Thanksgiving in Burr Oak

LHOP inspired fan fiction by Cheryl C. Malandrinos

Disclaimer: I do not own the Little House on the Prairie television series, book series, or any of the characters.

The clickety-clack of the train's wheels along the tracks had lulled Laura to sleep hours earlier. But her eagerness to reach Burr Oak, Iowa and see her family again forced her eyelids open not long after sunup. I can't believe we'll be there in a few hours.

Jenny shifted beside her and sighed, still happily in dream land. Across from them, Almanzo snoozed with an exhausted Rose snuggled in his lap. Watching Almanzo still made her heart flutter. They had been married just over four years now, and she was as in love with him as she was the day they married; perhaps more considering all they had been through.

Almanzo's eyelids flickered. A corner of his mouth slid up into a crooked smile when he saw Laura staring at him. "Mornin' Beth."

"Good morning, Manly. Did you sleep all right?"

He arched his back. "As good as I could sitting here."

"Well, tonight we should be sleeping in Ma and Pa's guest room." Laura crinkled her nose. "It still sounds odd when I say that. Who knew they would ever have a nice house in the city with a spare room?"

"Sure beats jamming all those kids into that tiny house on Plum Creek."

Laura shrugged. "I'm not so sure about that. I can't imagine Pa will ever get used to the noise of the city."

"Are we there yet?" Jenny stretched her arms above her head.

"Not yet," said Laura. "We should be there before dinner time."

Jenny smiled. "I can't wait."

"Me either."

By the time the train pulled into the station in Burr Oak, Laura was more than ready to see everyone again. She wished Mary and Adam would be there, but she doubted they could make the trip from New York, especially with how much work Adam had at the law firm. He had made a name for himself as an attorney and he was in great demand.

Once Almanzo had taken their bags off the train, he hailed a coach to take them to the Ingallses' place. Laura practically jumped out of the coach as soon as it pulled up in front of her parents' house. The door flew open.

"Pa!" Laura ran to her father and embraced him. "Oh, it's so good to see you." Tears prickled her eyes.

Pa squeezed her tight against him. "It's good to see you too, Half-pint." He rocked her back and forth like Ma did when she was a little girl. It made her long for those days in the Big Woods when everything seemed much simpler.

"Good to see you again, Sir." Almanzo reached over Laura's shoulder and shook Pa's outstretched hand.

"Hope you had a good trip," said Pa.

"I think I've done enough sittin' for a week," joked Almanzo.

Pa knelt down until he was almost Rose's height. "You've gotten to be such a big girl," he told his granddaughter.

Rose held onto Laura's hand and twisted her face into the folds of Laura's coat.

"She's a bit shy." Laura brushed Rose's bangs out of her face, then turned and placed her arm around Jenny. "This is our niece, Jenny."

"It's a pleasure to meet you." Jenny curtseyed. "Aunt Laura and Uncle Manzo have told me so much about you."

"We're glad to have you here, Jenny," said Pa. "Let's get inside." He glanced at Laura. "There's a surprise waiting for you."

As soon as Laura and Almanzo entered the house, all the children raced to greet them.

"I told them I got to see you first or you might have been tackled outside." Pa chuckled.

Laura could barely make out what Pa said over the hugs and numerous conversations going on all at once. Everyone wanted to know how their friends in Walnut Grove were getting along.

"Let's wait until after dinner before we start hounding them with questions," said Pa.

Ma rushed in from the other room. "I'm sorry, I just can't wait any longer." She grabbed Laura and pulled her into an embrace. "I've missed you."

Laura felt Ma's tears against her face. "I've missed you too."

"The turkey is almost done."

"Oh, let me help you," said Laura.

Ma waved her off. "Nonsense. I can manage." Ma's eyebrows rose. "Besides, I've had a helper since yesterday."

Laura scrunched her face in confusion. "Who?"

"Why don't you come and see." Ma clasped her hand around Laura's and dragged her into the kitchen, smiling like a child bursting to tell a secret.

As Laura turned the corner, she saw her older sister, Mary, standing at the stove stirring the contents of a pot.

"Oh Mary!" Laura batted the tears away with her eyelashes. "I can't believe you're here."

"I couldn't let you have all the fun," Mary teased. She wiped her hands on her apron and turned to hug her sister.

"Is Adam here?"

"No, he's working on a huge case."

"That's too bad. I would have loved to have seen him." The last time she saw Adam she was pregnant with Rose. Mary and Adam had surprised the family by coming to Walnut Grove for Christmas.

"How's Hester Sue doing?" asked Mary. Laura was sure Mary missed her friend and former helper at the blind school in Sleepy Eye.

"She's good. She's been a big help to the Olesons. Since Ma left, she practically runs the restaurant by herself."

"Enough talk," said Pa. "I'm starving."

They all laughed.

Albert helped Almanzo carry the bags into the spare room. Though Mary had used the room last night, Albert agreed to give up his bed to her while Laura and Almanzo were visiting. They would have the guest room, Albert would bunk with James, and Jenny could sleep in the other room with the girls.

"With everyone here for Thanksgiving it will almost be like living in the little house on Plum Creek again." Laura's mind wandered off to their early years in Walnut Grove where Mr. Hanson sold them the farm where the Carters now lived. Laura still had a hard time getting used to seeing John and Sarah Carter and their boys in her old house. She wondered if she would ever be able to walk inside without expecting to see Ma standing in the kitchen.

"There's a bit more room here than in the little house, Half-pint." Dimples marked Pa's checks when he smiled.

Laura strolled into the dining room. She ran her fingers across the delicate lace table cloth. The walls were covered with elegant floral wallpaper with green and white stripes. Artwork in dark wooden frames lined the walls. A set of double glass doors covered with lace curtains led out to a small yard. If she hadn't seen it, she wouldn't believe her family lived in such a fine place.

"You must be doing very well," said Laura. "The house is beautiful." She had never felt jealous of her folks before, but suddenly, she thought about the tiny house she and Almanzo lived in. She missed some of the prettier belongings they owned before the tornado destroyed their first house. She imagined Mary and Adam lived in a house equally as nice as Ma and Pa's. Laura hated feeling this way when she was so eager to see everyone again.

Laura shook off the uneasiness and returned to the kitchen. "Can I help with anything?"

"You just arrived," said Ma. "Why don't you go to your room and freshen up before dinner." Ma lowered the oven door and pulled out a huge pan with a golden brown turkey. She placed it on the stove's surface. "Carrie and Cassandra, please set the table."

"Yes'um," the girls said in unison.

"All right." Laura walked upstairs to the guest room. Almanzo was already there, a wash towel in his hands.

"This sure is a nice place your folks have," said Almanzo.

"It sure is." Laura plopped down on the bed. She shook her head, as if that would help her feel better about things.

The bed creaked when Almanzo sat down beside her. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

Almanzo cupped Laura's chin and turned her head toward him. "Beth, we've been married long enough for me to know when something is botherin' ya."

"Oh, Manly, I feel awful." Laura sighed. "I should be thankful for all we have, especially since your stroke and Royal's death, but-" She couldn't bear to admit it.

"What is it?" When she lowered her eyes, Almanzo caressed her cheek. "Come on, tell me."

Laura pushed off the bed. "Well, it's just this house is so nice. I never expected Ma and Pa to live in a place like this. I bet Mary and Adam have a beautiful home too."

"You're disappointed with life in Walnut Grove."

"No, I'm not. I love our home and everything it means to us." Laura knelt down in front of Almanzo. "The day you stood before the frame of that house and walked to me for the first time since your stroke, I couldn't have been happier or more proud." She swallowed the lump in her throat. "I know we can make it through anything, now." Laura reached up and kissed his cheek. "I hate feeling jealous over what Ma and Pa have. I don't understand why I'm not happy for them. They worked so hard all these years. It's time they had an easier life."

Almanzo scooped her into his lap. "Beth, we can't always control how we feel. After my stroke, when I thought I would never walk again." She nodded. "I was so angry. At God. At myself for getting us so deep into debt. I couldn't even be happy about Rose being born. I can only imagine what Caroline thought when she showed me Rose for the first time and all I said was, 'It's a good thing it's a girl. A father can't play ball with a son when he's a cripple.'

"It wasn't until I realized how much you still needed me that I found the strength to walk again. When I started thinking about you instead of me, it was easy."

Laura clasped her arms around his neck. Leaning her head on his shoulder, she could still smell the scent of fresh hay from the barn. This was his favorite work shirt. She loved how its blue color matched his eyes. After spending so much time on the train and then the coach, it was nice to find something that reminded her of home.

"You're right, Manly. I'm not going to let these feelings ruin our visit. I'll just have to put it out of my mind and concentrate on having a nice day with my family."

The corner of Almanzo's mouth rose into a crooked smile. "That's my girl."

Laura pecked his cheek. "I used to hate when you called me that."

"Why?"

"Because I wanted you to see me as a woman."

"Oh." Almanzo leaned in close. "I hope it was worth waiting for," he whispered before nibbling her earlobe.

Laura turned her head and touched her lips to his. "We better get out there so they can serve dinner."

As the plates of food made their way onto the dining room table, Laura couldn't help but smile. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine they were sitting around the table at the little house on Plum Creek like they had done many Thanksgivings before this one. Some things had changed, though. Grace, no longer a baby, sat in a chair next to Ma instead of in the highchair Laura remembered. Albert had grown so tall, he was more man than boy. Even Carrie, Cassandra, and James sitting across from her had changed so much in the time since they left Walnut Grove. It warmed Laura's heart to see how well Jenny got along with her brothers and sisters. Rose sat in Almanzo's lap beside Laura. She was such a daddy's girl. His little Rosie Posie, as he called her.

"It's a shame Mr. Edwards couldn't come," said Ma.

There was a time Ma wouldn't have felt that way. "With John and Sarah visiting her father for Thanksgiving, Mr. Edwards wanted to stay behind and watch the farm for us." Laura sliced a piece of turkey with a knife and used her fork to drag the turkey through a puddle of gravy. "I told him we could find someone else to do it, but I think he wanted to stay in Walnut Grove."

"Thought he would hop at the chance to come here," said Pa.

"I don't think he has ever gotten over Grace leaving." Laura's heart broke each time she thought of Mr. Edwards living by himself. If they had the room, she would have asked him to live with Almanzo and her. "He does a good job of hiding it, but I can see the sadness in his eyes sometimes. Holidays are the worst."

Pa nodded. "I wish we could visit more often. I miss him."

"I asked Hester Sue to join us too," said Laura. "But she felt it would be too much of a burden on the Olesons to the time off."

"Maybe I can convince her to come to New York for Christmas," said Mary. "I'm sure she would love it." Mary glanced over at Almanzo. "Do you ever miss New York, Almanzo?"

"Sometimes." Almanzo put his fork down to better balance Rose on his left knee. "I think more than anything I miss the memories of growing up there. My cousins and their parents visiting at Christmastime; Mother's kitchen filled with the smell of freshly baked breads, cakes, and cookies; the thrill of riding across the open fields on my colt Starlight." He kissed the top of Rose's head. "I can't wait until Rose gets a bit older and hangs a stocking up for Santa Claus."

Once dinner was over, Pa and Almanzo retired to the parlor. All the children bundled up and raced out into the yard to play. Ma, Laura, and Mary busied themselves clearing away the dishes and putting away the few leftovers.

Laura pulled open the door of Ma's icebox. "How wonderful that you can keep things cool right inside the kitchen."

"I'm not sure I'll ever get used to living in the city, but it is nice not to worry about food spoiling so quickly." Ma scraped a plate clean before dunking it into the sink of hot water for washing. "The water closet is good to have this time of year."

Mary grabbed a clean, wet plate from the pile and wiped it dry with a towel. "When we first moved to New York, I was afraid it would change me too much. Now, I see the advantage to some of the things we have." Mary's hand stopped wiping and she gazed across the room. "I have to admit I miss Pa's fiddle, though."

"Well, don't you worry," said Ma, "he'll take it out tonight and play for you."

Sure enough, a few hours later, once darkness had settled upon Burr Oak, Pa put down his pipe and picked up his fiddle case. He turned the pegs. Then he rosined up the bow and lifted the fiddle to his chin. As the first few notes of "Golden Years Are Passing By," floated from the fiddle to Laura's ears, she closed her eyes and drifted back to the Big Woods of Wisconsin, where Grandma danced a jig with Uncle George. She thought of the long, dangerous journey from Wisconsin to Kansas, where they thought they had lost Laura's beloved bull dog, Jack, and where the family rejoiced in his safe return. There was the Christmas in Kansas, where kindly Mr. Edwards crossed a raging river to deliver presents from Santa Clause to Laura and her sisters. Memories of their first Christmas on Plum Creek came into focus. Everyone worked secretly on special presents, and Laura bartered away her treasured pony, Bunny, to buy a stove for Ma. The years passed quickly by in her mind, until her mind stopped on the year she was pregnant for Rose. So much tragedy befell Almanzo and her during that time, she had finally given up and retreated to bed. How miraculous and thrilling it had been to watch her husband walk again, and to see the tiny frame of a house he and her pa had built so they could stay in Walnut Grove.

The last few notes of the song drifted away. Laura opened her eyes. Ma sat in her rocker, smiling the gentle, sweet smile that had greeted Laura each morning as a girl. Pa stood next to the fireplace, his eyes twinkling before asking what song should be played next. Mary sat next to Ma, knitting what appeared to be a pair of mittens. Despite her blindness, Mary's hands never faltered. Almanzo relaxed in Pa's rocker, a sleeping Rose snuggled in his lap. Laura had joined the rest of her siblings on the floor, hoping to capture—if only for a few moments—the joy of being an Ingalls girl, an important part of a family who worked together and loved each other through the good times and the bad.

Her earlier feelings of jealousy were a distant memory. She was happy Ma and Pa would not have to worry so much over money. Though she knew Pa would never get the love of farming out of his blood, Laura felt he was right where God called him to be. Mary and Adam, after surviving many tragedies in the early years of their marriage, had settled into a happy life in New York. They deserved it. Perhaps God would bless them with more children. Her younger siblings were happy and loved, and Jenny seemed to be thriving despite the loss of her father last year. What else could she ask for? In a few days, Laura, Almanzo, Rose and Jenny would say goodbye to the Ingalls family and journey back to Walnut Grove, where Laura would share with her treasured friends and neighbors all the happenings in Burr Oak and New York. Laura lifted her gaze to the ceiling and took a moment to thank God for all His blessings.