Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Manly Day!

Almanzo Wilder was born February 13, 1857 so today marks his 152nd birthday. He looks pretty good for 152, wouldn't you say?

For the uninformed among you, Almanzo (Manly to his wife and friends) was the husband of author Laura Ingalls Wilder. She met him when she was a teenager (although I don't think they used that term in the 19th century) and married him when she was 18....he was 28. Years later she made him famous by using him as a leading character in her Little House books, even writing a whole book, FARMER BOY, about a year of his childhood in Malone, New York.

Manly was my first literary crush and I've never gotten over loving him. He was portrayed as a quiet, patient man with more than a touch of humor and fun in his manner. His gentle courting of Laura became my role model of the perfect romance. His proposal ranks right up there as one of my all time favorites.

Manly: I was wondering if you would like an engagement ring.

Laura: That would depend on who offered it to me.

Manly: If I should?

Laura: Then it would depend on the ring.

Isn't that priceless? Can you imagine how he must have felt? I guess he knew right then and there that life would never be boring with Miss Ingalls.

He won my heart forever when he and Laura were discussing their wedding ceremony and she said, "Do you want me to promise to obey you?"

Manly quickly answered, "Of course not. I know it is something in the wedding ceremony, but it is only something that women say. I never knew one that did it, nor any decent man that wanted her to."

According to things I've read, his mother was the one that ran things in his family so I guess we have her to thank for his enlightened views of women in 1885. Laura, indeed, did not promise to obey during their wedding.

Almanzo spent his childhood helping his father on his prosperous farms in upstate New York and Minnesota, later starting his own farm on homestead land in South Dakota. Knowing nothing but success, I'm sure Almanzo thought he and Laura had a bright future ahead of them after marriage, unfortunately drought, hail, poverty, fire and illness took their toll and the family, which now included their daughter Rose, moved around a good bit, from South Dakota to Minnesota, down to Florida and back to South Dakota before finally settling in Missouri in 1894. Life wasn't much easier in Missouri in the beginning but eventually they built a large farmhouse and tended to almost 200 acres of orchard and farm land for the next 50 years or so.

Almanzo once told his daughter, Rose, that his life had mostly been full of disappointment but he's been described by people that knew him in Missouri as having a great sense of humor and full of fun, loving to talk and cut up so I like to think he was just having a bad day when he was answering Rose's questions. I find so much humor in the following excerpt from the Mansfield Mirror in 1916, I can just imagine Almanzo telling the story and the newspaper printing it exactly the way he told it:

"Last week, in his orchard, A.J. Wilder found his best brood sow dead, probably killed by hunters. Mr. Wilder is a good natured farmer but does not care to dispose of his stock in this way..."

So happy birthday Manly, I hope somewhere up in heaven you're having swiss steak for your birthday dinner and some of Bessie's good gingerbread for dessert....along with a nice piece of apple pie.