert told Paige that she wanted Paige to have her “Ma’s” shepherdess doll. That was very sentimental for us. This was so special because when we went to De Smet, Paige was also given a shepherdess doll. However, her doll broke a few years back, and she was heart-broken. That had held some great memories for her. Well, I remember telling her back then that maybe we might return to De Smet sometime in the future, and try to get another one. Isn’t it wonderful how God provides even more than our needs? I asked if I could give Ms. Gilbert a hug, and we shared a hug.

She also gave her some books about Laura Ingalls Wilder, an Ingalls Homestead candle, some magnets, and a tin cup (was it a “half-pint”?) that she said she picked out for Paige while in De Smet. Then, Melissa gave Paige the letter that the mayor gave to her when they declared that day to be “Little House on the Prairie: The Musical Day” in De Smet, South Dakota. How thoughtful.

After that, she said she had something for the sisters. She had three bracelets that read, “Prairie Strong” (like Lance Armstrong…”Live Strong”) that she personally put on each of my daughter’s wrist. She shared about her charity, which is Children’s Hospice and Palliative Care Coalition. Not finding another bracelet, she gave Paige the one off of her own wrist—too sweet. I was touched that she would think of each one of them. Young Faith said she was never going to take her bracelet off! Melissa Gilbert is a mom, after all, but I quickly forget…I kept seeing her as the cute little girl with braids. Now, I see her as a Ma with a big heart, and I am extremely thankful that Paige could see her with her own two eyes…that we all could. Isn’t God good?Here is a link to Paige’s blog on the week’s events.

5 Responses to “Big Surprise on the Prairie/Meeting Melissa Gilbert”

  1. Kay Ann Says:

    OK, I’ve cried through this w/you too, “Mom”. How great is our God who blesses the humble in heart like your sweet daughters. Precious story…

  2. Marcie Says:

    How wonderful that everything has come full circle for Paige. Her picture and that of her brothers and sisters was still on the wall at the Ingalls homestead in DeSmet when we visited there a couple of years ago. The staff there was so happy to hear that she was well and to receive her letter.
    God has a way of making things happen for us to learn from. For your family He began the day Half Pint was born.

  3. Nonnie Says:

    What an amazing day this was, sweet daughter and granddaughters! I will treasure this memory always and thank God for his many gracious kindnesses. We all had such joy of being together in that moment, and I’m grateful for each of you. Thank you, Jesus! I also definitely thank Melissa Gilbert for her kindnesses and for being an answered prayer for all of us, especially for Paige. (Love the photo of you with Melissa Gilbert, Caitlin! Love the photos of your hands and all of us outside the hall, sweet girls!) I love each one of you! This was a fantastic beginning of an amazingly fun (and productive) week.

  4. Melodie Says:

    This is sooo very cool! Wow! What a true blessing for all of you! Love you and your sweet family ; ) Melodie

  5. bc » Blog Archive » Big Surprise Under the Deck Says:

    […] our deck. Before I tell you what it was, I want to point something out. My title is a lot like a recent title used by my lovely bride. I could not be outdone, I […]

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