What Jenny's Reading

{December 7, 2014}   Review: These Happy Golden Years: Mean Girls on the Prairie Part III: The Reckoning, Pt. 2

It’s time!  At long, long last, the final Little House review.  Let’s see…when last we left off, Laura was horrified to learn that Nellie was trying to edge her out of Almanzo’s buggy, both figuratively and literally.

Lucky for us, Laura is a bit more straightforward than Cady Heron. She “accidentally” startles the horses, making Nellie look like a total scaredy-cat, and then contrives to make Almanzo drop Nellie off first. When he drops Laura off, she then gives him an ultimatum: her or Nellie. Good girl. I mean, seriously, guys can be so dense, right?

She does freak out a little bit that week, wondering who he’ll pick. I mean, we all know, but I think it’s okay she’s worried. It actually shows she cares. During the week, however, she’s distracted by news that Mary wants to go to her friend’s for the summer, rather than home. Of course Mary doesn’t know about the organ, but Laura has to be a little annoyed by this. They decide it’s okay for her, because it’s a good opportunity and once college is over she’ll probably never travel again, so it’ll be a nice memory for her when she’s back at home, shut up in the house forever, just like Ma wants. I may have exaggerated that.

Laura is despondent, not just because Mary won’t be coming home, but because she’s now decided that Almanzo will definitely take Nellie for a ride. She still keeps on her nice dress after church on Sunday, but at this point I think she should’ve changed. I know she wants to make a good impression, but in the last two weeks he wasn’t exactly making a great impression on me, you know. She has the right to put on her work clothes and if he really likes her, he’ll like her in the work clothes. She’s a busy woman, she doesn’t have time to sit around waiting on you, Almanzo!

But he shows up, hooray! And they go for a ride, and Laura not-so-casually asks about Nellie. Almanzo says that Nellie is afraid of horses, and he’s kind of grossed out by that. Really? That’s the only reason Laura is better? Because I can think of a lot of reasons, and none of them have to do with horses. Well, he does clarify that he only brought her the first time because he felt sorry for her, and if he’d known Laura disliked her so much, he never would have done so. Laura remarks that of course he wouldn’t know, since he’s such an oldster that he didn’t go to school with them. Joke’s on you, Laura – he lied about his age to get the homestead! He probably should’ve gone to school with you. She’s also surprised that a man who knows about farming and horses wouldn’t know anything about a girl like Nellie. This is a hilarious insult to Nellie, but I’m still trying to work out exactly what it means. Nellie’s an uncivilized farm animal? Nellie needs to be tamed and broken like a horse? Nellie eats hay? I don’t know, but it’s funny.

From then on it was mostly the two of them, and it was pretty clearly understood that they were going steady now. You know, it’s interesting to me that Ma and Pa are so cool about these dates. Well, that Pa was, at least. I mean, considering the time they were living in. They let Laura go off by herself for hours at a time with a guy who clearly has romantic intentions toward her, and there’s never any talk about chaperones. I guess I have no idea how courting worked back then, but I would think there would be more talk of chaperoning. I mean, they take Ida with them once, but that’s not really chaperoning. That Almanzo must’ve been a pretty smooth talker, to get Ida, crazy Reverend Brown’s daughter, into a buggy alone with him. I wonder if they spent all the time she was gone praying for her soul, to be so forward to get into a buggy with another man. Or maybe not, because Ida confides to Laura that she has a boyfriend, too, a guy named Elmer. His last name, disappointingly, is not Fudd.

Laura convinces Almanzo to let her drive Barnum, the crazy wild horse, which I think is supposed to represent her sexual awakening, or something. At least, that’s how I interpreted it, what with all the “She loved the feel of Barnum’s mouth coming to her hands” and so forth. Then he asks her to singing school. Almanzo does, not Barnum. Wow, you sure know how to show a girl a good time, Wilder.

The next day at regular school, Laura finds out that Nellie Oleson’s family has gone back East. And that’s the end of Nellie. How disappointing. I was really looking forward to her fighting with Laura and then getting run over by a buggy, or something.

On the last night of singing school, Almanzo proposes. Well, he asks if she wants an engagement ring, and Laura, ever so coy, says it would depend on who gave it to her. Instead of an eleventh-hour twist where Almanzo confides that it’s Cap who actually wants to propose, he clarifies that it would be from him. So she says, again very coyly, it would depend on the ring. Now I am giggling at the idea of Almanzo buying ring after ring, trying to find something that would meet with her approval.
Then, amazingly, she doesn’t tell anyone! I was super shocked. Who doesn’t tell her best friends that her boyfriend has proposed?

The description she gives of the ring is thorough, but to be honest, when I was a kid, I thought it sounded a bit fug. It’s not a diamond, but a garnet and pearl setting. The description of it being flat was what I thought was fug – like, I was imagining this really wide gold ring with super flat stones, like inlaid chips. I’ve looked for a picture of the ring online, and I didn’t come up with much, but I did find one possible reproduction that was pretty, so that’s what I’m thinking it most likely looked like. I don’t know why she wears it on her index finger. Was that the engagement finger back then? Seems weird and uncomfortable, to me. Even as a kid, I thought that was strange, but I had just assumed “first finger” was another name for ring finger, somehow.

Oh, and apparently the ring probably cost about $2.50. Wow. That’s cheaper than Mary’s special blind school dress! I guess it doesn’t matter how much it cost, but still. Maybe he cheaped out on the ring because he had to build her the house.
Something I did like – it seems like he asked her before he talked to Pa about it. I know it’s the custom, asking for the hand, but I think it’s really icky and makes a woman into property. I hope that’s what he did in real life – asked if she would want to marry him, and then only after she agreed, go through the motions.

This is a really long review. So much happened in this book, and so much of it was actually nice, rather than a retelling of the ten plagues of Egypt on the prairie, that I didn’t want to miss much. Well, what happens next sort of sucks, but no one dies, which is great. For some reason, Almanzo heads back up north to see his family earlier than anticipated. They also have the shortest goodbye ever. Way to seal the deal and then leave the freaking state, Wilder. At least he sends her letters weekly…at first. Ooh, what’s the deal there? Did he meet some other girl while he was away? Did Nellie Oleson manage to find and trap him with her hay-eating ways?????

No. Of course not! He’s traveling, because he misses Laura, and as I have mentioned before, he is crazy. He makes it to their house on Christmas Eve. My inward seven-year-old (she’s always there when I’m reading these books, you know) is all fluttery about their reunion. This is romance, people! Too bad for my future husband, if I ever actually get married. Almanzo drove through miles and miles of snowdrifts and risked getting caught in a blizzard and freezing to death, just to see Laura early because he missed her. Maybe you, future husband, can get off your ass and take out the trash once in awhile?
Ahem. Okay, so the rest of winter passes just fine and Laura takes her teacher’s exam again, and passes (duh). She goes to teach at the Wilkins school, which isn’t close enough that she can live at home, but she stays with her friend Florence’s family, and it’s very pleasant. Oh, I forgot to mention – before she goes to teach, she says goodbye to her teacher, for good. He’s all mad at himself, because he didn’t let her graduate when she should’ve, because he thought she’d be coming back. I think he, like Eliza Jane, should be happy he lived when he did, because in this time period he’d be suspended, or something, probably. Also I sort of wonder at a teacher who is allowed to teach multiple times but hasn’t actually graduated from school.

Ma and Laura go to town to buy things for Laura’s trousseau. They get pink lawn to make a summer dress, NOT BROWN BUT IT’S NOT LIKE I’M DANCING A JIG OR ANYTHING, and a bunch of muslin to make sheets and pillowcases and nightclothes. And then Pa buys a sewing machine! They use the machine to make Laura’s things.

Ma is uncharacteristically nice when Laura offers her the fifteen dollars she has left from one of her schoolteaching months, saying they don’t need to take Laura’s money. I guess not now, since Pa seems to be doing so well he can buy a sewing machine. But Laura insists, and of course they take the money. One last time of mooching off of her, right? Okay, I should be nicer. Laura genuinely wants to help the family, which is very sweet and generous of her. I just think it sucks that everything she does goes to help Mary, who is obviously the favored child here, and Ma only has patience for Laura once Laura starts doing exactly what Ma says.

Mary finally comes home to her organ, and she loves it, and also apologizes to Laura for not coming home the year before to see it. Then they chat about Almanzo. Mary is clearly unhappy that Laura is planning on leaving home, but they talk about growing up and all and it is very sweet.

On Fourth of July, Almanzo tries to take Carrie with him and Laura to town to see the fireworks, but Ma, epic buzzkill and Hater of Fun, shuts that down. She does invite him for dinner one Sunday after church. There’s a horrible storm and Laura and Almanzo are almost caught in it, but they are able to get back home safely.

Apparently Ma let Mary cut bangs, too. No pissing and moaning about that, I see.

It’s weird to me that Mary goes back to school and doesn’t stay for Laura’s wedding. I guess it makes sense, since they probably can’t afford to bring her home.

I guess it’s no weirder than what Almanzo plans next. Eliza Jane, that meddler, has decided they will have a gigantic wedding, and gets his mother all excited about it. So now they’re coming to plan a wedding that no one can afford. Honestly that sounds like a lot of moms, really. So Almanzo and Laura cleverly decide they will marry the next week, to avoid all of that. Oh, ha ha ha! Don’t want your meddling, irritating family at your wedding? Just elope! How many engaged couples dream of doing exactly what they did?

So they get married and Laura wears a black dress because it’s the nicest one she has at the time. Almanzo had suggested she wear one of her calico work dresses, because he thought it was pretty. Or maybe he just really, really wanted to get married immediately. When I was little, I thought it was SO COOL that Laura got married in a black dress. I decided right then that if I ever got married, I would wear black, too.

Laura makes a big deal about not wanting the preacher to ask if she will obey him. Almanzo is totally cool with that, and asks if she’s for women’s rights. Laura says no, she doesn’t want to vote. DAMMIT LAURA YOU ARE SO AWESOME WHY DID YOU HAVE TO GO AND MESS THAT UP. Anyway, she doesn’t have to say she will obey him. The ceremony is nice I guess, with no one there except crazy Reverend Brown and his family and Ida’s fiancé to witness. What’s really noteworthy is the description of Laura’s finished black dress, because there’s crinoline inside it all over. CRINOLINE, PEOPLE. She got married on August 25 in what was essentially a desert. When I was my sister’s maid of honor, my dress was lined with crinoline. She got married in early September, in Florida. Crinoline is the devil, people. I can’t imagine putting it on what was going to be an everyday dress. Laura is way tougher than me.

They have a wedding dinner with her family and go to their new house. The description is really cute; it sounds sweet and cozy. And at the end of the book she is all happy and everything is well with the world.

I guess that’s a good note to end on. I really enjoyed this project; it was fun to read these books again as an adult. I made fun of some stuff, but overall I loved these books as a kid and I still love them as an adult. I hope anyone reading enjoyed it too! If I can get my hands on a copy of The First Four Years, I’ll review that one too. And you just know I’ll be reviewing the shit out of Pioneer Girl when it finally comes out!


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