These Happy Golden Years, Chapter 24: Almanzo Goes Away

Guest post by Melanie Fishbane

I picked this chapter because in my recent-re-reading of THGY, I was struck by how quickly Almanzo leaves with Royal.  Although Laura remembers that he had said something about it, there is no foreshadowing of him going away, except for the literary rhythm of the chapter heading, “Almanzo Says Goodby.” For such a short chapter, there is a lot going on.

In the adaptation of the “true story” of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life, Beyond the Prairie, the CBS miniseries with Meredith Monroe and Walton Goggins, the writers created a more dramatic reason for Almanzo’s parting than what is in the Little House books.  In the movie, Manly shows Laura the home he’s building for her and she gets jittery at the idea of staying in one place her whole life.  She tells Manly that she needs time to reconsider to which Manly replies (in a sort of passive aggressive act) that he is going to leave earlier with Royal to back to New York. In the novel, Almanzo tells Laura that Royal wants to travel through Iowa to get back to Minnesota, so they will need to leave earlier than expected.

Why am I bringing this comparison up? I’m fascinated by adaptations, so I hope that you will indulge this a little because I find  this change in motivation fascinating.  I recently re-watched the CBS mini-series and was one again confounded by how the Laura and Manly’s love story develops a la Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman style – complete with sex in the great outdoors near a burned out old shanty.  The method by which the adaptation goes about showing Laura’s character growth may be different, but it does reflect in some ways the internal transformation she goes through in this chapter, which maybe they didn’t feel they could pull off on screen. Also, there are feminist themes weaved through this chapter about women’s choices and Laura’s cold feet in the CBS miniseries perhaps reflects this.

Back to the chapter…

At the beginning of Almanzo Says Goodby, Laura returns to school with the beautiful garnet ring on the first finger of her left hand.  Not used to having anything so nice and feeling a little shy about being engaged, she hides the ring.  But, when Laura looks over and sees that her best friend, Ida, has her own engagement ring from Elmer, her reservations fades away and she shows Ida the ring.

As Laura, Ida, Florence, Minnie and Mary Power animatedly discuss the upcoming nuptials, there is also a hint of what choices women had at the time. Considering when Wilder wrote these novels and the kind of partnership she advocated in her non-fiction writing, a feminist reading of this scene suggests that although Wilder never came out as a suffragette or a feminist—indeed as we see later on when she tells Almanzo later on to take out the word “obey “ in the vows—it is interesting to think about what Wilder could have been showing readers then and now about these choices.

While Mary Power assumes that Laura and Ida will quit school now that they were engaged, they both stand firm on finishing, and Laura will also get her teaching certificate. See what isn’t being said here:

“Well, I’m not engaged, nor do I want to teach,” said Mary Power. “How about you, Ida? Are you going to teach for a while?”
Ida laughed. “No, indeed!” I never did want to teach. I’d rather keep house. Why do you suppose I got this ring?”
They all laughed with her, and Minnie asked. “Well, why did you get yours, Laura? Don’t you want to keep house?”
“Oh, yes,” Laura answered. “But Almanzo has to build it first.” (218)

We know that teaching was one of the few opportunities available to women during the nineteenth century, but Mary Power’s statement about not being engaged and not wanting to teach struck me because I couldn’t tell if she was jealous and wanted to be engaged, or if she didn’t want to teach (or marry) what did she wanted to do—or could do?

Ida confirms that by choosing marriage she doesn’t have to go into teaching —a profession she doesn’t like. Whereas Laura, although she doesn’t like teaching, she understands the importance of earning a living for her family and is also willing to wait for Almanzo to build their home.  Laura will take a job to support her family and perhaps save some for her life with Manly.  These women are stuck in a man’s world with few options.

This next bit of patriarchy confirms this when Pa tells Laura that he saw Almanzo at the blacksmith shop who asked him to pass along a message to her.  Almanzo’s message: that he might be too busy to come and see Laura after school, as he was getting ready to leave on Sunday for Minnesota.  Now, Laura didn’t really expect to see Almanzo until the weekend, but she had no idea that they would be going so soon.

Interestingly, she isn’t surprised that Almanzo conveyed such personal and important information to her Pa. This could be because they lived in a small town where the men bumped into each other often, it could be because they were friends first and Almanzo saw nothing wrong in telling his soon-to-be father-in-law.  Maybe in the days before instant messaging, this was the easiest thing to do…

Immediately, Laura knows that her Sunday buggy rides are at an end and how “whole pattern of the days could be broken so suddenly.”  Is Laura hurt by the buggy rides, or that Almanzo was too busy to tell her his plans himself?
But, Laura’s been well-trained to not let her feelings show and responds with some comment on the weather and how good it would be for the men to make the trip before winter hits. Pa seems unaware that his information would have even upset his daughter, and informs her that he told Almanzo that he would keep Lady while they’re gone.

Carrie and Grace get pretty excited about the idea of going riding, but Laura feels oddly empty and Wilder repeats the refrain of how much Laura had looked forward to those Sunday drives.

That Saturday, Almanzo arrives with Lady and Pa comes out to greet them, leaving Laura indoors.  (Just a note:  in the CBS miniseries, Laura comes out with Pa, she isn’t content to be shut inside and is rarely kept indoors.) Almanzo leaves Pa and Royal at the stable and comes to the kitchen door and asks Ma if he can speak to Laura.

So, the modern reader in me is kind of ticked at Almanzo by this point. He waited a whole week before coming to see Laura and relied on her father to give her second-hand information. He was so busy that he couldn’t just come by for five minutes to talk to her? Seriously? But, then he’s so smooth, isn’t he? He compliments Laura on the ring —the ring she has been too shy to show off at the beginning of the week—and Wilder provides a luscious description of it, giving it more prominence, as if Laura is finally getting comfortable with it on her hand. As well as the idea that she will become a married woman.

“It is a beautiful ring,” she said.
“I would say the hand,” Almanzo replied. (220)

Swoon. Okay, you may be the strong silent type, Manly, but when you say something, you make sure that it counts.

Royal’s whistle announces that Almanzo needs to go, so they “kiss quickly” —too bad as this is where the Dr. Quinn moment would have been nice. He’s going away for a whole winter after all.  And, like when Pa told her that Almanzo was leaving, Laura hides her disappointment when she totally lies to Carrie and she tells her that she isn’t going to be lonesome without him.

Laura now understands how much she truly loves him.

Pa returns from the stables and asks Ma how she would feel about staying on the claim for the winter instead of town.  He could rent the building in town and they would be snug for the winter. But, Ma is concerned that the girls will not be able to go to school —once again showing how the importance of education. When Pa promises to drive them there, Ma agrees.

As the snow falls, Wilder tells us that the little claim is no longer a shanty, but a real little house. Finally, at long last, a place Ma doesn’t have to move again.

But, with letters coming from Almanzo twice a week for Laura, we know that come the summer, she will be…

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23 comments on “These Happy Golden Years, Chapter 24: Almanzo Goes Away
  1. Daniel Rabe says:

    I also feel that when Almanzo learns he will be gone to Minnesota all winter, he owed it to Laura to come tell her himself rather than passing on a message to Pa. Laura chooses to not make much of this in the book, and even the line “they kissed quickly” before Almanzo leaves with Royal made me wonder, “wait a minute! Didn’t these two just get engaged?” But perhaps what Laura is trying to convey is that there was such a bond of trust by now between them that it is allright, and that she won’t let it get her down.

  2. LauriOH says:

    Someone else (like me) who writes summaries longer than the actual chapter!
    Honestly, it bothered me that the miniseries kept inserting Laura in scenes she wouldn’t have been in, like they had to show she was more of a feminist than she writes that she was. Was the stable actually big enough for three people? Of course, Pa could have stayed in the house and let the couple have some alone time. Yes, swoon about the comment about the hand. I like Pamela Smith Hill’s biography that suggested Laura was probably not the first girl Almanzo dated so he had some practice as to what went over.
    “She never knew how much she looked forward to the rides until they were gone.” I’ve always repeated that to myself when riding lessons, youth group, or whatever wasn’t happening for the week; similar to using whirl of gaiety if I have three or more things in one week.

  3. Sonya says:

    The book does say “Laura was surprised” when she heard Almanzo was leaving so soon. Perhaps in real life, Laura was a bit more than surprised and did get a little angry, but she didn’t want to reveal that to the gentle young readers.

    Before they were married, Laura frequently took jobs where she’d be away for five days a week so I guess a little turnabout was fair play. I’ve read that, in actuality, the trip was more for business than a visit with family. Royal and Almanzo were on a sales trip around the Midwest. You do think that Royal could have given them more than a minute to say goodbye, though! Did they have to beat rush hour traffic on the trail or something?

    We do get a glimpse into how important Almanzo is becoming to Laura when she realizes that she’ll miss the Sunday drives, but she still doesn’t wax overly sentimental about it. I recently read a poem that teenage Laura wrote to him during this separation and it was surprisingly romantic and even a little schmaltzy given how matter-of-fact and coy she was in describing their relationship in the novels.

    • TLynn says:

      Sonya, what poem was that and where can I find a copy?

      • Sonya says:

        It’s called “So Far and Yet So Near.” It’s in one of the books I checked out of the library a couple of weeks ago. It’s in either Laura’s Album: a Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Laura Ingalls Wilder: a Biography, both by William T. Anderson, because those are the ones that I checked out of the library! I’ll try to check this evening and let you know which. It’s also supposed to be in A Little House Reader: a Collection of Writings by Laura Ingalls Wilder, also by Anderson.

      • Sonya says:

        Perhaps there are multiple poems that she wrote during this period. The one that I read doesn’t have a title listed. It begins “Lonely! I am so lonely/Far from thee!” It’s on p. 125 of Laura Ingalls Wilder: a Biography.

  4. Michelle says:

    Like Sonya (love your name! – our dot of 1 yr has that name too, with the same spelling – around here, people are apt to pronounce “Sonja” with a “j” sound like in James, hence our choice of spelling) I too found Laura hard to credit with her comment that “the rest of the week felt oddly empty. SHe hadn’t realized before how much she looked forward to the Sunday drives.” For heavens’ sake woman you were supposed to be IN LOVE with this guy! Weren’t you all a-jitter all the time over him (I was with my then-bf now DH of 23 yrs when we were first together – couldn’t think straight!) Reminded me of the “olden days” when marriage was a business deal and had nothing to do with romance. But then if she is going to be so matter-of-fact about her love for Almanzo, she shouldn’t be surprised when he doesn’t have time to come by & explain why he’s leaving town earlier than planned.

    • Sonya says:

      People often do spell my name with a “j.” I’ve learned to shrug it off. It irritates me a bit more when they pronounce my name with a hard “o” in the Russian way, because I pronounce it with a soft “o.” It’s kind of like the Al-man-zo vs. Al-mon-zo thing. Ha!

      I have wondered why Laura downplayed the romance in her relationship with Manly. Was it because she penned it as an elderly woman who was writing from the perspective of their much more calm and familiar relationship or because she just wanted to portray her subject Laura as being too serious and level-headed to be swept away by romantic love? Come to think of it, I guess most older novels do tend to avoid descriptions of passionate love. They mostly emphasize the hero and heroine connecting on an intellectual level.

  5. Michelle says:

    Sonya, we too have seen it spellt Sonja – so we have learned to say “Sonya with a Y” just like I have to say “Michelle with 2 L’s”. WHen you say a “hard o” do you mean people say “Sone-ya” (rhymes with tone) or more like Sawn-ya? We pronounce our wee one’s the latter way. (off topic I know – is there any way posters can chat not on this site about unrelated stuff?)

    I know what you mean about older novels downplaying the romance, but there isn’t a lot of detail about “intellectual discourse” either – it’s never really clear to me what they have in common. Sure Almanzo may admire her ability to drive his horses (I didn’t read as much into the earlier chapters in THGY as many of the reviewers here have), and she may love his horses, but what else do they have in common? What did they actually TALK about?

    • Sonya says:

      Yes, that was what I meant on the pronunciation!

      Good point that we don’t really see what the connection is between them other than horses. Almanzo seems impressed that she is not frightened of his wild, untamed colts. She seems to like that he is a hard worker and brave enough to battle the elements for her sake and the town’s. In an earlier chapter, she is not turned off by his rough farming clothes as Mary Power is. I wanted to say, “Really, Mary? You are in a small frontier town and you are turned off by a guy in work clothes? How pretentious! I might have expected that of Nellie Oleson!” 🙂

      I’ve read that Rose criticized her a bit for writing about too much adult stuff in LTOTP and THGY, but Laura felt strongly that the story and the narrator’s voice should fit the character as she grew up. Back then, teens weren’t seen as a separate market for books and there was no “Young Adult” category for fiction so she was rather ahead of her time. Rose’s head would spin if she knew what a phenomenon Harry Potter and the Twilight novels were today!

  6. Melissa says:

    Another reason she may have downplayed the romance was because her audience was children.

  7. Tracy Sapp says:

    I read that Almanzo & Royal were going to some sort of fair or exposition in Louisiana that winter. I have also read that Ida did indeed teach school that spring/summer before she married Elmer. I have always felt that Mary Power’s comments about not wanting to teach or get married a little catty. Wasn’t she a good friend of Laura’s? I think that she was jealous. Also, the lack of emotion in Laura’s descriptions of her courtship with Almanzo are probably due to the fact that it was Victorian times. To quote Laura herself, in the chapter ” The Whirl of Gaiety” in LTOTP, “A grown up person must never let feelings be shown by voice or manner.”

  8. Tracy Sapp says:

    There are some love poems that Laura wrote about Almnazo in the book “A Little House Reader.” There is a poem about Laura making Almanzo very angry about something she said and he avoids her for a LONG time & she writes about how sorry she is & how much she misses him. She calls him her “Love” in the poem. It is actually quite a good poem.

  9. Melanie says:

    I had forgotten about the poetry, thanks for the reminder.
    It is true, we are talking about a more reserved time, which is why I am always looked at what isn’t said.
    Yes, I’m sure both Laura and Almanzo had a few dates in their day before they got together, particularly Almanzo.
    I could have written a whole thing just about the mini-series, but that would be too far off the plot point. 🙂
    I always thought that the horses were symbolic of what they had in common, as well as all of the sexual energy between them.
    Thanks for your comments everyone!

  10. Marybeth says:

    What readers today will never be able to understand, or maybe comprehend, was how DIFFERENT things were then…completely foreign to what we know now…you cannot try to insert Laura and Almanzo into today’s time frame and expect them to have the same reactions you would…remember this is a time period when most children in families were viewed as property–PROPERTY…remember Almanzo talking in “little town” about how his father had the legal right to keep him working on the family farm until he was 21…children could be sold and given away….children should be seen and not heard….that was reality…this was the Victorian age–women were very prim and proper and the quick kiss would have been the norm….also yes it was normal for one to pass messages in town—you don’t just hitch up your buggy and ride several miles (remember they lived several miles apart) just to say “hi”….even if you are engaged….and as laura was still her father’s daughter, her father had watch over her…it seems hard to accept in times when you text, call, or have few responsibilities as a child…remember these girls were doing full-on housework when they were just over the age of 5….FIVE!…most of us are lazy compared to what these girls grew up with and couldn’t handle what they were doing for chores….analyze it all you want, but you’ll never fully understand because you weren’t raised as they were nor did we ever live in the same time frame they did

  11. ACCER says:

    This is one of the things that made me so INCREDIBLY furious with the TV series: The courting.

    Seriously, Laura chasing after Almanzo????? In what freaking alternate anti-Victorian universe??? Ma would have had a stroke and been quoting whoredom passages from the Bible at her! It simply wasn’t done.

    If she had, he’d have outrun Barnum getting away from her!

    SMH….it just always really annoyed me. A LOT!

    That and all of the adaptations that can’t find a freaking bulldog to play Jack. Really? He’s a DOG. He does DOGGY things…..why is it so hard to find a bulldog to wander around being a dog???

    Oh, and never leaving Walnut Grove. I don’t think Almanzo ever visited Walnut Grove. Hell, the series spent more time there than the actual family did.

    Ok, I’ll stop now….I like the show…but it’s like bad fan fiction….

  12. kaytie says:

    All these comments complaining about the lack of romance really crack me up. i was raised menonite, and had an even stricter courtship than Laura wrote about. we never kissed, held hands or said “i love you” until we were sure we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.
    Before you get to that point in a relationship, there’s really no sense in getting jittery. nothing may come of it after all. and before you write me off as an unromantic bore, let me just say that, thanks to that kind of solid foundation of sincere no-nonsense friendship, my husband and I have have the privilege of saying we were eachothers first time for everything and we are still hopelessly in love after many years of marriage.

  13. kaytie says:

    We simply controlled our emotions until it was the right time, and now we can feel jittery, and the feeling is sweeter because we know for sure that the other person loves us for real, not in fantasy.
    the kind of love young girls today are trained to hunger for is the brief livedlove called infatuation. it literally means “foolish love”. I hate shows like doctor qwinn and the little house tv show, because it shows more foolish love than real tried and tested forever love. if you want to know the best place i know of in these books for real romance, go stort in book one and read all the interactions between ma and pa. its a sweet, clean, clear cut friendship that bubbles over in all that they do. they really love eachother! And they probably started out just like Laura and almanzo. dr. qwinn kind of love only lasts till the passion goes away.,

  14. Adkmilkmaid says:

    ‘The kind of love young girls today are trained to hunger for is the brief-lived love called infatuation. it literally means “foolish love”. I hate shows like Doctor Quinn and the Little House tv show, because it shows more foolish love than real, tried and tested, forever love. if you want to know the best place I know of in these books for real romance, go start in book one and read all the interactions between Ma and Pa. It’s a sweet, clean, clear-cut friendship that bubbles over in all that they do. They really love each other! And they probably started out just like Laura and Almanzo. Dr. Quinn kind of love only lasts till the passion goes away.’

    Kaytie, I agree 100%, though I have never seen Dr. Quinn and haven’t seen the Little House TV show since its original airing when I was 14. I have always loved the portrayal of Ma and Pa’s relationship, as well as the romance between Laura and Almanzo.

    I will also add, I laugh to myself at all the sexual stuff people often seem to want to read into the horses. Horses are beautiful, fun, and exciting. The drives gave them privacy as well as the thrill of taming and training a pair of runaways (even today, nobody wants to buy a harness horse with a reputation as a run-away). This was their shared “motorcycle” — something cool and somewhat risky! I think they got to know each other very well on those drives.

  15. Michelle says:

    I don’t think the “times” are the reason for the lack of “passion” in Laura’s depiction of her and Almanzo’s courtship – there’s more passion in Shakespeare, John Donne, the Cavalier poets, Jane Austen – all of whom predated Laura……. I guess Laura was just quite reserved?? I still wonder what she and Almanzo TALKED about (for what it’s worth, the night DH & I met, in a disco no less, we talked about, inter alia, Beethoven, Mozart, the Impressionists and DH Lawrence (and can someone please explain why Americans talk of the 19th century as “Victorian” when she was never your sovereign?!? I’m Canadian and curious!)

  16. Leslie says:

    Even reading as a kid—young teenager, perhaps, but I don’t actually remember when I started the little house books!–I remember getting a sense of ambivalence from Laura’s descriptions of the courtship. So there’s that and then the fact that for all her poetic flights of fancy–the descriptions for Mary that Mary rejects as being just too out there–she’s a very disciplined realist.

  17. Adkmilkmaid says:

    “Victorian” in the U.S. is a descriptor of the social attitudes of the times, a shorthand for that long era. We also sometimes use “Edwardian,” for the period from 1901-1910, or even up to WWI … it’s more easily recognized than “Progressive Era” (and certainly no one calls that period the Theodore Roosevelt Era). 🙂

    Within the Victorian era we also have the Civil War period, Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, etc. But Victoria’s rule was so long, she branded everyone’s consciousness, even thousands of miles away.

  18. Margo says:

    The period before the Victorians was called Regency in England. It was a time of much less prudery, much more open sexuality, etc. Jane Austen wrote her earlier novels in this period, and her later ones during the transition to a more Victorian sensibility. Victorians, such as Jane Austen’s nieces, were disturbed by some of the things “Aunt Jane” said and wrote in letters, and tried to make her image more appropriate for the times that the nieces lived in.

    Pick a starting point in time, and there will be transitions of all sorts – from more prudish or reserved to more libertine, or the other way around.