In this episode, it's Almanzo and Jenny who talk Laura into writing down her stories and submitting them for a contest. In real life, Laura's daughter Rose--a talented young journalist who had already written quite a bit herself--convinced her mother that people would indeed be interested in her tales about a prairie girl's childhood, and that she should share those stories with the world.
The real Laura Ingalls Wilder did not start writing down stories about her prairie childhood until she was in her fifties. Her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, was very well-received and prompted immediate sequels that were published exactly as Laura wrote them, so this episode is very fictional.
If the excerpt that Laura reads to Jenny and Almanzo sounds familiar to you, it's because they make up the final sentences of Laura Ingalls Wilder's first book, Little House in the Big Woods.
In this episode, Laura substitutes for Miss Plum after she hurts her ankle, just as Caroline did for Miss Beadle in Season 1's School Mom.
In real life, Laura Ingalls Wilder's book was not published until she was in her sixties, just as Michael Landon indicated at the end of the episode. However, contary to Landon's narration, there were some changes made to the real Laura's books, including the fact that Nellie Oleson was not a real girl, but a character who was based on three different girls that Laura knew as a child. The whole episode was rather ironic, then.
Reply: I think Laura Ingalls Wilder fictionalized those pieces of the story on her own, so her stories weren't autobiographical, but they were books based on her prairie childhood.
Jenny: Aunt Laura, you're still working?
Laura: I'm almost through.
Jenny: It's after 2:00.
Laura: I know. You go back to bed; I'll right there.
Jenny: All right. (hugs her) This being famous is hard work.
Russell: Would you mind a little personal advice?
Russell: Take a small part of that fifty dollars and buy yourself something frivolous.
Russell: Well, because it feels marvelous, and because you should get used to that feeling. Your life is about to change, Laura.
Almanzo: Your remembrance books must be crammed full of all kinds of stories.
Laura: Manly, my remembrance books are just bits and pieces of a farm girl's life! Who would be interested in that?
Almanzo: Well, city folks, for one, who don't know anything about how we live, and who knows how many others.
Laura: (reading her story to Jenny and Almanzo) "She looked at Ma gently rocking and knitting. She thought to herself, 'This is now.' She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa, and Ma, and the firelight, and the music, was now. It could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago."
Jenny: Oh, Aunt Laura! It's beautiful!
Almanzo: Beth, I knew it would be good, but I had no idea......
Laura: Do you mean it? Do you really mean it?
Jenny: You never knew you could write like that?
Laura: No, I really didn't. But you know, it's just like what I said about teaching. Something so right, something I was meant to do.
Almanzo: Just wait until the publisher reads it. I don't see any way you could keep from winning!
Jenny: How did it go?
Laura: Wonderfully. In fact, I felt so good about it, I went out and bought that frivolous item Mr. Matthews was talking about. In fact, I bought two of them. This one is for you. Open it. It's a new hat that you absolutely don't need!
Jenny: Oh, Aunt Laura, it's beautiful! Thank you!
Laura: Now for me. Now, you sit down and close your eyes, and don't peek! Close those eyes tight. Like Mr. Edwards says, "Can't stand for no peekin!" Okay, you can look now. (reveals new earrings) Ta-da! Like them?
Jenny: Oh, yes! It must have cost a fortune!
Laura: Almost six dollars, if you count the cost of getting my ears pierced.
Jenny: Did it hurt?
Laura: I was too happy to notice. You know, Mr. Matthews was right. Buying these things really did feel marvelous.
Jenny: Aunt Laura, it's really gonna happen. I know it!
Laura: What's going to happen?
Jenny: You're going to be rich!
Laura: The only reason you drink is because you're afraid!
Russell: Afraid... afraid of what?
Laura: To write! To do what you know you can do. That takes courage, Russell, to expose yourself to the world. I know! I was scared to death when I sent in my manuscript! But I guess courage just isn't in your department, is it? You'd rather hide in your job as an editor. And drink. (turns and storms away)
Mr. Broxton: (walks in) Russell, I need you here.
Russell: Oh, is that so?
Mr. Broxton: Yes, its so.
Russell: I'm sorry, Mr. Broxton, I've got something I need to do.
Mr. Broxton: And what's that?
Russell: I've got a novel to finish. (hands his champagne glass to Broxton) And I damn well better finish it.
Laura: And I took Mr. Matthew's advice, about buying something frivolous. And he was right, it did feel good. In fact, I bought two. This one's for you. Open it! (Jenny opens box) It's a new hat that you absolutely don't need!
Miss Plum: (about Laura taking her place temporarily in the school) I know it must have been a burden with all your responsibilities at home.
Laura: Nonsense. I enjoyed it, really.
Miss Plum: I could tell. I heard you. You're a fine teacher, Laura.
Almanzo: (after Laura substituted in the school for a few days) Tomorrow morning, you get to sleep in. You've been putting in a lot of double duty lately.
Laura: Manly, I don't want to sleep in. You know what I want to do? I want to go back to that school, and I want to teach!
Jenny: I never realized what a good teacher you are.
Laura: I am. I am a good teacher! I'm not saying that out of vanity, either. It's just that I need it. I mean, I love being a wife and a mother. But it's just not all of me.
"Once Upon A Time" is the second time the show used the Shawna Landon running to the library clip, the first time was at the end of "The Little House Years".
This is the second and final time in the series that the episode ends with a scene taking place in the present day to demonstrate how a member of the Ingalls family has left a legacy for later generations. The first time the writers did this was in Season 8's The Legacy.
Laura's passion for writing in this episode is a sweet contrast to Season 1's Country Girls, where the 9-year-old went to school for the first time and had a horribly difficult time writing a personal essay. In that episode, though, Laura did end up reciting her essay by heart instead of writing it down, and even then, her character's talent for storytelling and speaking eloquently was evident.
Featured character: Laura
John Bennett Perry, who plays Russell, is the father actor Matthew Perry, who is best known for his role on the TV show Friends.
Shawna Landon (daughter of Michael Landon) was actually uncredited in this episode. She had a very special, dialogue-free role at the end of the episode, in a contemporary scene that featured a little girl running to the library to read Little House on the Prairie. The scene was topped off with Michael Landon's narration about how Laura finally managed to publish her stories properly, the way they deserved to be. This ending is similar to Season 8's The Legacy, where Charles Ingalls ended up leaving a certain legacy for future generations. However, the plot in that episode was fictional, and this one is not--as we all know, Laura Ingalls Wilder really did achieve an eternal legacy through her books.