These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder covers the time when Laura, at age 15, starts teaching school, to the time of her marriage at age 18.
It’s incredible to us today to think of someone teaching at age 15, before they have even finished high school. I don’t think that was the usual course even then, but a need arose, and Laura had passed the teaching examination and was willing to go.
This term was one of the most difficult of her life. The school was twelve miles from her home, and she boarded with the superintendent. His wife was sullen, mostly silent, and seemed to resent Laura’s being there. Later Laura heard her complaining about everything, not just Laura, so she knew it was just that she was unhappy in general rather than just resenting Laura. The woman was probably clinically depressed from what I can ascertain. At one point in the middle of the night she threatened her husband with a knife, but he talked her down. The conditions of both the house and the school were fairly primitive. The walls and floor of the school had cracked through which the cold seeped in. Sometimes Laura let the students do their lessons around the stove. Laura never really liked teaching, but it was a way she could earn money to help keep Mary in the college for the blind.
She was concerned that her youth and small stature would be a problem in trying to teach and discipline students who were bigger and older than she was. And indeed it was, but her parents’ good advice and her own ingenuity helped her over those hurdles.
The only thing that made this time bearable was the fact that it was only for that one term, plus Almanzo Wilder came and picked her up every Friday afternoon, took her home, and brought her back every Sunday. When her students referred to him as her beau, she didn’t want him to get the wrong idea, and told him she was just riding with him to get home, not because she had any interest in him. She expected he wouldn’t keep coming after that, but he did.
Finally the term was over and she was back at home, attending her own classes, which she had been able to keep up with by studying on her own. On weekends a lot of the young people paired up to go sleighing around town. Laura was feeling lonely and out of it when Almanzo came and asked if she’d like to go with him. Thus started a habit that continued on, riding the sleigh in the winter and the buggy in the spring and summer. Laura was not afraid even when Almanzo was breaking new horses in with the buggy, and she had to jump in as Almanzo could only pause for a few seconds before the horses took off again.
She taught two more terms of school in different places, continued with her own schooling, helped at home. Mary came home for a couple of visits. I enjoyed seeing Carrie mature and the relationship between her and Laura grow, as well as the rejoicing in the family when any one of them received something or had a good opportunity. Pa would have liked to move the family on again where the land was less settled, but he didn’t. Her descriptions of a couple of dresses Ma made, with all the detail, layers, lining, and bustle, made me very glad that fashions have changed since that time!
Almanzo was a quiet, not pushy, but persistent suitor. Laura didn’t give him much encouragement, as he was ten years older. At one point when someone called Laura a young lady, “she was startled” and had not thought of herself in that way and “was not sure she liked” it. But when Nellie Oleson tried to horn her way in to his attentions, I think perhaps Laura understood then just how much she actually did care for Almanzo. In Pioneer Girl, she wrote that after he had been away for a few months, “I hadn’t known that I missed him, but it was good to see him again, gave me a homelike feeling.” The way they got engaged was both sweet and funny.
One of my favorite scenes in the book is when she’s admiring their new home, particularly the spaciousness and organization of the kitchen and pantry that he had crafted for her.
I very much enjoyed this reread of this book.
(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)