Last week I took you with me as I traveled with Laura Ingalls Wilder from the Big Woods of Wisconsin, to the plains of Kansas, to a sod house in Minnesota, and finally to the shores of Silver Lake by De Smet, South Dakota. I also can't leave out a little detour in New York to learn about the childhood of Almanzo Wilder, Laura's future husband. As a reader, I got to grow up with Laura and by the fifth book, Laura was very much coming into her own as a teenager. Her family was deciding to settle in De Smet for a lengthy period of time and a world of new opportunities was arriving.
The sixth book, The Long Winter, has always been my favorite of the series. I'm not sure why, since it is a sad and depressing novel about the plight of the early settlers in De Smet, but I always loved the way the family seemed to stick it out through everything to survive one of the hardest winters anyone has ever known.
After an omen of a long and hard winter, Pa decides to move everyone into town and his building for the duration of the winter. The family settles in and is continuously hit with blizzard after blizzard. When a storm clears up, work begins to clear the railroad to the town so supplies can be sent in, but by the time everything is clear, another blizzard hits.
As time passes and winter continues, things begin to get desperate in De Smet. Coal runs out so the Wilder family twists hay into sticks to burn for heat. At one point there is a tunnel of snow that Pa dug to get into the barn and out. Laura can look out the upstairs window to see people passing by on snow above her.
But through it all, the family and town continue to survive. Almanzo and another man hear of a man with wheat south of town to buy for the starving town. On a clear day they make the long journey there to buy wheat for the starving settlers, but are caught in a blizzard on the way back. It was only by chance they found the town in blinding white snow, but thanks to their courage, the town could eat.
I know now why I love this book so. I think it really speaks to the perseverance and courage of the men and women who took chances to settle in the wilderness. We all complain when we're a little cold but have the luxury of notching up the thermostat. These people had to fight for survival.
But I also love Almanzo in this novel. He took a huge risk to bring wheat to starving people when he didn't need to. I think that speaks for his character and truly develops him into more than just a passing character.
The next book, The Little Town on the Prairie, is probably the most "fun" of all the books. Exciting things are happening in De Smet as the town booms. The Wilder family begins regular visits to Church and Laura and Carrie attend school (by this point Mary is in a college for blind students). The family participates in all kinds of social events held in the evenings at the school.
It is a wonderful and happy time and the book reflects that. I think the settlers of De Smet were glad to have lived through the long winter and they seem to be enjoying society and the new things in town.
But of course one of the best parts about this novel is all of the romance popping up. Alamanzo calls on Laura to drive her places and you can see the beginnings of the relationship and love forming. I also love that Ma gets all worried-what mother doesn't get worried when boys start calling on their daughters?
The eighth book in the series, These Happy Golden Years, continues the story. Laura is a teen and the rest of the family is prospering. Their shanty on the claim is expanding, things are going well, and the family is happy.
One of the most memorable portions in this novel is when Laura gets her first teaching position. She is a teacher to five students away from home. She is forced to live with a family and the wife is clearly unhappy with Laura in her home. But every weekend, without fail, Almanzo comes to get Laura and taker her home. And every Sunday he drives her back so she can escape Mrs. Brewster.
It is truly touching that he sacrifices so much for a girl he barely knows. But its clear that at the beginning of their courtship that he feels more than she does. Laura always keeps him at an arm's length in the beginning.
Laura teaches two more school terms before the end of the novel, and her marriage to Almanzo. The wedding is rushed, as Almanzo wants to be married before his sister and mother arrive to run the show. I always felt bad as a girl that Laura had to hurry to get married and she wore black to her wedding. So sad!
But the novel ends as a new and powerful chapter of Laura's life begins. She is married to Almanzo and for the first time in her life, living away from her parents.
The final novel in the Laura years series is The First Four Years. And this is the book that I was anxious to get to. I said in my first post about these novels that Jillian had said something that spurred me to pick these up rather than be done with my return to childhood. Jillian talked about how in this novel everything seemed so detached, and how Laura seemed different being married. But she also talked about the trials Laura and Almanzo faced in those years. That is what made me decide to reread these. More on that in a moment.
This novel is different than the others in that the characters are less developed and it feels like you are reading mere glimpses of memory from Laura. The book was published after Almanzo's death and you can tell that Laura was trying to record thoughts and give some kind of ending to her story.
The story follows the first four years of their marriage, as they try their luck farming and succeeding on their own. But their first fours years are wrought with pain and struggle. They are deep in debt. Laura loses a son and has to struggle to recover. Both of them fall ill and when Almanzo tries to work too soon after being sick, he suffers a stroke and never fully recovers. It seems as if the two cannot recover and cannot get ahead. But even with all of that struggle and pain, they have hope. And they keep trying.
When I remembered what this novel was about, I knew I needed to read them again. Matt and I are approaching our one year anniversary. This first year has been a struggle for us-you know, with me not working, money issues, and health problems-but here we are. We are still pushing forward and stilling working towards something better. Reading this gave me hope about our own situation, and the knowledge that things could be a lot worse. :)
I am so glad I decided to go down memory lane with Laura and her family once more. It was wonderful to re-experience life on the prairie with her family and my childhood. If you have never read these, I suggest you add them to your list, right now. They are timeless stories of a loving family full of hope, courage, and perseverance.