If you were with us last time, you’ll remember talking about that moment in Farmer Boy when Almanzo decides that he wants to train horses and be a farmer. As I pointed out, his choice as a ten-year-old would help shape him into the young man we meet in the later books—the young homesteader in Dakota Territory.
This young homesteader has certain qualities about him that, in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s writing, set him apart from the other characters of those books. When someone starts talking about Almanzo Wilder as a young adult, two of the main stories that come to my mind are the story of the wheat and the bigger story of his courtship of Laura Ingalls. In these two stories alone, Laura the writer touches on the most admirable aspects of Almanzo’s character.
As we see in The Long Winter, when Almanzo sits and ponders how long his own seed wheat would be able to keep the rest of the town alive during the months of blizzards, this young man is extremely thoughtful and good with figures. Also, his choice to set out with Cap Garland to find the homesteader with the wheat shows his perseverance and daring. Finally, Almanzo’s gentleness and patience becomes utterly clear in his courtship of Laura. Despite her initial uncertainty about him and her unpredictable and spirited nature, Almanzo quietly persists in pursuing her until, finally, he wins her over.
These qualities of Almanzo’s didn’t just come out of nowhere, though. Let’s consider, for a moment, Almanzo’s thoughtfulness and his calculating, analytical mindset. If you think about it, he actually learned to think carefully about his resources when he was only a boy. That’s also when he learned how to work figures in his head.
One of the stories that most strongly shows Almanzo’s development in this area is the story of the half dollar that Laura tells in Farmer Boy. In this story, Almanzo asks his father for money so that he can buy lemonade. After hearing his father explain all of the hard work that goes into making one half dollar, however, Almanzo ultimately decides to buy a young pig with the money instead. This is how Almanzo first learns about investing. Getting lemonade with his money would have brought him instant gratification, but buying the pig allowed him to make a profit later.
It’s this same sort of thinking that helped him, during the long, hard winter, to not only see that selling his seed wheat to the town would likely prevent him from planting his crop in the spring but also to recognize that his own seed wheat wouldn’t be enough to feed the entire town for the months until the trains could make it back through with supplies.
His perseverance during the cold, treacherous journey with Cap didn’t come out of nowhere either. In fact, it seems that he’s always kind of had a habit of going on adventures like that.
Check back next time, and we’ll explore more of Almanzo’s snowy excursions.