Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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I’ve had the 7 “Little House” books for over 30 years and have read them so often that they’re falling apart, so I don’t know why I’d never read this, the story of Almanzo’s childhood (a year in the life of, when he was 8/9) before, but better late than never! For a kick off, here is a description of a typical Wilder family breakfast:

There was oatmeal with plenty of thick cream and maple sugar. There were fried potatoes, and the golden buckwheat cakes, as many as Almanzo wanted to eat, with sausages and gravy or with butter and maple syrup. There were preserves and jams and jellies and doughnuts. But best of all Almanzo liked the spicy apple pie, with its thick, rich juice and its crumbly crust.

All the meals seem to’ve been like that! Did they do some eating?! But they did a lot of hard physical labour as well … often at the expense of attending school, in Almanzo’s case. Unlike the Ingalls family, the Wilders (BTW, why is Almanzo’s eldest sister not mentioned?!) were comfortably off, and, although they did most of their own farm labour and had no domestic or permanent farm staff, certainly higher up the social pecking order than Almanzo’s future in-laws. They seem to’ve been very keen on putting money in the bank, whereas I’m not sure that banks are ever even mentioned in connection with Charles and Caroline Ingalls! And the three elder siblings mentioned in the book – including Eliza Jane, who came across no better here than she did as Laura’s teacher, to the extent that I’m surprised Laura wrote like that about her sister-in-law – went off to a boarding school. However, they did work incredibly hard. Until affected by crop failures in the late 1860s and 1870, they ran a successful farm in Malone, New York state, very close to the Canadian border. Incidentally, although the book, given Almanzo’s age, must be set in late 1865 and early 1866, less than a year after the end of the American Civil War, there’s not one mention of the war or its aftermath.

They did pretty much everything themselves. They produced things, they used pretty much everything they produced, and they were proud to be free and independent. It was the American Dream. I don’t know how accurate it is, but the way it came across was just that … the old-style American Dream. Whilst I’m using clichés, add “the Protestant work ethic” in there. It was a hard life, but how incredible to have been able to live a life like that. And what a shame that it didn’t last for them.

Like all Laura (I always think of her as “Laura”)’s books, this was a lovely book. I just don’t know why I’d never read it before!

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