The story starts in rural New York in the late 1800s and centers around the daily lives of the Wilder family. Almanzo Wilder was one of four children on a busy homestead. The family raised all of the food they ate and engaged in many business endeavors incorporating the excess food or livestock that they raised. In many places throughout the story, they talk of crops they sold and how much money was made from it. In those days, that was a great deal of profit. They had a large potato crop that was kept over winter in cellar until the time was right and people needed potatoes. Maybe their crop was too small to span the winter months, maybe they lived in town and did not grow a crop of potatoes. We never find out why they sold so many, but the things that stand out in my mind is the hard work they gave to bring the crop in-the hard work in hauling wagon load after wagon load to town for selling. The work was monumental and even we can not imagine doing all that work BY HAND, day in and day out, but we know that IT CAN BE DONE.
From season to season the work changes for the Wilder family and there presents a whole system of work and challenges. Even when, there, Laura told of an early frost with the corn crop, we see the impending loss that a farmer can have. After many long hour of planting the crop to ensure the livestock enough food for the year and extra for selling, the tender corn in its earliest moments was left bare in that frost of early summer. Father woke the children in the middle of the night and they hurried to pour water on each of the mounds. Almanzo was tired and hungry. But he knew that the crop would be lost when the sun rose over the horizon. They were at a race with the sun and they covered almost all the crop but a few acres. Father said, those plants are lost but it was good that we saved a majority of the crop.
This was a time when families really had to work together to survive and children were much more respectful, too. Often times, as you read in this book, Laura gets into the respect, obedience, and care that was taken on a child's part, to know their place and to do as they were told. Father had colts and Almanzo wanted to touch them and pet them. Father gave him a strict order to leave them alone because a wild child could ruin a horse forever. Even though he wanted to touch the horses or colts so badly, he knew he needed to earn that right, prove to Father that he was every bit responsible as a man aught to be. Growing into a man takes time, and Almanzo was finding every opportunity to show that he was putting off his childish ways and that he was someone they could depend on. He was nine years old. At that age, he was working harder than any grown man today works. It is truly inspiring to see the work ethic of this family.
In the very end of the book, Almanzo shows great integrity by returning something of great value to a man who was not thankful. After the stingy ungrateful man took his possession, he made some nasty comments toward Almanzo and the wagon maker took notice of this injustice. He stuck up for Almanzo and could see the integrity that he had. The wagon maker wanted to have a guy like Almanzo to carry on the business one day, in town. Almanzo would have an easier life, living with more conveniences and getting his food from the market rather than working hard to plant, harvest, and preserve all that food. He would make lots of money and could afford a great deal of luxuries. He would not have to worry about early frosts, or freezing his fingers off in the pursuit to save the crop. It all looks promising for Almanzo, he will have the "good" life in town. But what will he be giving up. It was his choice.
Father said the most fair thing:
"Well, son, you think about it. I want you should make up your own mind. With Paddock, you'd have an easy life, in some ways. You wouldn't be out in all kinds of weather. Cold winter nights, you could lie snug, in bed and not worry about young stock freezing. Rain or shine, wind or snow, you'd be under shelter. You'll be shut up, inside walls. Likely you'll always have plenty to eat and wear and money in the bank."
"James!" Mother said.
"That's the truth, and we must be fair about it," Father answered. "But there's the other side, too, Almanzo. You'd have to depend on other folks, son, in town. Everything you got, you'll get from other folks."
"A farmer depends on himself, and the land and the weather. If you're a farmer, you raise what you eat, you raise what you wear, and you keep warm with wood out of your own timber. You work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You'll be free and independent, son, on a farm."
Almanzo chose the farmer life, and so do we!
It is easier to put the laundry through the modern washer and dryer, but it takes all of us to use the old wringer washer. It takes team work, every time. The kids and I working together to get the clothes clean and hanging them out to dry in the cold breeze. Our fingers are red with hot soapy water, and freezing cold and numb from the wash line. The wetness of your fingers against the wind is a painful cold. Sometimes the kids wonder why we do things the hard way. They do enjoy it, yes, but those moments in the harsh weather, pushing yourself even in the pain of it, can be hard to understand. But we are spending time, in the good times and bad, working hard as a family to get the work done that needs to get done. Life is not easy when you live the "simple life". It is HARD work at times. Sometimes we might be butchering chickens for 10 hours in one day. The stink, the guts, the blood, the monumental canning ahead. But, I say it is so worth every hard step of the way.
It is easier to go to the thrift store and find a good deal on some clothing, or buy clothing new. But, when you are sewing the clothing in your sewing room with your two little girls, there is nothing that can compare to the fellowship we have learning together. It is not easy to sew all your clothing, but it is made with love and each stitch was placed there to make someone else cozy and warm. It is the effort of thinking about your brother, or sister, or mother, or father and providing for a need.
It is easier to do so many things when the home is filled with modern conveniences. What I have noticed, now that I have known the Amish for so long, that the modern conveniences actually make people less accessible at times. The television, radio programs, sporting events, church activities, youth groups, keep the family busy indeed. They are running here and there, shopping here, texting there, and all the while they never notice that they are all living separate in many ways. When you have everything at your fingertips, you cease from needing each other as much. When I observe the Amish and how they depend on each member of the family to keep the farm going, how they depend on the other members of the community to do the bigger jobs, you can see plainly that it works. It has worked for them for hundreds of years. Some look upon the Amish and try to find a spiritual reason for each and everything the Amish do. They wonder why they wear bonnets, why the men shave their mustaches, why they will take a ride with a driver in a van but will not own a car, why they do things that are not found in the Bible. To try to find them to be a hypocrite in every way that they do is not any point to make. Yes, if you do have to have a reason, you may go away disappointed. You may think less of them, of course. But rather, it is a right of passage, a right of who they have been and what they represent. It is the family life, working together, depending on one another for bread to eat. It is in the community life that sets the Amish apart. It keeps them Amish, keeps what they have for years and generations to come. They have less convenience, but more family time. They are forced to depend on one another constantly. There is no time for luxury, or entertainment. They find fun times together and funny stories unfold in daily life. They may not be like Mr. Paddock, in town with the easy life, but they know where their food came from, and did not have to depend on the folks in town to give it to them. We do not choose this because of spiritual reasoning because we can not reason with it in that way. In other words, we can't make perfect sense of it when it comes to spiritual ways, nor will we try to make a point that way because we already love Jesus with all our hearts and we can have the freedom to worship Him in this lifestyle, too. It can neither save us nor unsave us. We choose the Amish community, the plain and simple life, because in working together as a family, we can build a future for our children and our children's children. It would take time to build up to have farm one day, and to perhaps give up other things like this old computer that I am typing on right now. Wow, to give up that to gain a lifestyle for our family! It may not make sense to anyone but us, but that's okay.
For now, we just enjoy where we are, what we have the priveledge to be a part of and more time together as a family. Today we will be butchering 100 laying hens, and tomorrow we will be canning all the broth and meat in pieces, so it is high time I get a going and start the day. Have yourself a good day, try to find ways to make more work for your family. Don't be afraid of a hard days work.