Ma Was Hardcore

So today, we had a full day. In the morning we attended a very nice wedding for our friends Dennis and Rebecca (Great reception! There were board games! Why doesn’t everybody do that?) and then went to dinner with our buddy Crimson, who was in the area for a seminar on throwing people through walls.

We pick the cheaper of the two local sushi places and go to have a few rolls and chat. It’s fairly early in the day, and there’s a football game on…and then somebody switches it to Little House on the Prairie. With the sound off.

You would not think that a muted episode of Little House on the Prairie would hold the attention of three geeks. For that matter, what the hell kind of Thai-fusion/sushi restaurant plays Little House on the Prairie during dinner? But there we were.

We stayed for the entire hour, long after we had paid our tabs, staring in rapt horror at the TV.

Those of you who actually watched this show may recognize the episode. We didn’t. In fact, I will swear that I never saw this episode in my entire life. It was…somethin’, all right.

It started with Ma cutting her leg on a piece of barbed wire. (“The tetanus!” we cried, still only semi-paying attention at this point.) Then it gets infected. She puts a moldy bread poultice on it. (We looked up the history of penicillin. The phrase “Siri, when was penicillin discovered?” was actually uttered at the table. However, as moldy bread poultices were a staple of folk medicine, we allowed this to pass historical muster.)

Then Ma started to hallucinate. Given 70’s camera effects, this was mostly the wobble-and-blur variety. Then, mad with pain, she must go and get the stray cow! In the pouring rain! She faints! In the rain! (We debated the likelihood of death by hypothermia by this point.) Meanwhile, the rest of the family has gone off somewhere to party. (I am not making this up.) We cut back to Ma! She is in hideous pain! She wakes up and drags herself inside, bolting the door in case ruffians come to take advantage of her weakened state to come and steal the Bibles. (Known as the Anti-Gideons, this gang was a serious nuisance to the settlers.) While she lies semi-unconscious on the floor, now suffering from blood poisoning, exposure, and cow-related exhaustion, the preacher comes and takes her pies. (This is not a euphemism.) But she is too weak to call for help! The horror! The humanity!

By about forty minutes in, we are staring at this muted screen in dumb astonishment, sushi forgotten, as they cut between happy cavorting Michael Landon and Ma crawling around the cabin floor, dragging a hideously made-up infected leg around, reading her Bible in moments of lucidity. (No shit, it was like Requiem for Dream, Pioneer-Style.)  As Pa and the children dance through sun-dappled water, Ma begins to obsess over the phrase “if thy foot offends thee, cut it off.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” said Kevin, at some point in this sequence.

“Well, if it’s that badly infected…”

“On 70’s TV?”

“I don’t remember this from the books…Ooh! Pigs!”

“Maybe one of the pigs could bite it off!”

“They’d do it.”

“Is it just me, or have the last five minutes been Ma hallucinating and a man trying to get Laura to kiss a piglet?”

Ma proceeds to make a tourniquet, tie it crosswise with a wooden spoon—“Good god!” “Well, yeah, that’d be the thing to do…”—heat a very large knife—“She can’t get through the bone with that! She’d be better off with something they use to butcher hogs!”

“Maybe the hatchet they use for firewood?”

“What is this, a Saw prequel?”

“Seriously, I am SURE this was not in the books…”

At the last minute, Pa stops frolicking and is seized with a Lassie-like sense that Ma is in trouble (or possible the preacher, stuffed with ill-gotten pie, mentioned that she wasn’t answering the door) and runs in, finding her unconscious on the floor. There is a final shot of her in bed, and people talking, but as they were muted, we had to supply our own dialog. “Dude. Your wife tried to cut her leg off. That is not cool.” “I’m sorry I took your pies. Perhaps next time I should knock.” “What does this teach us about folk medicine?”

It ended. Small children ran through flower-spangled grass.




As the final shot does not show her leg or whether she’d actually managed to hack it off, and she spent the rest of the episode in bed, we were forced to go to the internet to discover that Ma only managed to slice into her leg far enough to lance the infection, thereby saving her life or something like that. (I knew it. I would have totally remembered if Ma had a peg-leg for the rest of the show. That woulda been a plot point, damnit.) The implication was that her obsessive reading of the Bible, by advising her to amputate, had saved her life in some fashion, given the somewhat heavy-handed Christian morality of the show, but the real takeaway appeared to be that Ma was ready to saw her own leg off, using only a carving knife and a wooden spoon. Damn the torpedoes! The butter won’t churn itself!

We came away wondering if this was typical of the show or if we’d just somehow gotten the one “Alfred Hitchcock presents…Laura Ingalls Wilder!” episode.  I mean…dude. Little House on the Prairie. Who knew?

2 thoughts on “Ma Was Hardcore

  1. Anita K. says:

    You are 100% correct; that was NOT in the books. (I should know. I had a random urge to reread them all this spring.)

    And the TV show kinda frequently has that sort of WTFery going on, and has pretty much nothing to do with the books or with her actual life… Though now I kinda want to see if I can find this episode online…

  2. Meghan says:

    I think what I find even more disturbing about this post, beyond the episode that was described is the weird sense of deja vu I was experiencing as I read it. This is one of the few episodes of Little House that I remember ever seeing and I only saw part of it, and mainly remembered the bit where she was focusing on the “if thy foot offends thee” and was prepping her leg to chop off! I never saw how it turned out and it has been the main thing I’ve thought of when I thought of that show.

    It’s good to finally have some closure. It’s still rather horrifying. Given the number of times I read the books, I had a lot of trouble with the show because every time I tried to watch an episode, my brain would start raging “but this wasn’t in the books!”…then again, maybe the books would have been more interesting in the long run if they had included things like this.

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