On Farmer Boy and Becoming a Man

farmer boyThis week as our eight-year-old son was reading chapter 25 of Farmer Boy to me at the kitchen table, I was feeling a bit behind schedule. We had been doing this together on and off since last fall, and I was eager for him to finish so we could start another read-aloud. But today, when I noticed how close to the end of the book we are -- just four more chapters to go -- it hit me that hearing him read this book has been a taste of joy so sweet, the end of it suddenly feels sorrowful. On the last page of "Threshing," the chapter about nine-year-old Alamanzo's efforts to help Father process their wheat, our son read,

...he went whistling to do the chores.

All winter long, on stormy nights, there would be threshing to do. When the wheat was threshed, there would be the oats, the beans, the Canada peas. There was plenty of grain to feed the stock, plenty of wheat and rye to take to the mill for flour. Almanzo had harrowed the fields, he had helped in the harvest, and now he was threshing.

He helped to feed the patient cows, and the horses eagerly whinnying over the bars of their stalls, and the hungrily bleating sheep, and the grunting pigs. And he felt like saying to them all:

"You can depend on me. I'm big enough to take care of you all."

Most people think the Little House books are for girls. I disagree. The main character in the series isn't the plaited second daughter, Laura, but Pa. He's the stout-hearted pioneer, the one who forges through the big woods, heading always further on, working tirelessly to make a living for his family. He beats back the wilderness to take dominion everywhere they settle. Indians, locusts, wild fires, blight, storm and cold; all of this and more conspire against him. Every failed harvest reminds him that he is at the mercy of a fallen world, but also that it is his burden and charge to provide for wife and children in spite of adversity and even disaster. Little House is a series about taking dominion.

Farmer Boy is particularly suited to sons. It is Laura's account of Almanzo Wilder's childhood, providing a look into the upbringing that formed him into the man who would become her husband. Every chapter presents a new challenge for the boy who is determined to grow to be a farmer like his own father.

"You can depend on me," our son read aloud. "I'm big enough to take care of you all."

I interrupted his reading. "Is he?" I asked, looking intently at him. He thought for a moment. "Yes, I think he is."

"What is Almanzo becoming?" I asked.

"A man." Churchill answered.

He looked up from the page to my face. "Mom, you're crying."

"Yes, I know. The transition it happening," I said, wiping away my tears.