Note: I first wrote this article back in 2006 for one of my original blogs. Since then, most of the offerings at the movie theater and on television have only served to solidify my premise, so I thought it was well-worth a repost here. Nowadays, Little House on the Prairie is broadcast on the Hallmark Channel.
Though I’m not much of a TV watcher anymore, save for the occasional History Channel Special and FOX News, I gave in to the urge to channel surf last night, and was delighted to come across a childhood staple, Little House on the Prairie, broadcasting on the network, TV Land.
It just happened to be one of my all-time favorite episodes, where Almanzo — the cute guy who’d been the object of Laura’s affection from the time he’d arrived in Walnut Grove — finally realizes that “Beth” (his nickname for her, established early on in their friendship) was now a grown-up and that his feelings for her have suddenly blossomed into love.
Of course, back in 1980, when this episode first ran, having read many of the Little House books penned by the real Laura Ingalls, I knew Almanzo would eventually become her husband. The televsion series, however, did an outstanding job chronicling their initial meeting, courtship and subsequent marriage.
In last night’s episode, the show captured the spirit of family and community within which people met, socialized, dated and ultimately exchanged marriage vows. Laura — finally a teacher — accepts her first assignment as a substitute teacher for a nearby town, whose schoolmarm has suffered a broken leg. Almanzo, in the spirit of helping out one’s neighbor, agrees to provide horse-drawn transportation for Laura. She stays with the incapacitated school teacher during the week, and returns home on the weekends, escorted by Almanzo.
It is during one of these routes that he remarks to her, with a silly grin on his face, “You look different.” Later, when Laura excitedly shares the exchange with Ma, her delighted mother advises her that “Men like to be the pursuer. So you just let them do that.” Good advice from Ma Ingalls, and not just for her 19th Century daughter; some truths, as they say, are eternal. Based on personal experience, I’ve come to believe in the validity of Caroline Ingalls’ statement. But I digress.
When Laura takes her Ma’s words to heart and promises Almanzo, “I’ll think about it,” in response to his invitation to attend an upcoming church social with him, he’s obviously crushed and more than a little confused. A series of heart-warming and amusing scenes follow, including one where Almanzo, lost in thought over his new love, bids his sister goodnight and then walks out the front door, instead of heading up the stairs. In another, he mistakenly interprets an innocent embrace between Laura and one of her students, and punches the young boy to the ground, inciting the ire of Miss Ingalls and resulting in his humiliating exit.
Later he recounts the incident to Charles, Laura’s protective Pa, who struggles to keep a straight face as Almanzo admits he wrongly concluded that the boy “was making advances to Laura.” When the would-be suitor is safely outside of hearing range, Charles bursts into laughter, though at the same time he’s hit with the reality that his “Half-Pint” will soon be leaving the nest and starting her own family.
This charming episode ends with the entire Ingalls family in attendance at the church social, where familiar and not-so-familiar (i.e. extras) townsfolk dance, talk and laugh. A glum Laura searches for her beloved, while a polite young Albert sweetly asks his dateless school-teacher (Almanzo’s sister), Eliza, to dance, an invitation she accepts gratefully.
Against this backdrop of small-town merriment, Laura finds Almanzo sulking in the kitchen, and greets him with a tentative, sympathetic “Hi.” When they discover that their “dates” for the evening are each other’s family members, and not romantic rivals, they are clearly relieved, though still obviously nervous about admitting their feelings to each other.
Almanzo breaks the ice with a “Sweet Sixteen” gift, a beautiful embroidered shawl that Laura promptly ties around her shoulders and softly announces “It’s like I’m wearing your colors.” The two draw ever-so-slowly closer to each other, before finally exchanging their first tender, chaste kiss. The show ends with the emergence of Laura and Almanzo on the dance floor, now officially Walnut Grove’s newest couple.
In this day and age of instant gratification, meaningless hook-ups and safe sex, television dramas like Little House , with its focus on proper courtship, respect and family values probably seems corny and quaint to most people. But watching this episode last night, I found myself nostalgic for an era that, while lacking in personal conveniences, was rife with men and women of character.