August 11, 2011

the pioneer girl and the farmer

My well-loved and worn copies of The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Gold Years and The First Four Years accompany me on my visit to the Ingalls Homestead, located south of De Smet, S.D., July 29. The rock in the background is the official historical marker commemorating the land.

PBMG No. 1: Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder of the "Little House" series

Relevant titles: The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years and The First Four Years
Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder

I picked up Little House in the Big Woods for the first time when I was six years old. My mom read a section to my sister and I every night before bed, and I was hooked. When I was eight, I decided to finish reading the series on my own.

The first time I read These Happy Golden Years, I fell in love. For an 8-year-old, the story was more romantic than anything I had read before. My heart pounded and I re-read select passages over and over, feeling a flutter in my stomach every time. You don't forget those feelings, and when you get them from a book, it becomes a favorite.


The scoop on Laura and Almanzo

Throughout the series Laura grows up from a child in the Wisconsin woods to a young woman on the South Dakota prairies. Almanzo's childhood on a prosperous farm in Upstate New York is told in Farmer Boy, and he plays an important part in the final books of the series.

Both are hard-working. Laura is intelligent and quietly sassy. She works as a school teacher when she is not furthering her own education. In her spare time, she sews to provide extra money for her family. Almanzo is a farmer who has a homestead near the Ingalls family, and is a master at training horses.


The meet cute

In the series, the two officially meet in the Long Winter, when Laura and Almanzo meet in the middle of a wheat field. They keep tabs on each other, and even exchange pleasantries and a few walks home together from church in Little Town on the Prairie.

The courtship really begins in These Happy Golden Years when Laura Ingalls teaches at a one-room school house away from home. Every week, Almanzo Wilder makes the long drive in the cold snow to take her home to her family for the weekend.

Through regular sleigh and buggy rides the next two years, a relationship blossoms. They built it on a foundation of friendship and respect.


Best lines

"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."
(These Happy Golden Years, page 214)

"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 grfully and Laura knew they understood what she was too shy to say.
(These Happy Golden Years, page 216)

It was a silent drive until almost the end, when for the first time that day Laura saw the horses. She exclaimed, "Why, you are driving Prince and Lady!"

"Prince and Lady started this," Almanzo said. "So I thought they'd like to bring us home. And here we are."
(These Happy Golden Years, page 284)


Scene stealers

After courting for two years, one night under the stars, Almanzo asks Laura to marry him during a moonlit carriage ride. The proposal is simple, private and sweet.

The peak in this romance for me comes soon after. Although Almanzo planned to spend several months back home with his family through the winter, he cuts his trip short and returns in time to spend Christmas Eve with Laura and her family. “I decided I didn’t want to stay away so long,” Almanzo explains.

It's hard to get a guy to return your calls, how many would actually ride on horseback through a winter storm to be with a girl?


Why I love them

As a young girl I readily identified with my name twin and still do. Growing up in Nebraska, I  felt like she was a neighbor, with the stories taking place not too far from home. LIW was an independent young woman who loved her family and lived for adventure, like me. She also desperately wanted to be good, kind and well-behaved, but often let her temper or inner wild child override those other goals.

I still relate.

And after more than 15 years, I still harbor a major crush on the Almanzo portrayed in these books. He worked hard, spoke thoughtfully, showed courage and had a good heart. Plus, he heartily agreed with Laura’s decision not to promise to obey him in the wedding vows — more progressive than many of his contemporaries.

There are no flowery prose or empty promises. There are no dramatic circumstances, other than those that came naturally to any people living on the prairie in the 1880s. The simple, honest love story that unfolded was the most beautiful one I had ever heard as a young girl, and it got my heart pumping.

I picked up These Happy Golden Years again recently for the first time in a long while. I was pleased to feel the familiar fluttering in my stomach and smile on my face as a 25-year-old.

The events described in the novel are a dramatization of actual events. The romance that plays out was the basis for a 64-year marriage of two struggling, hard-working Americans. They faced financial loss, illness and death, but were together till Almanzo's death
Practical. Honest. Real. For me, it is a wonderful love story.

Thank you for joining me on this countdown. It's certainly been a great learning experience for me. Check back tomorrow for the complete rundown of Project Boy Meets Girl and my closing thoughts.

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