Saturday, August 30, 2008

Farmer Boy

Boys don’t generally read the ‘Little House’ books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I certainly didn’t, not when I was younger. Girls, I think, are much more open to books generally considered for boys than boys are to 'girl's' books. I guess we just always feel we have more on the line for being considered interested in that ‘girly’ stuff. I was a pretty voracious reader and even had a sort of secret curiosity about those stories (I’ve always loved tales of survival) but never considered reading them back then. I also avoided Nancy Drew, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess and Anne of Green Gables.

Most of those I still have yet to read, but a few years ago I started reading the Little House books, and I loved them. I picked them up because I was starting to write a children’s novel of my own and wanted to consume just about every classic I could think of, and also because my youngest sister Esme was reading them and enjoying them and my curiosity was again piqued. I discovered that not only are they enjoyable page-turners with interesting, diverse characters and suspenseful story-lines, they are truly treasures of American history, full to the brim of the clearest writing you’ll ever read of how the settlers and rural folk of this young country made their way on the ever-expanding American frontier.

Unsurprisingly, I was endlessly fascinated by all the details of how they ate; what they grew, what they shot and foraged, how they preserved it, how they cooked and ate it, how they enjoyed it. Boy, how they enjoyed it. The undeniable truth of living as a homesteader back then comes through in the general joy the characters get from almost every bite they take, whether it is their morning porridge or a once a year treat of maple syrup poured into the snow. Wilder’s writing really comes alive talking about food, sparking my appetite over and over. It’s clear that food really meant something to her and her family, and their connection to what they ate was primal and sophisticated at once.

Currently I’m reading Farmer Boy, which follows a year in the life of the young Almanzo Wilder, future husband of Laura Ingalls, on his family’s farm in New York state. The work, of course, is never ending and endlessly physical, and so is the young boy’s appetite. In particular, I am struck by how much pie he eats. It seems he closes every single meal, breakfast, dinner, supper, with two or three (or more) pieces of spicy apple pie, and frequently runs into to grab a slice or two during a quick break from pitching hay.

I never read Farmer Boy when I took in all the other Little House books a few years ago, mostly because I didn’t want to interrupt the narrative of the Wilder family as they moved from the big woods to the little house to the banks of plum creek, etc. Now, with a season working on a farm looming in my near future, it seemed the right time to head back and finish off the series with this book, and I’m glad I did. 

And, of course, this one’s not particularly girly, so I'm safe, right? 

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