"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 29
Now that we're done with the first two Little House books (which I now know, thanks to Shaz, are not really the first two Little House books), we finally get to Farmer Boy, which, to my great distress, has even more chapters than Little House on the Prairie! So even as I excitedly announce that this will be the first of four posts about our current novel, I have no idea how I'm ever going to finish this readalong "on schedule"! LOL!!!
Almanzo took his own little milking-stool, and a pail, and sat down in Blossom's stall to milk her. His hands were not yet strong enough to milk a hard milker, but he could milk Blossom and Bossy. They were good old cows who gave down their milk easily, and hardly ever switched a stinging tail into his eyes, or upset the pail with a hind foot . . .
When Almazo had finished milking . . . [his] father went into Blossom's stall with his own pail and stool, and sat down to strip the last, richest drops of milk from Blossom's udder. But Almanzo had got it all. Then Father went into Bossy's stall. He came out at once and said,
"You're a good milker, son."
Farmer Boy would have been a great book for the Top Secret December Theme (which nobody cared to figure out, possibly because I was being insufferable with it) . . . but I got to it too late.
The first difference I noticed between Farmer Boy and the "Laura books" is that Almanzo's father is quite well off in the world. Not that I would ever describe Pa as "poor"--but there's quite a difference between his small log barn and the three big buildings and barnyard on James Wilder's property. The second difference, of course, is that Mr. Wilder is also raising sons.
I don't know about Royal (who is, so far, as nondescript as Mary is in the "Laura books"), but Almanzo seems very eager to be just like his father when he grows up. Does he already strike you as unusual?
These days, child protagonists don't want to be like their parents. If they aren't outwardly rebelling, then they're pursuing interests that their parents often have no insight into. A huge cliche of the modern coming-of-age story is the parent determined to turn his child into another version of himself and needing to be taught (by the child!) that one must not interfere with the unique journeys of individuals. (Cue Free to Be . . . You and Me! soundtrack!) In contrast, Farmer Boy is shaping up to be a coming-of-age story as well, and Mr. Wilder is definitely trying to form Almanzo into the same sort of man he is--but this isn't a set-up for a father-son struggle. Laura Ingalls Wilder herself seems to agree that the one who knows what is best for a growing boy is his own father.
And what does this father think is best for his son on the latter's ninth birthday?
"There's something for you in the woodshed," Father said . . .
. . . [It] was a little calf yoke! Father had made it of red cedar, so it was strong and yet light. It was Almanzo's very own, and Father said,
"Yes, son, you are old enough now to break the calves."
Almanzo stays home from school that day and gives his pet calves their first lessons in bearing a yoke. It may be an interruption in his schooling, but it is an essential part of his education in a way most of his classroom lessons will never be. As Almanzo puts it, "He [does] not have to go to school when there [are] more important things to do."
As for school, the text barely mentions anything he learns there. We know that there are some words he can't spell properly, but we're even not told what they are! (As someone who once worked as a teacher, I see the huge snub--and I love it! LOL!) I suspect the only reason we get to read about it so much is that the new teacher Mr. Corse makes such a favourable impression on Almanzo that he gets a special moment to shine. But note that it's not because of anything academic that he teaches the boy, but for another reason.
Mr. Corse stepped away from his desk. His hand came from behind the desk lid, and a long, thin, black streak hissed through the air.
It was a blacksnake ox-whip fifteen feet long. Mr. Corse held the short handle, loaded with iron, that could kill an ox. The thin, long lash coiled around Bill's legs, and Mr. Corse jerked. Bill lurched and almost fell. Quick as black lightning, the lash circled and struck and coiled again, and again Mr. Corse jerked.
"Come up here, Bill Ritchie," he said, jerking Bill toward him and backing away.
If you've read this far, then you know that Bill Ritchie and his gang are such awful bullies that another teacher they attacked died from the beating they inflicted upon him. Before they came to school on the day of this confrontation, they bragged that they would do the same to Mr. Corse. So given that he just jerks two of them around with a whip, resulting in ripped clothes and some flesh wounds, I think he went rather easily on them. What say you?
There are so many other points to discuss about the first seven chapters of Farmer Boy, but this post is long enough as it is. I've started to think I should have reserved six months, and not two, just for the first five Little House books--but that can't be helped now!
What are your thoughts on Chapters 1 to 7?
1) Do you think that today's parents are relying too much on schools to do their job for them?
2) Do you think a child's rebellion is an inevitable part of growing up or just another modern shibboleth?
3) Would you want a teacher like Mr. Corse in your school or in your children's school?
Image Source: Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder