Hi! I'm Lynn and this is a forum to share my interpretations of books read, music discovered, or to comment on life in general. It is my hope those who visit will leave comments to create a true discussion. I don't summarize books, but rather, I provide my personal reactions to what I've read and how it connects to my life and/or me personally. (The title always links to a synopsis.) Join the Little House Read-Along in 2016!! Details below!
What a marvelous re-entry to the reading and blogging world
after an almost 3-week-long hiatus due to work!
No, this was not a self-imposed absence, but necessary, since I am old! :)
I've worked 55-60 hours each of the past 3 weeks and am so tired...
physically...and of this job!! I am hopeful that I will have a different job soon!
My apologies for being such a pitiful Read-Along cohost this month!
But back to this gorgeous little book!
I know I've said this every time during this Little House Read-Along (#LittleHouseRAL),
but, really, I think this may be my favorite of the series! Be sure to check out everyone else's reviews on the Little House Read-Along page! The consensus seems to be that this one ranks as most everyone's favorite in the series!
Laura begins teaching at the age of 15! Wow! That's young, especially when you stand only 4 feet 11 inches tall! And...you're a female! I adored the advice Pa gave her as they drove the 12 miles to the Brewster's who lived 1/2 mile from the schoolhouse where she would teach for 2 months. In reminding Laura of the time she got all the wood hauled into the house by herself on Plum Creek when he and Ma had gone to town and a blizzard had hit:
"That's the way to tackle things!" Pa said.
"Have confidence in yourself and you can lick anything.
You have confidence in yourself, that's the only way to make other folks have confidence in you."
He paused, and then said, "One thing you must guard against."
"What, Pa?" Laura asked.
"You are so quick, Flutterbudget! You are apt to act or speak first, and think afterward.
Now you must do your thinking first and speak afterward.
If you will remember to do that, then you will not have any trouble."
"I will, Pa," Laura said earnestly. (3-4)
I could so appreciate this advice; I wish someone had said the exact same thing to me when I was younger...it took many years for me to learn this lesson! :) And as usual, Laura does not forget Pa's well-meaning and timely advice; his words echo in her mind many times over these next weeks... Staying with the Brewster's demonstrated a whole new world to Laura, one in which people did not treat each other respectfully, a mother who did not properly care for her child, and eventually she is exposed to a psychotic episode in the middle of the night. This was so scary for Laura! But as she noted at the end of only her first day of school,
I have only to get through one day at a time...
It was hard to stay where she was not wanted. She took care to make no work for Mrs. Brewster, and to help her all she could. [The second morning] politely she said,
"Good morning," and smiled, but she could not keep on smiling.
She had not known before that it takes two to make a smile. (2)
I loved Laura's maturity at this realization! It does indeed take two to make a smile continue, doesn't it? You can seemingly only keep it going for a bit if the other person does not respond in kind.
But Laura does have an unexpected surprise at school on that first Friday afternoon...when she hears sleigh bells and sees Prince and Lady pass by the school's window. As she closes and locks the front door, none other than Almanzo is waiting for her in the brand new cutter he made! I am convinced Almanzo was well aware of at least some of the problems Laura may encounter staying with the Brewster's and was determined to rescue her each weekend he could. I loved him for that. I had to chuckle at Laura's joy being home for the weekend and her realization on that Saturday morning:
She had quite forgotten that she had ever disliked the town.
It was bright and brisk this morning. Sunlight glinted on the icy ruts of snow
in the street and sparkled on the frosty edges of the board sidewalk. (37)
I rather believe that if they had still been living on the claim, she would have waxed just as romantically about that, too. It was being home that made the most difference to her, in my opinion. :) And understandably so. So much better than being stuck at the Brewster's!
With only three more weeks to teach, Laura finally decided to "stop shilly-shallying" and admit the truth to Almanzo. As they near the Brewster's she tells him,
"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." (62)
Though I felt they really took too much of a chance the very next weekend that it was 40 degrees below zero! They had to stop every little bit to clear the horse's noses and mouths so they wouldn't freeze, and I was fearful Laura would be frostbitten before they made the 12-mile trek. But they did make it, and Laura literally had to thaw out in front of the stove when she finally arrived home. Everyone was safe in the end, Laura, Almanzo, Prince, and Lady! YAY!! I breathed a huge sigh of relief! Almanzo later admitted to Laura that if not for Cap Garland's off-hand comment that "God hates a coward," while Almanzo was looking at the thermometer just before he left town to come for her on that Friday afternoon, he might not have risked the trip. Laura asks him, "So you came because you wouldn't take a dare?" Almanzo replies, "No, it wasn't a dare. I just figured he was right." :) And that sweet Alamanzo, even after Laura's declaration of not going with him any more, he still perseveres to transport her every weekend. That man is a saint! And Laura surprises herself by 'forgetting' this declaration and sleigh-riding with him as all the other couples are doing so throughout town, up and down main street!
I loved how Almanzo got jealous of "the man" Laura "was talking with" when he picked her up to go riding with Mary Power and Cap, come springtime. How sweet! He really cares for her! I will say...Laura was never idle! Even if she was teaching throughout the week, she would still go into town and work all day hand-sewing each Saturday. She was a hard worker! Then she takes a "job" as a companion to a woman and her daughter as they live out on the claim while the husband/father works in town to make money so they can eat and survive. It was eye-opening to hear this wife cite the unfairness of the law requiring someone to live on the claim for seven years before the land becomes their own. I hadn't before considered the hardship this might place on the women/families. Laura's Pa was lucky enough to be close to town and able to walk or ride back and forth easily enough to do carpentry work when he wasn't busy working the farm in summertime. Other men had to go away to work during the summertime, too.
Pa has already got the "itch" to relocate, but Ma is determined they are "settled" and he admits he does want to stay to prove the homestead claim. Though Laura recognizes this impatient look in his eye and thinks to herself that she is the same, not wanting to be "shut up in a schoolroom," but determined to teach to make money. It is during her second teaching stint (at a school very close to home, this time) that Pa comes up with a plan to purchase an organ and have it at home for Mary to play over the summer when she is out of school. They are all thrilled with this surprise...then Mary sends a letter stating that she wants to spend her summer with a friend from school at her house. Though it is a shock, especially to Ma and Laura, they all manage to accept it and are glad Mary has this opportunity. Laura is all dressed up in her newest dress and "poke bonnet" and Carrie says,
"When I'm a young lady, I'm going to earn me a dress just exactly like that."
"Likely you'll have a prettier one," Laura answered quickly, but she was startled.
She had not thought that she was a young lady. Of course she was,
with her hair done up and her skirts almost touching the ground.
She was not sure she liked being a young lady. (164)
Aha! New territory, this "young lady" stuff, isn't it? :) Fortunately, once they were home from church that Sunday, she didn't change out of her brand-new dress, as usual. Of course, after describing all the underclothing and underskirts she had to put on, I wouldn't change either! Geeminy! It must have taken forever to get all that clothing on and properly aligned! Soon she saw a buggy come trotting toward the house, pulled by the two colts she had helped break behind the cutter that winter! But when Almanzo placed his arm along the back of the buggy seat and didn't move it when she shrugged, she gently shook the buggy whip, just enough to spook the colts who then broke into a run. "You little devil," Almanzo exclaimed! Almanzo is learning the hard way just how independent Laura is! I had to laugh at Almanzo's comment as they are returning home from this first ride in the new buggy:
"This country is settling up fast," Almanzo said as they turned west
along the shore of Silver Lake and so toward Pa's claim.
"We have driven only forty miles and we must have seen as many as six houses." (169)
Oh, my, that sounds even worse than me. Most of my life I have lived in the country with the nearest neighbor 1/4-1/2 mile away. And I admit I much prefer it that way. Living in town is not my cuppa tea, so to speak! Laura has even more adventures with horses and colts in her future with Alamanzo. He registers them for "singing school" in De Smet and has her handle the horses and wagon while he waits to jump in. She has to circle the school many times before he can get the timing just right to hop in and she is rather exhausted from handling the horses all that while, though she settles in and enjoys it. At one point she is driving as they go through town on the Fourth of July and everyone is just staring at her!
Laura gets another teaching job, for three months this time and is able to stay with her friend, Florence, during the week. Since Florence didn't pass the teacher certification test but knew Laura had, she suggested her father hire Laura to teach at his new school.
"Thank you, Florence, so much!"
"Well, you have always been so nice to me, I am glad of a chance to pay some of it back,"
Florence told her.
Laura remembered what Ma had said about luck, and she thought to herself:
"I believe we make most of our luck without intending to."
On one of their long rides, Laura sang Alamanzo's favorite song for him, then she said...
"I've sung for you, now I'll give you a penny for your thoughts."
"I was wondering..." Almanzo paused. Then he picked up Laura's hand that shone white in the starlight, and his sun-browned hand closed gently over it. He had never done that before.
"Your hand is so small," he said. Another pause.
Then quickly, "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. (214)
The next Sunday Alamanzo arrived later than usual. They went to Lake Henry and ate of the frosted wild grapes.
As they drove home the sun went down in a flaming western sky.
Twilight settled over the prairie, and the evening wind blew softly through the buggy.
Then driving with one hand, with the other Almanzo lifted Laura's,
and she felt something cool slip over her first finger while he reminded her,
"You said it would depend on the ring. How do you like this one?"
Laura held her hand up to the first light of the new moon.
The gold of the ring and its flat oval set shone in the faint moon radiance.
Three small stones set in the golden oval glimmered.
"The set is a garnet with a pearl on each side," Almanzo told her.
"It is a beautiful ring," Laura said. "I think...I would like to have it."
"Then leave it on. It is yours and next summer I will build a little house
in the grove on the tree claim. It will have to be a little house. Do you mind?"
"I have always lived in little houses. I like them," Laura answered.
They stand by the wagon and listen as Pa sings and plays the fiddle.
Then Laura held up her face in the faint moonlight. "You may kiss me good night," she said,
and after their first kiss she went into the house while Almanzo drove away.
Pa laid down his fiddle when Laura came in.
He looked at her hand where the ring sparkled in the lamplight.
"I see it is settled," he said. "Almanzo was talking to me yesterday and I guess it's all right."
"If only you are sure, Laura," Ma said gently.
"Sometimes I think it is the horses you care for, more than their master."
"I couldn't have one without the other," Laura answered shakily.
Then Ma smiled at her, Pa cleared his throat gruffly
and Laura knew they understood what she was too shy to say. (216)
Awww...I just had to quote this whole passage. So very very sweet!
As Laura leaves the school building on that last day of school in March, she learns that she would have graduated had a ceremony been held and is glad of it. She shakes hands with Mr. Owen and as she descends the stairs thinks to herself,
"The last time always seems sad, but it isn't really.
The end of one thing is only the beginning of another."
So true, isn't it? And as they travel toward her new schoolhouse, she and Almanzo talk of their own new beginning in a year's time.
Once Laura has finished her teaching stint, she and Ma work on purchasing material and sewing sheets and pillow cases, and new clothing for Laura. Pa surprises them with a brand new sewing machine. Since he is building a herd, he had to sell a cow since he had no more room, and purchased this newfangled modern machine! It proves to be not a moment too soon! Almanzo leaves in the fall with his brother, Royal, to return to Minnesota to help their family. Laura expects him to be gone all winter, but suddenly, on Christmas Eve, as Pa is singing a song,
"Come in! Come in! Come..."
Someone knocked at the door. Pa nodded to Laura
to go to the door, while he ended the song.
"Come in and shut the door!"
A gust of wind swirled snow into the room when Laura opened the door; it blinded her for a moment and
when she could see she could not believe her eyes.
The wind swirled snow around Almanzo as, speechless,
she stood holding the door open. (229)
She could not believe it was him! But he decided he did not want to stay away so long after all. Awww...I guess he was missing her just as much as she was missing him! He brought oranges for everyone and a gold pin for Laura. As she and Carrie go to bed that night, Carrie says,
"Isn't this the nicest Christmas! Do Christmases get better all the time?"
"Yes," Laura said. "They do." (231)
That spring tornadoes hit and Laura and Almanzo are out in the buggy when they just escape a funnel cloud from which 2 and 3 "fingers" are dropping down periodically toward the ground. And although for many readers, I'm sure the resulting story of two boys and their two mules being picked up and blown away might seem impossible, it is not. One boy was flung to the ground a mile away from where he was lifted into the sky, naked, but basically unharmed, while the two mules and his brother were discovered in a different location, dead, all their bones broken. Having lived through the tornadoes of 1974 in the middle of Indiana, I can attest to such strange happenings. During that time, a family was safe in their bathtub, though as they stood up in the aftermath, their house was totally gone--only the bathtub remained. Meanwhile cattle were moved miles away from their own farm, some alive and some dead. Teachers at one of the elementary schools in the country were literally holding a door to a classroom where all the students were gathered, heads down, sitting on the floor and once the tornado had passed, the door just fell down to the ground, though everyone was safe! While in Indianapolis in the 1920's , my grandmother once saw a chicken driven into a tree trunk, beak first! Things happen that are definitely 'stranger than fiction' during tornadoes!
"It's a queer country out here," Pa said. "Strange things happen."
"Yes, said Ma. "I'm thankful that so far they don't happen to us." (258)
Laura and Ma put the sewing machine to good use as they make her a new black dress of the finest cashmere and they plan her wedding dress. I had to chuckle at this conversation:
"I have an idea for making the sheets," said Laura.
"I'm not going to sew those long seams down the middle with over-and-over stitch by hand. If I lap the edges flat and sew with the machine down the center, I do believe they'll be smooth enough and even more serviceable."
"It may well be," said Ma. "Our grandmothers would turn in their graves, but after all, these are modern times." (265)
Hah! Modern times, eh? Well, it was a "modern" idea for their time, wasn't it?
Then Almanzo shows up unexpectedly, on a TUESDAY! His sister and mother are planning to come out and "take over" his wedding to Laura. They want a big church wedding that Almanzo feels he cannot afford and Laura knows her own father could not afford, so the only way he can see to avoid this whole scene is for them to marry NOW. By NOW he means later in the week or early the next week. So, although Laura will not officially have a "wedding dress," she will have a new one of black cashmere, and she and Ma work feverishly to complete all the necessary sewing. Pa brings a new trunk from town and all her things are packed and ready for Almanzo to pick up the following Wednesday and that Thursday morning they go to Reverend Brown's to be married, but not before Laura speaks up...
...she summoned all her courage and said,
"Almanzo, I must ask you something. Do you want me to promise to obey you?"
Soberly he answered, "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, nor any decent man that wanted her to."
"Well, I am not going to say I will obey you," said Laura. (269)
Laura goes on to say that while she doesn't want to vote, she will not make a promise she cannot keep. Almanzo reassures her that Reverend Brown is related to the John Brown of Kansas and has removed "obey" from the wedding vows anyway. :) Laura is both surprised and relieved.
As Almanzo prepares to leave with all Laura's things the day before their wedding, Pa had a final surprise for them!
...he came around the corner of the house, leading Laura's
favorite young cow. She was fawn-colored all over and gentle. Quietly Pa tied her behind the wagon, then threw her picket rope into the wagon as he said, "Her picket rope goes with her."
"Oh, Pa!" Laura cried. "Do you really mean
I may take Fawn with me?"
"That is exactly what I do mean!" Pa said.
"Be a pity if you couldn't have one calf out of all you have helped to raise."
Laura could not speak, but she gave Pa a look that thanked him.
"You think it is safe to tie her behind those horses?" Ma asked... (275)
Ha! Ha! Poor Ma! She never did quite trust those horses of Almanzo's! :)
To celebrate her last night at home, Pa played whatever she wanted to hear on his fiddle and sang for her. She could not believe that she would leave home forever tomorrow morning, never to return to it as her "home" again. But that next day, as she and Almanzo settle in, she realizes that evening that she was close enough to always go home if she wanted to, and that this was now her home, and she was happy.
"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... (289)
Golden years are passing by,
Happy, happy golden years,
Passing on the wings of time,
These happy golden years.
Call them back as they go by,
Sweet their memories are,
Oh, improve them as they fly,
These happy golden years.
Laura's heart ached as the music floated away and was gone in the spring night under the stars. (156)
Ah, be still my heart!
This is one of the sweetest books and love stories I've read in a very long time...
If you've not yet read this series, I would encourage you to do so.