When a school in a nearby town is in need of a temporary substitute, 15-year-old Laura finally gets her start as an teacher. For the first time, Almanzo seems to notice that she is growing up.
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Laura Elizabeth Ingalls/Wilder
Andrew 'Andy' Garvey (1977 - 1981) (as Patrick Laborteaux)
Eliza Jane Wilder (1979 -1980)
Mary Amelia Ingalls/Kendall (1974 - 1981)
Albert Quinn Ingalls (1978 -1982)
This is the first time we see Laura in a bun, unless you count the one scene in Season 2's The Pride of Walnut Grove when she, at the age of 10, was trying hard to look grown-up for her Pa. With this episode, though, Laura officially transitions to young adulthood.
When Almanzo shows up at Laura's school, she smiles and says "Hi, Manly!" very naturally, right before he punches Chad Brewster. The thing is, Almanzo showed up completely unannounced, a day before Laura was expecting him, so shouldn't she have been more surprised to see him?
Goof: When the Ingalls family first walks into the social, there's a few seconds of footage of them looking around the room at all the couples. Towards the end of this, there's a teenage girl in a purple dress who clearly looks directly at the camera for a moment.
Laura and Almanzo share their first kiss in this episode. In a Dean Butler interview, he stated that everybody was so nerve-wracked for this pivotal scene that there were chaperones on the set to make sure nothing "unseemly" was going on. Melissa Gilbert's mother was also allegedly crying, "My baby! My baby!" from the sidelines so hysterically that she had to be consoled.
Notice the way Dean Butler's overall facial expression changed once his character realized he was in love with Laura. Maybe it was his own way of appearing "bowled over by love," or perhaps the director told him to make that face. In either case, look closely for "the look," which consists of glazed eyes, staring at the ground or off into space, mouth hanging open, and almost drooling. It ended up making Butler look more moronic than smitten.
In the show, Laura wants to be a teacher as a way to impress Almanzo and show that she is more grown-up, and before she met Almanzo, she wanted to do it to emulate her older sister Mary. However, the real Laura Ingalls Wilder started teaching so she could contribute financially and help keep Mary enrolled at her blind school, who never married and became a teacher like she did in the television series. This was all detailed in Laura's seventh book Little Town on the Prairie.
Contemporary audiences may find themselves laughing at the course of events that lead up to Laura becoming an official teacher. All she had to do was take a test and spit out some academic facts for the Superintendant, and he handed her a teaching certificate right on the spot. For that matter, Mary also got her start as a teacher quite easily, going from a student to a teacher overnight when randomly asked to substitute in a needy town in Season 4's Whisper Country. To say that times have changed regarding students' challenging road toward becoming licensed teachers is a gross understatement.
When Mr. Williams visits the school, they pose the problem "Divide 347,264 by 16" to Chad. That is the very same problem Laura Ingalls Wilder states in the book "Little Town on the Prairie" that she had to give at the School Exhibition. Since the show changed so many things, its ironic that this minor little fact is something they kept.
The real Laura Ingalls' first teaching job was indeed so far away that she had to live away from home during the week, but her hostess was not a quirky, friendly old woman. Laura stayed with a family of three, and the wife strongly resented having to board the teacher. Laura felt unwanted, unsafe and unhappy there - her bright moments arrived only on the weekends, when Almanzo came to drive her home. (Of course, this school was in Dakota Territory, not in Minnesota.)
This is the second and final time that Laura's birthday is celebrated on the show. Her 13th birthday was documented in Season 3's The Music Box.
As a special treat in this episode, Laura's parents take her to the mercantile to buy a new dress for her first teaching job. This blue and orange outfit is one that Laura made incredible use of--she wore it for the entire remainder of the season, right up to the final episode ever (which was almost four years later).
This episode marks the official launch of Laura and Almanzo's romantic relationship--something that actress Melissa Gilbert has often discussed during interviews. She herself was not even dating anyone at the time that these Laura/Almanzo episodes were being filmed, and she has said that playing a 16-year-old girl who had already found her partner for life was (naturally) very awkward.
At the end of this episode, when Charles is talking about how he feels he is losing a daughter (Laura), Caroline says "Well, I hope so; I've been dying to call you Grandpa." Seeing as Mary was already pregnant not once but twice, and did give birth to one grandchild for her parents (who died in infancy not too long ago), this was a rather insensitive comment on Caroline's part.
This episode is the last time Laura ever wore her hair in braids.
Harriet: (about Laura) Oh, it seems like just yesterday this little girl came running into my store. She could barely reach the counter. It makes me feel so old!
Caroline: It doesn't particularly make me feel old, but it does make me feel proud.
Harriet: Well, it makes me feel old. You know, I'll never forgive Nellie for growing up!
Almanzo: I didn't think you'd be here.
Laura: Why not? Didn't you think anybody else would bring me?
Almanzo: I didn't mean that. I don't know what I mean. (pauses) I'm sorry about before. I didn't mean that, either.
Laura: I know. (sits down next to him; long silence)
Almanzo: So, who did you come with?
Laura: (smiles) My Pa.
Almanzo: I came with my sister.
Laura: I know.
Almanzo: Since we're both here.....maybe I could kind of be your escort.
Laura: You may.
Laura: Now, there is too something wrong. What is it?
Almanzo: Nothing, it's just.....you look different, you know? You look older.
Laura: Well, I am older--a week older.
Chad: Can I ask you a question?
Laura: Of course.
Chad: How old are you?
Laura: (pause) Why do you want to know?
Chad: You look awful young....and small to be a teacher.
Laura: I'm old enough to teach, and I have a certificate from the Board of Education. Besides, being bigger doesn't necessarily make you smarter.
Chad: (gets defensive, because he himself is tall) It doesn't make you dumber, either.
Laura: I agree. The size of your body has nothing to do with the size of your brain.
Miss Trimble: You can call me Minnie. We're both teachers, aren't we?
Laura: Well, I hope I am--or will be.
Miss Trimble: I like that. It shows you're not cocky. You'll be a good teacher, Laura--I can sense it. And I've been at it long enough to know.
Charles: Well, it looks as if my daughter is using some good old common sense.
Caroline: Your daughter?
Caroline: And I suppose if she had said "Oh yes, Almanzo, I'd be delighted to go to the dance with you," she'd have been my daughter.
Charles: (smiles) Right.
Charles: (about Laura) I have a terrible feeling I'm about to lose a daughter.
Caroline: I sure hope so....well, I'm dying to call you Grandpa!
Charles: Same to you, Grandma!
Laura: (after Almanzo punches Chad) Almanzo!
Almanzo: You keep your hands off her!
Laura: What is wrong with you?
Almanzo: Well, is that any way for a teacher to behave with a student? Hugging?
Laura: You're acting like a child, Almanzo Wilder! Hitting that boy, interfering with my job! And you've got a dirty mind, too. (kneels down by Chad) Chad, are you all right?
Chad: Yeah, I think so, Miss Ingalls.
Laura: Come on, let's go. (turns to Almanzo) Chad is studying medicine, Mr. Wilder. He was just demonstrating how flexible the rib cage is.
Almanzo: Sweet Sixteen... (kisses Laura)
Laura: How would you like to dance with the teacher?
Almanzo: I'd love to.
Almanzo: I didn't know if you were going to be here or not, but I brought your birthday present anyway. (hands Laura a wrapped gift, she opens it and takes out a shawl)
Laura: It's beautiful. (puts it on and smiles at him) It's like I'm wearing your colors.
Almanzo: Well, I hope so.
In the book These Happy Golden Years, where the real Laura is teaching school, she has 3 students by the last name of Brewster: Chad,Ruby and Tommy. In the show, though, only Chad's last name is Brewster. Ruby and Tommy's last name is Dobkins.
In this show and this episode, Laura is absolutely thrilled when she lands her first teaching job at age 15. She has a great experience all around, and through it all, she is excited about the possibility of Almanzo falling in love with her. With the real Laura Ingalls Wilder, as depicted in the book Those Happy Golden Years, things weren't quite so rosy. The real Laura didn't want to teach; being so young, she was scared and had very low self-confidence. Once she started, the cold and unkind behavior of her boarding family contributed to a negative experience. When she went home for a weekend for the first time, she had a renewed sense of gratitude for her happy and secure home, and she confided to her sister Carrie that she hated teaching (then begged Carrie not to tell their parents). Furthermore, when Carrie tried comforting her, telling her that maybe she could get married like their mother did and not have to work, Laura said that she didn't want to marry, but rather, she wanted to just stay at home forever. Surely, this is extremely different from Melissa Gilbert's portrayal, where Laura was more than eager to grow up, be a teacher, and be with her true love, Almanzo Wilder.
Melissa Gilbert (Laura) has talked about this episode in previous interviews. In the scene where Almanzo went to pick her up from school for the first time, he saw her in a whole new light and spent about 30 seconds just staring at her. Gilbert says that this was extremely awkward and difficult for her to film, because she was only 15 in real life, she had never had a boyfriend, and no man had ever looked at her like that before, so it was almost kind of scary for her. Gilbert claims that she was very similar to Laura in almost every frame of the series, especially the younger years, so she usually didn't feel like she was "acting" when she was on-screen as this character, but in this moment, she had to keep saying in her head, "It's okay, Melissa, you can do this. You're Laura right now. Just be Laura. You'll get through this."
Lucille Benson (Miss Trimble) is better known as Lilly Sinclair on Bosom Buddies.
When this episode aired in February 1980, Melissa Gilbert herself (Laura) was about 3 months shy of her 16th birthday.
We all get to see Laura as a young woman now.
Watch out for all the undertones in this episode and Almanzo's 'confused' state of mind. A conclusion that began at the beginning of this season is finally sealed, ready for a new chapter for Laura and Almanzo.
Dean Butler was credited as a guest in this episode.
In the final scene, Laura, Almanzo and all of the other attendees at the church social are waltzing to the tune of Beautiful Dreamer. Written in 1864, this famous waltz is the last known work of prolific composer Stephen Foster; it was published shortly after his death and is still widely recognized today.
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