Sunday, July 31, 2016

De Smet, Iowa comes into its own as a real town!

by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I love this older cover image to the left!
I can imagine that as Laura walking down the 
ever-growing Main Street in De Smet. 

As I read through this series I keep thinking there will eventually be ONE of these books that really doesn't 
'grab my attention' or resonate with me very well...
But, thankfully, that day never comes! :)
Each book is enthralling and endearing in its own way. 
I am thrilled my grandchildren will have the opportunity 
to read these and won't miss out on them 
as I somehow managed to do as a child! :)

Work has kept me so busy that I've 
not had much time to blog. 
But here is my review of this month's 
Little House Read-Along 2016 installment, just before month's end. 
In case you were unaware, Bex of 
An Armchair by the Sea and myself are cohosting a Little House Read-Along 
this year. You can join in whenever you please...or not. You're welcome to 
peruse all the reviews or 
some of them, etc. 
Whatever works for you! 
We post a link-up introductory posting 
at the beginning of each month and 
then I add links to all the month's reviews at my #littlehouseRAL home pageso you can access everything there
I've even been able to add a couple of reviews that were not necessarily part of this 
read-along (with permission of the bloggers), so it provides much diversity! 

This month's book was just so much fun! It was wonderful to see how Laura did eventually learn to enjoy living in town. Of course, she was now a teenager (a 'grown woman' in her day), and I believe it helped that Nellie Oleson was forced to live in the country, pretty far from town, so she couldn't berate the Ingalls as "country girls" any more! In fact, the opposite was now true! Though the Ingalls only moved to Pa's store in town during the winter. The rest of the time (the growing season) they spent on their claim, raising crops and a garden, and preserving food. So really, they had the best of both worlds.

Pa shocked everyone by asking one evening at supper,
"How would you like to work in town, Laura?" Laura could not say a word. 
Neither could any of the others. They all sat as if they were frozen. 
Grace's blue eyes stared over the rim of her tin cup, Carrie's teeth stayed bitten into 
a slice of bread, and Mary's hand held her fork stopped in the air. 
Ma let tea go pouring from the teapot's spout into Pa's brimming cup. 
Just in time, she quickly set down the teapot. (1)
I did kinda have to laugh at Ma's immediate reaction,
"A job? For a girl? In town?" Ma said. "Why, what kind of a job--" Then quickly she said,
"No, Charles, I won't have Laura working out in a hotel among all kinds of strangers."
"Who said such a thing?" Pa demanded. 
"No girl of ours'll do that, not while I'm alive and kicking." (2)
These books just make me realize all the more how differently society felt about so many things back then compared to now...
"What other kind of work can there be? And Laura not old enough to teach school yet." (2)
Laura only had to be 16 years old and pass an exam to become a certified teacher. (Wow...only 16! And just one test!)
All in the minute before Pa began to explain, Laura thought of the town, 
and of the homestead claim where they were all so happy now in the springtime, 
and she did not want anything changed. She did not want to work in town. (2)
What patience!
After all, they had all just barely survived that horrid long winter of 7 months of blizzards! 

Then we get a description of the springtime thus far and how wonderfully happy Laura (and I think they all were) to get back out on the land. Having 'bucket-fed' calves on my grandmother's farm as a youngster, I could relate to Laura's patience with teaching the young calf how to drink it's milk. (In order to milk the cow, the calf would need to eat by other means...) I realized how much easier I had it! 

And they still had to battle the 'varmints' for their food! Not grasshoppers this time, but the "striped gophers" ate the seed corn as fast as Pa planted it. The blackbird flocks were so huge as to block the sunshine, as they ate the corn right out of the husks! There was always a struggle awaiting these frontier settlers. And as you can imagine, inside the house was just as bad, if not worse! (Remember, there were no plastic containers or bags back then!) There were so many mice that it was quite a coup when Pa managed to bring home a little bitty kitty for them to raise and keep as a mouser! When it was still just a very tiny thing, it managed to "catch" a mouse, which ended up being much more a "cat-and-mouse fight" since the mouse repeatedly bit the little kitty until it finally managed to climb onto the mouse's back and bite into its neck from on top, and properly killed the mouse in the end. Though they had to doctor all the bites the poor little dear had suffered!  Poor little kitty!! :( But it certainly proved its worth--already! And, it's not like you could just go to the store to purchase baby chickens or cats. You had to rely upon others' kindness or purchase them from people you could locate who had extras to sell. Fortunately, Mrs. Broast gave them a very generous start for their chicken flock! 

It turns out that one of the storekeepers in town, Clancy, has opened a dry goods store and has purchased a sewing machine which his wife will run, but they want "a good handy girl to help with the hand sewing." The pay is "twenty-five cents a day and dinner." All Laura can think of is the money she might be able to contribute to Mary's college fund. I guess this is one of the things I appreciate the most about this series...they are all interested in how they can help each other, there is very little selfishness at all among the members of this family, or even amongst the community members. Though to be sure there is some, but they seem to get shut down pretty quickly by the other community members. As with the shopkeeper who was going to charge such outrageous amounts for the wheat that Cap and Almanzo had driven through the blizzard some 40 miles to get, all to prevent the local people from starving during that last winter. Pa and the others talked sense to the man and he quickly changed his mind, realizing he would be relying upon these same people to purchase from him in the spring and summer...and they wouldn't forget (or forgive) his unbridled greed in this, their moment of need. Ma gives her permission and Laura begins walking to town every morning with Pa. That was one of the selling points for Ma, knowing that Laura would not be strictly alone once she was in town. 

We learn through Laura's eyes just how much the town has changed and how it has expanded to be almost unrecognizable to her, just since a few months earlier! It is while at work one day that Laura witnesses two drunk men falling out the door of one saloon, singing and swaying along the street, kicking out screens in shop's front doors as they go, until they finally go through one door into the other saloon in town. She was laughing at their song and actions, but Ma was not amused, as she told everyone at home the story that evening. As Pa says,
"Two saloons in this town are just two saloons too many."
"It's a pity more men don't say the same," said Ma. "I begin to believe that if there isn't a stop put to the liquor traffic, women must bestir themselves and have something to say about it."
Pa twinkled at her, "Seems to me you have plenty to say, Caroline. 
Ma never left me in doubt as to the evil of drink, nor you either." (55)
I was reminded of my own experiences with my first marriage. But then, we now know what a disaster Prohibition was, so it is simply dependent upon each of us to control ourselves and moderate our alcohol consumption. 

Pa takes Carrie and Laura into town with him for the July 4th celebrations. And one of the politicians gives them some free fireworks, which they choose to save until they're home so they can share them with Grace. ( considerate!) It is during this celebration that I am once again amazed at some of the differences between now and then. The lemonade was stored in open barrels, with a dipper in each one. Each person just used the dipper to drink from, just as they did in the school for water, etc. We wouldn't think of sharing a drinking utensil with everyone and anyone now, would we? You'd better have a strong immune system, 'cause you were certainly going to be exposed to alot of germs and bacteria! :) It is during these patriotic speeches that Laura realizes:
Americans won't obey any king on earth. Americans are free. 
That means they have to obey their own consciences. 
No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself. 
Why (she thought), when I am a little older, 
Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn't anyone else 
who has a right to give me orders. I will have to make myself be good.
Her whole mind seemed to be lighted up by that thought. This is what it means to be free.
It means, you have to be good. (76)
I love this realization! Yes, Laura, you will be 'on your own' in the adult world before long. 

Carrie and Laura also watch the horse race and those lovely two Morgan horses, driven by Almanzo, win, even though they are hauling a "high heavy peddler's cart," rather than a one- or two-seater buggy like all the other teams, those being much lighter. With all the other teams hauling just buggies, Laura realizes the Morgans must lose, but she roots for them anyway. I loved the description of the last team of horses in the lead being "whipped" by their owner, as Almanzo draws even with him/them, but Almanzo holds no whip and simply speaks to his team of horses and they pull ahead and win the race in the last seconds! I'm lovin' Almanzo! He was a "horse whisperer" before his time! And Laura is totally enamored with those horses. I'm not sure she's really considered Almanzo so much, but she would do just about anything for a ride behind those beautiful horses. When she learns Almanzo's sister will be the schoolteacher in the fall, she is so hopeful to be liked by her and thereby get just such a ride! 
Mary's brand-new fancy dress for college.

Mary is able to attend college and there are many weeks of advance planning, and work to complete, to have everything ready to send her off to Vinton, Iowa, by train! They must make clothes for her, including underwear, knit socks, etc. I admit I physically squirmed as they described tightening Mary's stays so her dress would fit, as planned. Yuck!! Ma and Pa are gone a whole week for their trip to drop Mary off. While they're gone, Laura, Cassie, and Grace, all work hard to completely clean the house as a surprise for Ma. Though once Grace had hold of the "blacking" for the stove, she created more work for the other two! :) (I was reminded of a similar blacking incident in the Anne of Green Gables series!) When Ma and Pa return, they are very surprised at all the housework done! They were thoughtful enough to being each of the three girls a gift. And they had earned it with all the work they'd done during that week! A picture book for Grace, and autograph albums for Carrie and Laura. I had forgotten about autograph albums! It was a big deal when I was in school for classmates (and upperclassmen, if you were really lucky) to autograph your yearbook, which rather took the place of autograph albums. But I remember them from grade school! 

Ingalls' detailed writing is so descriptive and intriguing. As Laura and Carrie set out on the First Day of School that fall when Miss Wilder would be teaching:
The coolness of night still lingered in the early sunlight. 
Under the high blue sky the green of the prairie was fading to soft brown and mauve. 
A little wind wandered over it carrying the fragrance of ripening grasses and the pungent 
smell of wild sunflowers. All along the road the yellow blossoms were nodding, 
and in its grassy middle they struck the soft thumps against the swinging dinner pail. 
Laura walked in one wheel track, and Carrie in the other. (125)
I was struck at how much healthier and much more enjoyable it would be to walk to work in these conditions rather than drive a car a bunch of miles! Pa had already hauled haystacks into town and stored them next to the barn so that he wouldn't need to haul hay through the winter for heat and to feed the livestock. 

Fearing another October blizzard, Pa moves them into town early in the fall. And this year they have their own provisions to take with them:
"We will have coal to burn and something to eat all winter, 
if the trains can't get through," Pa gloated. (143) 
I could feel Pa's pride as he stated this! How wonderful that they had all worked and been able to provide for themselves this year. :) A job well done! I cracked up as I read about Laura finding book of Tennyson's poems and actually putting it away and leaving it alone. That was really good of her. She was so thoughtful! I can remember locating Christmas gifts as a child and having to keep my own secrets. It was tough! 

Laura rocking the desk, as told!
(She looks fierce, doesn't she?!?)
Miss Wilder and Nellie Oleson prove to be quite good pals and Miss Wilder is very mean to Laura and Carrie. Laura can rather handle the mean actions thrust at her, but she becomes livid when Miss Wilder darn near makes Carrie faint. Carrie had never fully recovered from the previous hard winter and doing without food and being so cold. As Laura talked about Carrie's headaches, I had a pang of empathy for her. What would we do now without all our fancy over-the-counter and/or prescribed medications to prevent or calm headaches? Poor Carrie! Having suffered from sinus headaches as a child, I could relate! Laura and Carrie are dismissed early from school that day, and the School Board completes a surprise visit soon thereafter. It is obvious that Miss Wilder has no idea how to keep order amongst the students as they boys are constantly making noise, up and out of their seats, etc. I had to laugh at the idea of Laura blaming herself for the boys' bad behavior! Trust me, as a former schoolteacher, they would have done it anyway, with or without anyone else's seeming approval; if a teacher is unable to maintain some modicum of control in the classroom, it is his/her own fault! :)

Left to right: Ma, Grace, Laura, Pa, Carrie, and Mary.
No date given...
Needless to say, Miss Wilder's contract was NOT renewed and Mr. Clewett was hired and he was an excellent teacher as well as active community member! (Of course, in that day, it would be much easier to maintain discipline in a schoolhouse if you were a male. Not much of anyone listened a whole lot to females or were necessarily taught to respect them...but, with that said, Miss Wilder was not a good teacher in so many ways!) 

Laura and one of her best friends, Mary Power, were invited to the first "Sociable" in town even though it did cost a dime. It was supposedly for the Ladies' Aid Society, though Ma was unaware one was bring organized. They did not have fun, it was basically an adult affair, they were the only two teens in attendance. Then Laura and Mary are invited to a supper party which was to be a birthday party for one of the boys in school. The dinner served was excellent and the girls had fun when the four teens were allowed to go downstairs by themselves. It was prior to the Sociable that Laura decided she wanted to cut and curl bangs just as Mary had...Ma was rather adamant initially: 
Laura with her
"lunatic fringe"! 
"Oh, Ma, I do wish you'd let me cut bangs," she almost begged. 
"Mary Power wears them, and they are so stylish."
"Your hair looks nice the way it is," said Ma. 
"Mary Power is a nice girl, but I think 
the new hair style is well called a 'lunatic fringe.'" (203)  
Ha! Ha! I did have to laugh at that. The older generation(s) are typically opposed to much change, aren't they? I hope I'm not...
I try not to be. 

I delighted in reading about the establishment of the Literary Society and it's various performances and activities! It was at the first such meeting that Pa suggested there be no "officers" or "organization," per se:
"From what I've seen, the trouble with organizing a thing is that pretty soon folks get to paying more attention to the organization than to what they're organized for. 
I take it we're pretty well agreed right now on what we want. 
If we start organizing and electing, the chances are we won't be as well agreed...
So I suggest, let's just go straight ahead and do what we want to do, without any officers. 
We've got the schoolteacher, Mr. Clewett, to act as leader. Let him give out a program, 
every meeting, for the next meeting. Anybody that gets a good idea can speak up for it, 
and anybody that's called on will pitch in and do his share in the programs the best he can, 
to give everybody a good time." (214)
Mrs. Bradley singing
along with her organ!
That Pa is one wise man. And as a result of the Spelling Bee held at the first meeting, we discover he is indeed a very smart man in many ways. And Mr. Fuller rather redeems himself after the herding antelope debacle during the previous winter by proving himself to be a good speller, too. Ma lasted to one of the remaining few, as did Laura. Pa won the whole thing! At another Literary Society meeting on a Friday night, Mrs. Bradley sang a beautiful solo. And another found a group of five of the men performing in "black face." I was reminded that this was acceptable at one point in time, whereas, it certainly would not be now...and that, in my opinion, is a change for the better! I thought it rather funny that none of his own family recognized Pa as one of these performers! He was tricky! And I could relate when Ma was obviously upset at the idea of him possibly  having shaved his beard for it--but he didn't! I could relate to her distress at the thought, for I love my own husband's beard!! I'm always sorry when he trims it down to a mustache and goatee in the summer. :) Though I do understand--it gets hot!
Although it offends our sensibilities now, I guess
I can understand it was not considered offensive
to these settlers at the time...
(Thank goodness we've evolved!)
It was not long after the start of Friday night Literary Society meetings that the week-long revival started. Although Laura would rather stay home and study for both her teaching certificate exam and the school's Exhibition in which she has the largest part, reciting the history of the United States. I had to laugh when the girls at school were discussing the upcoming revival meetings that were every night for a week, and Laura stated "she should stay home and study," and Nellie Oleson burst out,
"Why, people who don't go to revival meetings 
are atheists!" (274)
Ah, yes, you must profess a belief in Christianity...or else! In my opinion, it is unfortunate that U.S. society overall seems to still hold on to this prejudice to a great degree. 
Almanzo sees Laura home!

But the revival meetings are much more exciting for Laura than she might have imagined. Although Almanzo did pick her up one day in the buggy and drive her to school, she had not been with him since that day, but he would tug on her sleeve after revival and ask to "see her home." The first time she couldn't speak; she was unable to say anything! However, the second time and each thereafter she overcame her nervousness. Though I'm not sure she ever truly understood why he might seek her out. Poor Laura had an inferiority complex much as every teenage female tends to have--she wished her body was different and her hair and...well, you know. I suppose males can also be plagued with such self-doubt, it not only a female affliction. Though I believe Almanzo a self-confident person overall.  

Although Carrie is very nervous about the school's Exhibition, she performs flawlessly, as does Laura! In fact, it is through this performance that suddenly Laura is offered a position as schoolteacher although she will not be 16 for two more months! She is shocked when Mr. Broast and his buddy from back east, Mr. Brewster, tell her just not to mention her age. The examiner comes to her house just after she accepts the position and she passes with flying colors, as we would expect! She is so excited that she will be making money and will be able to help Ma and Pa provide for Mary's education and she will be able to come home for the summer! How exciting! 

I am so excited for the next installment! 
I want to know when and exactly how 
she and Almanzo get together 
and how she fares running a classroom! 
I'm certain she will be successful. 
How could she not?
With Pa as her father and Ma as her mother? :)
Join us next month for 
I love this older cover image on the left.
I bet I can guess whose horses those are! :)


  1. I can't wait to get to Little Town on the Prairie! Penelope and I are still chugging slowly away at On the Banks of Plum Creek. I did finally post today my blog about our trip to Pepin and Walnut Grove to see the Little House sites!

    1. Oh, Laura! What fun to read these with your daughter! However long it takes, it will be such a great experience...for both of you, I'm sure! Can't wait to check out your posting! Thanks for the notice!