Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Farmer Boy

My family and I adore entirely, the Little House on the Prairie series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We loved it so much, we were addicted (I'm sorry, I still am) to the tv show...I especially loved to see Pa ( I mean look at him...holey moley...)But I really identified with Laura, who, in her books, always wished she could've been as good and kind as Mary, but she just couldn't seem to help herself...Laura Ingalls and Anne Shirley and I would've been thick-as-theives (this assumes some kind of world where the 1880s real world, the imaginative world of Anne Shirley and my 1980s world were all combined...let's call it "La-La Land"...I spent a considerable amount of time there in my childhood) But, I digress...
What I wanted to say was that in the series of Little House books (Mine are the yellow ones), I have a favorite. The one I seem to want to go to whenever the snows start flying for the year, and the nights get colder, and our minds want to wander in, not out. I ADORE reading Farmer Boy, outloud. My mom use to read these books to my little brother and I when we were younger, and I was mesmerized by both the story and the wonderful reading voice my mom had. Both punctated and soothing, with pauses for imagining...a perfect voice for a story. I realize as I read to my son, I am trying to emulate that same voice for him. It works so well for these gentle stories.
This was the first year that I was able to read aloud, with any amount of success, a chapter book. My son, who is 6, is fascinated, and can't wait to hear what Almanzo is up to next...and neither can I, though I know the story front and back by now. Opening the pages and reading the food descriptions just about throws Ethan and I into spasms of hunger, and the descriptions of the work they do and the jobs they encounter are intricately written. Ethan said, "That is like a recipe for making shoes...I mean directions...directions for making shoes." He is spot on.
We've decided that our favorite chapter is "Keeping House". This is the one in which Mother and Father leave the kids to fend for themselves for a whole week, and they do nothing but make ice cream and cakes and candy and get in fights and mess things up, but in the end, they all cover for each other and get the chores done the day BEFORE Mother and Father come home and think that the kids have been as good as gold and even tell them that it is no matter that they practically ate all the sugar, because they did everything else so well...hehehe...it is a terribly amusing secret we are all in on, don't you think!
But, I've decided that my new favorite chapter is "Threshing." You can hear the love that Almanzo has for this kind of work, and the deep satisfaction it gives him at such a young age (9!). Here is my favorite passage:
"What say we run some beechnuts through?" Father asked. So they pitched beech leaves into the hopper, and now the whirring fans blew away the leaves, and the three-cornered brown nuts poured out. Almanzo filled a peck-measure with them, to eat that evening by the heater.
Then he went whistling to do the chores.
All winter long, on stormy days, there would be threshing to do. When the wheat was threshed, there would be the oats, the beans, the Canada peas. There was plenty of grain to feed the stock, plenty of wheat and rye to take to the mill for flour. Almanzo had harrowed the fields, he had helped in the harvest, and now he was threshing.
He helped to feed the patient cows, and the horses eagerly whinnying over the bars of their stalls, and the hungrily bleating sheep, and the grunting pigs. And he felt like saying to them all: "You can depend on me. I'm big enough to take care of you all."
Then he shut the door snugly behind him, leaving them all fed and warm and comfortable for the night, and he went trudging through the storm to the good supper waiting in the kitchen.
But who doesn't love the soft, animated, sensitive illustrations?! That Garth Williams was a genius...the publishers were geniuses for choosing him to illustrate this series. Here is a favorite: Almanzo is milking the cows by lantern light, and the barn cats are waiting for a stream now and then from him. It pencils out a precious, small moment in time, with cats rubbing and the patient cow seeing what the cats are up to...I adore it.

I'll leave you with the opening paragraphs of the chapter "Threshing", as the words give me that wonderful warm feeling deep in my stomach that says, "I know that feeling. I love that!"

The wind howled and the snow whirled and a mournful sound came from the cedars. The skeleton apple trees rattled their branches together like bones. All outdoors was dark and wild and noisy.
But the solid, strong barns were quiet. The howling storm beat upon them, but the barns stood undisturbed. They kept their own warmth inside themselves.
When Almanzo latched the door behind him, the noise of the storm was not so loud as the warm stillness of the barns. The air was quiet. The horses turned in their box-stalls and whinnied softly; the colts tossed their heads and pawed. The cows stood in a row, placidly swinging their tasseled tails; you could hear them chewing their cuds....
...There was still a faint smell of pumpkins, though the stock had eaten them all. A woodsy smell came from the pile of beech leaves, and a dry, strawy smell came from the wheat. Outside the wind was screeching and the snow was whirling, but the South-Barn Floor was warm and quiet.

1 comment:

Oh Sarah Plain and Tall said...

Oh dear Katie! I hate to tell you but Michael (PA) was mine first!
You see, I am older than thee and had my own personal love affair via Little House every week when you were probably still in diapers.....
As far as Anne Shirley and Laura.....they ARE kindred spirits!! Oh to have lived in the Little House in the Big Woods or on Prince Edward Island......my daughter shares my same love for these girls and their
adventures...what a gift that is......
Now what about Sarah Plain and Tall...... I love her telling about the
"colors of the sea"........Oh to have lived back then!!!
Blessings to you dear friend....carry on!
Sarah Bechler