Monday, March 14, 2016

And now for Almanzo!

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
By far my favorite book in this series! At least at this point!
I was such a tomboy as a child, and I could relate so well to Almanzo!
I was raised on a farm and ALWAYS LOVED working with animals!
We start in the year 1866 in northern New York state...
Awww...this just makes me is so idyllic!
The cover on my copy.

While as an adult I have performed all the tasks associated with raising a family and caring for a home, honestly, I always loved being active on my grandmother's farm, especially with regard to activities thought to be more appropriate for "males" than "females"! Perhaps this is one reason I much preferred living in the country, raising a HUGE garden, preserving our own food as much as possible, and exposing my sons to raising livestock, as opposed to working outside the home and living "in town." I wouldn't trade those first 13 years of my first marriage for anything! It was during this time that I learned more about nature, human and otherwise, than in any other period of my life! It was an amazing time for me in so many ways...

Particularly, as a 'displaced teacher,' I was appalled by the teenage bullies, "the Hardscrabble Boys," who were allowed to physically attack the schoolteachers and run them out. 
  They boasted that no teacher could finish the winter term in that school, 
and no teacher ever had. (5)
As I read this, I said aloud to myself, "Really?!? Are you kidding me?!?" But, no, it was no joke, it was the truth! make matters even worse (at least in my opinion), their fathers were fine with this behavior--even proud of their sons! All the younger children were so worried for Mr. Corse who was gentle and patient and in no way "big enough to fight them." One day all the boys were late in returning from lunch-time recess, but Mr. Corse said,
  "I will overlook your tardiness this one time. But do not let it happen again."
  Everybody knew the big boys would be tardy again. Mr. Corse could not punish them 
because they could thrash him, and that was what they meant to do. (12)
It just so happened that Mr. Corse was staying with Wilder family during this time. (Teachers were on a rotating schedule to board with the various families whose children attended school; there was no separate housing provided for a teacher.) Almanzo's father spoke of them to Mr. Corse,
  "They have driven out two teachers."..."
Last year they hurt Jonas Lane so bad he died of it later." 
  "I know,...Jonas Lane and I went to school together. He was my friend." (29)
Reading this passage caused me to yell out loud, "Oh. My. Goodness! They were allowed to murder a teacher and no one cared?!?" Then I realized that Mr. Corse evidently came prepared, since he was well aware of last year's murder, for it was exactly that! And had he! As Almanzo later learned, his father was responsible for the teacher's ability to handle these bullies! Almanzo was both surprised and proud that his father had been so smart! And the relief! I felt so sorry for Almanzo being so scared for his teacher! I could see how he would use these same skills to become such a kind and caring father to his own children in adulthood.
As you can see from these cover images, one of the big stories in the book described Almanzo training the two calves, Star and Bright. 
One snowy morning Almanzo's father reminds him today is his birthday...
he is 9 years old! But he had forgotten! 
That made me think about the huge ordeals most of us make 
over our children's birthdays now... 
  "There's something for you in the woodshed," Father said. (49)
According to his Mother, he couldn't leave his seat until he had eaten his breakfast, however. 
  Then he ate as fast as he could, and she said: "Don't take such big mouthfuls." 
  Mothers always fuss about the way you eat. You can hardly eat any way that pleases them. (50)
It must seem that way to children at times. When we really just want them to be safe--no choking, etc.--if at all possible! I couldn't help thinking it might have been better for his father to give him this news once he had finished eating breakfast, but I suspect his father was just about as excited as he was. :) Father had crafted a little calf yoke so he could 'break' Star and Bright, the two young oxen. It was amazing to read the details of this process. Although Almanzo fashioned his own whip to use while training them,
He never whipped them; he only cracked the whip. 
  He knew you could never teach an animal anything if you struck it, or even shouted at it angrily. He must always be gentle, and quiet, and patient, even when they made mistakes. 
Star and Bright must like him and trust him and know he would never hurt them, for if they were once afraid of him they would never be good, willing, hard-working oxen. (98-99)
And now we know why his father's horses were "the best" in all the region... He obviously knew how to treat his animals and had taught his son the same. Though it seemed like Almanzo was always a really good kid, even he could sometimes do the wrong thing. It was great to see his father handle it well and not get angry with his son; he just made sure the boy had learned his lesson. One thing Almanzo wants more than anything is to break one of the colts, but his father insists he is too young and inexperienced. His older brother, Royal, is the only one allowed to be with the colts. This is a constant frustration for Almanzo. We discover he even eats just as much as he can at every meal thinking it will make him grow faster so he can work with the colts sooner! 

Both Royal and Almanzo get to skip school to help with the ice cutting. This was such an arduous process! So much heavy work! And dangerous! One slip and you could be in that ice-cold water and under the ice in no time with no one able to rescue you! Almanzo almost was! Those close enough to him were able to grab him as he was falling and keep him safe on the ice. Needless to say, Father was not happy! Though he chose not to whip Almanzo, made it clear the boy was to stay well away from the edge, which he did from them on...with no complaints! Then there was butchering. For the hogs:

The hams and shoulders they slid carefully into barrels of brown pork-pickle , which Mother had made of salt, maple sugar, saltpeter and water, boiled together. 
Pork-pickle had a stinging smell that felt like a sneeze. (280)
And yes, that was me...laughing yet again! The mention of saltpeter made me search the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It is a naturally existing white powder found in some soils--used as a fertilizer, in medicine, and to make gunpowder! It is this last item that I remembered having learned long ago. And yet it could also be used in a brine to preserve meat? That is one very versatile substance! :)

I loved the scene where their cousin Frank was bragging and showing off his brand new "store-boughten cap"! This cap had ear-flaps that would button up on top of the cap when not in use. Almanzo wanted one. 

  Royal said it was a silly cap. He said to Frank, 
"What's the sense of ear-flaps that button over the top? Nobody has ears on top of his head." 
So Almanzo knew that Royal wanted a cap like that, too. (91-92)
I laughed out loud at this! So true, isn't it? Many times when kids make fun of something you have, it is the result of envy. :)

Sundays would have been torturous for me. Go to church, sit for hours without squirming or doing anything but sitting still and then the rest of the day only talking quietly and not being able to really DO anything! Yikes! Resting is one thing, but when you're a want to get up and go! :) At least I did! And the joy that Almanzo got from rainy days when he and his father went fishing! Those were joyous times for him and they seemed to be good at it! But they had to wait until it rained, otherwise, there was always work to be done! 

Sheep shearing! I actually helped my uncle on several different occasions with shearing sheep. Well...we didn't do the shearing, other people came to do that, but we had to herd the sheep and run them into the pens, etc. (Told you I loved this book with all the farm animal stuff!) I never will forget the trouble my uncle had with the ram! He was mean and fully determined NOT to do what you wanted him to do! Period! I was grateful to be young and lithe and able to avoid his head-butts! (Basically, I worked at staying out of his way altogether! To say I had a healthy respect for him was a drastic understatement!) These sheep were particularly difficult to shear...

Their long shears snipped through the thick wool like lightning; 
they cut close to the sheep, but never cut its pink skin. 
This was a hard thing to do, because Father's sheep were prize Merinos. 
Merinos have the finest wool, but their skin lies in deep wrinkles, 
and it is hard to get all the wool without cutting them. (158)
I had no idea of this fact! Amazing, isn't it? It seems the 'better' things are always harder to get, doesn't it? Reading of Almanzo's little break in his trips with the wool bundles as he tracked the mama cat back to her kittens brought back memories of discovering nests of baby mice and kittens in the haymow of my grandmother's barn when I was young! Though I wasn't shirking responsibility as was Almanzo! 

Father describes the settlement of the U.S. to Almanzo:
  "...we were farmers, son; we wanted the land. It was farmers that went over the mountains, and cleared the land, and settled it, and farmed it, and hung on to the farms.
This country goes three thousand miles west, now. It goes 'way out beyond Kansas, 
and beyond the Great American Desert, over mountains bigger than these mountains, 
and down to the Pacific Ocean. It's the biggest country in the world, and it was farmers who took all that country and made it America, son. Don't you ever forget that." (189)
I have always said farming is not 'a job,' but a lifestyle. I miss it. Father is obviously a fierce defender of farming and what he says is true, settlement further west was initiated by farmers first, and as we have learned in the first two books, it was very hard work and could be very lonely...and dangerous to be one of those settlers!

I have raised pumpkins but never heard of a "milk-fed pumpkin" before now! I did know that if you wanted a larger end product, you simply plucked blooms, forcing the plant to concentrate its growing energy on fewer pumpkins or tomatoes or whatever, thereby making them larger though fewer of them. But feeding a pumpkin milk? That was news to me! I could relate to Almanzo's anxiety as the judges considered the pumpkins at the annual fair! I was very glad for him winning with his pumpkin! What a thrill! 

I admit to cringing when I realized their parents were leaving Royal, Eliza Jane, Alice, and Almanzo in charge of the farm for a whole week while they visited relatives. They eat virtually all the store-bought white sugar and rather than keeping up with the daily chores, let it all go until the day before their parents are due to return. Almanzo's temper gets the best of him and he ends up throwing the blacking-brush at Eliza Jane, misses her, and splatters a nice black patch on Mother's sitting room wallpaper. He agonizes for two whole days once his parents return, awaiting their discovery of the damage. When visitors arrive that second evening he is panic-stricken, though at the same time anxious for the dread to be over and done. What he didn't know was that Eliza Jane had secretly patched the wallpaper so that none of the "black spotch" was visible. Almonzo apologizes to Eliza Jane for getting angry, and she states, 
"I guess I was aggravating,...but I didn't mean to be. You're the only little brother I've got."
Almanzo had never known before how much he liked Eliza Jane.
They never never told about the black splotch on the parlor wall, and Mother never knew. (227)

And then the time came when his three siblings were sent off to school and he became the only child left at home. Father immediately started letting him do more. They made a bobsled so he could haul wood from the timber using Star and Bright to pull the loads. He put many hours in helping reload logs and turning the sled upright, digging the steers out of the deep snow when they got off the road, and encouraging them to reenter the road and keep on trudging. But eventually they all three learned to work together. Almanzo was made to return to school, mainly to learn arithmetic and he studied hard.

I found it so heartwarming that Almanzo's parents were disappointed that Royal, the oldest son had no interest in farming, and were hopeful that Almanzo would...but then the wheelwright offered an apprenticeship to Almanzo, they feared he would want to pursue that as a career instead. I was glad to see that his parents were evidently more liberal-minded than many and rather than force Almanzo to do their bidding, they allowed him to make the choice. Though they were quite pleased that he was determined to keep on farming...and then he received the biggest reward of all. Instead of letting Almanzo purchase a colt with the money he had put in the bank, Father just gave him Starlight, the colt he had wanted all along. 

When the liveryman told father Almanzo was smart, Father replied,
  "Time will show...Many a good beginning makes a bad ending. 
It remains to be seen how he turns out in the long run." (351)
Although it seemed a bit hard-hearted, there is some truth to it...and I feel Almonzo turned out to be a very good man. Would you agree?

Which book is your favorite of this series?
Mine is Farmer Boy so far...we'll see if that changes.


  1. I have fond memories of Farmer Boy, although I also found the school situation a little horrifying. One of the things I loved about it was the food - so many delicious descriptions of the food his mother made!
    When I was reading this series out loud to my kids, this is the only one they didn't want to listen to. Funny, right? I don't think we ever went back to it, either.

    1. That is funny, isn't it? But just because you contributed to their DNA configuration I guess that doesn't mean you will like reading the same things, huh. :) My oldest son wasn't thrilled with high school, but absolutely adores Shakespeare and Homer...go figure! I love reading, etc., but I only read those because I had to! :)

  2. Do you know, I haven't started reading this, yet (but I was waiting to finish two other books today, and then I will begin Farmer Boy). However, reading your post brings back all of these memories, and I cannot wait to read them again. Some were great life lessons and others were hysterical. I especially love the farming quote. It's one of my favorites!

    1. Oh, yes! I'm so anxious for others to post reviews so I can read them! Glad to hear you you're anxious for the reread! Agreed about the farming! Really, I liked this book so much better than the first two. Can't wait to see how the others in the series strike me!

  3. Thanks for your review! You've picked out some of my favorite parts in the book too. I love the ending and Almanzo's sweet desire to be just like his father and be a farmer. The book got a bit long for me at the end but I really enjoyed it.

    1. There were so many parts of this book that I adored! I always get a kick out of it when children want to be just like their parents, well...if their parents are decent people and coping well. :) So glad you have posted your review! Can't wait to read it after work this evening! Glad you ended up really enjoying it!