When Amateur Reader re-read Laura Ingalls Wilder back in November, he paid special attention to issues of time. Time struck me in the book as well, and again in Farmer Boy, though not quite in the same way. No, what I noticed was much more obvious and silly: Wilder’s method of storytelling really emphasizes how much the families live according to the seasons.
So this is obvious because of course they do; they are farmers, or at least living off the land. On the one hand, it doesn’t seem too different from my life after all: I do different things in different seasons too. On the other, I realize they simply must do this to a much greater extent.
The reading experience seemed bizarrely like a nature documentary, though. (In case you don’t know, I’m a huge fangirl of things like Planet Earth, and in case you don’t know, these documentaries are very often told according to the seasons.) It’s not just that Laura and Mary and Ma and Pa have to wear warmer clothes in winter, or spend more time then as a family sitting by the fire, or that Pa doesn’t go hunting in the spring when baby animals need their mothers. Because of their living off the land, they must be actively represented in just the same way as animals in these documentaries: doing all they can to stock up on more food than they need during the warmer part of the year so it will last them all through the winter. Like squirrels stocking up on acorns, they fill the attic with onions and peppers and pumpkins and squash.
One of the most impressive things about it all is the amount of planning involved. When they butcher a pig, that’s the only time they will do it all year. They must find ways of preserving all that pork not just because it would go off without artificial refrigeration, but also because otherwise they wouldn’t have any pork to eat until the next year. A year is a lot of planning, a lot of acorns.
The food scenes, and I count among them things like the hog-butchering scene, are my favorite thing aside from the more general category of parents-knowing-everything (because of course, cooking is a subcategory of that). Some of the ones in Farmer Boy are particularly amazing. Almanzo lives amid more plenty than Laura, and I would kill to have his mother cook for me. On his birthday, toward the beginning of the book, he gets a new sled to play with on the cold winter day.
So everything was snug and comfortable in the house, and Almanzo went downstairs and took two more doughnuts from the doughnut-jar, and then he played outdoors again with his sled.
He’s got a doughnut-jar, people, and you know what that means: later on, you’re going to learn how to make doughnuts.