Friday, February 13, 2009
Happy Birthday Almanzo!
On February 13, 1857 James and Angelina Wilder welcomed a son. They named him Almanzo James Wilder, and he joined the other Wilder children: Laura Ann, Royal, Eliza Jane, and Alice on the Wilder farm in upstate New York.
All his life, Almanzo wanted to be a farmer. In Farmer Boy--the only book of the entire Little House series dedicated solely to Almanzo--we read of young Almanzo's life growing up in the red farmhouse that has been lovingly restored by the Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder Association. This classic children's tale centers around Almanzo trying to prove to his father that he is old enough to have his own colt. And in the end, after much work and determination, Almanzo succeeds.
We don't hear about Almanzo again until The Long Winter--my favorite of all the Little House books--where Almanzo and Cap Garland risk their lives to find seed wheat to feed the starving town of De Smet, SD that has been cut off from supplies because the trains won't make it through until spring.
Spring finally comes to the prairie, and there are church socials, dances, and "literaries" to keep everyone entertained. We read of Laura and Almanzo's meeting in Little Town on the Prairie and how Almanzo began escorting Laura home. Then when Laura is forced to take a job in Brewster to help pay Mary's tuition at the blind school, The Happy Golden Years tells us of Almanzo driving Laura back and forth from Brewster because she was homesick and of the sleigh rides they shared together once she was home for good. And who could forget Almanzo's suprise return on Christmas Eve when he was supposed to be in Minnesota with Royal.
Farmer Boy and the books of Almanzo and Laura's courtship are filled with fun times, but The First Four Years has a decidely different tone. Published after Laura's and Rose's deaths, this book chronicles the first four years of the Wilders' marriage--which was filled with disappointments and sorrow. Lost crops, illness, and the loss of their home and son did not allow for the healthy dose of optimism that is prevalent in the other Little House books. And we realize how difficult the pioneering era truly was.
On the Way Home details Laura, Almanzo, and Rose's trip from De Smet, SD to Mansfield, MO, where they would spend most of their married lives. Here, the Wilders prospered, Laura became a journalist, and wrote her Little House books.
It is impossible for me to enter into a discussion of Almanzo Wilder without mentioning Dean Butler, who portrayed Almanzo on the classic television show, Little House on the Prairie. Dean's version of Almanzo captured the strong, silent man from Laura's books. He brought to life, Almanzo's love of the farm and his horses, and even his ability to push through adversity and make a life for him and his family.
Dean has maintained the connection to his Little House on the Prairie roots. Dean has produced some of the bonus content for the Little House DVDs and the majority of the new bonus content found on the Little House on the Prairie Mega-Pack. In addition, Dean and Legacy Documentaries released a documentary of Almanzo Wilder's childhood, based upon Farmer Boy. You can find my review of Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura here.
On Almanzo Wilder's 152nd birthday, we remember the boy growing up on the farm in New York. We think fondly of the dashing young man who courted Laura and won her heart. During the month of love, our hearts are touched by the effort and care Almanzo built into Rocky Ridge Farm that he shared with Laura for many years. And lastly, we are thankful for Laura's loving portrayal of her husband in so many of her books.
Happy Birthday Manly!