When I decided to take on this chapter and re-read the section, I chose to look at it as I had the very first time I read it back some 40-ish years ago. I initially read the books in 1971 and had collected what I thought was the entire series when I discovered this, The First Four Years, displayed at a local bookstore. Isn’t it weird to think it was newly published? It was so different from the rest of the series yet still it was Laura’s words and I embraced it.
So begins the third year. Manly makes what some would think was another foolish purchase, but really he seemed to have reasoned out very sensibly the purchase of the hard-coal heater. Imagine those cold Dakota winters! He was doing what he thought was best for his family.
Another Christmas was upon them. I could always picture Manly walking beside his team all the way from Christmas dinner with the home folks (I love that term), while Laura with Rose, all wrapped up in her arms, worries about getting home in the falling snow. Laura’s Christmas gift of a warm wool shirt had proven its worth to Manly.
Laura’s Cousin Peter enters the picture and seems to spend quite a bit of time with the Wilders. They passed the next couple of months rather uneventfully until the dreaded diphtheria. I wonder how scared everyone must have been at the time. Rose was sent to stay with Pa and Ma and thankfully avoided the illness. So Laura and Manly, taken care of by brother Royal (it was always good to see an appearance by an old character), slowly recovered. But their troubles weren’t over by a long shot. Almanzo suffers a stroke (the doctor says from overexertion too soon after the diphtheria) and is forever affected.
From that day on there was a struggle to keep Manly’s legs so that he could use them. Some days they were better and again they were worse, but gradually they improved until he could go about his usual business if he was careful.
Can you just imagine the fear of not knowing whether he would be able to walk again? As it was, he was physically never the same.
Do you know the saying “if it weren’t for bad luck, they’d have no luck at all”? I remember that running through my head on one of my many read-throughs of this book. Failing crops and now illness. Would it never end? Sadly, there was more to come.
They did make the decision and were able to sell the homestead to a buyer who would take over the mortgage and still give them two hundred dollars. That helped. And the family moved back to the tree claim. I always felt better about that, as if that was where they belonged. And so time was marching on and slowly and with help from Laura (maybe this was when they formed the true feeling of partnership in their farming life), Manly was able to get the work done. They seemed to have things under control as well as they could. A little family and a little farm.
And Manly and Laura were able to ride Trixy and Fly. In my young girl mind and in my older woman mind, I like to think that those were some of Laura’s happy memories that she took away from those very difficult first years of marriage. That those were really enjoyable, fun times that they were able to snatch together, just the two of them.