Laura Ingalls Wilder and Reading

I was on vacation last week so I bought Oprah’s magazine for the plane and read this fabulous article/essay about Marie Howe and her daughter discovering the Little House on the Prairie books during the tough times of last fall and winter. Howe hadn’t read the books as a child so she was discovering the Ingalls’ story with her daughter. I’d read the entire series many times as a child, and I still have my set on my bookshelves today.

Howe’s adult experience with the books mirrors my own. With each rereading I read of the Ingalls’ trials and tribulations and humbled by the quiet grace with which they meet each new challenge. I tear up every time Pa returns after weeks or months away, earning money for his family after a bad crop or hard winter. I really tear up when I read about Laura’s delight over simple Christmas gifts – an orange, a penny, a tin cup. So sweet…and so sadly strange.

But when I recently reread These Happy Golden Years, telling the story of Laura and Almanzo falling in love, this passage really struck me. At fifteen Laura’s begun teaching school away from home to help bring her sister Mary home for the summer. She’s boarding with a really unpleasant family, scared and lonely. Her beau, Almanzo drives twenty-four miles round trip to bring her home on Friday afternoons and twenty-four miles round trip to take her back to school on Sundays. She’s told him he doesn’t need to do this (she’s shy and intimidated – he’s 10 years older and a homesteader). But he comes anyway…

While Almanzo was driving her out to the Brewsters’ that afternoon she thanked him for taking her home that week.

“No need for thanks,” he said. “You knew I would.”

“Why, no, I didn’t,” she answered honestly.

“What do you take me for?” he asked. “Do you think I’m the kind of fellow that’d leave you out there at Brewster’s when you’re so homesick, just because there’s nothing in it for me?”

“Why, I…” Laura stopped. The truth was that she had never thought much about what kind of person he was. He was so much older; he was a homesteader.

“To tell you the whole truth,” he said, “I was in two minds about risking that trip. I figured all week I’d drive out for you, but when I looked at the thermometer I came pretty near deciding against it.” [The temperature had dropped to well below -40 degrees and they were riding in an open horse-drawn cutter.]

“Why didn’t you?” Laura asked.

“Well, I was starting out in the cutter, and I pulled up in front of Fuller’s to look at the thermometer. The mercury was all down in the bulb, below forty, and the wind blowing colder every minute. Just then Cap Garland came by. He saw me there, ready to go out to Brewster’s for you, and looking at the thermometer. So he looked at it, and you know how he grins? Well, as he was going on into Fuller’s, he just said to me over his shoulder, ‘God hates a coward.'”

“So you came because you wouldn’t take a dare?” Laura asked.

“No, it wasn’t a dare,” Almanzo said. “I just figured he was right.”

That’s about the best description of a hero I’ve ever read…selfless, right-minded, doing what he knows is right despite severe obstacles. No bragging, no grandstanding, just simple honesty and integrity. The books are “childrens’ books” but their message and beauty are just as available to adults as children. If you haven’t read them, give them a try and if you have, reread them!

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