Guest post by Becky Harris
I grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis but farming running deeps in my family and as Laura herself said, what is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh. My parents bought 80 acres of rolling land on the bluffs of the Mississippi River and we became weekend beef farmers. The house on the land was very old and a bit like something from Little House on the Prairie. Wide logs, a place over the door for a musket, wood burning fireplaces, and old newspapers in the walls for insulation. There were even the geraniums in coffee cans in the windows. We had electricity and running water but no central heat and no T.V reception. I spent many weekends huddled up in a chair close to the fire reading old books salvaged from basements and garage sales for our amusement. Those nights by the fire I met heroines who became like old friends: Anne Shirley, Jo March, Nancy Drew, and Laura herself. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I finished the original series and excitedly picked up The First Four Years, but I couldn’t have been over 10. Old enough to sense the difference in the writing style and characterizations, too young to name what felt so different. I was young enough to have not yet seen Laura’s courtship on the t.v. show and to be confused about who Manly was and wonder what on earth he had done with Almanzo, for whom I had a crush. For a good part of the book I thought Manly was a third wheel, the eternal houseguest who never leaves. I don’t remember how or when I sorted that one out, but eventually I did.
The first ten pages of Chapter One are a recap of the end of These Happy Golden Years: the meddling sister and mother, the hasty wedding plans, the wedding itself, and the last supper at home. As a child it all felt so grim – Ma brushing away tears, the choke in Laura’s throat, the quick ceremony in the parlor. Weddings were supposed to be loud, and fun, with lots of food and lots of dancing and, if you’re from St. Louis, a steady flow of Anheuser – Busch beer. But after 17 years of marriage and a cross country move away from family I know the truth: sometimes, despite what Say Yes to the Dress may lead us to believe, life and marriage can be grim. Manly and Laura will be asked to endure so much in this book, but this chapter contains one of my favorite lines: “Manly understood, for he covered Laura’s hand with one of his and pressed it strongly”. For better or for worse, they are together. The first year was begun.