Wednesday, August 17, 2016

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

These Happy Golden Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1943

[My Little House posts are super long with lots of spoilers.  I cannot simply write a review; I have to relive each book.]

A friend looked at my bookshelves and asked me the dreaded question: "If you had to save one book from a fire, which book would you grab first?"  (And as I write this, there is a fast moving wildfire twelve miles from my house that we are monitoring.)

It's fire season in California

I automatically said my Bible.  She said, "Of course!" But of these books, which would you grab; and I said instantly, "My  Little House series."  And if I had to narrow it down, I would save These Happy Golden Years.  Yes, this is my absolute all-time favorite of all the Little House books.  This book fills me with such joy and happiness; I want to jump into Laura's shoes.

These Happy Golden Years opened with Laura starting her first teaching job.  (Reminder: she's fifteen.) Naturally, she doubted her abilities, but Pa said, "Success gets to be a habit, like anything else a fellow keeps on doing."  His advice was to think first, then speak and act afterward.

Laura's first day of school

She was to board at the Brewster's shanty, twelve miles away, for eight weeks.  That's a long sleepover for someone who has never been away from home before.  The worst part, however, was that "Mrs. Brewster was so unpleasant, Laura could hardly swallow (her dinner)." Laura referred to the Brewster's house as "horrid."  She discovered later that Mrs. Brewster was miserable because she hated living in the West.  At least Laura would be at school all day, five days a week; but then it hit her that she would be stuck at the Brewster's all weekend.  She would not be able to go home.  What a nightmare!

But that Friday afternoon, to Laura's surprise, Almanzo Wilder arrived in his sleigh to take Laura home for the weekend.  He drove twelve miles in freezing, icy wind and snow for her.  He also looked at the Brewster shanty in disgust.  (He hated Laura staying there.)  When Laura arrived home, she said she was so happy, "her throat ached.  She could hardly go to sleep."  Home was so happy, she wanted to stay there forever.

Almanzo drove Laura back to the Brewster's for week two, which was Laura's worst school week ever.  She could not manage her students.  Then she remembered how Miss Wilder must have felt when her classroom was out of control.  At the end of class on Friday, Almanzo took Laura home, and Laura had a long talk with her parents about her school.  Pa did his everybody's-free-you know-like-it-says-in-the-Declaration-of-Independence spiel, again.  He also added: 
1.) be patient, 
2.) see things [Clarence's] way, 
and 3.) don't force him.  
Ma shared: give way; don't pay attention to bad behavior; be pleasant and nice; and be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove.  After Laura returned to school for week three, she applied her parents' advice, and it was a success. 

Every weekend Almanzo brought Laura home and back again to the Brewster's.  During one drive, Laura blurted out,
I am going with you only because I want to get home.  When I am home to stay, I will not go with you any more.  So now you know, and if you want to save yourself these long, cold drives, you can.
Yikes!  She could have kicked herself because she realized too late that it could mean being stuck another three weekends at the Brewster's.  In fact, that very week, in the middle of the night, Mrs. Brewster turned into Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction and threatened her husband with a knife.  Gratefully, Almanzo came for Laura on Friday, after all.  When she thanked him for coming, he replied, "No need for thanks.  You knew I would."  She answered, "Why, no, I didn't."  And he said, 
What do you take me for?  Do you think I'm the kind of a fellow that'd leave you out there at Brewster's when you're so homesick, just because there's nothing in it for me?
Let that sink in.

Laura completed her time at Brewster's, and Almanzo took her home on the last day.  That was supposed to be the last ride.  But Laura saw the young people sleigh riding up and down Main Street, and she thought she had been forgotten, until she heard the familiar sleigh bells of Prince and Lady. Almanzo invited her to go riding.  Laura was a sucker for beautiful horses, and she instantly changed her mind about "going with" Almanzo.

Meanwhile, Laura continued her education during the week and found other jobs to do on Saturdays in town, to continue earning money.  Every Sunday after church, she enjoyed the sleigh rides behind Prince and Lady.

One week, Laura's Uncle Tom visited the Ingalls family.  On that Sunday, Almanzo came to pick up Laura for a sleigh ride.  He was quiet for awhile, until he asked Laura whom "that young man was." Imagine that: Almanzo jealous!

Laura stayed several weeks with Mrs. McKee and her young daughter out on a claim shanty because Mrs. McKee was afraid to stay by herself while her husband worked in town. She complained that the man-made law was absurd.  As Laura described it, "The government bets a man a quarter-section of land, that he can't stay on it for five years without starving to death."  Mrs. McKee commented:
Nobody could.  Whoever makes these laws ought to know that a man that's got enough money to farm, has got enough to buy a farm.  If he hasn't got money, he's got to earn it, so why do they make a law that he's got to stay on a claim, when he can't?  All it means is, his wife and family have got to sit idle on it, seven months of the year.  I could be earning something, dressmaking, to help buy tools and seeds, if somebody didn't have to sit on this claim.  I declare to goodness, I don't know but sometimes I believe in women's rights.  If women were voting and making laws, I believe they'd have better sense.  
You can say that again!

Another day Mrs. McKee mentioned Almanzo, but Laura shrugged it off.  Mrs. McKee said, "Don't worry, an old bachelor doesn't pay so much attention to a girl unless he's serious.  You will marry him yet."  This shocked Laura, and she replied, "Oh, no!  No, indeed I won't! I wouldn't leave home to marry anybody."  

Laura liked the prospect of earning money for work.  Pa said, "That's the way it is once you begin to earn."  (It's liberating!)  Laura got another teaching certificate and taught a new school, closer to home, that spring.  She was so excited because she was paid a little more than a dollar a day.

But Laura still had a wandering spirit.  When she looked to the Wessington Hills, sixty miles away, she said, ". . . they make me want to go to them."  Her friend Ida replied, "When you got there they would be just hills . . ."
In a way, that was true; and in another way, it wasn't.  Laura could not say what she meant, but to her the Wessington Hills were more than grassy hills.  Their shadowy outlines drew her with the lure of far places.  They were the essence of a dream.
Walking home in the late afternoon, Laura still thought of the Wessington Hills, how mysterious their vague shadow was against the blue sky, far away across miles after miles of green rolling prairie.  She wanted to travel on and on, over those miles, and see what lay beyond the hills.
That was the way Pa felt about the West, Laura knew.  She knew, too, that like him she must be content to stay where she was, to help with the work at home and teach school. 
Back to reality, Laura continued her Sunday rides with Almanzo in the buggy.  One day he tried to make a move - ok, hardly a move; but he did try to put his arm around her, and she cut it short immediately.  She caused Almanzo's new wild colts to break into a run, and he was forced to put both hands back on the wheel - you know, the lines.  Almanzo concluded, "You're independent, aren't you?"  (He catches on quick.)

Once, Almanzo showed up on a Sunday afternoon with Nellie Olsen in his buggy.  Nellie chatted and giggled incessantly, cozying up to Almanzo.  The next Sunday, Nellie was in the buggy again.  Laura found her annoying, and knew she had to take action.  She sneakily spooked the colts into a run, and Nellie screamed with horror.  Laura thought, She would never try to hold [Almanzo], but no other girl was going to edge her out little by little without his realizing it.

Almanzo told Laura he would be back next Sunday and they would all go again.  Laura said, "We'll not all go.  If you wan to take Nellie for a drive, do so, but do not come by for me.  Good night."  And next Sunday he returned, without Nellie.  (The End.)

My favorite illustration of Manny and Laura

Almanzo bought two more new wild colts to tame, and Laura was brave to ride with him and even to learn to drive them.  He also took her to a new singing school, which was sort of like a date.  During one of those nights, Almanzo picked up Laura's hand and proposed to her, "I was wondering . . . if you would like an engagement ring."
"That would depend on who offered it to me,"  Laura told him.
"If I should?" Almanzo asked.
"Then it would depend on the ring," Laura answered and drew her hand away.
She had her ring next Sunday.  Ma said, "If only you are sure, Laura.  Sometimes I think it is the horses you care for, more than their master."  And Laura answered, "I couldn't have one without the other."

Almanzo had to go away to Minnesota for the winter, and Laura realized that she would miss him. She even felt a little insecure about him seeing old friends and girls he used to know.  (You know the feeling.)  On Christmas Eve he showed up unexpectedly, during a terrible snowstorm, but it was a wonderful reunion.  Almanzo admitted that he did not want to stay away so long.

Mary came home for another visit, and asked, "Do you really want to leave home to marry that Wilder boy?"  Laura contradicted her, "He isn't that Wilder boy anymore, Mary.  He is Almanzo." Mary persisted, "But why do you want to leave home and go with him?"  And Laura replied, "I guess it's because we just seem to belong together."

One day during church, a stray kitten and dog came into the building, and of all people, the kitten found shelter inside Laura's hoop skirt.  It took all Laura had not to break into laughter, and still Mary reproved Laura for violently shaking in silence.  After church, Mary rebuked, "Laura, I am surprised at you.  Will you never learn to behave yourself properly in church?"  And Laura replied, "No, Mary, I never will.  You might as well give me up as a hopeless case."  They all had a good laugh when she shared what actually happened.

Almanzo had urgent news.  His mother and sister were planning a big church wedding; to prevent that from happening, they needed to be married as soon as possible.  So they agreed to a quick wedding immediately.  First, Laura dropped a bomb:
Almanzo, I must ask you something.  Do you want me to promise to obey you?
Of course not.  I know it is in the wedding ceremony, but it is only something that women say.  I never knew one that did it, not any decent man that wanted her to.
Well, I am not going to say I will obey you.
Are you for women's rights, like Eliza?
No.  I do not want to vote.  But I cannot make a promise that I will not keep, and Almanzo, even if I tried, I do not think I could obey anybody against my better judgement.
The night before her wedding, Laura requested Pa play music.  He asked what she wanted to hear, and she answered, "Play for Mary first.  Then play all the old tunes, one after another, as long as you can."

The next morning she and Almanzo were married.  This was such a bittersweet time, saying goodbye to her home and family, to begin a new chapter in her life.  She once thought to herself, The last time always seems sad, but it isn't really.  The end of one thing is only the beginning of another.

When Almanzo and Laura were driving to their new home, as husband and wife, she only then realized that Almanzo had hitched Prince and Lady to the buggy, instead of the wild colts.  She exclaimed, "Why, you are driving Prince and Lady!" Almanzo replied,
Prince and Lady started this.  So I thought they'd like to bring us home.  And here we are.
On the first night in their new home, Laura's heart was full of happiness.   
"It is a wonderful night," Almanzo said.
"It is a beautiful world," Laura answered, and in memory she heard the voice of Pa's fiddle and the echo of a song,
"Golden years are passing by,
These happy, golden years." 

Manny and Laura, 1885


Jillian said...

Gah! Why have I not read these books like I planned this year? SO MUCH going on. I'm loving your posts. These books are so cozy and -- well, pleasant, and right. xx

Ruth said...

The more I read them, the more I find myself thinking, in daily life: How would Ma have handled that? And they are like comfort food, too. : ) You'll find time to read them again.

Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors said...

Oh, I so agree with you, Ruth! As I re-read portions of the book to compose my review I catch myself continuing to read!! I am so glad you reminded me of Almanzo's speech to Laura about not leaving her at the Brewster's even if there was nothing in it for him! I had totally overlooked that and it is so sweet! And I did so love Mrs. McKee's speech! Oh, my! I had forgotten about the kitten and dog in church! That was hilarious! Thank you for reminding me of some of the things I had forgotten! These books are packed full of details that I adore! Thanks so much for linking your review! #LittleHouseRAL

Ruth said...

Oh, sorry, Lynn. I am just now getting around to responding. Thank you for your comment. I've been ridiculously busy. I only just finished The First Four Years, having started it on September 1.

Well, thank you for hosting this Read-Along this year, as I am so happy to have a reason to read through these books again.

Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors said...

I inhales The First Four Years in a few days! Now if I can just post a review! :)