These Happy Golden Years
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Here I am already, at the end of the Little House series. I guess that’s how you can tell they’re strictly children’s books, the way I got through seven of them so quickly! Despite a rocky start, I enjoyed the series overall and am a little sad to have reached the end.
The previous book, Little Town on the Prairie, ended with Laura being offered a three-month teaching job, aged just 15. She knew she had to accept it because she desperately wants to help with the fees to keep Mary at the college for the blind, but this teaching post is in midwinter at a town 12 miles away from her home in De Smet, so she will have to live with strangers. And she’s so young still, she doesn’t even know how to teach.
This book picks up just a few days later, with Laura being driven by Pa to her new job. I would be fascinated to know how accurately this reflects the author’s real-life experience because this first job is not a happy one. Laura must teach children who are her own age or older and who don’t recognise her authority. But even worse than that, she must stay with a couple who argue constantly, the wife of whom makes it clear she resents having Laura there. It is an intensely uncomfortable situation.
The light in the darkness is that every Friday afternoon, Almanzo Wilder turns up with his sleigh to take her home to her family for the weekend. No-one has asked him to do this, and Laura is so grateful to be able to see her family, albeit briefly, that for the first few weekends she doesn’t question it, though she feels awkward not knowing what to talk about for the long journey each way. Eventually, she figures out that Almanzo likes her like that and has an interesting reaction.
This book really is all about watching Laura grow up, from 15 to 18, from that first teaching post to accepting any job she is offered to help Mary out, from being nervous of Almanzo’s interest in her to requiting it. After those first few months, there isn’t much that’s negative, but I still found this book deeply touching. I was caught up emotionally in Laura’s story and related to her in many ways, as she worries about being quieter than other girls, and therefore less interesting. But of course Almanzo likes her for her wild spirit and sense of adventure, which he shares. It seems the name “Wilder” was a bit of nominative determinism!
I really do feel like the Little House characters have become friends and I’m sure I will come back to them in the future. It’s also made me want to go back to the series that I loved when I was young – Anne of Green Gables. But maybe I should make a dent in the TBR before I embark on that!
“‘It’s a queer thing,’ said Pa. ‘People always moving west. Out here it is like the edge of a wave, when a river’s rising. They come and they go, back and forth, but all the time the bulk of them keep moving on west.'”
Published 1943 by Harper & Brothers.
Source: Google Books