Happy 150th birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder! In honor of Laura’s birthday, we have devoted a good many blog posts the theme of birthdays in the Little House series and in Laura’s autobiography, Pioneer Girl.
Today, we will be wrapping up our exploration of Laura’s unmentioned birthdays and of our Little House birthday posts with a search of the final book of Laura’s original 8-book series, These Happy Golden Years.
The first several chapters of These Happy Golden Years give an account of Laura’s first-ever teaching gig when she was only fifteen years old. She taught a two-month term at the Brewster school, twelve miles away from her home in De Smet. Every day, she managed five students in the one-room schoolhouse. Every evening, she went back to mean Mrs. Brewster’s house for dinner and bed. Every weekend, Almanzo Wilder would come through the cold, wintry weather to bring her home to her family.
Laura’s sixteenth birthday would have come around the middle of the two months of this routine. At the beginning of the chapter, “A Knife in the Dark,” Laura describes the February weather: “There were no blizzards yet, but February was very cold. The wind was like knives.” It is in this chapter that Laura begins to feel bad for Almanzo, who continually braves the cold to bring her home. She decides it’s not fair to take so much from him when she can’t give anything in return. So she tells him straight up that “I am going with you only because I want to get home. When I am home to stay, I will not go with you any more. So now you know, and if you want to save yourself these long, cold drives, you can” (These Happy Golden Years 62). Nevertheless, Almanzo continues to come get her anyway, explaining that he’s not the “kind of fellow” that would leave her at the Brewster’s when she’s so homesick just because “there’s nothing in it” for himself (77). (A very similar account of these events appears on pages 264-267 of Pioneer Girl.) This birthday brought Laura a new friend in Almanzo—a friend with whom she would ultimately spend the rest of her life.
When the Clock Strikes Twelve
These Happy Golden Years skips right over Laura’s birthday month during the time of her engagement to Almanzo, going straight from the Christmas chapter to a chapter about the teacher’s examination, which Laura took in March after turning seventeen. Pioneer Girl, however, tells us a bit about the rest of the winter following that Christmas. That Christmas, Almanzo had planned to spend the entire winter with his family in Minnesota. However, he ends up getting lonesome for Laura and returns unannounced on Christmas Eve to surprise his fiancee.
Laura goes on in her autobiography to describe how she and Almanzo spent the rest of the winter having sleigh rides and chatting by the fire in the Ingalls’ sitting room (Pioneer Girl 314). Wilder briefly writes about one particular fire-lit evening:
The folks left us alone about nine o’clock, but we knew that Manly [Laura’s nickname for Almanzo] was expected to leave when the clock struck eleven. He always did except one stormy night when he stopped the clock just before it struck and started it again when his watch said twelve, so that it struck eleven just as he left.
Maybe Almanzo and Laura’s extra-long chat that night was on Laura’s birthday.