Guest post by Patty Collins
Following a pleasant weekend at home, Laura’s spirits were up and she was ready to face the week anew. After all, it was only seven weeks more and she would be home again, walking to school with Carrie. Pa’s advice to keep a stiff upper lip helped reassure her too.
The new week looked promising. This was not to be. The weather turned dull and gloomy and so did Laura’s spirits. Little could be done to improve the mood in the Brewster home and things went from bad to worse at her school.
Laura returned to the Brewster’s where it seemed to her that Mrs. Brewster had practically given up. The poor woman didn’t (or couldn’t) do more than make a simple meal of salt pork and potatoes twice a day. Laura was appalled that even the most ordinary tasks went without thought. Mrs. Brewster had let the housework go and “she did not make the bed nor even spread it up.” She quarreled at her husband, little Johnny fussed, and Mr. Brewster just sat.
Up to this point, Laura had faced uncomfortable situations and hardships many times before. Laura worked with her parents to conquer difficult times. Never before was Laura expected to face these challenges alone. No reassuring words from Ma, no fiddle music to play her to sleep, no sister to snuggle next to. Laura was alone and, for all intents and purposes, a grown up.
The Ingalls family had somehow managed to be cheerful and work together through sickness on Plum Creek, Mary’s blindness, and even the hard winter. These difficulties only seemed to bring her family closer.
This life away from home was uncharted territory for Laura. She did not understand how Mrs. Brewster could be terminally unhappy, nor did she understand how her husband cared little about anything. Her own parents talked with each other, made decisions together, and obviously respected and appreciated one another. The Brewsters were the polar opposite of her beloved parents.
Laura was dismayed that there was little she could do to better the situation. “Her head ached as she went toward Mrs. Brewster’s hateful house.” She realized then that she must just get through the miserable week one day at a time.
At school, her students quarreled with one another. They misbehaved and did not know their lessons. Laura did not have the energy to keep up with her own lessons and worried that she would be behind her classmates when she returned to school herself. It all seemed too much.
Although this short chapter appears plagued with failure, it is a turning point for Laura’s teaching career. As all the great teacher movies have shown us, a tough week and a tough class brings out the best in any instructor. (Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, Mr. Holland’s Opus)
Through all of her classroom problems, she wondered if this must have been how Miss Wilder felt when she had taught her school. It makes one wonder if Eliza Jane didn’t wish for Laura to help her with the other pupils in the same way Laura wished for Clarence to help make Tommy and Ruby mind. Laura believed in her heart that Clarence really was a good boy. She knew he was much brighter than his recitations showed.
Laura and Clarence are remarkably similar in the two situations. They are both well-liked by their peers and seen as leaders by other students. Both smart as a whip and quick thinking, but also quick to action. No doubt Laura saw some of herself in Clarence, and her expectations went along accordingly.
The days moved slowly, but Laura was ever hopeful that things would be better tomorrow. Friday was quiet and dull. She and her pupils were simply going through the motions. After lunch, the clouds began to lift and the afternoon grew bright. Like the little girl who brought in the entire wood pile many years before on Plum Creek, Laura had again tackled a problem and the week was nearly over.
The mood lightened more when once again, she heard sleigh bells. Almanzo had returned for the second week in a row! As she gathered her things, she heard Clarence shout, “Teacher’s beau’s here!” Later as the horses trotted swiftly leaving behind the awful week, Laura wondered what Almanzo must be thinking. She thought it best to say nothing of Clarence. “Laura decided; as Ma would say, ‘Least said, soonest mended.”