Close your eyes.
You are in an old, restored livery. A barn-like structure, it has large and small stalls, some open but barred by rope, some closed with plexiglass windows. All show some aspect of 1850s horse-drawn transportation.
Look! A giant replica horse. Seven feet tall, grey and serious, wearing black leather accoutrements, it is like the horse version of an older biker guy. It could step on you, but doesn’t. It enjoys its feed bag.
In the center of the room are giant wagons, the cross-country truckers of the animal-powered era. Imagine some fiercely strong oxen pulling these overland with your great-grandmother’s buffet table (and a lot more stuff) inside.
Along the wall stalls, more wagons. Wells Fargo mail wagons with niches for mail under legs, up top, and in back. Light about-town wagons. A delivery wagon, green, with red wheels and “Studebaker” written across the side.
This wagon is on the smaller side, no bigger than your Subaru. The wheels come to my chest. The seat is a two-plus size, just narrower than the wagon body, held aloft by a pair of leaf springs on either side. A quilt lays folded on the seat.
Next to this wagon is a flight of stairs, leading up to another display area. But you pause on the stairs, looking down into the green wagon. The green wagon has a brake on the side, painted red, which attaches just above the front right wheel and has an extension that reaches to the rear right wheel. In its bed are some farm implements and a wooden box filled with canning jars.
Imagine you are Laura Ingalls, age 5.
Imagine that you have just ridden to town, the town of Pepin, on Lake Pepin, your first visit to a town in your life. You are riding on a board nailed across the wagon bed, directly behind the wagon seat where your Pa and your Ma and your baby sister Carrie are sitting. Beside you is your older sister, Mary, sitting upright, her blue-and-white dress smooth and clean. You are dusty and untidy, and your pocket has torn.
You are driving home. The sun is low in the sky, and the horse ambles slowly on the bumping, unpaved road. The wagon seat in front of you squeaks softly as the wagon lurches a bit to one side, then the other. Your hands hold you to the plank of wood you sit on. You feel the splinters of the fresh wood. You are tired from a long day of new things, but you cling to the board so as not to slide with each jolt.
The wagon bed is filled with things Pa and Ma have bought. New implements for the farm, perhaps a new blade for Pa’s cradle; he’ll begin harvest soon. A saw. A box of canning jars, for blueberries will be ripe soon and Ma will need them. A bundle of fabric, to be used to make sheets and underwear. Some tea, some store sugar. Pipe tobacco for Pa. The little wagon is nicely full of things to take home to the little cabin. It lurches, and the contents slide just a bit, first to one side, and then the other, but the horse is surefooted and the journey home is not long.
Imagine you are a small boy, age 5.
Imagine you have just heard this story, standing on the stairs, staring at the wagon. Imagine you have been re-reading Little House in the Big Woods for perhaps the eighth or ninth time.
When we emerge from the stable, blinking in the sunlight, G stands for a moment, holding Shnork. He turns to me, a fierce look upon his face.
“I need to go home,” he cries. “I need to go home now.”
What is it? Does he need a restroom? Is he ill? The fierceness of his words arrests my attention.
“I need to go home,” he repeats vehemently, seriously. “I need to make a wagon.”