Homeschool Helpers

Issue 140, December 28, 2009
From Homeschool Helpers

By Dan L. White

In Association with Pass It On Ministries


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America has lost the magnificence of marriage.

A young couple was married. This happened with no apparent extenuating circumstances that people often use as an excuse to destroy their marriages. They had a period of getting to know one another, both seemed to be fine young people, and they shared some pre-marital counseling. Everything was on the up and up. Then they were married. They made a covenant with God and with each other to be husband and wife. The marriage ceremony would have said something like this:

Mat 19:4-6 English Standard Version

(4)  He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,

(5)  and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?

(6)  So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."


Not so long after the wedding, one of the two left the other, finding the marriage less than expected. The spouse was not as perceived before marriage, so the marriage and the new spouse were forever forsaken. They quickly went back on the availability circuit, and both soon found another.

Basically everybody accepted what happened as being normal and good. Well, not exactly good, but not bad. The Christians said that God still loves the departing party, no matter what that person did. There was no expectation that the marriage covenant actually be upheld and the vow kept, and there was hardly a thought that when one makes a covenant with God, one had better keep it.

Psalm 15:1-4
(1) Yahweh, who shall dwell in your sanctuary? Who shall live on your holy hill?
(2)  He who walks blamelessly, does what is right, and speaks truth in his heart;
(3)  He who doesn't slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his friend, nor casts slurs against his fellow man;
(4)  In whose eyes a vile man is despised, but who honors those who fear Yahweh; he who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and doesn't change;

They have totally lost the magnificence of marriage.

Laura Ingalls, the Little House lady, was the daughter of a farmer. She had seen drought and storm and did not want to continue to live the farm life. This is to say, she did not want to marry a farmer.

However, a farmer wanted to marry her. Almanzo Wilder – whom Laura called Manly – was older than she was and began to give her his attention when she was still in her mid teens. She was pretty. He was persistent. He walked her home from church and singings. He took her for buggy rides around the lakes. After a couple of years, he asked her to marry him.

She declined. She did not want to marry a farmer.

He argued his case about a farmer being more independent. So she agreed to marry him, with a condition. They would try farming for three years. If they were not successful in that time, they would give up farming.

Our book Devotionals with Laura talks about what happened during those first years.

When Manly and Laura began farming, he was quite confident. Laura had not wanted to marry a farmer, so Manly told her to give him three years. He was confident that he would be successful at farming within three years and Laura would be glad she had married a well to do farmer.

At that time, in the 1880’s, people could get a homestead from the government if only they could live on it and make it a working farm. It was said that the government bet 160 acres that you couldn’t survive on it. Confident Manly took out a claim not on one homestead, but two, a regular homestead and a tree claim on which he had to plant and keep alive ten acres of trees. Trees did not grow there naturally, so that meant they didn’t want to.

Here is what happened during their first three years together, the years when they were going to be successful at farming.

Right after they got married at the end of August, Manly harvested a wheat crop that was surprisingly poor, only ten bushels to the acre. Besides that, the prices were low, only ten cents per bushel. Normally when yields are down prices are up. Manly caught the low side of the deal both ways.

That first year they took on some debt, for tools and provisions. The debt could be paid off with a good crop.

The next summer Manly planted a hundred acres of wheat. Rains came and the crop grew wonderfully well. Manly decided the wheat was ready to harvest and went in debt to buy a binder to harvest it. He cut a little of it but decided to wait a couple more days, until the wheat was just perfect. Late that afternoon a twenty minute hailstorm destroyed the wheat crop.

The next summer the wheat harvest was low again.

The next winter Laura and Manly caught diphtheria. Manly was permanently impaired.

The next summer the wheat crop was good. Before it was harvested, a three day hot wind cooked the wheat and made it worthless except for hay. That ended the three year trial for farming.

Laura gave Manly a fourth year.

In the fourth year the ten acres of trees on the tree claim died from the hot, dry weather. They had a baby son. He died twelve days later. Soon after that their house burned, destroying most of their homemaking possessions. Finally they gave up on their homesteads.”

You can see that during those first four years, Laura’s life with Manly was not quite perfect. She had not wanted to marry a farmer in the first place. Those things she feared in the farm life had come upon her, and much more besides. She did not leave her man Manly, though.

Instead of leaving him, she loved him. She showed her love by staying with him.

Manly was a jolly fellow. Peggy Dennis, who knew them in Mansfield, Missouri, pointed that out in chapter three of Laura Ingalls’ Friends Remember Her.

Peggy: Now Almanzo was a cut up and he was witty.

It was almost like he was club footed. He had the front of his shoe leather sewn way back and I think he did it himself. They said they thought he had suffered a stroke at one time. He always carried a heavy cane.

Almanzo had a big white mustache and it looked like he had a stern look, like he was frowning. If you just looked at him, you might think that he was kind of mean. But he was a cut up. He was always clowning with my mother.

Editor: Can you give us an example?

Peggy: Well, one time he came into the market and my mother pretended she didn't see him. So he took his big heavy cane and rapped hard on the counter. She turned around and said, "Oh, I didn't see you."

He knew she was teasing him and he thought that was real funny.

Had she left him, what would have happened?

She would have crushed him. That’s what happens when one mate leaves another forever. Manly had lost his farms, his son, and his health. If he had also lost his wife that would have crushed him, and would have been unimaginably cruel to a man who had already suffered too much. His jollity would have ended.

Had Laura left Manly during all those terrible times, she would have ruined his life.

Laura didn’t choose to leave. Manly didn’t choose to leave. They both chose to love. That was their choice. Look what happened.

In 1894, Laura and Manly moved to the Ozarks of southern Missouri and bought forty acres. Manly was still trying to farm. Laura still chose to love him.

Slowly and steadily they worked with their little Ozarks apple farm; and with vegetables, and chickens, and cows, and goats, and horses. They also worked at other things, just to stay alive, like cooking for railroad workers, writing, driving a dray and selling kerosene.

Overall, their life in the Ozarks was good. Not luxurious in money, but luxurious in good living and in love. Through all the bad times and the good, they were together, giving and getting love for a lifetime.

In 1949 Manly passed away at the age of ninety-two. I spoke with a good friend of Laura’s about the time of Manly’s passing. This is from the book Laura Ingalls’ Friends Remember Her by Dan L. White, chapter six.

Editor: Do you recall when Almanzo passed away?

Neta: Well, Mrs. Wilder called us and told us that he was sick and to come quick. We were getting ready to go to church -- Sunday night -- so we went out there. When we got out there, he was sitting in one of those big, wide-armed chairs, and she was holding him in the chair. I knew he was gone, 'cause you could tell that he was. We called the doctor out and he said, "No, he's gone."

We were satisfied that he was, but she was just a- holding him in that chair.

Editor: She just wouldn't let him go?

Neta: No. So after that, we would call her and talk to her and we were out there all the time. She depended on us a lot.

Editor: While Laura was holding Almanzo, did she know he had gone?

Neta: I think she did, yes. She just didn't want to let him go.

Editor: Did you stay with her that night?

Neta: I don't remember. Rose came in a day or two. There was a friend of Laura's that lived north of town, Mary Pool, and she wanted to stay with her. I think she stayed about two nights after he was buried, and Laura said, "Neta, will you stay at night with me for a while?"

My husband didn't care if I went and stayed with her for a while. So I said, "Yes, I'll stay with you."

She said, "Well, you know what? Mary asked to stay, but she won't go to bed. She sleeps in a chair. I'm not going to let her stay here with me if she won't go to bed."

I don't remember how long I stayed with her until she said, "It's all right. You can go home now."

The bed next to her office was his bed, and hers was next to the bathroom. That night, when we went to go to bed, she said, "Neta, do you care if I sleep in Almanzo's bed and you sleep in mine?"

And I said, "I don't care where I sleep."

I don't know if she felt closer to him sleeping in his bed.”

And then in chapter nine.

When Almanzo had just died, Neta and her husband Silas rushed out to Rocky Ridge and found Laura with Almanzo, sitting by him in his chair where he had died. Laura's arms were around him, holding him, hugging him, cherishing him, loving him with everything that was in her. His chest didn't rise, his closed eyes didn't twinkle, the edges of his white hairy mustache didn't wiggle from his breaths, and no words came from his lips.

But she wouldn't let go.

The farmer boy who worked so patiently with horses, ever so gently, never making a sudden move, never scaring them;

-- who rode for hours around the Twin Lakes in Dakota Territory in a buggy courting pretty blue eyed Laura Ingalls, taming wild horses and her at the same time;

-- who finally talked pretty Laura into being a farmer's wife and living the farmer’s life, and who shared the chickens and the goats and the sunrise over the misty creek to the east and the sunset over the blue hills to the west;

-- the farmer boy now sat still; totally, completely still in the parlor at Rocky Ridge.

Laura held his worn body tightly, wrapping her arms around his frail shoulders. She loved him with a love that had lasted sixty years, till death did them part, and she loved him so much -- this wiry, weakened, wasted old man with the bald head and twisted foot -- that she still wouldn't let him go.

"She just wouldn't let him go," Neta said.”

Manly and Laura were married in 1885. He passed away in 1949. They were together for 64 years, not counting the courtship time and the buggy rides between the twin lakes at De Smet. Even after so long, when he passed, she did not want to lose him. Some people cannot stand to be around their mates. Laura could not stand to be without hers, the Farmer Boy who had become her farmer man, whom she had not wanted to marry.

But the story of that marriage does not end there.

Eight years later Laura was deathly ill herself. She had told her friends that she wanted to live to be ninety, “because Manly had.” She made it. She passed away, three days after her ninetieth birthday, in February, 1957.

Wasn’t that a beautiful marriage? The overall happiness of that marriage is reflected in the Little House books. America has lost the magnificence of marriage – the incomparable beauty of being married to someone for multiple decades, and at the end of that marriage, being closer than at the beginning.