These Happy Golden Years
|Author||Laura Ingalls Wilder|
|Publisher||Harper & Brothers|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover, Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Little Town on the Prairie|
|Followed by||The First Four Years|
These Happy Golden Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, was published in 1943 and is the eighth of nine books written in her Little House series, also known as The Laura Years. This book is based on Laura's adolescence near De Smet, South Dakota, in the late 19th century, and focuses on Laura's short time as a teacher and her courtship with her future husband, Almanzo Wilder.
These Happy Golden Years spans the time period from 1882 to 1885, when Laura marries Almanzo.
As the story begins, Pa is taking Laura 12 miles from home in the dead of winter to her first teaching assignment at Brewster settlement. Laura, only 15 and a schoolgirl herself, is apprehensive as this is both the first time she has left home and the first school she has taught, but is determined to complete her assignment and earn $40 to help her sister Mary, who is attending Vinton College for the Blind in Iowa.
This first school proves difficult for her. Laura must board with the Brewsters in their two-room claim shanty, sleeping on a narrow sofa behind a curtain in their bedroom. The Brewsters are an unhappy family and Laura is deeply uncomfortable observing the way husband and wife quarrel. In one particularly unsettling incident, she wakes in the night to see Mrs. Brewster standing over her husband with a knife. Mrs. Brewster seems to resent Laura particularly, and is rarely pleasant to her.
Laura does not like teaching school, but feels that at least going to the schoolhouse keeps her away from Mrs. Brewster, and steels herself to spend all of Saturday and Sunday in the Brewster house. To her surprise and delight, homesteader Almanzo Wilder (with whom she became acquainted in Little Town on the Prairie) appears at the end of her first week of school in his new two-person cutter to bring her home for the weekend. Already fond of Laura and wanting to ease her homesickness, Almanzo takes it upon himself to bring her home and return her to the Brewsters each weekend of that term—once, on a dangerously frigid day when the temperature drops lower than -40° -- even though she at one point tells him she is only going with him because she wants to go home.
The winter passes slowly. The weather is bitterly cold, though not so badly as the Hard Winter, and neither the claim shanty or the school house can be heated adequately. Some of the children Laura is teaching are older than Laura herself, and she has difficulty motivating them. With advice from Ma (a former schoolteacher herself), Laura is able to adapt and become more self-assured, and successfully completes the two-month assignment. Pa brings her the $40, and she gives it back to him to use for Mary's college education.
Though Laura believed she would not see Almanzo again after school ended, she happily accepts an invitation to go on a sleigh ride with him the next weekend, and so their relationship continues. Sleigh rides give way to buggy rides in the spring, and Laura impresses Almanzo with her willingness to help break his new and often temperamental horses.
Laura's old nemesis Nellie Oleson makes a brief appearance during two Sunday buggy rides with Almanzo, who later explains to Laura that he only offered Nellie a ride because he felt sorry for her. Nellie's chatter and flirtatious behavior towards Almanzo annoy Laura, who flatly refuses to ride with Almanzo if he continues seeing Nellie. Shortly thereafter, Nellie moves back to New York after her family loses their homestead.
In between, Laura's Uncle Tom (Ma's brother) visits the family and tells of his failed venture with a covered wagon brigade seeking gold in the Black Hills, in which they built a stockade but were driven out of it by U.S. soldiers. Laura moves with seamstress Mrs. McKee to the McKees' claim when Mrs. McKee moves there to fulfill the residency requirements necessary to hold the claim. When Mary returns home for summer vacation, Mrs. McKee tells Laura she can go home.
The family finances have improved with the increase in their livestock to the point that Pa can sell a cow to purchase a sewing machine for Ma. Laura receives another teaching certificate and teaches at a nearby school, for which she is paid $75; Pa uses the money to purchase a parlor organ to surprise Mary when she returns home from college.
Almanzo invites Laura to attend summer "singing school" with him and her classmates, which they both enjoy. On the last evening of singing school while driving Laura home, Almanzo—who has by now been courting Laura for three years—proposes to Laura. She tells him "it would depend on the ring." During their next ride, Almanzo presents Laura with a gold ring set with a garnet and pearls, which she accepts, and they share their first kiss.
During their engagement, Laura teaches one final term of school, and she and Ma begin working on the linens and clothing necessary for Laura to begin a household of her own after marriage. Almanzo is nearly finished building their house on his tree claim, when he asks Laura if she would mind getting married within a few days; his sister and mother have their hearts set on a church wedding, which Pa cannot yet afford. Laura agrees, and she and Almanzo are married by the Reverend Brown in a simple ceremony. After a wedding dinner with her family, Laura drives away with Almanzo and the newlyweds settle contentedly into their new home.
"Lew Brewster" was a pseudonym for Louis Bouchie. He was a distant relative of Mr. Boast, a good friend of the Ingalls who appears in several of the books. Bouchie and Genevieve Masters were the only two people whose names Laura changed for her books, as Nellie and Louis Bouchie's wife were both unpleasant people, and Laura wished to respect their privacy.
There is today a small town called Carthage, South Dakota, located where Laura placed the Brewster settlement, although it is unclear if Carthage grew out of the original Bouchie (Brewster) Settlement.
Nellie Oleson, depicted in this story, is actually a combination of two of Laura's rivals: Genevieve Masters, in the school passages, and Stella Gilbert, in the passages about the buggy rides with Laura and Almanzo. The news Laura hears near the end of the book, that "Nellie has gone back East", refers to Genevieve Masters.