Thursday, February 27, 2014
The Cottonwood Tree is featuring a three part interview with Melanie Stringer, a Laura Ingalls Wilder interpreter. You can read the first part of their interview at http://thecottonwoodtree.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/a-conversation-with-melanie-stringer-laura-ingalls-wilder-interpreter-part-1-of-3/
Monday, February 24, 2014
Why Can't He See It?
LHOP inspired fan fiction by Cheryl C. Malandrinos
Disclaimer: I do not own the Little House on the Prairie television series, book series, or any of the characters.
Laura stopped as the Wilder farm came into view. Her rapid breathing reverberated in her chest as she stared down at the shaking dinner pail in her trembling hand. She patted down the stray hair that had escaped the confines of her tight braid and smoothed out her dress. Placing her hand over her heart, she breathed in deeply, trying to calm her nerves.
"Everything will be just fine," she told herself. "It's only Manly. I've talked to him dozens of times."
But this time was special. She wanted to tell Almanzo that she would start teaching Daniel Page that morning. Surely, Almanzo would now recognize how much she had changed. She had her first student, and soon she would earn her teaching certificate.
Almanzo stepped off the front porch and moseyed towards the barn. Laura snuck behind a nearby tree, hoping Manly hadn't seen her coming down the road. She watched him for a few moments from her hiding place, her eyes wide as they gazed upon his tall, lean form in the shadows of the barn. He pitched dirty hay out of a stall. Bending, digging in with the pitchfork and then tossing the soiled hay into a pile in the center of the floor, whistling while he worked.
"It's now or never," said Laura, trying to convince her body to move. Her legs felt like wooden blocks and her arms hung at her sides like thin tree branches weighed down with wet, heavy snow. Laura closed her eyes and took another deep breath. Marching with confidence, she hoped her trembling hands didn't give away the tight, nervous feeling in her stomach. "Hi Manly."
"Mornin, Beth. Whatcha doin out here so early?"
Laura's mouth felt as dry as the road. She tried to swallow away the lump in her throat made worse by Almanzo's stare. He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Is somethin wrong Beth?" he asked.
She shook away her fears. It was the only way he would stop seeing her as a child. "Oh no, nothing's wrong. I just wanted to tell Miss Wilder that I have my first student."
"Gosh darnit, is that all." He exhaled. "By the way you were acting I thought there was an epidemic or somethin'." The right corner of his lip curled, then stopped, and then curled again. Shaking his head, he gazed down at the pile of hay and then back up to Laura. "Couldn't ya have told her that when you saw her at school on Monday?"
The handle of Laura's dinner pail rattled in her trembling hands. She tucked the sign language books under her arm and clasped the pail handle with both hands. "I was so excited, I wanted to tell her right away."
"Oh, well, she's comin' out now. If you'll excuse me, I gotta hitch up Barnum. I'm gonna meet Sara at Nellie's for breakfast and I don't wanna be late."
"Sure." Laura shuffled away, discouraged that her big news hadn't warranted a more enthusiastic response.
Miss Wilder and Laura walked towards Almanzo and his buggy as they chatted.
"Mannie, did you hear? Laura is going to be teaching Daniel Page sign language?" Miss Wilder said.
"Yeah, she told me." Almanzo checked the harness.
"Won't it be wonderful if he can communicate with others?"
"Hop in Laura," said Almanzo. "I'll give ya a ride home."
"No thanks. I'll walk. I'm going over to see Daniel now anyway."
"Mr. Page's place is on the way. I sure would like some company."
Laura shrugged. "All right." She ignored the hand he held out to her and climbed into the buggy.
Almanzo's glanced over at Eliza Jane and stepped into the buggy. Grabbing the reins he said to his sister, "I'll be back in a couple of hours."
Eliza Jane nodded. "Say hello to your parents for me, Laura."
The buggy bounced as the wheels turned over the rocky, rutted road. Almanzo's shoulder bumped her a few times, causing the butterflies in her stomach to somersault. She leaned against the side of the buggy to avoid further contact. Why did I come all the way out here? Almanzo doesn't even care about my teaching job. How could I have been so foolish? Maybe Albert was right—Almanzo is too old for me and I should just forget him.
Laura glanced at Almanzo's profile out of the corner of her eye. His hat covered his high forehead. Most of his hair was hidden, but the ends peeked out from the rim, strands of strawberry-blond fineness that Laura wished she could touch at least once. His slender, long nose jetted out almost to a point, and his cheeks dimpled whenever he spoke.
Laura felt relieved when they finally reached the Pages' farm. She jumped out quickly. Almanzo handed Laura her books and dinner pail.
"Thanks for the ride," she said.
"Thanks for the company..though you were a bit quiet."
"I guess." Laura's boot traced a circle in the dirt.
"Ya sure nothing's wrong?"
Nothing except you not noticing I'm a woman, thought Laura. "No, I'm just excited about my first student."
"Well, good luck. I gotta run. I don't want Sara to think I forgot."
Sara—perfect, pretty, and old enough for Almanzo. Laura sighed as she thought of what would happen in town. A slim figure with white gloves and a fitted bodice on her store-bought dress standing on the porch of Nellie's. Her pretty brown hair curled and tied with a satin ribbon and decorated with flowers.
Almanzo would arrive, smiling that crooked smile that melted Laura's heart. Sara would slip her dainty hand in his larger, stronger one and they would waltz into Nellie's, sharing breakfast and conversation. Sara would smile, exposing her perfect, white teeth and Almanzo would look into her brown eyes as she cooed over his every word.
Laura wished for a magic potion to stop time so that Almanzo would wait for her to grow up. But there was no potion, and the lingering fear ached in her heart that Almanzo would be off and married before she even had her first real teaching job.
"Hullo Laura," said Mr. Page. "Daniel's inside waiting for you."
"Thanks. Is it okay if we go out to the lake later? I brought lunch with me."
Laura headed towards the house. She turned when she heard Mr. Page call her name. "When did you grow up into such a fine young woman? I swear it was only yesterday when you first came to Walnut Grove."
A faint smile turned the corners of her lips. The kind of obligatory smile you give your grandmother when she talks about you being all grown up. "I just wish Almanzo felt that way," she whispered.
Copyright Cheryl C. Malandrinos - All Rights Reserved.
Friday, February 14, 2014
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
A Word of Thanks
LHOP inspired fan fiction by Cheryl C. Malandrinos
Disclaimer: I do not own the Little House on the Prairie television series, book series, or any of the characters.
Almanzo waited in his wagon for Eliza Jane to walk out of the schoolhouse. His mood was somber. Tomorrow morning, he and his sister would be leaving Walnut Grove behind. Bart Slater and his wealthy father had come to town. They had been nothing but trouble. Bart had bullied his smaller classmates and caused so many disruptions that Eliza Jane had begged the School Board to intervene. Instead, Harriet Oleson and some of the Board members threatened to replace her with someone who could manage the school properly. Keeping Mr. Slater’s money in town was deemed more important than keeping Eliza Jane as a teacher. The more Almanzo thought about it, his anger simmered.
When his sister appeared on the door step, she seemed nothing less than ecstatic. That’s strange. What happened today? Laura Ingalls followed behind her.
"I can't thank you enough, Laura." Almanzo’s normally reserved sister looked like she would hop up and click her heels together at any moment. What is going on?
"I'm glad I could help, Miss Wilder."
Eliza Jane hugged Laura, and then they walked down the stairs together and stood in front of the wagon.
Almanzo’s overflowing curiosity threatened to explode. “Howdy, Beth. What are you two—”
"Hey Laura, you comin?" her brother Albert called from the bridge leading out of town.
"Gotta go," she said. "Bye, Miss Wilder. Bye, Manly." Laura raced off, her braids flying around her head.
Almanzo helped Eliza Jane into the wagon. "What was that all about?"
His sister seemed almost ready to jump out of the seat. "Remember the ruckus in front of school this morning?” Almanzo nodded. “Laura rallied the other children into beating up Bart Slater. He's promised to behave from now on. Not only that, he apologized for his dreadful behavior."
"So we aren’t leaving Walnut Grove?"
"No." Almanzo’s heart skipped a beat. Thank God. "I guess I better stop by the Feed and Seed and ask Mr. Miller for my job back." Proud as a peacock, Eliza Jane sat beside him, her fingers fidgeting with the strings of her bag. He couldn’t resist teasing her a bit. "Sure seems strange you approving of fightin’."
Eliza Jane lifted her nose in the air. "I did no such thing. I told the children they shouldn't bully each other." She glanced over at Almanzo. “But if it wouldn't have been improper,” she paused for a second, “I would have enjoyed the chance to give Bart Slater a punch or two myself."
Almanzo chuckled as he directed the wagon toward the Feed and Seed.
The next morning, Almanzo saw Laura and her siblings walking into town for school. Laura and Albert were laughing, and even Carrie seemed more at ease than usual. Almanzo jumped down from the platform and ran over to greet them.
"Mornin," he said. "Can I talk to ya for a minute, Beth?"
"She won't be late for school," he told Albert and Carrie.
Almanzo led her by the hand to the bench in front of the Sweetheart Tree. Laura peeked at the names carved into its trunk before sitting down next to him.
"I wanna thank you," he said.
"For getting that Slater boy to toe the line." Almanzo removed his hat and fiddled with the rim, finding it difficult to say what he felt. "I really didn't want to leave Walnut Grove. I've made a lot of friends here. I would have done it for Eliza's sake…but I hated the thought of it."
"I didn't want you go either." Laura’s cheeks flushed red.
"That's sweet of ya." Almanzo looked into her chocolate brown eyes. "I didn't know you were such a great leader."
Laura shrugged. "I just wanted to help Miss Wilder. She's a good teacher, and the rest of us shouldn't have to lose her because of one troublemaker."
"It means a lot to my sister that you would do somethin’ like that when others were too interested in not angering Mr. Slater."
"Having money doesn't give you the right to treat others poorly."
Almanzo nodded. "It meant a lot to me, too."
The crimson color returned to her face and Laura lowered her head.
Almanzo lifted her chin and smiled. His hand instinctively went up and caressed her hair, then traveled down her braid. "Remind me not to get you angry at me," he teased.
"You already have."
"Well, at least ya didn't get a bunch of people together to beat me up."
"Oh, Manly," she said before pursing her lips. The school bell rang. "I should go."
"Have a good day."
"I will now that Bart doesn't cause any trouble."
Almanzo watched Laura run up the stairs to the schoolhouse. Hands on his hips, he shook his head. "She sure is a feisty one," he said out loud. He hopped back onto the platform of the Feed and Seed. Almanzo shot a quick glance at the schoolhouse. He wondered what Laura would do to amaze him next.
Copyright Cheryl C. Malandrinos - All Rights Reserved.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has officially announced that it will release on Blu-ray Little House On The Prairie: Season One Deluxe Remastered Edition. The release will be available for purchase online and in stores across the nation on March 25th.
To celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the pilot movie premiere, the beloved series has been completely restored and remastered and will be available in high definition for the first time from Lionsgate Home Entertainment and NBCUniversal Television Consumer Products. First introduced to American families in March of 1974, the show remained a top-rated series throughout its nine season run and garnered 17 Emmy and three Golden Globe nominations along with two People's Choice Awards. "Little House on the Prairie" was produced by NBC in association with multiple Emmy nominated and highly successful television producer Ed Friendly. The show remains one of television's most meaningful TV series and now loyal fans along with new viewers will be able to discover the Ingalls' unconquerable courage as they strive to build a better way of life.
Not seen since their original TV broadcast, all twenty-four season one episodes are now presented complete and uncut, newly restored and remastered for optimal picture and sound quality. Plus, you'll discover where the "Little House on the Prairie" TV legend began-with the original, full-length pilot movie that introduced the Ingalls family to millions of viewers around the world.
Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert both earned Golden Globe® nominations for their unforgettable roles as Charles Ingalls and Laura Ingalls in the inspiring story, based on Laura Ingalls Wilder's best-selling and much-loved "The Little House on the Prairie" book series which chronicles the dramatic, gripping adventures of a young pioneer family's struggle to build a new life for themselves on the American frontier of the 1870s.
Special Features: Original Screen Tests from Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert "The Little House Phenomenon: Part One - A Place in Television History"
Friday, February 7, 2014
For the memories you've shared...
For the life you lived...
For the stories you've inspired...
For the friends you've brought together...
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LAURA!
From an award-winning author, a novel about a Vietnamese American family’s ties to The Little House on the Prairie
Jobless with a PhD, Lee Lien returns home to her Chicago suburb from grad school, only to find herself contending with issues she’s evaded since college. But when her brother disappears, he leaves behind an object from their mother’s Vietnam past that stirs up a forgotten childhood dream: a gold-leaf brooch, abandoned by an American reporter in Saigon back in 1965, that might be an heirloom belonging to Laura Ingalls Wilder. As Lee explores the tenuous facts of this connection, she unearths more than expected—a trail of clues and enticements that lead her from the dusty stacks of library archives to hilarious prairie life reenactments and ultimately to San Francisco, where her findings will transform strangers’ lives as well as her own.
A dazzling literary mystery about the true origins of a time-tested classic, Pioneer Girl is also the deeply moving tale of a second-generation Vietnamese daughter, the parents she struggles to honor, the missing brother she is expected to bring home—even as her discoveries yield dramatic insights that will free her to live her own life to its full potential.
Early praise for Pioneer Girl:
Elegant, sharp-eyed, and very funny, Pioneer Girl is ultimately about how one finds kinship -- familial, cultural, literary -- that transcends the usual lexicon about identity and belonging. Navigating Vietnamese "immigrant guilt" and a stalled academic career, Lee Lien finds escape in trying to solve a literary mystery which leads her deep into her own heart and history. A wonderful read!- Cristina Garcia, author of Dreaming in Cuban and King of Cuba
I love how the Little House legend takes a wild detour into contemporary life in Pioneer Girl. Bich Minh Nguyen’s wonderfully imagined literary history gets to the truth about mothers, daughters, frontiers, and the meaning of home. I couldn't put this down!
—Wendy McClure, author of The Wilder Life
Available now from Viking!
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Since many of my stories center around Laura and Almanzo's relationship, Nels Oleson doesn't appear in a lot of them except in bit parts. I decided to break with my timeline in sharing these stories so that I could honor Richard Bull, the actor who played Nels. Bull passed away this week at the age of 89. I also plan to write up a character profile on Nels soon. I hope you enjoy this Christmas story from 2011.
LHOP inspired fiction by Cheryl C. Malandrinos
Author's note: In the show, Nellie was not pregnant during the winter, but I changed this part of the timeline so it fit with the story. It also goes contrary to the townsfolk of WG being in the dark about Percival's Jewish faith. In "Come Let Us Reason Together" from Season 7, Harriet says that Percival's name change was the best kept secret, leading viewers to assume no one outside of the Oleson clan knew he was Jewish.
Almanzo fumbled with his tie for the third time. He knitted his brow and sighed, letting each side of the burgundy colored tie drop down to his white shirt.
Laura's boots click-clacked behind him. Turning him around, she smiled. "Want some help?"
Almanzo raised his hands in exasperation. Maybe one day he would find it easier to curl his large fingers around the ends of the tie. His strong chin lifted while Laura's nimble fingers quickly made a perfect knot.
"There". She patted his chest. "All done."
"Thank ya, Beth." Almanzo leaned over and pecked her cheek. "I sure would enjoy this social a whole lot more if I didn't have to get dressed up."
Laura raised her eyebrows. "Manly, you know the only reason for your Sunday best is that Reverend Alden is holding a service for Christmas Eve." A mischievous smile brightened her face. "How would it look if you entered the house of the Lord in your work clothes?"
Almanzo's arms encircled her waist and pulled her close. "You sure don't seem to mind how I look in my work clothes."
"I'm your wife. I'm supposed to love you no matter how sweaty and dirty you are." Laura laughed, but Almanzo's lips quickly captured hers, stifling the last few giggles.
By the time Charles pulled his wagon to a stop in front of the Walnut Grove church, dainty white flakes fell from the sky.
"Maybe we'll have a white Christmas after all," said Caroline. Grace sat on her lap, tucked tightly into a wool blanket.
Carrie shrieked with glee from the back of the wagon.
Charles lifted his gaze to the sky and inhaled deeply. "It sure looks like it. We'll have to keep an eye on the storm. If it gets too bad we'll have to skip the social and head home."
"Aw," Carrie and Albert cried.
"Your Pa's right," Caroline gently scolded them. "We don't want to be stuck in a blizzard halfway home."
"Yes'um." Albert could barely croak out his response. He hoped to see Rebecca Stone tonight and ask her to dance. They had been stealing glances at each other across the school room all week.
After a lovely service, everyone made their way over to Nellie's Restaurant and Hotel. Nellie and Percival led the pack down the street. Percival opened the door and stepped back to allow his wife to enter. Nellie pressed a hand against the small of her back as she waddled through.
Charles took one last look at the lightly falling snow before walking inside and pulling the door tight. He helped Caroline shed her coat and carried it into the back room where the silent switchboard stood unattended. After removing his hat and coat, he joined Doc Baker, Almanzo, and Ned Turner, whose instruments were already filling the room with music. Gently removing his fiddle from its case, he easily fell in tune with the others.
Mary and Adam had taken the stage into town from Sleepy Eye yesterday. They had already begun dancing by the time the first notes of Charles's fiddle reached their ears. With his wife, Harriet, occupied ordering people about, Nels Oleson offered his arm to Caroline and they waltzed onto the dance floor. The Reverend Alden stood with one arm leaning on the mantle, tapping a foot on the floor. His wife, Anna, sat in a chair next to him. She hadn't been feeling well lately and wasn't quite up to dancing.
Laura busied herself helping Nellie and Percival with the food. She couldn't help but wonder how falling in love with Percival had changed her former enemy. She found it strange that they once despised each other so.
Laura balanced a heavy platter filled with sandwiches on one arm and carried a pot of coffee in the other. As she leaned with her back toward the swinging door that separated the kitchen from the dining room, the door swung open and hit her. Hot coffee sloshed onto the floor and she struggled to keep the platter from falling over.
"Oh, Laura dear, please be careful." Mrs. Oleson snatched the platter off her arm. "This belonged to my mother." Laura rolled her eyes up to her lids, but she bit her tongue. Christmas Eve was not an evening for sparring. Mrs. Oleson shooed her away. "Now, run along with that pot of coffee and hurry back. I don't want poor Nellie to exhaust herself." Laura sighed. Mrs. Oleson hadn't changed one bit.
Almanzo lifted his head as Laura walked through the open door. His gaze met hers. She wished he was holding her in his arms right now, twirling around the dance floor. Her grandma had loved to dance. Ma and Pa told her how much she reminded them of Dancing Grandma. She missed her aunts and uncles and all the cousins she had grown up with in the Big Woods.
The temperature outside had risen slightly, turning the tiny flakes into larger ones filled with moisture that stuck to every surface they landed on. Inside the restaurant, the residents of Walnut Grove danced and ate, unaware that no one would make it home.
The wind picked up as a full-fledged Minnesota blizzard blew into town. The glass in the windows shook and the door rattled against the increasing wind. Immediate silence fell upon the room of party goers.
Charles and Almanzo laid down their instruments and marched to the door. Almanzo pulled it open and a blast of cold wind and snow swirled around him. "Look at that come down."
"How bad is it?" Nels said from behind Charles.
Almanzo moved aside. "Take a look."
Nels squinted. "I can't even see my house."
Doc Baker tapped Nels on the shoulder. "I hope you have plenty of firewood. It looks like we'll be here awhile."
Almanzo pushed the door shut and locked it. Hopefully it wouldn't give way against the blustery weather. The children kneeled on chairs in front of the windows, their parents staring over their shoulders.
Charles raised his chin so he could be heard. "It looks like we'll be spending Christmas Eve with the Olesons."
"It's that bad?" asked Caroline, who sat in a chair next to Anna.
"It wouldn't be safe for any of us to try to reach home now. That wind is whipping the snow around so much you can't see your hand in front of your face."
"We don't live too far," said Tom Jenkins. "If we leave now, we could probably make it back."
A few nods and "yeas" rose from the crowd.
Almanzo planted his hands on his hips. "Charles is right. We have food and firewood here. We should stay put until the storm blows over."
"I don't havta listen to you." Tom headed toward the back where the coats were stored.
The room erupted into chaos as everyone began talking at once. Some men pulled their wives by the arms and followed Jenkins. Children began crying and mothers quickly tried to hush them.
Anna stood and clasped his hand. "Robert is right." She smiled at her husband. "Let's not ruin the evening by quarreling. It's Christmas Eve. Think of what might have happened if the shepherds were too busy arguing to go and find the Savior."
Tom hung his head in shame. "I'm sorry, Reverend. I almost forgot we are celebrating the Lord's birth."
Charles motioned to Almanzo and the other musicians. They picked up their instruments and began playing, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." Soon everyone was singing and peace reigned again.
The younger children had been put to sleep in rooms upstairs. Soft notes from Charles's fiddle and Almanzo's guitar lulled the few little ones fighting off the sand man into a peaceful slumber filled with dreams of Christmas. Their parents had assured them that even if they weren't home for Christmas, Santa would leave presents for when they returned.
The adults and the older children sat downstairs huddled in blankets with their coats on. The men took turns tending the fire, just enough to keep it burning. They didn't know how long they would be stranded at Nellie's place, so they needed to conserve the firewood. Many of the kerosene lamps had been blown out. The few that remained on left them with just enough light for people to walk around to get food or coffee.
Charles and Almanzo asked everyone to join them in singing "Silent Night." Their fingers were getting too cold to play well, so this would be the last song. As the first few words were sung by the crowd, Laura heard the doors shake against the howling wind. It was anything but a silent night in Walnut Grove this Christmas Eve.
Once the song was over, Charles and Almanzo grabbed cups of coffee and headed over to the blankets to join their families. Hushed conversations filtered through the air.
"This is boring," whined Carrie. "When can we go home?"
Caroline ran her hand down one of her braids. "Not until the storm passes."
Albert sighed. "It is kind of boring being stuck here with nothing to do and no presents to open."
"Tell us a story, Laura," said Carrie.
Laura raised her eyebrows. "Here?"
"Why not, Half-pint?" Charles winked at her.
"You told some great stories last Thanksgiving," said Albert.
Laura pushed a tendril of hair behind her ear. "But those stories are good because they're about our family. Nobody else would be interested in them."
"I would," Willie Oleson said. He sat next to Albert's family on a blanket with Nellie and Percival.
Nellie shook her hand in the air at Laura. "I know, tell everyone the story about your first Christmas on Plum Creek."
Laura crossed her arms over her chest. "Are you sure you want me to share that one?"
Nellie laughed. "Everyone already knows what a spoiled brat I was."
As Laura quietly began her story, Nellie hushed her. She tried to stand up, but couldn't. "Percival my love, would you?"
Percival helped Nellie to her feet. She grabbed Laura's arm and carefully guided her to the front of the room, Laura whispering, "What are you doing?" most of the way.
Nellie raised her arms to get people's attention. "Listen up everyone. Laura is going to tell a Christmas story."
Butterflies danced in Laura's stomach. She looked over the crowd, many of whom were rearranging their places so they could listen. She had never spoken in front of such a large group before. Teaching the children was easy, but many of these people had known her since she was a little girl. Laura clasped her hands in front of her and sought out Manly in the crowd. The dim light didn't allow her to make out all his features, but she thought a corner of his mouth was raised in a crooked smile.
Percival walked over and turned up two of the kerosene lamps next to the platform where the musicians had played. Now all eyes were certainly on her. She took a deep breath and thought of how to begin.
"Our family came to Walnut Grove from Kansas. Pa and Ma built a small cabin not far from Independence; but one day, a soldier came and told Pa that the government had redrawn the lines and our house was now in Indian Territory."
Several gasps rose from the crowd.
"So, we had to pack up and leave Kansas, and our friend, Mr. Edwards." Laura lowered her head. She wondered how Mr. Edwards and his family were faring these days. It had been some time since they had written to Ma and Pa. Their oldest son, John Jr., was still in Chicago as far as they knew, and who knew what Carl and Alicia were up to these days. Carl had been such a good chum growing up. It seemed so long ago.
"I still remember the day Pa met Mr. Hanson."
Everyone perked up as soon as Mr. Hanson's name was mentioned. One of the founders of Walnut Grove, he was still missed by the townsfolk.
"I thought he talked a bit funny, but Mr. Hanson was kind and we knew he would be fair."
"Good ole, Lars," someone said, which was answered with many nods and kind words.
"I had never seen a house in the ground before. I wished I had a remembrance book to write about the day we came here and I saw it. Pa bought the land by Plum Creek and built a new house. Mary and I were so excited that we would get to sleep up in the loft."
Mary's gentle laughter reached Laura's ears. They had many wonderful times up in that loft. Several fights too, though they didn't seem to matter anymore.
"That first Christmas was one of secrets." Laura began walking as she spoke. "Pa took us into Oleson's Mercantile to look for gifts. I wasn't too happy though. I didn't have much money. And I still hadn't figured out what I should get Ma or Pa."
Laura walked back the other way, trying to catch people's eyes as she spoke. Even though the children were older, many were embraced by their mothers or had their father's arm around their shoulders.
"I decided to take Ma's and Pa's advice and make some gifts. It was hard trying to work on things without anyone finding out."
Chuckles rose up from the crowd. It probably wasn't very different in their houses.
"I had found out what Ma needed, but wasn't quite sure if Mr. Oleson would be willing to trade. Thankfully, I knew just the thing that he wanted…or should I say, what Nellie wanted."
All heads turned to where Nellie sat on a blanket between Percival and Willie.
"There was something Nellie didn't want when she was a child?" Nels joked as and leaned over to peck her cheek.
"Oh, Father." Nellie and the rest of the town laughed.
"Well," said Laura, "there was one thing she wanted more than anything else. My pony, Bunny." Laura crossed her arms over her chest and shifted her weight onto her right leg. "Nellie had been asking her father to buy Bunny for weeks, but I had refused to sell her. I loved Bunny, and I was sure Nellie wouldn't treat her very well."
"And you were right." Nellie covered her cheeks with her hands. "I was so awful to her."
"After some bartering, Mr. Oleson agreed to trade Bunny for a stove. Ma had admired it when we visited the mercantile before Christmas, and I knew I had to find a way to buy it for her."
Laura sought out her mother. Even after all this time, Caroline's eyes glistened from the memory. Laura swallowed the lump in her throat.
"On Christmas Eve, we had wrapped all our gifts and put them under the tree. Pa took out his fiddle and we danced. Mr. Oleson stopped by with a big crate marked, 'Do Not Open Until Christmas.' I couldn't wait for Christmas morning, even though I knew it meant that Nellie would be coming to take Bunny away. I wanted to see Ma's face when she opened the crate."
Laura took a deep breath. Though many years had passed, she still thought of Bunny from time to time, wishing she had held onto her just a little while longer.
"Ma nearly giggled with excitement when she took the crowbar and pried off the lid. Imagine her shock, and Pa's, when the card inside read, 'Love, Laura.' Pa had been working to fix and paint a set of wheels for a customer of Mr. Oleson's. He was going to trade the work for the stove, only Mr. Oleson didn't know that until Pa delivered them on Christmas Eve.
"True to his word, Mr. Oleson never said anything about our deal to Pa. He only told him the stove had been sold and he would have to order him one."
Laura stepped down from the platform and walked into the crowd. Everyone looked up at her, eager for more. She rubbed her hands together to warm them.
"Nellie and Mr. Oleson arrived a few moments after Ma opened the crate. It was then that everyone knew I had traded Bunny for the stove. I had to swallow back tears as I led Nellie to the barn to go get Bunny. I watched while Mr. Oleson tied Bunny to the back of his wagon and drove off.
"Ma told me she loved her stove and said I shouldn't cry, because one day we would have another pony. I told her I wasn't upset about Bunny, only that Pa had worked so hard making a saddle for me as a gift that Christmas."
Laura's gaze drifted up to the ceiling. "That was only part of the truth. My heart ached over losing Bunny, especially to someone who I knew wouldn't love her as much as I did. But seeing Ma's face that Christmas made it all worth it. And knowing life would be a bit easier for her with the new stove made me happy inside."
Caroline turned her head to hide the tears spilling down her cheeks. Next to her, Pa wrapped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close.
"Then Carrie reminded us why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. She had bought a star for the tree. After Pa lifted her up to put it on top, she looked upon her special gift and said, 'Happy birthday, Baby Jesus.'
"That was the first of many wonderful Christmases we've shared in Walnut Grove. Our family has been blessed with many things, but the love of family and friends is one of the most precious gifts we ever received."
The room erupted with applause as Laura carefully walked around blankets to rejoin her family. Caroline stood and embraced her. When Laura sat down, Nellie leaned over and whispered in her ear.
"You have a wonderful way with words, Laura. You should write your stories down one day."
The heat of embarrassment crept up Laura's cheeks. "Thanks. Maybe I will."
Percival rose and clasped his hands together. "Who should we hear from next?"
The door shook violently and gasps filled the air as some expected the door to fly off its hinges. Percival marched over to the door and gave it a strong pull.
"No need to worry. The door will hold just fine. Mr. Ingalls, could you stoke up the fire?"
Charles hopped up. "I'll get right on it."
Mr. Oleson stood and walked over to Percival, patting him on the back. "Where were we? Oh, yes, who would like to share a story of Christmas past?"
In the corner, the voices of a husband and wife rose in discord. The woman was nudging him forward as he tried to convince her he wanted to do anything but what she wanted him to do.
"They hear from me all the time," he said.
"Telling them a story from your childhood will mean so much more than a sermon," she replied.
Nels waved him over. "We would love to hear a story from you, Reverend."
Reverend Alden shrugged. "I can't guarantee it will be any more engaging than one of my sermons."
The crowd laughed. Some people walked about getting a sandwich or a cup of coffee before settling in to listen.
Reverend Alden felt a bit strange without his pulpit. He didn't seem to know what to do with his arms, so he stuffed his hands in his pockets.
"As some of you know, my father was a minister. While I could never hope to be as good a speaker as he, whatever skills I have in sharing the Word of God came from him."
"We love you, Reverend," said a man from the back of the room.
Reverend Alden curled his lips into a smile. "Thank you." He pulled his hands out of his pockets and wiped them on his black jacket.
"I was at the seminary when I received a wire that my father was gravely ill. School was to be let out at the end of the week for Christmas, but my mother asked that I return home immediately. I knew then that my father couldn't have much time left."
Reverend Alden lowered his head. He breathed deeply and a few moments passed before he continued. "I took the first stage out of town, but I was a few days away. I spent most of that time praying I would make it home before my father passed on."
People around the room held their loved ones a little tighter.
"When I finally arrived in town, I ran all the way home. My mother met me at the door. It was as if she had aged ten years since I went away. She had cared for my father for months. I almost didn't go to the seminary, because I didn't want to leave her to care for him alone, but she insisted I answer God's call to the ministry. She told me that it would do my father good to see his only son follow in his footsteps.
"Standing in front of her, seeing her hair scattered about her face in a loose bun, her shoulders bent from exhaustion, I was sure I never should have left.
She embraced me and said I should go see my father right away."
Anna came to stand beside her husband. She placed a hand on his arm and smiled, encouraging him, as she always did. He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it.
"I stepped into my father's room, but the sight of him stopped me in my tracks. He had always been thin, but he was so pale it was like you could see through him. He couldn't even lift his head from the pillow. One of his fingers rose from the bed and motioned me over. His voice so hoarse, I could barely understand when he called my name.
"'Robert,' he said, a bit more clearly. 'I am going home soon.'
"I shook my head as tears rolled down my face. 'No Papa, don't leave us,' I cried.
"'Robert,' he said, 'God determines when we are called home, not us. We cannot fight it, nor should we, as to be called back to Him is a moment of great joy.
'You are a good boy. I am so proud of you.'
"I could barely see his face through my tears. I laid my head down on his chest. His breath rattled through his lungs as he lifted a shaky hand to rub my back. 'No man has ever had a better son,' he said. Then he asked me to grab his Bible off the table next to his bed and read him Psalm 100.
'Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.
Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.'
"My father smiled at me, and for but a moment, he looked as he did when I was a boy: young and vibrant. 'I have served the Lord my whole life,' he said. 'Today, I will enter into his gates and I will be thankful for it. Oh, Robert, I cannot wait to see Him. This Bible was a gift from my beloved teacher at the seminary. I want you to have it.'"
Tears glistened in Reverend Alden's eyes. Anna still stood by his side and he leaned on her for comfort.
"He asked me to look after my mother until they could be together again, but he also asked that I return to the seminary, so I could graduate and then use his Bible to help spread the Word of God." He ran his tongue over his dry lips. "That evening, my father fell into a coma. He died two days later, on Christmas Eve. His Bible remains the most precious gift I ever received, outside of the gift that God gave all of us when He sent His Son down from heaven.
"I've tried my best to live a good life and to be an honorable and moral man. My father was that kind of man. I hope he can still say that he is proud of me."
Anna lifted up on her toes to kiss her husband's cheek. "That was lovely, Robert."
Several members of the town sniffled back tears as Reverend Alden made his way back to his chair by the fireplace, arm in arm with Anna. After a few moments, Harriet Oleson strolled into the main room from the kitchen.
"There are more sandwiches and a fresh pot of coffee," she said. "Maybe it would be a good idea for us to get up and start moving to keep warm. We'll save some firewood that way."
Chatter filled the room as families made their way over to the long tables that still held a great deal of food. Laura had almost forgotten about Mrs. Oleson. She must have been working in the kitchen during the storytelling. Laura whispered to Manly and then raced off to the kitchen. She found Mrs. Oleson dipping her finger into a dollop of cream on top of the cherry pie.
As soon as Mrs. Oleson realized she wasn't alone, she wiped her finger on her apron and then smoothed her hair. "You really shouldn't sneak up on a person like that, Laura."
A retort danced on Laura's tongue. "I'm sorry Mrs. Oleson. I just got so caught up in the storytelling that I forgot I had promised to help you serve the food."
Mrs. Oleson pursed her lips. "Well, I know not everyone can be as conscientious as my Nellie." She sliced the pie into 16 slices and picked it off the counter. "You do, however, have a natural ability when it comes to telling stories."
A compliment from Mrs. Oleson? Now, that was a surprise. "Thank you." Laura pointed at the pie in Mrs. Oleson's hands. "Would you like me to carry that out for you?"
"Oh no, I've got this. Why don't you see if the next pot of coffee is ready."
Mrs. Oleson plowed out the swinging door and disappeared. Laura waited a few moments until the coffee was done percolating. Then she wrapped a thick towel around the pot's handle and carried it out to the other room.
Almanzo and Pa were playing "O Come All Ye Faithful" when Laura entered the room. Their fingers weren't as nimble as usual, but the crowd seemed to be enjoying it. Some were singing, while others wrapped their fingers around cups of hot coffee, trying to stay warm.
"I'm sorry that wasn't a bit smoother," said Charles after they played the last notes. "Cold fingers and fiddle playing don't mix."
"It was beautiful, Charles," Caroline said from her seat next to the fireplace. Mary and Adam had joined her. They chatted about the gifts the children from the blind school had given them before going away for Christmas break.
Ned Turner walked over to the window and looked out. Swirls of snow made it almost impossible to see, but drifts of snow came up to the bottom of the windows. "I wish this blasted storm was over."
"Ned!" his wife said sharply.
"I'm sorry, Edna. I just get to worryin' about the animals. That wind could blow the doors right off the barn and there ain't nothin' I can do about it from here."
"There's nothing you could do about it from home either. All we can do is pray that the storm will end soon and that all will be well when we make it back to our place."
"Nicely said, Mrs. Turner." Reverend Alden had gone back to the platform where he had told his story earlier. "Why don't we bow our heads right now and pray."
Silence settled upon the dining room. Reverend Alden cleared his throat.
"Dear Lord, We thank you for the safety of this place and the generous amount of food you have provided to keep us nourished during the storm. We ask you to protect our homes and our animals while we are away, and to end this storm soon so that we may make a safe journey back. Amen."
"Thank you, Reverend," said Nels. He walked to the front of the room. "Would someone like to share another story with us?" The room remained silent. "Don't be shy. We would love to hear about your special memories."
"What about Percvial?" Nellie had moved over to the fireplace and now sat in a circle with Caroline, Mary, Adam, and Anna. "We just celebrated Chanukah together for the first time. I'm sure he has some great stories to share."
Harriet marched to the fireplace as Nellie spoke. She bent down and whispered into her ear. "I don't think that's appropriate on Christmas Eve."
"Why not?" replied Nellie. "Jesus was Jewish. He was consecrated in the temple when he was only a few days old."
Harriet clucked her tongue. "Really, Nellie, I don't know why you have to encourage this, this—"
Nellie pushed herself up from the chair. "This what?" She glared at her mother, whose hands were now moving in circles while she searched for words.
"Oh, you know what I mean. It's not right. That's all. We're Christians. We don't celebrate Chana…Chana…Chana—"
"Chanukah," said Nellie. "All the more reason for Percival to tell us about it. He's part of this town too."
"Nellie's right." Nels put his arm around Percival's shoulder. "Percival is part of this town, and what's more important, he's part of our family. If he wants to tell us a story about a special Chanukah, he should."
Percival's heart swelled with affection. He had always gotten along well with Nels, but he was never quite sure if his father-in-law was happy Nellie had married him, or if he just didn't want to interfere. His admission that Percival was family meant the world to him. "If everyone would like to hear about Chanukah, then sure."
People started clapping and Rebecca Stone stood. "I would love to know all about Chanukah, Mr. Dalton."
Albert's head whipped around and he smiled at Rebecca. She smiled back, and then lowered her head, suddenly bashful. Percival couldn't help but laugh inside. Maybe they would be the next Walnut Grove couple.
His gaze took in the townsfolk of Walnut Grove. These were good people, but even they may not understand him. He licked his dry lips and released a breath he didn't realize he had been holding. "Chanukah is celebrated during the month of Kislev, the ninth month of the Jewish calendar. It is celebrated on the ninth day of Kislev, and lasts for eight days."
"Can you imagine having Christmas for eight days?" said Albert.
Several in the room laughed.
"Don't interrupt," said Caroline.
"Oh, it's all right Mrs. Ingalls." Percival couldn't help but smile. "It probably sounds a bit strange, but it's a very important tradition because Chaunkah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where the Jews rose up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. Around 200 B.C., Judea came under the control of Antiochus III, the Seleucid king of Syria. He allowed the Jews to continue practicing their religion. But when his son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, took over, he outlawed our faith and forced the Jews to worship the Greek gods."
"That sounds like what the king of England tried to do," said Carrie, who was wrapped tightly in a large blanket. "It's why the colonists first came to America."
Percival adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose. "You're right, Carrie. And it was just as bad then, as it was when Antiocus did it. His soldiers massacred thousands of people and desecrated the city's holy Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls. A Jewish priest, Mattathias, and his five sons, led a rebellion against Antiocus. After Mattathias died, his son, Judah took over and drove the Syrians out of Jerusalem."
Many of the townsfolk sat with their mouths open, seemingly in awe of what they were being told. Mrs. Oleson's finger was wrapped over the string of pearls at her throat. Even she didn't look like she could speak.
"Judah called on his followers to cleanse the Second Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah. The menorah is a gold candelabrum whose seven branches represent knowledge and creation. They were meant to be kept burning every night, but they only had enough oil to burn for a single day. The miracle of Chanukah is that even though they only had enough oil for the menorah to burn one day, the flame continued to flicker for eight days."
Gasps filled the air. "How is that possible?" asked Carrie.
"With God, all things are possible." Percival stole a glance at his wife, who sat beside the fireplace rubbing her belly.
"What does a menorah look like?" Charles stood and walked toward the table to pour a cup of coffee.
"I have mine upstairs if you would like to see it," said Percival.
Many people expressed interest, so Percival quietly went upstairs and unwrapped the menorah, which he kept in his wardrobe. "You're welcome to come up and get a closer look." Several of the children stepped forward, and some adults too.
"What do you put in these holes?" asked one boy.
"Candles, though years ago they used oil."
Almanzo walked over to the fireplace and stoked the fading embers. Then he tossed another log inside.
"What's it made out of?" asked Willie.
"This one is brass, but they can also be made from gold, silver, or other metals."
"That's all lovely, sweetheart," Nellie interrupted from her seat by the fire, "but you still haven't shared a special Chanukah story with us."
"I'm getting to that dear."
Everyone settled in to listen to the rest of Percival's story. Caroline came to stand next to Charles by the food table. He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close. Almanzo had taken a seat next to the fireplace. He tapped his leg and Laura sat down on his lap.
"One year, Papa decided he would try taking his store on the road."
"Oh, father, did that too." Nellie turned in Nels's direction. "Do you remember, Father?"
Nels caught Charles's eye from across the room. He tugged at the tie around his collar. "Um, yes, I remember."
"Mama didn't want him to go," said Percival, "but he can be a bit stubborn at times." Nellie giggled. She had heard many stories about her father-in-law and his infamous stubbornness. "So, he packed up the wagon and traveled out of the city."
Percival straightened his eyeglasses on the bridge of his nose and licked his lips before continuing. "The first few trips were very profitable, so he decided he would go out one more time in late October. We hadn't received a letter from him, so we expected he would be home right before Thanksgiving. But Thanksgiving came, and went, and still there was no sign of Papa."
Everyone's eyes widened. No one knew much about him or his family, so no one would know how this story turned out. It made Percival feel special that they paid so much attention to him. He could never hope to gain the kind of respect that Mr. Ingalls or Nels had, but it was tough for an outsider to feel part of such a close-knit community like Walnut Grove.
"I was just a young boy then, so I don't know how Mama was feeling, but I can imagine it was frightening for her. She had to run the store all by herself, and take care of me and my sister. As the days turned into weeks, I'm sure she thought something awful had happened to Papa.
"She and my sister, Rachel, prepared the food for Chanukah; the latkes and the sufganiyot—"
"What are those?" Albert asked.
"Latkes are potato pancakes. You shred potatoes, mix them with a batter, and fry them." Just thinking about them made Percival's mouth water. "Sufganiyot are doughnuts filled with jelly and sprinkled with sugar."
"Yummy!" said Carrie.
"We also have cheese and wine," said Percival. "It was almost sundown on the first night of Chanukah. Mama told me, as the man of the house, I would have to recite the Blessings. My heart pounded in my chest. What if I made a mistake? I was only five. But Mama hugged me and told me to do my best."
"Were you scared about your Pa not being home?" asked a boy about Albert's age sitting with his parents next to the windows. Percival thought his name was Timothy.
Percival's curly hair shook around his ears as he nodded. "It didn't feel like Chanukah without Papa. More than that, the house was so quiet. He had a big booming voice that filled the house with laughter, and sometimes, anger. Without him there, nothing seemed right. Instead of feeling peaceful and thankful, all of us were scared; scared we might never see Papa again."
Even after all this time, and with knowing all would turn out well, Percival's throat went dry. He walked over to the food table, poured some water from the pitcher into a cup, and drank it. Then he walked back to the front of the room. No one spoke while he did this. Their heads all followed him, as if they might miss something if they didn't have him in sight.
"Just as I was about to recite the first of the three Blessings, the front door flew open and Papa came bouncing in. Mama's hands flew up to her cheeks. She screamed my father's name and we all ran to him, almost knocking him over."
"Where was he all that time?" asked Albert.
"When we finally calmed down, Papa said he would tell us all about it, but first, we must say the Blessings and light the shamash candle, and the first candle of Chanukah."
Timothy leaned up onto his knees. "What is a shaw-shaw—"
"Shamash?" asked Percival. Timothy nodded. "That is the candle that we use to light all the others. So, on the first night of Chanukah, two candles are lit—the shamash and the first candle. Then each night we light one more candle, until finally all the candles are lit, representing the eight days that the oil burned.
"Papa said the three Blessings, and lit the candles. Then over dinner that night, he told us about his trip. He had traveled much farther north than he had intended to and got caught in a blizzard. He pulled off the road and sought shelter with a man and woman who had a baby boy."
Percival rubbed his hands together. The fire had almost gone out as he told his story. It seemed everyone was too engrossed to have noticed. He walked over to the fireplace and tossed a log on top and stoked the fire again, then held his hands up to the flames for a few moments.
"The snow continued off and on for a week. The Laramee family allowed him to stay and he traded them some goods for room and board. He said the poor family didn't have much, so he felt truly blessed they were willing to share with him.
"But even once the snow passed, Papa knew he would never be able to make it home with his wagon, so he borrowed Mr. Laramee's cutter and drove to the next town where he purchased a cutter of his own."
Percival walked over to Nellie, who had stood and stretched. She rubbed the small of her back with her fingers.
"Whatever Papa couldn't fit into the cutter, he gave to the Laramee family as his way of saying thanks. He hoped that would help make them more comfortable during the long winter.
"While he was there, he often spoke of Mama's cooking. The night before he left, Mrs. Laramee tried frying up some latkes. Papa told us that even though there was no sugar to sweeten them, they were almost as good as Mama's. When he told this to Mrs. Laramee, she blushed."
"Sounds like you had a wonderful Chanukah that year," said Almanzo.
Percival nodded. "We did. We felt very blessed to have Papa home safely."
Laura turned her head toward the windows and squinted. "Listen."
"I don't hear anything," said Almanzo.
"Exactly. I think the storm might be over."
Several people raced to look out the windows. Charles strode to the front door and opened it a few inches. A sliver of dim light shone upon the snow that had been blown onto the platform. Oohs and aahas filled the room as the residents of Walnut Grove gazed upon the snow covered prairie.
"Looks like we'll all be walking home tomorrow," said Charles, shutting the door before too much of the warmth escaped. "There's no way to get wagons through that." He reached his arm around Caroline's waist. "I'll take the horses home in the morning, do the chores, hitch them up to the cutter and then pick the rest of you up later."
Caroline glanced down at Carrie wrapped tightly in a blanket. She had fallen asleep without hearing the end of Percival's story. "What about Christmas presents? The kids will be so disappointed that Santa didn't come."
Nels grinned. "I think I can help with that."
Harriet marched over to her husband. She planted her fists on her round hips. "Don't you think of giving anything else away, Nels Oleson." Her right hand stretched in the direction of the food table. "We gave our fair share tonight."
"It's Christmas, Harriet. There are a bunch of kids upstairs who are going to think Santa forgot them."
"That's not our problem, Nels." Harriet puckered her lips as she shook her head. "You would give away everything in the store if I let you."
Nels clasped her hands in his. "I'm not talking about giving things away. I'll take a trip over to the store and pick up one thing for each child, something small, practical. Then we can add it to their bills."
Harriet wagged a finger in front of his face. "You will do no such thing. Half these people are over-extended as it is."
"Maybe when you were a girl you never knew what it's like to be disappointed at Christmas, Harriet, but other children have. We have a chance to make these kids happy..to let them know they weren't forgotten because of the blizzard. Isn't Christmas the season of giving?"
Harriet sighed and rubbed her forehead. "All right, Nels. I hope you know what you're doing."
"Percival, Charles, you want to give me a hand getting across the street?" asked Nels.
The next morning, Nellie and Percival walked downstairs to start getting breakfast ready for everyone. They found Caroline, Laura, and Mary already busy at work.
"Didn't you three sleep at all?" Nellie asked.
Caroline smiled. "None of us are pregnant. We slept a bit, but we wanted to get the dishes washed and the coffee started before everyone else got up."
"Thank you. I feel like I don't have the energy to crack an egg."
Laura pulled a chair out from the corner of the kitchen and dragged it over. "Sit down and I'll get you a cup of coffee." Nellie flashed her a look of gratitude.
The three Ingalls women worked, and as more people woke up, other women wandered into the kitchen to help. Soon, the pounding of dozens of little feet thundered down the stairs. Squeals and giggles followed. The women wiped their hands on their aprons and pushed through the swinging door to enjoy Christmas morning with the rest of their friends.
Reverend Alden read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke, and then everyone bowed their heads in prayer. Then Nels sat down in a chair by the fireplace with a huge sack at his feet. The younger children lined up in front of him. As each child walked up, he reached into the sack and pulled out a present, wishing the child Merry Christmas. His lips were curled into a large smile that nearly met each of his ears.
Caroline tapped Laura's shoulder and discretely pointed. Laura followed her finger to see Harriet Oleson leaning against the staircase. One hand across her chest, the woman's plump cheeks dimpled as she smiled.
Laura whispered in Nellie's ear. "Your parents seem to be enjoying themselves."
"Father is always a big kid at Christmastime. When Willie and I were little, Father would hide our gifts in the back of the store room on a top shelf so we couldn't reach them. Of course, he didn't realize what a good climber Willie was." Nellie giggled. "One year, we went looking for our gifts after Mother and Father went to bed. Willie climbed up and looked in the usual place but there was nothing except a note that said, 'Santa is watching.' I wonder how long he knew."
"I think I'm glad I don't know how many things Ma and Pa knew about what I did," said Laura.
After the last child had been handed a gift, the women walked back into the kitchen to finish preparing food. Harriet strolled across the room to follow them, when she felt a familiar grip on her arm. She twirled around, her face lowered into a scowl.
"Let me go, Nels. I have to make sure those women don't give away all the food."
Nels chuckled and loosened his grasp. "But you haven't seen what Santa brought you yet."
Harriet's eyes widened. "Me? What are you talking about?"
Nels pulled his other arm from behind his back. He lifted the square package wrapped in brown paper up to her. "This is for you." His brown eyes gleamed with mischief.
Harriet clutched the pearls at her throat and one of her fingers slid under the strand and tugged. Her mouth hung open. Nels dragged a chair over and helped her sit down.
With a knife from the food table, Harriet sliced through the string. Her fingers traced the edges of the box, and her chest rose and fell quickly.
"Open it," said Nels.
Harriet gazed up at him, her cheeks now rosy with the heat of her blush. Folding back the brown paper, she removed the top of the box and lifted out a brass container. On the cover was a mini-portrait of a beautiful woman wearing a white lace blouse and a feathered hat. When Harriet removed the top, she found a fluffy powder puff and powder inside. The box played a sweet, romantic tune.
Harriet ogled her gift. "It's beautiful. I never saw this come in."
"I picked it up on my trip to Mankato last month." He leaned against the door jamb. "I thought of you the minute I saw it."
Tears swam in Harriet's eyes. "Oh Nels." She stood and wrapped her arms around his neck.
They watched the families of Walnut Grove enjoying Christmas morning together. The children delighted in showing off their presents, and neighbors walked around the room, shaking hands and hugging each other. Harriet knew Nels hadn't added the cost of the gifts to their accounts. Suddenly it didn't matter. She felt especially blessed with her family and friends around her.
Harriet nestled deeper into his chest. "Merry Christmas, Nels."
He kissed the top of her head. "Merry Christmas, Harriet."
Copyright Cheryl C. Malandrinos - All Rights Reserved.
Monday, February 3, 2014
Sarah Uthoff, host of Trundlebed Tales on Blog Talk Radio, is once again celebrating the birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder on February 7th. She is looking for your Laura related stories. Please see her note below:
"Welcome to our fourth annual on air birthday celebration for author and pioneer Laura Ingalls Wilder. We started out with informational episodes, one year sharing the history of Laura's birthday in particular and one about the history of 19th century birthdays, but last year we tried a different format. Laura fans were invited to call in and share either the story of how they became a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan or their favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder related experience. I was very pleased with the response last year and so we're going to try it again. Please consider calling in and sharing your story and if you missed it in 2014, start working on your story for 2013. If you want to share your story, but don't want to talk on air, you can send a story to me ahead of time or in the chatroom live during the show. Live callers or chat get time before sent in stories."
Visit the link below for more details on time and the number to call in.
Saturday, February 1, 2014
LHOP inspired fan fiction by Cheryl C. Malandrinos
Eliza Jane watched the two of them. Their relaxed body language showed how comfortable they were with each other. A smile crossed his lips, his wavy blond hair lifting and then falling as he removed his hat. She couldn't really blame Laura for being enamored with her brother. He truly was a handsome young man. And with his kind, gentle nature any woman who became his wife would certainly be lucky.
Mannie did have his fits of temper though. Eliza Jane had seen a lot of his temper since the Slaters came to town. While it broke her heart to think of leaving Walnut Grove, at least Almanzo wouldn't pace the floor at night filled with bottled up fury.
Laura walked towards the schoolhouse, head hung low and shoulders drooped. Her dinner pail rocked in her hand as she kicked up clouds of dust with her shuffling feet.
"Good morning, Laura," Eliza Jane said in a voice chipper than she felt.
"Morning, Miss Wilder." The words fell out of Laura's mouth without emotion.
"Is something wrong?"
"Are you really leaving Walnut Grove?"
"I'm afraid so." Eliza Jane hated the thought of leaving, but the school board left her no choice. "Bart Slater has made it impossible to teach and he's too big for me to force him to listen."
Laura sighed. "Can't the School Board do anything?"
Eliza Jane's expression turned sour as she recalled the last board meeting. "Mr. Slater is a very wealthy and influential man. The School Board can't risk losing his generous contribution."
"They can't afford to lose you either," said Laura.
Eliza Jane smiled. If only all the members of the Board saw it that way. "Thank you Laura, but I'm much easier to replace than Mr. Slater's money." The admission stung Eliza Jane like a hundred bee stingers injected into soft flesh.
"We don't need Mr. Slater's mone." Laura clenched her fists by her side, her face turning red. "A good teacher is worth more than the best text books."
Weary of the conversation, Eliza Jane's thoughts turned to Almanzo and how her inability to discipline Bart Slater would cost him the hard work he put into the farm. She sat down on the top step of the schoolhouse stairs and slapped the platform for Laura to join her.
"I saw you talking to Almanzo earlier."
The words caused a blush to splash across Laura's freckled cheeks. "Well, I wanted to find out if the rumor about your leaving was true."
"You're going to miss him, aren't you?"
Laura averted her eyes, pretending to be interested in the bottom stair. "I wish you didn't have to go."
A sly smile curled the corners of Eliza Jane's lips. "That's not exactly an answer."
Laura fidgeted with the hem of her apron, keeping her eyes turned away from her teacher's constant scrutiny.
Eliza Jane rested her hand on Laura's arm. "There's nothing wrong in having a crush on Almanzo."
Laura's face went from scared, to horrified, to downright furious in the span of a few seconds. "I don't have a crush on him," she said flatly.
"I'm sorry if I misunderstood." Eliza Jane didn't want to risk having Laura stomp off before she had her say.
She peered at Laura over the rim of her glasses. Laura's left leg bounced nervously. "You do like him though, don't you?"
The crimson stain across the girl's face told her all she needed to know.
"It's all right Laura. It's not obvious to people."
"Then how did you know?"
"A pointy-nosed, red-headed clown told me."
Laura's eyes popped open as her stomach churned with horror. "You knew that was me?"
"Who else in town would be bold enough to leave Christie Norton standing in her drenched bloomers?" Eliza Jane laughed at the picture flashing through her mind. "I don't think Almanzo will ever look at clowns the same way again."
Eliza Jane rubbed Laura's back. The fast pace of Laura's nervous breathing could be felt in the quick rising and falling of Laura's upper body.
"Don't worry, I doubt Almanzo has any idea it was you."
The other children played in the schoolyard, oblivious to the serious conversation going on at the schoolhouse steps. Eliza Jane's eyes fell upon Laura's brother, Albert. She felt he also knew of Laura's attraction to Almanzo.
"I don't know a lot about men," said Eliza Jane. "But I do know my brother...though I don't always understand him. Why he courts young ladies from town is beyond me. None of them would make a good farmer's wife. But a young lady like you knows a lot about farming. I'm sure that's one of the reasons Almanzo finds it so easy to talk to you."
A glimmer of hope shone on Laura's face. The usual smile curled her lips as she listened.
"The problem is that Almanzo sees you as a friend…a young friend." Laura frowned. Eliza Jane tapped her hand. "But you can change that."
Laura scrunched up her nose. "How?"
"The ladies that Almanzo courts are a few years older than you. They've grown up. They've matured. Pranks like the one you played at the circus make you seem younger, not as mature." Laura's cheeks flushed. "I'm going to give you a private homework assignment. I want you to think about how some of these young ladies act. Pay attention to how they present themselves when they're in town or at church. Try to copy that behavior."
Laura sighed. "I don't know if I can. My temper always gets the better of me. Ma says I'm a lot like Pa—I act in haste."
Eliza Jane wagged a finger at her. "You'll be able to control that as time goes on. But first you need to really concentrate on how these ladies act in public."
"Why are you doing this?"
"Because I think Almanzo has found the right woman for him…he just hasn't noticed yet." Eliza Jane smirked. "There's nothing wrong with helping him along."
"Thanks Miss Wilder."
"You know, Laura, I never understood why you were in such a hurry to take your teaching exam until that stunt you pulled at the circus. But being a teacher is only half the equation. So work on that homework assignment as much as you can."
"Don't worry, I will." Laura flashed a determined smile.
"Why don't you ring the bell today. I'm going to write down the assignment on the board."
Eliza Jane marched into the schoolhouse. Was it wrong to interfere? It would be cruel to get Laura's hopes up if Almanzo was leaving town in a few days. She chuckled over how excited Laura was with her new assignment. Eliza Jane opened up her lesson plan and wrote down the assignment for the younger grades. Her talk with Laura had made her feel better than she had in weeks. Even if just for a moment, Eliza Jane allowed herself to dream that Bart Slater would have a change of heart so she could stay in Walnut Grove and watch Almanzo and Laura's courtship unfold.
Copyright Cheryl C. Malandrinos - All Rights Reserved.