These Happy Golden Years (Chaprer 33)
These Happy Golden Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little Gray Home in the West
Laura was ready when Almanzo came. She was wearing her new black cashmere dress and her sage-green poke bonnet with the blue lining and the blue ribbon bow tied under her left ear. The soft black tips of her shoes barely peeped from beneath her flaring skirt as she walked.
Ma herself had pinned her square gold brooch with the imbedded strawberry at Laura’s throat, against the bit of white lace that finished the collar of her dress.
“There!” Ma said. “Even if your dress is black, you look perfect.”
Gruffly Pa said, “You’ll do, Half-Pint.”
Carrie brought a fine white handkerchief, edged with lace matching the lace on Laura’s collar. “I made it for you,” she said. “It looks nice in your hand, against your black dress.”
Grace just stood near and admired. Then Almanzo came, and they all watched at the door while Laura and Almanzo drove away.
Once Laura spoke. “Does Reverend Brown know we are coming?”
Almanzo said, “I saw him on my way over. He will not use the word, ‘obey.’”
Mrs. Brown opened the sitting room door. Nervously she said that she would call Mr. Brown and asked them to sit down. She went into the bedroom and closed the door.
Laura and Almanzo sat waiting. In the center of the sitting room a marble-topped table stood on a crocheted rag rug. On the wall was a large colored picture of a woman clinging to a white cross planted on a rock, with lightning streaking the sky above her and huge waves dashing high around her.
The door of the other bedroom opened and Ida slipped in and sat down in a chair near the door. She gave Laura a frightened smile and then twisted her handkerchief in her lap and looked at it.
The kitchen door opened and a tall, thin young man quietly slipped into a chair. Laura supposed he was Elmer but she did not see him, for Reverend Brown came from the bedroom, thrusting his arms into his coat sleeves. He settled the coat collar to his neck and asked Laura and Almanzo to rise and stand before him.
So they were married.
Reverend Brown and Mrs. Brown and Elmer shook their hands, and Almanzo quietly handed Reverend Brown a folded bill. Reverend Brown unfolded it, and at first did not understand that Almanzo meant to give him all of ten dollars. Ida squeezed Laura’s hand and tried to speak, but choked; quickly she kissed Laura, slipped a soft little package into her hand, and ran out of the room.
Laura and Almanzo came out into the sun and wind. He helped her into the buggy and untied the horses. They drove back through town. Dinner was ready when they came back. Ma and the girls had moved the table into the sitting room, between the open door and the open windows. They had covered it with the best white tablecloth and set it with the prettiest dishes. The silver spoons in the spoon holder shone in the center of the table and the steel knives and forks were polished until they were as bright.
As Laura hesitated shyly at the door, Carrie asked, “What’s that in your hand?”
Laura looked down. She was holding in her hand with Carrie’s handkerchief, the soft little package that Ida had given her. She said, “Why, I don’t know. Ida gave it to me.”
She opened the small tissue-paper package and unfolded the most beautiful piece of lace she had ever seen. It was a triangular fichu, of white silk lace, a pattern of lovely flowers and leaves.
“That will last you a lifetime, Laura,” Ma said, and Laura knew that she would always keep and treasure this lovely thing that Ida had given her.
Then Almanzo came in from stabling the horses, and they all sat down to dinner.
It was one of Ma’s delicious dinners, but all the food tasted alike to Laura. Even the wedding cake was dry as sawdust in her mouth, for at last she realized that she was going away from home, that never would she come back to this home to stay. They all lingered at the table, for they knew that after dinner came the parting, but finally Almanzo said that it was time to go.
Laura put her bonnet on again, and went out to the buggy as Almanzo drove to the door. There were goodby kisses and good wishes, while he stood ready to help her into the buggy. But Pa took her hand.
“You’ll help her from now on, young man,” he said to Almanzo. “But this time, I will.” Pa helped her into the buggy.
Ma brought a basket covered with a white cloth. “Something to help make your supper,” she said and her lips trembled. “Come back soon, Laura.”
When Almanzo was lifting the reins, Grace came running with Laura’s old slat sunbonnet. “You forgot this!” she called, holding it up. Almanzo checked the horses while Laura took the sunbonnet. As the horses started again, Grace called anxiously after them, “Remember, Laura, Ma says if you don’t keep your sunbonnet on, you’ll be brown as an Indian!”
So everyone was laughing when Laura and Almanzo drove away.
They drove over the road they had traveled so many times, across the neck of Big Slough, around the corner by Pearson’s livery barn, up Main Street and across the railroad tracks, then out on the road toward the new house on Almanzo’s tree claim.
It was a silent drive until almost the end, when for the first time that day Laura saw the horses. She exclaimed, “Why, you are driving Prince and Lady!”
“Prince and Lady started this,” Almanzo said. “So I thought they’d like to bring us home. And here we are.”
The tracks of his wagon and buggy wheels had made a perfect half-circle drive curving into the grove of little sapling trees before the house. There the house sat, and it was neatly finished with siding and smoothly painted a soft gray. Its front door was comfortably in the middle, and two windows gave the whole house a smiling look. On the doorstep lay a large, brown shepherd dog, that rose and politely wagged to Laura as the buggy stopped.
“Hello, Shep!” Almanzo said. He helped Laura down and unlocked the door. “Go in while I put up the horses,” he told her.
Just inside the door she stood and looked. This was the large room. Its walls were neatly plastered a soft white. At its far end stood a drop-leaf table, covered with Ma’s red-checked tablecloth. A chair sat primly at either end of it. Beside it was a closed door.
In the center of the long wall at Laura’s left, a large window let in the southern sunshine. Companionably placed at either side of it, two rocking chairs faced each other. Beside the one nearest Laura, stood a small round table, and above it a hanging lamp was suspended from the ceiling. Someone could sit there in the evening and read a paper, while in the other chair someone could knit.
The window beside the front door let still more sunny light into that pleasant room.
Two closed doors were in the other long wall. Laura opened the one nearest her, and saw the bedroom. Her Dove-in-the-Window quilt was spread upon the wide bed, and her two feather pillows stood plumply at the head of it. At its foot, across the whole length of the partition was a wide shelf higher than Laura’s head, and from its edge a prettily flowered calico curtain hung to the floor. It made a perfect clothes closet. Against the wall under the front window stood Laura’s trunk.
She had seen all this quickly. Now she took off her poke bonnet and laid it on the shelf. She opened her trunk and took out a calico dress and apron. Taking off her black cashmere, she hung it carefully in the curtain closet, then slipped into the blue calico dress and tied on the crisply ruffled, pink apron. She went into the front room as Almanzo came into it through the door by the drop-leaf table.
“All ready for work, I see!” he said gaily, as he set Ma’s basket on the chair near him. “Guess I’d better get ready for my work, too.” He turned at the bedroom door to say, “Your Ma told me to open your bundle and spread things around.”
She looked through the door by the table. There was the lean-to. Almanzo’s bachelor cook-stove was set up there, and pots and frying pans hung on the walls. There was a window, and a back door that looked out at the stable beyond some little trees.
Laura returned to the front room. She took up Ma’s basket, and opened the last door. She knew it must be the pantry door, but she stood in surprise and then in delight, looking at that pantry. All one wall was covered with shelves and drawers, and a broad shelf was under a large window at the pantry’s far end.
She took Ma’s basket to that shelf, and opened it. There was a loaf of Ma’s good bread, a ball of butter, and what had been left of the wedding cake. She left it all on the shelf while she investigated the pantry.
One whole long wall was shelved from the ceiling halfway down. The upper shelves were empty, but on the lowest was a glass lamp, Almanzo’s bachelor dishes, and two pans of milk, with empty pans near. At the end, where this shelf was above the window shelf in the corner, stood a row of cans of spices.
Beneath this shelf were many drawers of different sizes. Directly below the spices, and above the window shelf, were two rather narrow drawers. Laura found that one was almost full of white sugar, the other of brown sugar. How handy!
Next, a deep drawer was full of flour, and smaller ones held graham flour and corn meal. You could stand at the window shelf and mix up anything, without stirring a step. Outside the window was the great, blue sky, and the leafy little trees.
Another deep drawer was filled with towels and tea towels. Another held two tablecloths and some napkins. A shallow one held knives and forks and spoons.
Beneath all these drawers there was space for a tall, stoneware churn and dasher, and empty space for other things as they should come.
In a wide drawer of the bottom row was only a crust of bread and half a pie. Here Laura put Ma’s loaf of bread and the wedding cake. She cut a piece from the ball of butter, put it on a small plate, and placed it beside the bread. Then she pushed the drawer shut.
By the iron ring fastened in the pantry floor, she knew there was a trap door. She straightened the ring up, and pulled. The trap door rose, and rested against the pantry wall opposite the shelves. There, beneath where it had been, the cellar stairs went down.
Carefully covering the ball of butter, Laura carried it town the stairs into the cool, dark cellar, and set it on a hanging shelf that swung from the ceiling. She heard steps overhead, and as she came up the cellar stairs she heard Almanzo calling her name.
“I thought you were lost in this big house!” he said.
“I was putting the butter down cellar so it would keep cool,” Laura said.
“Like your pantry?” he asked her, and she thought how many hours he must have worked, to put up all those shelves and to make and fit those many drawers.
“Yes,” she said.
“Then let’s go look at Lady’s big little colt. I want you to see the horses in their stalls, and the place I have fixed for your cow. She’s picketed out to grass now, just out of reach of the young trees.” Almanzo led the way through the lean-to and outdoors.
They explored the long stable and the yard beyond it. Almanzo showed her the new haystacks on the north, to shelter the yard and stable when the winter winds came. Laura petted the horses and the colt, and Shep as he followed close at their heels. They looked at the little maples and box elders and willows and cottonwoods.
Quickly, the afternoon was gone. It was time for chores and supper.
“Don’t build a fire,” Almanzo told her. “Set out that bread and butter your mother gave us; I’ll milk Fawn, and we’ll have bread and new milk for supper.”
“And cake,” Laura reminded him.
When they had eaten supper and washed the few dishes, they sat on the front doorstep as evening came. They heard Prince blow out his breath, whoof! as he lay down on his bed of clean hay in the stable. They saw the dim bulk of Fawn on the grass, where she lay chewing her cud and resting. Shep lay at their feet; already he was half Laura’s dog.
Laura’s heart was full of happiness. She knew she need never be homesick for the old home. It was so near that she could go to it whenever she wished, while she and Almanzo made the new home in their own little house.
All this was theirs; their own horses, their own cow, their own claim. The many leaves of their little trees rustled softly in the gentle breeze.
Twilight faded as the little stars went out and the moon rose and floated upward. Its silvery light flooded the sky and the prairie. The winds that had blown whispering over the grasses all the summer day now lay sleeping, and quietness brooded over the moon-drenched land.
“It is a wonderful night,” Almanzo said.
“It is a beautiful world,” Laura answered, and in memory she heard the voice of Pa’s fiddle and the echo of a song,
“Golden years are passing by
These happy, golden years.”