The Soul of Patience; or, Go Tell Miss Amy Her Old Gray Roommate’s Dead
(a recap by Will Kaiser)
Title: If I Should Wake Before I Die
Airdate: October 23, 1974
Written by Harold Swanton
Directed by Victor French
SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: An insane old woman fakes her death to drive her children crazy. The Ingallses and Doc Baker help her with her nutty scheme.
RECAP: Buckle up, this one’s nutty.
First things first: IMDb TV always warns this show may contain “drug use, foul language and violence” and then assigns it a rating of “7+.” Like . . . there’s drugs, but nothing a seven-year-old couldn’t handle?
This week’s guest stars both made memorable appearances in Alfred Hitchcock movies. Ruth McDevitt, whom we’ll meet first, is the pet-shop lady briefly caught up in Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor’s head games at the beginning of The Birds.
[UPDATE: It’s just come to my attention that Karl Swenson – Mr. Hanson – is ALSO in The Birds! He plays the drunk in the famous diner scene who keeps quoting scripture and saying “It’s the end of the world.” I have probably seen this movie upwards of 25 times, so I’m quite embarrassed never to have realized this.]
And in North by Northwest, Josephine Hutchinson is the elegant diplomat’s wife who’s actually in on the conspiracy. She gets one of the film’s best lines when she says to Cary Grant, “You didn’t borrow Laura’s Mercedes!”
Hutchinson also played the robot “grandmother” bought by a grieving family in a famous Twilight Zone episode.
And the director of this one is our very own Victor French!
I love that song and had it played at my (first) wedding. (“When You’re Next to Me,” that is . . . not “Camptown Races”!) But never mind, on with the story.
The autoharp is being played by an elderly lady we’ve never seen before in the common room of the Little House. (Ruth McDevitt isn’t really playing, but she does a passable job faking it.) Her audience consists of Laura, Mary and Carrie, who all clap delightedly when the song finishes. There aren’t many musicians in Walnut Grove, are there? You’ve got Charles, poor Granville Whipple, and this lady, and by Season 3 two of them are dead.
Caroline comes in from outside, and, in a cute touch, she’s got Carrie’s shoes, which she found in the yard.
The old lady is apparently lecturing the kids about the autoharp, suggesting it’s as easy to play as patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. Mary helps Carrie to accomplish the latter, sort of, saying, “We can do it!”
“So can Laurie,” says the old lady. For some reason throughout this scene she calls Laura Laurie, which cracks me up. “Couldn’t the actress be bothered to learn Laura’s name?” said my wife Dagny. “She’s the main character!”
Next up in the setlist is “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” (another Nineteenth-Century American standard) and she invites the girls to sing along. It’s a macabre song, telling the tale of a dead goose.
Here are its lyrics:
Go tell Aunt Rhody
The old gray goose is dead,
The one she’s been saving
To make a feather bed.
The goslings are weepin’,
Because their mammy’s dead.
The gander is mournin’,
Because his wife is dead.
She died in the mill pond
From standin’ on her head.
Go tell Aunt Rhody
The old gray goose is dead.
The old lady’s lyrics are different, but only slightly. My daughter Amelia, when she was in elementary school, would sing this song and accompany herself on the viola, only in her version it was a horse that died from eating poisoned barbecue. (Sadly, Amelia is the only member of our household who’s not a Little House fan. There’s always one, isn’t there?)
Believe it or not, “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” isn’t even the most disturbing goose song for children out there. That title is held by “The Grey Goose,” in which the narrator tries unsuccessfully to murder the title bird with a gun, knives, a millsaw and by feeding it to pigs. Burl Ives (who obviously had something against gray geese) recorded them both:
“The Grey Goose” scared the hell out of me as a child, and Laura has essentially the same reaction to “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.” She stops singing, and the old lady says, “Go on, Laurie!” Considering we’ve never seen her before, she’s very familiar with the kids.
“Laurie” says she’s creeped out singing about dying. The old lady says:
Nothin’s so sad about dyin’! . . . When you get as close to it as I am, ’tain’t sad. Just like finishin’ a book or a quilt, or maybe a long trip down the river and then startin’ up somewhere else . . . that maybe’ll be more fun than where you were before!
It’s pretty good advice, similar to stuff I’ve heard from elderly people over the years. It’s interesting, Caroline follows this conversation very closely but doesn’t interject. I’m surprised she doesn’t jump in to talk about Heaven, actually.
Anyways, next Caroline has a request: “Goodbye Girls, I’m Going to Boston.” I couldn’t find a date for that one, but it’s probably okay authenticity-wise. Here’s a pretty weird version of it:
Just when you think they’re gonna jam all night long, we cut to Charles helping a different old lady decorate a room. It looks like they’re using ordinary paper streamers and whatnot like you’d get at a Party City today, which I think is probably not right for the period – but I admit I’m no expert.
This old lady is talking about how she and someone else, presumably the other old lady, have different personalities despite being born twelve days apart. (In actuality Josephine Hutchinson was eight years younger than Ruth McDevitt, though Dags and I disagreed about which one looks younger.) The woman, whom Charles addresses as Amy, starts going on about the Zodiac, saying her “horology book” states people born under their star sign are “the soul of patience.” Horology is the study of timekeeping, so “horoscope book” is I guess what she means.
Charles says astrology is nonsense, and that Amy is not a patient person at all. . . . How does he know these people exactly? He chats and teases as if he’s known her his whole life. (“He’s downright flirty with her,” Dagny said. “You’ve already got a hot wife, Charles, what more do you want?”)
Amy says she is patient; how else could she have lived “under the same roof for eight years with a Kentucky Presbyterian”? Amy has a fake Irish accent, so I guess we can assume she’s Catholic. But don’t worry, the episode doesn’t turn into In the Name of the Father or something like that.
(And the Catholic Church’s official take on astrology, incidentally, is that it’s akin to devil worship.)
Michael Landon must not think much of Josephine Hutchinson’s fake accent because he makes fun of it, but she takes it in good humor. It comes out in conversation they’re decorating the old ladies’ house for “Miss Maddie’s” surprise birthday party – she’s “eighty years old today,” according to Amy. Charles reveals the girls’ autoharp mania was a ruse to get Maddie out of the house, but Amy says actually she knows about the party already.
Amy tells Charles she’s written to Miss Maddie’s daughter inviting her to the party, noting Maddie has little time left but stupid ingrate kids never realize that till too late. Doc Baker comes in to deliver the ladies’ mail; Grace Snider must have softened her harsh stance on that since “Mr. Edward’s [sic] Homecoming.” Doc finagles a party invitation and departs.
Amy picks up a letter from Maddie’s daughter. “Why . . . it smells of lemon verbena!” she says. Just kidding.
Actually, what she does do is go into that Johnny Carson bit where he would guess what was in the envelope without opening it. She predicts the daughter is declining her mom’s invitation, “like always.”
Charles says at least the Walnut Grovesters will still enjoy the party, but Amy, in the manner of old ladies who savor bad news, says, “She won’t want it now.”
We cut to Maddie, wet-eyed, holding the letter (a closeup shows us the return address is in Illinois, Maddie’s surname is Elder, and Minnesota is misspelled).
It’s odd the letter is addressed to her rather than to Amy, since the party was ostensibly a surprise.
“It’s all for the best,” says Amy – like Charles, saying the exact opposite of what she feels in a stressful situation. “They’ll come on Thanksgivin’ and you’ll be feelin’ better then.” (Despite its supposed Puritan origins, Thanksgiving really became popular during the Lincoln Administration and had just been declared a federal holiday in 1870.)
Amy then goes on to list the cavalcade of heartbreaks her own kids caused her over the years. But Miss Maddie literally drops dead in the middle of Amy’s speech. (“Bored to death,” said Dags. “Yeah, she just died to escape this conversation,” said my daughter Olive.)
Cut to Maddie’s funeral. Most everybody in town is there: Miss Beadle, Doc, Mr. Hanson, the Olesons (parents only), Mrs. Foster. No Snider-Edwardses, no Mustache Man. Reverend Alden is doing his homily, which is pretty generic. Despite the large cast in this one, most of “The Town” gets nothing of interest to do.
Amy hangs back on the periphery with the Ingalls kids, sharing some tough life lessons with them. Laura says people should visit when their loved ones are alive rather than after they’re dead. Little does she know she’s planting seeds of insanity in Amy’s brain.
After the funeral, Charles drives Amy home to an empty house. (“Now there’s nobody to stop him if he wants to come ravish her in the night,” said Dagny.) He invites her to come stay with them while she’s grieving. (Where would they put her? In the hayloft? In the soddy?) Amy declines, saying at her age she’s used to losing friends.
DAGNY: Were they friends or sisters?
WILL: Friends. They’re different nationalities.
DAGNY: Friends, or “friends”?
WILL: Um . . . possibly “friends.”
“Thanks for the thought,” Amy says, talking to Charles like he’s a simpleton. Then she pats him patronizingly on the cheek. She’s a pretty good character.
Amy goes inside alone. There’s a large Persian rug on the floor. We wondered how they would ever clean it. It’s hard to picture the two little dames lugging the huge thing into the yard and beating it.
We fade to commercial as Amy sits in Maddie’s chair. (“She’s next – it’s the Chair of Doom,” said my stepson Roman.)
She sadly looks at pictures of her own family .
We return to the Ingalls family sitting down to supper. Caroline says she saw Amy at the Mercantile (we learn her last name is Hearn), and was surprised to hear her pay off her bill and close her account. Charles says he knew she’d get depressed left on her own. “I’ll go see her,” Laura says with her mouth full – through this whole scene she’s snarfing corn on the cob like a pig (or maybe like Carrie).
“I like her,” Laura says. “She talks to us like we’re grownups.” “That’s because she hasn’t seen you eat,” says Charles. Heh.
The next day, Charles is at work when Laura comes running. Amy is sick, so Charles fetches Doc Baker. Doc’s attending to a boy with a sore throat, whom he diagnoses with “five-day quinsy” – i.e., faking so he can miss school. I used to suffer from that myself when I had early-morning German classes in college.
Doc prescribes a treatment of castor oil and the kid confesses at once. (“Doc thinks he’s hot shit,” said Dagny. “Amy’ll eat him alive.”)
Amy is in bed, so ill she can barely speak. “Doc . . . Charles . . .” she whispers, “promise me . . . me funeral . . . you’ll take care of it . . . the wake . . . the funeral. . . . Promise me ye’ll wire me children. . . . Promise me.”
Charles is choked up. He’s a soft-hearted man for the time, or any time really. He and Doc promise to contact Amy’s kids and bring in a Catholic priest from Mankato.
Amy slaps her thighs and jumps out of bed. “It’s settled then!” she says. “The wake will be on Wednesday – on my birthday!”
Doc and Charles are furious at this deception. Doc screams, “Amy! I never put a woman, much less an eighty-year-old woman, over my knee, but you’re comin’ close to bein’ the first!” (“I think that joke’s disgusting,” said Dagny. “Write that down.”)
Amy waves off their protests, saying her kids and grandkids haven’t visited for years, and faking her death is the only way to get them to come. She’s a good manipulator, combining both strong-arm and guilt-trip tactics with perverse logic (“You’d wire them if I was dead, wouldn’t you?”). She says if they don’t go along, they’re as bad as her no-good kids. She even demands they solve the mystery of her missing son Andy, a soldier who disappeared fifteen years earlier.
At the end of Amy’s speech, Charles and Doc still look doubtful, but she says “It’s settled” again and starts issuing commands. She puts Charles in charge of arranging the wake. (“He was so good with the streamers he has to do every party now,” said Dagny.) She gives him an expense account and starts planning the menu. She can’t be bothered to give them her kids’ addresses, directing them to inquire with the church in Mankato! Now that’s just selfish, but I agree with Dagny, not spankworthy. Then she shoves them out the door.
ROMAN: Why did she pretend to be dying in the first place? She could have just told them her idea.
DAGNY: She needed to get them to promise, now they can’t go back on it.
WILL: It was the Code of the Olden Days.
We cut to everybody in the Ingalls family out in the barn. Charles is hammering on something; presumably he’s making Amy’s coffin, but oddly, the shot is framed so you can’t actually see what he’s working on. (Come on, French.)
Caroline is shocked by the proposed scheme. She really is the moral backbone of this family. Charles is actually kinda lackadaisical morally, at least when it comes to social conventions. He skips church and doesn’t care if the girls go to school or not.
Caroline says, forcefully, that she’ll go in person to get Amy to see reason. She looks rather beautiful in this scene, I think.
Oh, one other thing: Charles says Amy is “going to die on Monday.” This is significant when we try to identify dates for this story (see Blind Dating, below).
That night, Laura lies in bed wondering what it’s like to die. Mary tells her to go to sleep and says God wants everyone dead. Laura says going to sleep is just like dying, which weirds Mary out. This is a strange episode.
After the commercial break, we see Charles pacing in front of Amy’s house. He’s brought Carrie along, and she’s imitating his every move. (“You can tell Michael Landon cooked this up,” said Dags. “It screams Michael Landon.”)
They’re waiting for Caroline, who’s inside talking to Amy. The music echoes Chopin’s Funeral March. A bit on the nose, but whatever.
At this point, even though this show was designed with commercial breaks in mind and we just passed one, IMDb TV interrupted with a batch of commercials. Why can’t they get them to line up better? Oh well.
Caroline comes out. They expect her to say the plan is off, but instead she’s volunteered to bake the cake. Michael Landon does his crazy giggle and off they go. Then we fade to another commercial break!
When we come back, Doc Baker and Nels are on the porch of the Mercantile arguing the respective virtues of silver versus paper currency. (Paper banknotes were introduced in the United States in 1862.)
Laura appears, asks Doc how “Miss Amy” is doing, and winks. Nels is alarmed to hear Amy is sick, but Doc abandons his soda and flees rather than answer any questions. Heh.
Later, he and Charles help Amy to pack up and leave her house empty so no one will come find her alive. She’s got a handsome carpetbag but horrible stenciled flowers on her walls.
To the ponderous beat of the Funeral March again, they sneak her out to the back of Charles’s wagon and take off. I was reminded of one of the all-time funniest Little House moments, where Caroline’s parents come to visit and she goes running out to the wagon to see her mom and instead finds her coffin!
I notice there’s a traditional mourning wreath on Amy’s door, probably for Maddie.
Cut to Laura and Mary walking down the road having a witty conversation about Protestants vs. Catholics. Mary asks why their church doesn’t do wakes, and Laura says, “Cuz it’s fun, and if it’s fun it’s sinful.” Ha!
This is the perfect cue for a priest to appear. He’s a youngish nerd and is riding a mule (with some difficulty, it seems). He introduces himself as Father Gorman from Mankato. Laura takes off like a shot and Mary says she’s just shy. This episode’s very funny if you get into the spirit of it.
“Couldn’t they find a priest closer than Mankato?” I said. “There are Catholic churches all over Minnesota.” “Nah, I bet at the time they were mostly in the St. Paul Diocese,” said Dagny. And indeed, it seems it wasn’t until the 1880s that the church really expanded into the southwestern part of the state.
Back at the Little House, Amy, Caroline and Carrie are peeling boiled eggs to make potato salad. In the yard, Laura comes running in crying, “Pa, Pa, the priest is here!” Charles comes flying out of the barn and runs to the house. He says the priest is here a day early and shoves Amy into their bedroom. Cut to Mary, hilariously leading the priest on his mule at a stately pace toward the house, to the accompaniment of organ music.
The priest comes in and everyone introduces themselves. He says the house smells great, but if all they’ve cooked is boiled eggs it probably doesn’t. Charles nervously sits down and starts cutting up potatoes with his pocket knife. Caroline and Mary, equally nervous, peel eggs at the other end of the table, and no one will look the priest in the eye.
Father Gorman says he’s just out of seminary and never knew Amy himself. He asks for some details about her life, but all the Ingallses will do is confirm things he already knew. Caroline is on the verge of confessing to him when Amy herself appears suddenly and says she wants to speak to him privately outside.
The Funeral March plays again, and Charles, assuming Amy is telling all, uncovers a birthday cake on the table, says “Guess we won’t need that,” tears off half of it and starts eating it with his hands! (This made Dagny gasp, but that’s nothing. My ex-father-in-law threw his wife’s birthday cake in the lake once.)
Amy and the priest come back in. He thanks her and thanks the family. Then, turning to go, he says, “Well, see you at the wake!”, taking Amy’s hand and adding, “God love you, Miss O’Hara.”
The Ingallses stare disbelievingly. When he’s gone, Amy explains O’Hara is her maiden name, and an over-the-top Irish jig in the orchestra plays us to commercial.
WILL: This is a really unusual comedic style for Little House. Add a plate of sardines and it’s Noises Off.
DAGNY: Yeah, you can tell Karen Grassle isn’t that comfortable with it.
Now for the big finale: the wake! This is another unusual scene for Little House. Everybody in town is crowded into Amy’s house, and throughout we’ll have a continuous murmur of overlapping dialogue. (“Now it’s like a Robert Altman movie,” said Dagny.)
We begin with Laura and Mary carrying some pies through the crowded room. Somewhere above the hubbub, we hear Mrs. Oleson (who has her back to the camera) say, “Look at her, she’s got her thumb in it!” – and Laura does.
Laura tells Ma she’ll go watch out for Amy’s family. After she runs out, Caroline wordlessly gives Mary a pickle – ha!
Caroline sets out the birthday cake. Mrs. Oleson comes over to question the propriety of such a thing – but more nicely than usual, actually.
Then we cut, hilariously, to Amy drinking whiskey alone in her bedroom. Wouldn’t Grace Snider be scandalized.
Enter Caroline, who reports how the party’s going.
DAGNY: Her boobs are perky in this one.
WILL: Do you think she’s wearing period-appropriate underwear?
Amy pulls her black veil over her face and heads out to join the group. Mrs. Oleson is immediately suspicious of the stranger, but the priest tells her it’s just an old friend of the deceased.
Meanwhile, Laura wanders around the party and checks out the coffin. (We debated whether it’s a coffin or a casket, but it seems caskets are usually rectangular, while coffins – like this one – are made in the classic “tapered” shape.)
Amy’s family members finally arrive: son Sean, daughter Bridget, and an entourage of spouses and children. Bridget looks a bit like Siobhan Fallon, and Sean like . . . Jerry Mathers, maybe?
“Ooh,” Olive said. “Who’s the Gibb brother in the back?”
Mr. Hanson catches up with Sean, a former employee, saying he’s known him “since he was a little boy.” Doc’s a bundle of nerves and mops sweat from his brow.
Then we get a shot of a tall candle that fades into a shot of the same candle burned halfway down. I had a friend in high school who would loudly announce “This indicates the passage of time!” whenever they used a device like this in a movie or TV show.
Oddly, though, there are no wax drips on the table.
WILL: What happened to all the wax?
ROMAN: They cleaned it up.
WILL: Immediately, as it was dripping?
WILL: Who’s in charge of that?
Everyone is stuffing their faces now, except Amy, who’s still lurking under her veil in the corner, and Doc, who’s drinking heavily. (“This one is funny,” said Dagny.)
Across the room, Amy’s children are reminiscing about childhood whilst she spies on them. Something about a Flanagan and a Flynn and a broken window that cost 35 cents to fix. Did Walnut Grove once have an Irish ghetto or something? Speaking of which, it’s clear Amy’s from the old country, but why do her children, who grew up in Minnesota, also have Irish accents? The laziness with which Irish characters are written on this show annoys me somewhat. There’s never any attempt to make it authentic, they just have the characters say me instead of my (“Me wake! Me funeral!”), mention blarney once or twice, and hope the actors can do a fake accent. But I suppose they’d get in trouble if they had people saying “for feck’s sake” and that sort of thing like real Irish people.
Anyways, Amy’s kids are remembering how fearsome she could be. “Like Phil Sheridan leading a charge,” says Sean.
Suddenly, a tall blond guy in an army uniform who looks like Peter Cetera had a baby with Frankenstein’s monster appears in the door.
It’s the long-lost Andy. “He’s got teeth for days,” said Olive.
Sean and Bridget embrace their brother. Sean says, “What a pity it is it took somethin’ like this to bring us together again.”
Sensing the supreme moment has arrived, Amy throws off her veil and shouts “Amen to that!” Everyone turns around and stares at her. I’m surprised nobody screams, actually.
Sean starts yelling at her, but she silences him with a wave of the hand. Turning to Andy and calling him a “spalpeen,” she lays into him for disappearing fifteen years earlier and leaving her to assume he was dead – “killed in the Indian Wars, or Stone River, or Shiloh!” (Olive said, “He probably has terrible PTSD, cut him some slack.”)
Throughout this episode, the implication is, and Amy directly suggests, that Andy was killed in the Civil War. But if it’s still 1871 – see Blind Dating, below – Andy disappeared five years before the war started.
Amy makes a teary-eyed speech explaining her scheme, and her kids all start blubbering also. Everybody hugs. Mrs. Oleson is uncharacteristically silent. You’d think she’d be outraged and leave in a huff.
Cut to Charles and Caroline in the corner. Charles is crying too. (Can’t ever be outdone, Michael Landon, can you.)
He snatches up his fiddle and starts fake-playing a jig. Then we see Mrs. Oleson again and she’s actually laughing! She and Nels must have had morning sex that day or something.
Amy apologizes to the priest. You’d think he wouldn’t be amused, but he just winks. I guess he did get a free vacation to Walnut Grove out of it.
“Doc, ya got permission to dance with my wife!” yells Charles, and everybody laughs and starts dancing. Nels is dancing with Carrie, which is kind of cute. Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!
STYLE WATCH: Caroline wears a great hat to Maddie’s funeral.
Everybody wears interesting clothes at the funeral, actually.
Dags liked Amy’s daughter’s hat.
Charles appears to go commando again.
THE VERDICT: A fine and very funny story, even if it’s clear farce isn’t Little House’s forte. Amy Hearn is a memorable character.
BLIND DATING: On Little House, it can be difficult to tell what time of year it is, unless it’s Christmas. Amy Hearn mentions Thanksgiving, which she suggests is ahead on the calendar. So, when does this story take place? Or, to put it another way, is it even possible all the events of this season could take place in a single year before Thanksgiving?
Well, going by the events of the pilot, the Ingalls family left Kansas in the spring of 1871. In real life they did some side traveling, but for the purposes of this show we will accept they made a beeline for Minnesota. Therefore, “A Harvest of Friends” and “Country Girls” are likely set in the first half of that year, which works fine.
But “100 Mile Walk” is set during the wheat harvest, which in the 1870s was in early September. That means there must be a big gap between that and the preceding story, since at the time the academic year usually didn’t start until after harvest (so kids could help). After returning from the mine, Charles drove to Mankato and picked up Mr. Edwards, likely a four-day trip at eighty miles each way. Then there was the lemon verbena letter gambit, Edwards and Grace’s courtship, and all the Johnny Johnson rubbish, of course. Finally, it’s definitively stated in “If Should Wake” that the events of that story take place over twelve days (spanning Maddie’s birthday to Amy’s).
So all things considered, here’s a potential timeline that reconciles those events. Brackets indicate my theories.
Sunday, September 3  – Charles leaves Walnut Grove looking for work
Thursday, September 7 – Charles arrives [in Faribault] after walking 100 miles
Friday, September 8 – Charles gets hired at the [Faribault] mine
Friday, September 22 – Charles departs for home [having worked in Faribault for two weeks]
Tuesday, September 26 – Charles arrives in Walnut Grove
Saturday, September 30 – Charles departs for Mankato [after four days’ rest]
Sunday, October 1 – Charles arrives in Mankato
Monday, October 2 – Charles meets Mr. Edwards and the two depart Mankato (at midday)
Tuesday, October 3 – Charles and Mr. Edwards arrive in Walnut Grove [in the afternoon]; Edwards spits on Grace; “please stay” dinner at the Little House; popcorn matchmaking in bed
Wednesday, October 4 – Mr. Edwards starts work at the mill
Thursday, October 5 – Mr. Edwards finds his jug
Friday, October 6 – Caroline sends Mr. Edwards to get the mail; Grace discovers the jug’s just water
Sunday, October 8 – Reverend Alden booze sermon
Monday, October 9 – Mr. Edwards sends the lemon verbena letter to Mankato
Tuesday, October 10 – The letter arrives in Mankato
Wednesday, October 11 – The letter is immediately mailed back
Thursday, October 12 – The letter arrives in Walnut Grove; Grace eats pike at the Little House
October 12 – October 21 – Mr. Edwards and Grace court and spark “most every day for two weeks” [actually ten days – Mr. Edwards exaggerates a bit]
Saturday, October 21 – Mr. Edwards and Grace go fishing, then have their fight
Sunday, October 22 – Mr. Edwards joins Grace at church
Thursday, October 26 – Johnny Johnson appears
Friday, October 27 – Laura invites Johnny to go fishing
Saturday, October 28 – Laura and Johnny go fishing on Cattail Lake
Sunday, October 29 – Sunday rugmaking party
Monday, October 30 – Mush Monday; Laura/Mary “shut up!” quarrel
Wednesday, November 1 – Johnny carves on the Sweetheart Tree; Charles talks Laura down from the ledge
Saturday, November 4 – Maddie’s birthday; Charles decorates Amy and Maddie’s house; autoharp jam session; Miss Maddie drops dead
Sunday, November 5 – News dispatched to Maddie’s family in Illinois [by wire?]
Monday, November 6 – Maddie’s family departs Illinois [by train]
Tuesday, November 7 – Maddie’s family arrives Walnut Grove; Maddie’s funeral
Thursday, November 9 – Amy snares Charles, Doc and Caroline in her web of deceit
November 9 – November 13 – Amy’s family is located
Monday, November 14 – Amy’s family are notified of her “death” and depart Mankato the same day
Wednesday, November 16 – Amy’s birthday and “wake”; Amy’s family arrives in Walnut Grove
Frustratingly, Amy doesn’t tell us what her star sign is, and her comment that those born under her sign are “the soul of patience” isn’t particularly helpful. (I found arguments online that eight different signs are the most patient.) As for the letter Miss Maddie receives, it is (mysteriously) undated.
But conceivably, the above timeline could work, if we overlook the following obvious problems and complicating factors:
- Charles may have worked longer than two weeks at the mine.
- Late October is not really fishing season in Minnesota.
- Mail service between Walnut Grove and Mankato may have taken longer than one day. (I think it’s likely it would have, but conceivably the distance could be covered if Mustache Man changed horses, which was the practice for mail riders of the time.)
- There is no mention of Halloween in “The Love of Johnny Johnson.”
- The weather is warm throughout these stories, and before Maddie dies, Amy tells her she “always perk[s] up in the fall” (suggesting “If I Should Wake” does not take place in the autumn).
- Walnut Grove has no telegraph at this time.
An alternative explanation is that “100 Mile Walk” is set in the fall of 1871 but the subsequent stories don’t take place until 1872. That would solve some problems, but create others down the road.
Of course, it’s also possible the stories in the saga do not progress in sequence, which I suppose we can’t rule out with absolute certainty.
Anyways. Evidence inconclusive, but for the moment we shall assume it’s still 1871. See you next time.
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