These Happy Golden Years

Once again, it has been two weeks since I posted. At the end of last week I had to prepare to travel again. I was in Pennsylvania visiting my parents over the weekend and the beginning of this week. While I started These Happy Golden Years, the last of the Little House books, last Thursday, I was only able to finish it today.

These Happy Golden Years brings to a pleasing conclusion the the saga of Laura’s coming of age. Becoming an adult means two things: 1) working outside of home for money, and 2) dating Almanzo Wilder. (In an earlier version of this post, I had “being courted by Almanzo,” but I think that dating is a better description. It’s beyond the scope of this blog entry, but I’ll explain if anyone is interested…) The first chapters are dominated by the story of Laura’s first teaching experience. The Brewster school is located twelve miles from town, and she must stay with a homesteader and his angry wife during the week. The pupils don’t always mind her, and one night the homesteader’s wife threatens her husband with a knife. She is only able to handle the situation because Almanzo comes every Friday afternoon driving a bobsled to take her back to her family for the weekend. After these trips, Laura continues to go riding with Almanzo in the bobsled on Sunday afternoons. Then she goes riding in Almanzo’s buggy on Sunday afternoons. Eventually he proposes. Laura later teaches two additional terms (at other schools) and helps a homesteader’s wife live on their claim during the summer. The book ends with Laura and Almanzo’s marriage and settling into the little house that he has built her.

Sundays loom larger in this book than any of the others, because Laura and Almanzo’s courtship takes place on Sundays. There is a clear pattern: Laura attends Sunday School and the morning church service, returns home for Sunday dinner, then goes out riding with Almanzo. Apparently there is a Sunday evening worship service at the church (Laura’s friend Ida mentions it in Chapter 20), but we are not told that Laura or her family ever attend. Also, at times only certain members of the family go to services. In chapter 13, Laura and her younger sisters go to church because her parents stay home to visit with Ma’s brother who is in town for just a short time. In chapter 30, for some reason only Pa and Mary and Laura go to church. Sunday observance is mentioned at several other points. When Laura is holding down the claim with Mrs. McKee, Mr. McKee is described as “such a strict Presbyterian that on Sunday no one was allowed to laugh or even smile. They could only read the Bible and the catechism and talk gravely of religious subjects.” (623-624) Later, Pa buys Ma a sewing machine, but they can’t use it on Sunday. Still, Sunday is a central part of the book; it is mentioned in some way in sixteen of the book’s thirty three chapters.

However, while Sunday is described fondly in the book, that can’t be said of the pastor of the church. As in Little Town on the Prairie, Reverend Brown and his preaching come in for some abuse in this book. In my entry on By the Banks of Plum Creek, I noted that some of the references to Christianity had a bit of an edge. The descriptions of Reverend Brown have a similar edge. For instance, from chapter 4:

“When Sunday School ended, there was only time to say, ‘Good-by. Good-by.’ Then Ida must sit with Mrs. Brown in the front seat while Reverend Brown preached one of his long, stupid sermons.

          Laura made sure that she remembered the text, to repeat at home when Pa asked her; then she need not listen any more.” (575)

From chapter 19: “The day was so pleasant and sunny that Laura hated to sit in the church, and Reverend Brown’s long sermon seemed even duller than usual.” (648) Finally, from chapter 30: “Reverend Brown was preaching earnestly and Laura was wishing that with so much sincerity he could say something interesting.” (712-713) As I noted in my entry on Plum Creek, it’s unclear whether the negative comments here should be applied to Christian worship in general or to Brown in particular. Brown is described positively at the end of the book, however, because he does not require Laura to vow to “obey” Almanzo in their wedding service. (718, 724)

As with other volumes, what is not said can also be considered. The name of Jesus Christ is not mentioned in this book; it does not appear in any of the Little House books. Perhaps more strikingly, God himself is not mentioned in this book. One also would think that Laura might mention praying during her ordeals at the Brewster school, but she does not. Later in the book the good and bad results of a storm with tornadoes are described as “strange,” but not attributed to Providence. As in the other books, Christianity is reduced to right action and Sunday observance.

So I’ve now read all eight Little House books. I need to organize my thoughts and notes to figure out what’s next. I have Western Civilization papers and exams coming again next week, so it may be another two weeks before I post again.

Thanks for reading. As always, I welcome comments.

(All page number references are from Volume 2 of the two volume set of the Little House books published by the Library of America in 2012.)

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