Guest post by Susan Hundt
This chapter gives us an enticing glimpse of Almanzo and Royal’s day-to-day life, as well as some depth to Almanzo as a character as his adult back story is introduced to readers for the first time.
We begin with Laura waking up in the morning after her and Carrie’s grueling walk home in the blizzard from school. The girls dress downstairs in the warmth by the stove, and Laura is grateful for the long red flannel underwear under her nightgown that she complained about the day before.
Pa finishes the chores and says this is the beginning of the hard winter, and Ma is surprised that he is worrying about the weather, which he has not done before. Pa replies he is not worrying, but just saying that it will be a hard winter. Ma says they are fortunate to be in town so they can get supplies from the stores during the storms.
After breakfast Laura, Mary and Carrie study lessons since there would be no school until the blizzard ends. Laura wonders what Mary Power and Minnie are doing during the blizzard, and because of the swirling snow can’t even see across the street to Fuller’s Hardware, where Pa has gone to sit by the stove and talk with the men.
In another point-of-view change, the narration shifts up the street to Royal Wilder’s feed store, which is dark because no one will buy seed during the blizzard.
The back of Wilder’s store, however, is cozy and warm and the air is thick with the smell of frying buckwheat pancakes loaded with molasses. Cooking became a necessary skill to learn since the boys traveled west and had no women to cook for them like they did at home. Although cooking is “women’s work” Almanzo became the cook not only because he’s a boy who is good at everything he tries, but also because, simply, Royal made his little brother do it. However, Almanzo is quite a good cook, and can make even better pancakes than his mother.
While the pancakes are sizzling on the stove, we learn that Almanzo took a claim at 19 when the law said the legal age to homestead was 21. This is a secret that he had to keep since his claim could be taken away if anyone found out. When filing for the claim the land agent asked for his age and Almanzo replied “You can put me down as 21” and the land agent did just that, with a wink.
Almanzo, however, does not feel he is breaking the law or cheating the government. The politicians in Washington don’t know the settlers and what kind of people they are. Furthermore, settlers followed all the rules but then handed over the land to rich men who paid them to do so—meaning they were stealing, but stealing by the rules. The government wanted the land settled and wanted men who would work to do it, and Almanzo was more than willing and able to do that. Why let being 19 get in the way? Almanzo thinks the age requirement is the most foolish law. He felt he was as good as, any day, a man of 21.
Almanzo has done a man’s work on his father’s farm since he was nine and has been saving money since he was 10. James Wilder trained his children well, and he let Almanzo leave the farm when he was 17, when, legally, he could have made him stay on the farm until he was 21. After leaving the family farm Almanzo worked to save money for seed and tools, and raised a crop of wheat on shares in western Minnesota.
While cooking pancakes, frying salt pork and brewing coffee, Royal and Almanzo talk about whether the winter can really last seven months. Royal doesn’t believe it but Almanzo is not so sure. Royal says if it does last seven months, how will the trains go through with supplies? Most importantly, Royal brings up, how long will his stock of feed would last if the trains cannot get through?
This strikes a chord with Almanzo and he declares that no one is buying his seed wheat, no matter what happens.
Royal assures Almanzo that the trains will keep running, but Almanzo’s mind is on the seed wheat stacked in bags around the room and even under the bed. The wheat that represented all the work involved in raising that crop, the wheat that his homestead depends on. Almanzo will not sell as much of one peck, because you cannot “sow silver dollars.”
Royal once again assures Almanzo that his wheat will be fine, and brings Almanzo back to the subject of more pancakes, and they tease each other about how many pancakes they have eaten. As long as they keep eating, they don’t have to wash dishes!