Olga Nordstrom’s Lonely Hearts Club Foot
(a recap by Will Kaiser)
Title: Town Party Country Party
Airdate: October 30, 1974
Written by Juanita Bartlett
Directed by Alf Kjellin
SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: A hobble-footed girl makes friends with Laura, but her insane father doesn’t want her to have fun. Pa rassles him and he relents.
I remember her best as the little girl in the infamous ice cream truck scene in John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13.
This episode is about half out of the book and half not. The stuff about the parties is pretty faithful, but the Kim Richards storyline is completely invented.
Well, let’s get to it. We open on the girls of Walnut Grove playing a game in the schoolyard. One girl, who looks like Laura but isn’t, has her eyes closed and is chanting a rhyme in order to choose someone from the group.
The rhyme is:
Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,
Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.
It’s racist, yes, though not as bad as that other “counting out” rhyme (the n-word version of which was popular in the U.S. in the Nineteenth Century and beyond; I’m sorry to say I’m sure it’s still around today).
Anyways, the girl is pointing at Laura when she opens her eyes, but Nellie jumps in front of her and claims to have won. They’re competing to be captain of two respective relay-race teams. Because Nellie and Laura were next to each other, they’re the captains, and Nellie gets to choose first. Laura grumbles, but everybody else lets Nellie have her way without dispute. Seems an odd way to choose captains to begin with, but whatever.
The girls pick teams. Nobody wants to pick Olga, a sad-looking blonde girl who’s sitting on the steps of the school.
In fact, Laura says she’ll run twice herself rather than use Olga at all. (“Sometimes Laura’s too much talk,” said my daughter Olive.) The girls begin their race; Olga sadly rises and climbs the steps back into the school. She has a pronounced limp.
We never find out who won. After school, all the kids are walking home. Amongst them are Laura, Mary, Christy, the Midsommar Kid, a mean boy identified in a previous story as Harry Baker (Doc’s . . . nephew?), and a tall girl we’ve seen a few times now who has Princess Leia’s Cloud City hairdo.
And then there’s Olga, limping slowly behind everyone else. We’ve never seen her before today, but there’s nothing to indicate she’s a new student like Johnny was. That’s Little House for you, though.
Next we see Laura and Jack the dog visiting a body of water – sure looks like Cattail Lake to me but Plum Creek makes more sense in context. She goes to look at a large crayfish that’s camping out there. (“I guess maybe you can catch lobsters in Minnesota,” said my stepson Roman.)
(theme at 1:52)
Laura’s face is grotesque with sweat in this scene.
She tries to get the crayfish to grab a stick, but it won’t. You can see the poor thing’s tied to a fishing line if you look closely.
Jack barks and Mary comes running in calling for Laura. The crayfish swims away and Laura blames all the noise. I doubted crustaceans can hear, but I guess I was wrong about that.
Throughout this episode, the crayfish is referred to by characters as a “crab,” which somebody at the Little House Wiki noted as an error, but having grown up in that part of the country myself, I can tell you people commonly call crayfish crabs even if that’s not technically their correct name.
Back at the Little House, Ma and Carrie are making floury patties of some sort. The girls come in and Mary goes “Baked apples!” even though it’s quite clear that isn’t what they’re making. Ma’s like, no, apple fritters, Pa’s favorite (of course). Mary doesn’t hide her disappointment too well.
Ma informs them they’ve been invited to Nellie’s birthday party. She learned this from Mrs. Oleson at the Mercantile; since the girls were just playing with Nellie and the party’s tomorrow, it’s weird they don’t know about it yet. Laura doesn’t want to go because Nellie. Ma asks how she’d feel if she wasn’t invited. Laura doesn’t go full-on Oscar Wilde and say “The only thing worse than being invited to Nellie’s party is not being invited to Nellie’s party,” but that’s the jist of her response.
Next we have a supper scene, but it’s pointless and just goes over what we know already. Blah blah apple fritters, blah blah crab, blah blah Nellie’s party.
Only then, we get a shock. Laura is outside in a tub having a bath. She’s at least half-naked and shown in a way you’d never get away with with a little girl on TV today. No one would even try! I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, just pointing out that where this is concerned, times have very much changed.
Pa and Ma both talk to Laura while she’s in the bath, but again, they don’t say anything interesting. Eventually Ma wraps her up in a towel and she goes inside to get ready for the party. After she’s gone, Carrie jumps fully clothed into the tub, and Jack apparently joins her (though from the look on his face the dog actor, “Barney,” was not happy).
We cut to a man drawing water from a well in front of a house. He’s handsome in a severe, almost Russian-looking way.
We follow him inside, where an old lady is making some sort of alteration to the dress Olga’s wearing.
“I’ve been thinking,” the man says. “I would like you to stay home with us.” He has a slight accent, and everything he says for the rest of the episode will be variations on this theme.
Olga, who also has a slight accent, protests that she wants to go to the party. Her father says he’s spied on her in the schoolyard and seen how she’s left out of the other children’s fun. But the old lady gives Olga her blessing to go.
Once Olga’s gone, the dad and grandmother shoot each other ugly looks.
The dad says the grandmother has been proven wrong about the need to send Olga to school, because the child hasn’t made a single friend. “I have a fool for a son,” says the old lady. He snarls back at her, saying people are just like chickens, pecking weaklings to death. I never knew chickens did that, but I guess they do.
Well, it’s a gruesome speech, a little overplayed by the actor. He leaves and the old lady gives the door her “I have a fool for a son” look again.
After the commercial break, Laura, Mary and all the other girls arrive at the Mercantile for the party. Nels greets them, but really gets nothing to say or do in this one.
The kids are astonished by the luxury of the Olesons’ accommodations, though in truth it really doesn’t seem any nicer than Amy Hearn’s place last week.
Laura and Mary, who are too poor to have bought a present (what happened to all their wheat and mine money?), bring Nellie a bundle of wildflowers, and Christy brings a doll she made herself. Nellie tosses these gifts carelessly aside. Now, the doll is one thing, but wildflowers are just weeds.
In the living room, Willie is sitting on the floor surrounded by girls. He’s wearing his Edgar Allan Poe suit again and is playing with some Noah’s Ark toys. (We don’t see them up close . . . but they sure look plastic to me.)
Willie and Nellie start bickering about what happened to Willie’s favorite toy animal, the giraffe. But then they realize a unified front is best, so they tell their “friends” no one is allowed to play with any of their other toys. “They can’t ride my velocipede!” Willie says hilariously.
Nellie then proceeds to show off her big birthday present, a large Victorian-style doll. Laura reaches out to finger the lace on its skirts, and Nellie yanks it back, ripping the lace slightly. Then Nellie shoves Laura, but not very hard. Mrs. Oleson comes running and tells Laura to be more careful, though the damage is minor and even she doesn’t seem to care much. But Nellie stares and smirks at Laura as she’s being told off.
“I remember this one from when I was little,” said my wife Dagny. “It really bothered me.”
Mrs. Oleson tells the kids to go play outside. Everybody runs off to play tag, except Olga, of course . . . and except Laura, who apparently sprained her ankle getting shoved by Nellie. Now, seeing as Laura was only gently shoved, and seeing as she was sitting cross-legged on the floor anyway when the shove occurred, I don’t see how it’s possible for her to have injured her ankle at all in this incident, much less to the point where she has to limp.
But never mind. Olga, recognizing a bonding opportunity, suggests to Laura they go rest their problem appendages on the Mercantile steps. She offers to send for Doc Baker, but Laura says it’s not that bad. Laura then awkwardly asks for, and receives, the story of Olga’s leg – a birth defect, apparently. Her reaction is to ask Olga to come catch frogs with her.
Later, Olga returns home. Her father and grandmother are waiting for her. Olga tells them she had a wonderful time, which makes her dad grab her and say, “Did they laugh at you and call names?” He clearly developed his notion of a “wonderful time” in the old country.
Olga repeats that she played with kids at the party, but her dad gaslights her: “But you did not play with them. They let you sit in the corner and watch. Tell me the truth!” Olga protests that not only did she play, she made a real friend. “Just one!” he scoffs. Olga starts crying, but rather than tell him off like he deserves, she hugs him. He still won’t let it go, muttering, “One friend.” What is wrong with this guy? Jeez Louise, he needs an ass-kicking. Stay tuned, he just might get one.
We fade to a commercial break before the grandma can say “I have a fool for a son” again.
When we return, Caroline and Charles are gossiping in the common room at night. Caroline (who’s making another “rag rug”) badmouths Nellie with relish, as usual. For his part, Charles worries about Laura’s terrible ankle injury and how long it will take to heal. They agree to pull Laura out of school . . . for two or three days! Oh, for crying out loud, she didn’t even do anything to it! I suppose it’s the director’s fault for not staging the shoving scene convincingly. Boo, Alf Kjellin.
The Olesons clearly give Caroline an inferiority complex, because she proposes letting Laura and Mary host a party of their own. The girls, who have been spying on this conversation, appear and start discussing the guest list.
Laura is shocked when Caroline suggests inviting Nellie. Caroline hates Nellie, but her sense of propriety is inviolable. Boy, do I remember the headache of keeping track who needed to be invited to what when our own kids were small. (Olive was the worst. Her spats with frenemies are still a legend in this house.)
Cut to Mary and Olga walking down a hill. What kind of sadist is Mary to make Olga walk down a hill?
Mary is listing off her party invitees, who include Christy, Cassie, and someone called “Sudie.” (Cassie is the Laura-looking girl who was playing “Rich Man, Poor Man” at the beginning. I think she’s supposed to be Christy’s sister – at least, she’s yet another member of Walnut Grove’s Red-Headed League, and Christy said to Nellie the doll was a gift from “me and Cassie.” Note: The book confirms they are sisters. I don’t remember ever seeing Cassie before this episode, though.)
Mary says Nellie’s also invited despite no one wanting her there. “Poor Nellie,” says Olga, surprising Mary. “Nellie is poor,” she goes on; “She has no happiness inside.” If there’s a race to be the Yoda of Hero Township, Olga just pulled into first place.
Mary spoils this moment of clarity, though, with idiotic comments that pull Olga’s thought apart until she’s killed it:
Poor? The Olesons? They’re the richest folks in town. . . . You know, that’s a strange thing to say. . . . I guess. . . . But I never thought of Nellie that way before. . . . I mean, being poor. . . . Makes me feel sorry for her. . . . Almost. . . .
Back in the yard of the Little House, Pa has set up some kind of grill or brazier and is repairing some horseshoes. (“What is he doing, shoe-horsing?” asked Dagny – a city girl.) Laura asks why Patty the horse keeps throwing her shoes; Charles says she’s bow-legged and requires more attention in that respect.
Then Laura asks, “What makes cripples?” Michael Landon frowns at the term, but I expect in the 1870s there wouldn’t have been stigma around it. Pa says no one knows why people are born disabled, but that such people are usually strong in other ways. It’s a nice little conversation.
Laura then says Olga’s specific issue is that one leg is shorter than the other . . . and we see the wheels in Pa’s head start to turn.
Now if you’re like me, you have one question after this conversation, and that question is: PATTY????? In the very first proper episode of this season, we’re specifically told Pa traded Patty for an ox, and then he trades the oxen for some giant draft horses. So either the Ingallses liked the name Patty so much they used it more than once, or, as I suggested last week, these stories are presented to us out of chronological order for some reason.
Oh well. Cut to Charles marching out to speak to Olga’s family. When he arrives, she and her grandmother come out to greet him. “It’s Mr. Ingalls, Grandma!” Olga says, though unless I missed it she and Charles haven’t met. I suppose his stunning good looks are so famous in this community he’s recognized everywhere.
The grandmother greets him warmly and we learn the family’s surname is Nordstrom. (Perhaps Olga goes on to found the department store? It did start out selling shoes.)
Grandma Nordstrom brings Charles around to some sort of outbuilding and introduces him to Olga’s father, whom she addresses as “Yon.” (My family found the Scandinavian accents in this one a little doubtful, but at least no one says “Yumpin’ Yiminy!” this time.)
Mr. Nordstrom is scraping what appears to be a deer hide and barely looks up at Charles during this conversation. One issue I have with this story is that Olga’s dad is one of those fictional characters who acts like a complete bastard for no logical reason. It’s not just a Little House phenomenon; the dad in Dead Poets Society is another example that jumps to mind. (Why would he object so strenuously to his kid liking English class?)
Obviously real life does have assholes like this, I just think the bar should be a little higher in a fictional story.
Anyways, Charles starts out terribly. “I’ve got a pretty good horse,” he says, “and if I don’t fix her shoe just proper, she, she comes up lame.”
DAGNY: He shouldn’t compare this man’s child to a horse.
WILL: Yes . . . he’s definitely getting off on the wrong foot!
He essentially goes on to say he’s the inventor of the orthopedic shoe and he’d like to try making one for Olga. One of my favorite storylines on Deadwood is when Doc makes Jewel an orthopedic boot to help with her CP. I wonder if it was inspired by this episode?
Long story short, Nordstrom tells Charles to fuck the hell off.
Later, Charles summarizes this development while he and Caroline are cutting a log with a crosscut saw down by the creek. They’re all sweated up, and the rhythmic back and forth is quite suggestive in my view.
Suddenly Olga and her grandmother appear. They seem simply to emerge from the reeds, so I’m not sure if they snuck over by canoe or what.
Grandma tells Charles her son’s depression at being widowed turned him into an overprotective father. It’s not much of an explanation . . . but unacknowledged depression certainly is common among middle-aged men in this part of the country to this day. And then some!
Grandma hands Charles a pair of Olga’s shoes. Charles says he’ll give his idea a try. At this point, my daughter Amelia, the one non-Little House fan in our family, passed through the room.
AMELIA: Who is Olga? A horse?
WILL: No, a kid.
AMELIA [indicating Charles]: That guy’s kid?
WILL: Maybe it’s better you don’t watch this with us.
We then get a montage of Charles measuring and making Olga’s shoe. We all wondered why the orthopedic shoe idea never occurred to Doc Baker. Olga mentions him by name at Nellie’s party, so clearly she’s a patient. I suspect Doc could have made a shoe himself in the evenings, but then he’d have to give up pinochle nights with Mr. Hanson. So that was an easy choice for him.
On the day of the party, Olga leaves home for the Ingalls house. Her dad has questions, but Grandma blows him off.
WILL: They let her walk there on her own? What if she fell?
DAGNY: She isn’t a turtle!
At the Little House, Olga tries on the shoe, which of course works perfectly. “This music is too much,” said Dagny.
The girls head outside, and Charles’s eyes well up with tears.
WILL: Charles made himself cry?
OLIVE: He’s that good.
The other guests arrive: Nellie, Christy, Cassie, Cloud City Princess Leia, and a nondescript blonde girl. They climb up to check out the girls’ room.
CHRISTY: I wish Ma would let me sleep in the attic.
MARY: Did you ask her?
CHRISTY: Wouldn’t do no good. We don’t have an attic!
We do get one good laugh, though, when we see Cassie Not-Laura and Cloud City Princess Leia sniffing Laura’s lemon verbena!
Laura has schemed to surprise her guests with Olga’s cured status during a game. First she calls it “Two O’Cat” but then later says “Three O’Cat.” My understanding is the name of the game – a forerunner to baseball – depends on how many bases and players you have.
Nellie and Laura are captains again. Nellie chooses Mary, who groans. Laura chooses Olga, and Nellie says, “You just said that so when you lose you can blame it on her.” Nellie’s cruelty is mild in this story compared to many others, but we do get fun flashes of it.
They divide out the rest of the team – we learn Cloud City Princess Leia’s name is Rosemary, and the nondescript girl is Helen. (Who the hell is “Sudie,” then?) They start the game, with Olga up to bat first. Mary is pitching, which seems unlikely considering the pathetic rock-throwing we witnessed from her previously. And in fact, through this entire game we never actually see a pitch or a hit at any distance, so I think it’s safe to say they didn’t bother to have the actors really do much playing. (Spoils the realism a bit, Alf.)
Olga gets a hit and runs like mad around the bases.
WILL: Olga’s never run before in her life. Wouldn’t she need some PT to prepare for it?
OLIVE: Nah. She’s seen it enough.
The revelation that Olga can run stops the game. Annoyed, Nellie says she wants to play again.
DAGNY: Is that Nellie’s real hair?
WILL: I think so. It wasn’t until Season 2 they started using wigs. Watch for burn marks on her neck, that’s why they stopped curling it with an iron.
DAGNY: Oh, I’ve been there.
So they play again for a while. Weirdly, the music this time imitates “Bugler’s Holiday.” I swear, David Rose tries to get as many musical references as possible into these episodes sometimes.
In the middle of the game, Caroline steps out to empty a bedpan or something.
After the game, the girls discuss what to play next. Laura suggests “Drop the Handkerchief” – a precursor to “Duck Duck Goose” (or as it’s inexplicably known in Minnesota, “Duck Duck Grayduck”).
Nellie, jealous of the attention Olga’s getting, suggests they take off their shoes and go wading – an impossibility for Olga. Laura perceives Nellie’s motivation, but the other stupid kids go running off before they can thoroughly hash it over. Laura tries to apologize to Olga, but the latter says go ahead and join them. Once they’re gone, Olga smiles and runs around the bases a few more times.
Once in the creek, Nellie immediately has second thoughts because she hates being wet. Laura steps into the water and heads over to the crayfish’s lair. (Cue the Purple Pieman music.) She invites Nellie over to see something “special.” When Nellie arrives, the crayfish pops out and Laura starts screaming, “Run, Nellie, run, that way!”, directing her into the deepest part of the creek. Nellie runs there and falls on her face. All the girls squeal with laughter. When Nellie surfaces, you can tell Alison Arngrim is struggling not to laugh also.
In the book, Nellie actually comes out of the water covered with leeches, Stand by Me–style.
Back at the Nordstrom house, Olga’s dad realizes a pair of her shoes are missing. “You give them to Ingalls!” he shouts at his mother. “Yes! Yes, I did!” Grandma screams back at him. I have to say, I might watch a spinoff series featuring these two as mismatched roommates.
Without another word, Nordstrom tromps over to the Little House. When he finds Charles in the barn, his eyes bug out and he attacks him.
Oblivious to the violence, the girls (minus Nellie) are playing tag in the yard. In the middle of the fight, Nordstrom hears one of the kids cry “Olga, you’re it!” and looks out into the yard. Now, I can tell you from my own experience having a fight at the Minnesota State Fair in 2019, there is not much that would actually distract a person in a situation like this.
But Nordstrom sees Olga running, and all the fight goes out of him. Charles stops also; Nordstrom’s lucky he doesn’t beat the shit out of him, truthfully.
Olga runs and plays, the music swelling up like a Tchaikovsky waltz. It’s at least the third time this show has quoted him, actually.
Olga sees her father standing at the barn and runs to him. He embraces her and stares disbelievingly as she runs back to join the kids again.
After the party, the girls politely thank the Ingallses for hosting – even Nellie. “Bye Nelleeeeeeeee!” slurps Carrie hilariously.
All the girls, Olga included, run off together. Mr. Nordstrom stays behind. “My mother is right,” he says. “She has a fool for a son.”
Charles pats his shoulder and says, “She did have.” Nordstrom scowls like this was the wrong thing to say, and it is a little insensitive, but whatever, the guy just attacked him.
WILL: What’s the message here? That disabled people can be integrated into society, but only if their infirmities are fixed?
OLIVE: No, the message is Charles Ingalls is superior to everyone and you should always listen to him.
Works for me. Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!
STYLE WATCH: Charles appears to go commando again.
THE VERDICT: A simple story with a rather dull script, this one succeeds on the strength of its performances and the furthering of the Laura/Nellie arc. Kim Richards is likeable as Olga.
UP NEXT: Ma’s Holiday