(From the Owosso Argust Press, September 19, 2020
****Just one little clarification – the reporter wrote that Docia’s first husband was an alcoholic – it was her second husband, Hi, who was the drunk!
Setting the record straight
Local author reimagines lesser known character in new book, ‘Docia’s Diary’
OWOSSO — Not everyone who grew up with the TV series “Little House on the Prairie” in the 1970s knows the show was based on a true story about an American pioneering family, but fewer still have heard of author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Aunt Docia.
Docia Ingalls, sister of Charles Ingalls (“Pa” on the TV show), appears briefly in two of the “Little House” books. But if she’s remembered at all, it’s as a woman her niece, Wilder, didn’t particularly care for. Docia was said to be an irritable woman who made her children work too hard.
Enter Elizabeth Fairweather of Owosso, who believes Docia is misunderstood. She decided to set the record straight. Fairweather, an author of several romances, has just released “Docia’s Diary,” a fictional reimagining of the forgotten Ingalls.
“Docia had a hard life, her first husband was an alcoholic who couldn’t hold a job and the family moved constantly,” Fairweather, 51, said. “With everything I found out about this woman, I can’t blame her for being grouchy. As a mother myself, I know how busy I get, and I can kind of sympathize with her.”
Fairweather spent two years researching Docia and the rest of the Ingalls family, and developing a detailed time line, in the process discovering how hard-working and resilient Docia was.
“She was one of those people who got knocked down again and again, and she’d just get herself back up every time,” Fairweather said.
Docia’s first husband, for example, killed a man in self-defense and was imprisoned for years, events that humiliated her in the small town where she lived and left her broke. Needing money to feed her children, she worked as a nurse.
No doubt, Fairweather said, Docia had a strong personality. She was fiercely independent and could rub people the wrong way. But if Docia had flaws, the author said, it’s also true that everyone does.
“I liked her,” Fairweather said of Docia. “All we’ve gotten is one view of this woman. I looked at records and family lore, and came to my own conclusions.”
As Fairweather conducted online research, John Bass, an author and historian known for his encyclopedic knowledge about the Ingalls family, reached out to Fairweather and assisted her in her quest to find Docia’s true voice.
The result was “Docia’s Diary,” about which Bass wrote: “It feels like Docia herself is talking to us!”
Fairweather’s own personal experiences helped her feel closer to Docia. Growing up in Lennon, attending Durand schools and now living in Owosso, she said she knows what it’s like to live in small towns with watchful eyes.
Fairweather’s mother grew up in an orphanage, and always resented her own mother for placing her there. Only after her mother died did Fairweather discover that her grandmother had tried numerous times, unsuccessfully, to get her daughter back.
According to Ingalls family folklore, Docia at one point tried to put her two older children in an orphanage. Fairweather said she believes there’s another side to this story as well. The tale came from Docia’s daughter Lena, and mother and daughter never got along.
A lifelong Shiawassee County resident, Fairweather said she was the kind of child who would hide a novel behind the textbook she was supposed to be reading. She began writing short stories at about age 11.
After high school, she attended Baker College to study business, but said her heart wasn’t in it. She often found herself in the college library, reading for pleasure and writing.
She was in her 20s when she began thinking her work might be publishable, but dealing with the rejection slips that every serious writer receives was difficult.
Then she married Glen Fairweather and put her energy into motherhood.
The couple have three children: Maddie, 18, a freshman at Saginaw Valley State University, and 10-year-old twins, Matthew and Amy.
It was Maddie who inspired Fairweather to dust off her manuscripts and try again. This time around, she opted to self-publish, a decision she doesn’t regret because it gives her complete artistic control.
“With self-publishing, I don’t have to follow a formula,” she said. “I can write my own stories my own way. I’m allowed to be in charge.”
Two romance novels she penned under the name Brigid McMahon are available on Amazon.
“Docia’s Diary” was a departure from the romance genre, and Fairweather said she would like to write novels about other Ingalls family members. Currently, she is researching the lives of Charles Ingalls’ four sisters for a nonfiction book she is planning.
“Docia’s Diary” is now for sale on Amazon.
For more information about Fairweather, visit the author’s website, elizabethfairweatherauthor.com.