Blizzard

You Can Tell There’s Going to Be a Big Body Count in This One; or

My Smurf is Coming Loose!

(a recap by Will Kaiser)

Title: Blizzard

Airdate: January 3, 1976

Written by Paul W. Cooper

Directed by William F. Claxton

SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: On Christmas Eve, Miss Beadle finally snaps and attempts to murder every child in town.

RECAP: The biggies just keep a-comin’.

According to Ultimate70s.com, “Blizzard” should have aired on December 27, 1976, but it was preempted by something (Ultimate70s.com doesn’t say what) and actually ran on January 3, 1977.

I’m beginning this recap under blizzard conditions in Minnesota myself, which I’ll just say is kind of fun. And, having no other trivia to report, I suggest we get going.

We begin with a closeup of a person rather than the usual establishing shot of the Little House, or somebody else’s house or hovel. 

DAGNY: It’s never a good sign when they open shooting up an old man’s beard and eyebrows.

From this funky angle, the guy looks like he might be Glover, the comedy “tinker” from last week’s story

Previously on Little House

But unless Charles and Laura so impressed him with tales of Walnut Grove (not impossible on this show), I don’t know why he would return home with them.

And in fact, when the man sits up, we see that despite similarities, Glover it ain’t.

Probably.

Not-Glover, who’s wearing standard-issue pink long-johns, wanders to the exit of wherever the hell he is and opens the door.

We see he’s looking out of a train station, with a sign indicating its location as . . . 

WILL: Ooh, Thief River Falls.

Thief River Falls is a real place, located in the far north of Minnesota, about 300 miles from Walnut Grove. It wasn’t founded until 1887, which is about seven years behind our timeline. 

The town was indeed a transportation hub in the old(en) days, with two railroad routes passing through it. 

The date of this photo is unknown, but it’s from before 1913 (it’s the old depot)
A mutant deer enjoys a swim in the Thief River today

Not-Glover looks around. Weather conditions are brownish, but windy.

The sky is pretty in a fake-Renaissance-art-at-an-Italian-restaurant way. 

But intense horror music is building in the orchestra, and we recall most windy days on the show have resulted in death.

Previous windy days on Little House

Inside the station, the telegraph clicks away.

DAGNY: Do you know Morse code well enough to understand what he’s saying?

WILL: “Well enough”? I don’t know it at all.

DAGNY: I thought maybe you never mentioned it.

WILL: No. I think Morse code is a scam, in fact. I’ve never heard of anybody responding to a Morse code message in real life.

Not-Glover does understand Morse code, and as he transcribes the message, we see this one was written by Paul W. Cooper, last encountered not long ago as the scripter of “Little Girl Lost” (another splendid story).

Clax is back as director, by the way.

Anyways, the message reads: FROM INTERNATIONAL FALLS SNOW WARNING HEAVY SNOWS AND DRIFTS TO FOUR FEET HOLD NORTHBOUND TRAFFIC UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE

International Falls is also in the far north of the state, on the border with Ontario. It’s just over 150 miles from Thief River Falls to the northeast (370 from Walnut Grove).

International Falls in the old times
International Falls today

This means the blizzard is moving westward – the opposite of how such storms usually blow through Minnesota. But of course, with Little House, anything’s possible.

Then we cut to another train station, with the Number Three Itself parked in front. We see Charles and Mr. Edwards walking on the platform in shirt sleeves, so the weather can’t be that bad wherever they are.

A short older man accompanies them, saying he has the receipt for the freight they’ve picked up. Mr. Edwards says that’s good, because “we’ve got a lot of Santa Claus’s work to do before nightfall.”

So yes, this is a Christmas special, even if it didn’t air till after Christmas.

And fittingly, if I may be forgiven a haberdashery descriptor, Charles is wearing the shirt given to him by both Mary and Ma in “Christmas at Plum Creek.”  

Previously on Little House

The little man excuses himself to answer the telegraph, and we see he is in fact the same Train Ticket Guy who endured the exhausting duo of Laura and Grandpa Ingalls when Lansford tried to flee Minnesota. (That means we must be in Springfield.)

Previously on Little House

The Springfield Train Ticket Guy is played by Robert Gibbons, a veteran of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., My Three Sons, and The Partridge Family, who sadly died at 58 soon after this episode aired.

Here he is on Columbo

Train Ticket Guy tells Charles and Mr. Edwards the telegram is a weather report saying they “might have a white Christmas after all.”

Now, one question that occurred to me is, was “White Christmas” even a saying before the song was written? It debuted in 1941. I didn’t dig very deeply, but I don’t think people ran around wishing for white Christmases before the song put the worm into their heads. Feel free to comment if you know more about it, Irving Berlin experts.

The Earworm of Christmas

Well, oblivious to his possible anachronism, Train Ticket Guy says a winter storm is hitting International Falls – again, about 350 miles away – and is headed their way. The three bid each other happy holidays and off Charles and Mr. Ed go.

We then cut to them arriving via Chonkywagon at somebody’s house. It isn’t clear how far they are from home, but remember, at 25 miles away, Springfield should be about a day’s wagon drive from Walnut Grove. 

The wind is blowing wickedly, but – and I’m not going to dwell on this – but it’s ludicrous we’re supposed to believe this is Minnesota in December. 

Sure, it’s possible we wouldn’t have snow on the ground on Christmas Eve, and sometimes we even have warm temps above freezing. But look at the trees! I’ve lived here 25 years, and I’ve never seen December foliage in full leaf before.

(And don’t go telling me oak trees are marcescent! I’ve played that game myself in the past . . . and I play to win.) 

THIS is marcescence!

Anyways, a graying-but-in-all-other-respects-middle-aged-looking guy comes out of the house. (Hair dye was probably pretty expensive in those days, which explains why Nels seems to color his with shoe polish, and Charles with prune juice.)

Previously on Little House

Over the course of this conversation, we learn the graying man’s name is “Jim Bowers.”

Jim is played by Don Dubbins, who appeared in Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, Dragnet, Highway to Heaven, Dynasty, and a weird episode of The Twilight Zone.

Charles and Edwards deliver some presents for the Jim’s kids, including (naturally) a rifle for one named Joey. “Guns as presents for children” doesn’t play well today if you ask me. . . . Certainly we’ve seen guns and kids be a disastrous mix on this very show, as recently as last week! But this isn’t really a blog for that sort of commentary so I’ll just roll my eyes and leave it at that.

Jim says Joey isn’t home, but rather at “that soiree the Ladies’ League’s a-holdin’.” (The subtitles translate this as “that soiree the Ladies’ Leagues are holding,” but I believe my interpretation is actually correct.) 

(I will add, the subtitles on this show are generally very good, unlike practically every other show we watch these days.)

Anyways, Jim doesn’t say what this “soiree” entails, instead bragging that with Bowers genes, Joey will shoot plenty of rabbits with his gun. But Mr. Edwards reminds him he’s a terrible hunter who couldn’t shoot a Butterball in his own icebox. (Paraphrase.)

Jim tells Mr. Ed to fuck off. (Also a paraphrase.)

But it’s just friendly joshin’, and soon Edwards and Charles depart to make more deliveries. (Why do they never send Carl the Flunky on these freight trips? Too old?)

The Carl of Christmas Past

As they leave, we notice Jim’s lawn is quite green.

Cut to a kid peepin’ in the Mercantile window. No, he’s not watching Mrs. O having a bath, but rather salivating over a gun that’s on display.

Willie appears and chats with him. The kid, it turns out, is Joey Bowers. His costume is interesting. He’s wearing a tweed hat and jacket, as well as what appears to be a red ascot. 

WILL: He looks a little out of place.

OLIVE: Yeah, who does he think he is, Benoit Blanc?

Willie says his pa has been complaining no one will ever buy that gun, “because it’s twice as cheap in the catalog.” Ha! Just wait till Amazon rolls around, Nels.

Meanwhile, back in Thief River Falls, the snow is a-flyin’, and Not-Glover is a-worryin’.

[UPDATE: I neglected to look up this guy’s background since he doesn’t have any lines. I since have learned his name was Aaron Fletcher, and that he played Santa Claus on Pee-Wee Herman’s Christmas special in 1988. We now return you to your scheduled programming.]

But whoa! Suddenly back in Walnut Grove again, it’s just windy with a chance of October.

A man in a dove gray derby enters the Feed & Seed, where a slim youngish woman scribbles in a ledger, Bob Cratchit-style. 

DAGNY: This is a lot of redshirts. You can tell there’s going to be a big body count in this one.

The man says to the woman, “Lottie, I think you would work right through the calling of Gabriel’s horn.” 

Gabriel” here refers to an archangel who is mentioned in several religions and who is sort of a lovable recurring character in the Bible. Christian tradition (though not scripture specifically) has it that on Judgment Day, he’ll blow a big horn to kind of kick things off.

Jon Hamm portrayed him on Good Omens

I was surprised to learn archangels are actually fairly low-ranking angels in Christian tradition. I’d always assumed they were the officer class, or something.

Anyways, Lottie, apparently the Feed & Seed’s bookkeeper, says she can’t account for $17 that should be there. (About $500 in 1880 – a fairly big discrepancy. Ebenezer Sprague would have a heart attack!)

Previously on Little House

OLIVE: Is this guy her husband or her boss?

It’s hard to say. We haven’t had a Feed & Seed story since all the way back in Season One, when then-manager Liam O’Neil (aka Shifty O’Crafty) cheated Charles out of a yoke of oxen.

Previously on Little House

Then in a shock twist, Dove-Gray Derby throws his arms around Lottie and starts sucking her neck. He says she doesn’t need to worry about balancing the books because “Christmas is a time for huggin’.” Whether he’s her boss, husband or boyfriend, he’s all animal appetite.

OLIVE: Jeez, Little House.

WILL: Yeah, this is more like 9 to 5 than A Christmas Carol.

(As a teenager, my sister had a weird sexual crush on Dabney Coleman in 9 to 5, but she’d be embarrassed if I brought that up so I won’t.)

Anyways, Lottie is charmed by his beastlike advances, and kisses him back, saying, “Ted McGinnis, I think you’re beyond savin’.”

The actor playing the lusty Ted is John Carter (no relation to the Little House character John Carter who arrives with his family in Season Nine to ruin the show). 

Coming soon on Little House

Carter the actor had a long TV career that included a regular role on Barnaby Jones (I never watched that) as well as one-offs on Gunsmoke, The Waltons, Hardcastle and McCormick, The A-Team, Falcon Crest, Dallas, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Matlock and Law & Order

Beginning in about 1990, he seems to have been typecast as judges.

Lottie is Luana Anders, another distinguished film and TV actor whose credits include Easy Rider, the Roger Corman Pit and the Pendulum, Francis Ford Coppola’s early film Dementia 13 and a strange and interesting Dennis Hopper thing called Night Tide (which is about mermaids, sort of). She also appeared on The Andy Griffith Show, That Girl and Santa Barbara.

Luana Anders

Ted and Lottie make out for a while. I’d easily put them in the top three lustiest couples we’ve encountered so far. They’re behind Charles and Caroline, of course; probably behind the Bead and her dandy from “Four Eyes” too. 

Certainly they leave Mary and John in the dust.

More on them next time

Then Lottie says, “I’ll see you at home” and “I’ll pick up Henry after school,” so I guess she and Ted are married.

Outside, Charles and Mr. Ed roll up as Lottie’s leaving. So far, Walnut Grove appears merely to be under a dust-storm warning.

They bring a big Creepshowtype crate inside.

In gratitude, Ted McGinnis offers them some whiskey. (Only Mr. Ed imbibes, though.)

The box contains a “genuine foot-pedal sewing machine.” (Motel Kamzoil would pop his cork.)

Rather surprisingly, Ted confesses to embezzling from the Feed & Seed to buy the machine. But Charles and Mr. E don’t seem to care.

They discuss the weather briefly. Ted says a white Christmas always gives things a holiday flavor, to which Charles replies, “Know what ya mean!”

OLIVE: The language bothers me sometimes. Did Nineteeth-Century people really say things like that? “Know what ya mean”?

We then cut back to the Springfield Train Ticket Guy sending a telegram noting the blizzard continues to head down Walnut Grove way. He says the winds are gusting up to 40 miles per hour. How did they measure that in those days, I wonder? Actually, I guess I don’t know how they measure it now.

???

Then we join the “ladies’ soiree” already in progress. Apparently Mrs. Oleson is hosting.

The attendees include Lottie, Mrs. Foster (who appears to be decorating a Roma tomato), Caroline, Grace, and a few women we’ve never seen before.

“I’m so glad that I suggested to the Reverend Alden that we have a town Christmas party this year,” Mrs. O says modestly.

Caroline snidely points out it was actually someone called “Betty” who suggested it. (Grassle sounds like she has a cold.)

In a little expository conversation, it’s revealed a) the party will take place on Christmas Day in the afternoon, b) Reverend Alden is out of town, and c) Charles is going to preach the sermon in his place.

In Season One, it was stated that Alden only preaches in Walnut Grove once a month. But here it’s suggested he alternates every other week, with Sleepy Eye being his only other congregation. I guess that explains why he umped the baseball game between the Green Stockings and the Millers/Merchants/Mulligans.

Previously on Little House

Mrs. Oleson says the Rev should be here, given the Walnut Grovesters contribute far more money to the church than the Sleepy Eyesters. (Seems unlikely. Today, Sleepy Eye is about four times the size of Walnut Grove.)

Walnut Grove

Sleepy Eye

Grace stands in for Aldi here, saying it’s better to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35.)

Hilariously, Mrs. Oleson replies, “Ah, nonsense!” (So there, Acts 20:35!)

Looking out the window, Caroline smiles and says, “Oh my, it’s trying to snow.”

And you thought this show didn’t do irony

Cut to the schoolroom, where Miss Beadle is snipping a piece of yarn for one of the Ambiguously Ethnic Kids. Given the story we’re about to see, most likely this refers to Atropos, one of the Fates, who severs your life’s thread when you die. (Don’t you think?)

Atropos (artist’s rendering)
Grimly thy shears,/Steely and bright,/Menace the years/Left for delight!

Miss Beadle addresses this AEK as “Christopher” – first time either of the AEKs has been named, I think.

Eagle-eyed viewers remember Christopher as the kid peeing by the the roadside in “The Pride of Walnut Grove.”

Previously on Little House

We haven’t done a roll call of the kids for a while, so let’s see who’s survived to enjoy another Christmas. Today we have both AEKs, the Midsommar Kid, some Nondescript Helens (including the Littlest One), the Kid with Very Red Hair (2), Joey Bowers, Carl and Alicia Sanderson (but not John), Nellie, Willie, Laura, Ol’ Four Eyes (excuse me – I mean Mary), and Carrie.

DAGNY: Wait, Carrie?

That’s right, Carrie! What on earth she’s doing there is beyond me. Then again, according to our timeline, this should be December of 1880(C). Since last week’s episode was (probably) set in summertime, that could mean Carrie has finally matriculated into kindergarten! 

The blackboard doesn’t offer any clues to help with this question, but it is interesting nonetheless. It gives a bunch of names and terms from the Nativity Story with their “definitions”: Mary = mother, Joseph = husband, etc. (It even includes the innkeeper, but I can’t make out how she’s defined his role in the story.)

This seems to contradict what we previously learned about the Bible really not having been taught in American schools during this period. It’s not a stretch to imagine it at Christmastime, I suppose.

No matter. The students are making calendars, and Beadle notes Laura’s months are out of order. 

Mary says Laura wanted her birthday month at the front of the calendar. Seems a little juvenile, if true.

What month Laura’s birthday occurs in is not mentioned. In real life, Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in February. In case you’re wondering, to date we have narrowed down a few of the characters’ birthdays (at least to season), as follows:

Nellie – spring

Reverend Alden – spring

John – spring

Caroline – fall (probably late October)

Previously on Little House

(In real life, Caroline was born in December, and Aldi in January; but of course our pack of creatives never puts fact before fun.)

Then the Bead discovers Willie eating paste (interesting article on that old stereotype here) and sends him to the corner.

When she does, we see there’s a new Nondescript Helen in the mix. She looks like she may have a hangover.

In a side conversation, the Bead prompts Mary to report she’s made a candle and matches as a present for her parents. Important later. (How the hell do you make a match?)

I like Carrie’s face in this one

Willie notices it’s begun to snow, and Slacker Bead says that’s a great excuse to dismiss early. (Likely hung-over herself.)

Meanwhile, in a barn, Charles and Mr. Ed are building rocking horses. They took more than a little inspiration from Alan Fudge’s best friend Pony, with whom we became acquainted in Season One

Cousins?

Ed and Chuck notice the snow too. Charles says, “Looks like we are gonna have a white Christmas!” Oh for fuck’s sake, we get it already, you don’t need to keep saying that!

They decide to go pick their kids up from school, though Mr. Ed suggests stopping by the Feed & Seed for more free booze first.

Meanwhile, Jack barks at the snow like an idiot.

Back at school, Mary finds Carrie has lost a mitten.

Carrie-managin’ Mary

Despite having stirred the kids up by saying they could go home, the Bead decides to deliver some obnoxious remarks from the pulpit first.

“The first thing I’d like to do,” she says (how many things are there going to be?), “is tell Carrie how happy we are that she could visit us on Christmas Eve.” So there goes my matriculation theory.

“Thank you, Miz Beedle!” slurps Carrie.

Note that Nellie appears to be yawning

OLIVE: How old is Carrie here? She looks eight.

Again, hard to say. We first met her in The Pilot, when Linz ’n’ Sid were four years old. That story, you’ll recall, we definitively dated to 1870, but the real Carrie Ingalls wasn’t actually born until 1870. 

L-R: Carrie, Mary and Laura Ingalls

As regular readers know, the events of Little House the TV show can only be forced into a coherent timeline with, well, a fair amount of lube . . . but no matter how you look at it, Carrie would be at least ten years old in 1880. (And conceivably as old as 23 if you subscribe to my “crack in time” theory. Which I do, anyways.)

And of course, the twins are really six years old here.

Then the Bead says Nellie and Willie have to stay after class to clean the blackboards.

DAGNY: Huh?

WILL: Wow, keeping Nellie and Willie after school on Christmas Eve, just because she doesn’t like them? What a witch.

OLIVE: Yeah. This feels personal.

The other kids all give a joyful whoop and run out to their dooms.

WILL: So where is John supposed to be? Home alone?

DAGNY: Yeah. Probably masturbating.

WILL: Yeah. To Keats!

Unabridged!

You’ll remember John was also nowhere to be found when Mary (his GIRLFRIEND!) was getting beaten up at school.

Previously on Little House

Anyways, we then see the Springfield Train Ticket Guy again, clicking away as the blizzard rages outside. 

WILL: Does he have a little ponytail?

DAGNY: No.

I’m not so sure. . . .

After a break, the Ingalls and Sanderson kids walk through the blizzard in a clump.

Carrie slurps something that sounds like “My Smurf is coming loose!” and goes on to complain about the cold. 

My Smurf is coming loose!

Voice ringing with hatred, Mary snaps at her.

Snappish Mary

Now, perhaps this is a good time to note this episode is actually based on real incidents – most notably, the famous “Children’s Blizzard” that struck the Midwest in January of 1888.

Snowdrifts in Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota (1890 – I know that’s not the blizzard year, it’s just to set the tone!)

The storm devastated Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakota Territory, and continued well south of there too.

One of the worst blizzards in American history, it killed hundreds of people – some historians think it was a thousand, due to the difficulty of reporting and assessing such things at the time.

One reason so many people died is that the storm was preceded by an unseasonable warm front that hiked temperatures above freezing. This meant many people went about their daily business – and children went to school – without dressing for cold weather.

People who live in this part of the country know the worst thing about a blizzard isn’t the snow, but rather the wind blowing the snow, which makes it impossible to see, even in the daytime. And many children died trying to find their way home. In Nebraska, three kids died trying to make it to a house less than 100 feet away from their school.

Plenty of people did get lost and die of exposure, but more died later, of pneumonia, and of complications from surgeries to amputate frostbitten limbs and the like.

There’s a well-known book on the subject, which I have read, called The Children’s Blizzard (by David Laskin). I recommend it, though it is perhaps best for readers who don’t live in the colder, snowier parts of the United States. (Laskin’s descriptions lose some power when you already know what a real blizzard’s like.)

Anyways, I say the episode was “most notably” inspired by the Children’s Blizzard, because while Wilder did describe the events of that storm in Pioneer Girl, that book wasn’t published until 2014, so it wouldn’t have been known by Landon & Co. 

Besides, in it, Wilder says the blizzard happened in 1885 . . . though the brilliant people at The Pioneer Girl Project have proven she really was writing about the 1888 storm (and that she gave some of her anecdotes happier endings than those reality provided). 

Of course, by 1888, the Ingallses were in the Dakota Territory and long gone from Walnut Grove. But that doesn’t matter much for our purposes, since both places were hit by the same blizzard. 

See, it did move west to east, not the other way round

Wilder also wrote about blizzards in The Long Winter, even if the events of that book only bear some resemblance to the TV story. 

But what does matter for our purposes is that Wilder says the “long winter” was the one bridging 1880 and 1881 . . . meaning it lines up perfectly with the 1880 date we’ve assigned “Blizzard” in our timeline! And it makes sense too, since the episode is set in December, not the January of the 1888 storm. (Yeah, these are coincidences . . . but you take what you can get where the Little House on the Prairie timeline is concerned, kids.) 

Anyways, moving on. The Ingallses and Sandersons split up to get to their respective homes. Mary says the Ing-Gals will “take the shortcut,” and Carl says he and Alicia will “cut across Walker’s place.” (No one named Walker has yet been seen or mentioned on the show.)

Meanwhile, on the wagon, Mr. Edwards is telling Charles one of his famous stories. This one is about beaver-trapping he did back in 1873. It also contains the terms blow and come.

But keep your filthy-minded comments to yourselves, please.

Bored by this (nobody likes Mr. Ed’s stories, do they?), Charles tells him to sit in the back of the wagon, under the cover.

“Like the man said, I believe I will!” Edwards responds. (I couldn’t find an origin for the old-fashioned expression “like the man said.” It’s in a lot of old movies, though.)

Also on The Sopranos

Once Mr. Ed is settled in the back, we realize he’s drunk. Not only is he slurring slightly, and not only does he pull a bottle of brandy out of his pocket and drink from it, he also repeats his request that Charles stop at the Feed & Seed so they can get some more free whiskey. 

Charles ignores this, though. 

Back at the Mercantile, the “soiree” is breaking up, and Caroline and Grace are surprised by the heavy storm. “Thank goodness the children aren’t out in all this!” cries Grace.

WILL: That tree Grace made looks wretched.

OLIVE: I like it.

Muttering to each other, and wrapped in scarves and whatnot from head to toe, all the Lady Grovesters head to the school.

WILL: They’re like the women at the stoning in Life of Brian.

Minus the beards, of course

The ladies are horrified to learn Miss Beadle let the kids go out into the storm.

DAGNY: They should stone HER!

OLIVE: Yeah, first sending Carrie out to find the bugs, now this. It is suspicious.

As I’ve observed in the past, it’s a little harder to tell the townswomen apart than the townsmen, because their effing bonnets conceal their hair and make their faces look smaller. 

But in addition to Caroline, Mrs. Oleson, Grace and Mrs. Foster, we also have Lottie McGinnis, an intelligent-looking gray-haired lady (revealed in this scene to be Betty Bowers, Joey’s mother), a nondescript woman (obviously Nondescript Helen’s mom), and a younger blonde woman whose makeup is a little lavish to be plausible for the Nineteenth Century.

Call her Mrs. Lavish

Caroline takes charge, assessing the situation and confronting Miss Beadle, who chokes and stammers.

WILL: You know, this one was written by the same guy as the one where Ma blames her for Carrie falling down the well. What’s he got against the Bead?

DAGNY: Probably he was hot for a teacher in high school and got shot down. Revenge.

Previously on Little House

I will say, Charlotte Stewart is having a TERRIFIC run of performances this season. With more still to come!

Coming soon on Little House

Charles and Mr. Edwards arrive. Charles declares he’ll organize a rescue party, and then, in a very nice touch, Harriet Oleson tells Mr. Ed to go to the Mercantile first and grab a heavier coat.

Aw

As soon as they’re gone, the schoolroom window explodes.

DAGNY: What broke the window?

ALEXANDER [waking up suddenly]: Hail?

The Bead being paralyzed with guilt and thus useless, Caroline and Grace close the shutters, which are conveniently located inside the school rather than out. (They always have been – I checked.)

Previously on Little House

Out in the storm, the Ing-Gals plod through snow that looks like it should be blue and sitting in a sno-cone.

DAGNY: They’ve really outgrown those crocheted hats. But I guess they are supposed to be poor.

Poor Mary

Laura drops her homemade calendar at some point. Despite the crisis, she immediately schemes to cover up the loss.

Good ol’ Laura

Meanwhile, in the Mercantile’s storeroom, the townsmen have gathered. They include Nels, Carl the Flunky, Mustache Man, and Ted McGinnis. In a fateful choice, Ted refuses Nels’s offer of a winter coat.

Out in the showroom, Mr. Hanson evaluates emergency supplies as the others prepare to leave.

DAGNY: Mr. Edwards looks like a voyageur.

Doc arrives, saying “the Harris girls and little Tommy Spencer” have been rescued. We haven’t met any Spencers or Harrises yet either, unless you count Harris Yulin, who played the alcoholic dad in “Child of Pain,” and/or the Harris’s hawk that attacked the Mumforts’ chickens in “In the Big Inning.”

Previously on Little House

Plus, I suppose there’s an oblique reference to Spencer Kellogg in “Plague.”

Previously on Little House

Doc says he needs blankets and brandy for his patients.

OLIVE [as CHARLES]: “Sure, we’ve got a bottle of brandy in the back of the wagon.”

WILL [as MR. EDWARDS]: “Uh, no, that bounced out, remember, Charles?”

Jim Bowers arrives, saying he “had to leave the team in a drift.”

WILL: More dead horses, huh . . . Hey, look at Mustache Man’s coat!

ROMAN: That’s the perfect winter coat for Mustache Man.

!

As they bundle up, Mr. Hanson says Nels doesn’t have to come since his own children are safe. Nels responds, “Well, you haven’t got any children out there either, you old goat!” 

As I’m sure you recall, Hanson once tousled the hair of Mean Harry Baker, suggesting Mean Harry was actually Doc’s illegitimate son, and thus probably Hanson’s stepson as well. That means arguably Hanson DOES have a child “out there” (somewhere)!

Previously on Little House

But if Mr. Hanson feels an emotional pang at this, he hides it well.

Outside, Carl is literally dragging Alicia through the snow.

WILL: Seriously, where is John?

OLIVE: Maybe he’s winter camping.

Carl winds up giving Alicia a piggyback ride, which is probably a very bad idea under these circumstances. I remember when my kids were little, they always wanted piggyback rides, and it didn’t take long for me to reach the point of collapse. And that was in the clementest of weather!

At the school, Doc arrives with the blankets and brandy, which he hands off to Caroline.

ROMAN: Booze for the ladies!

OLIVE: Yeah, ladies’ night!

Ladies’ night!

“Is the storm still holdin’?” yells Grace. She has to shout over the wind to be heard, so you’d think that would answer her question.

Doc gives the AEK who isn’t Christopher some brandy.

DAGNY: Alcohol is actually horrible if you have hypothermia.

WILL: It is?

DAGNY: It’s one of the worst things you could take.

WILL: Oh, nonsense. Think of the St. Bernards in the mountains, you know, rescuing the stranded yodelers and stuff with brandy.

OLIVE: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Sadly, the image of the big heroic dog with a brandy cask around its neck is apparently also a myth. I guess the idea came from a seventeen-year-old artist who made the whole thing up for a painting.

Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler, by Edwin Landseer

And Selica at PeakSurvival concurs with Dags about the brandy.

But at least the beverage won’t kill the kid, the way cow’s milk killed Baby Freddie when Doc made him drink it.

Previously on Little House

Doc has a hard time getting the kid to drink, so Grace takes over for him, saying, “Isaiah’s cured more chills than anyone else in Walnut Grove.” I’m not sure what that means – when people are chilled, they go to the Old Sanderson Place to get some of Mr. Edwards’s homemade rotgut?

Previously on Little House

Anyways, then Doc makes some pompous remarks to the assembly.

DAGNY: This is a bad-lips episode, by the way. Ten out of ten livery.

Mercifully, we cut to a commercial in the middle of Doc’s first-aid lecture.

When we return, we see the rescue effort isn’t going well. Charles and Mr. Edwards are literally crawling through the snow.

OLIVE: These blizzard effects are so fake.

WILL: I like them.

The Ing-Gals are okay, though. Laura’s jabbering away as usual.

Back in the school, Caroline and Lottie are attending the patients.

DAGNY: Is Ma rubbing Nellie’s feet? She didn’t even go outside.

But no, it’s not Nellie. It’s the hungover Nondescript Helen, whom Ma identifies as “the Harris girl.”

Doc gives Caroline some laudanum for the Nondescript Helen H. This suggests the opium addiction Ma developed when Baby Freddie died has been well and truly conquered by now.

DAGNY: Caroline’s hair looks different. It’s pulled back tightly and clipped with a bigger barrette than she’s ever worn.

Meanwhile, the Bead has her head down on her desk, though whether out of guilt, shame or her own hangover is unclear. Probably all three.

In my favorite moment from this episode, Willie walks over to her, gently strokes her hair, and says, “Miss Beadle, it wasn’t your fault.”

And weeping, the Bead embraces her nemesis gratefully.

OLIVE: Frenemies.

AND SHE NEVER SENT HIM TO THE CORNER AGAIN

Then, Mrs. Bowers hears a sound, which turns out to be young Henry McGinnis scratching at the door.

OLIVE: Her faces are a bit much.

WILL: I like them.

At first I thought Henry was the Midsommar Kid, but in fact they’re only similar-looking.

Henry McGinnis
The Midsommar Kid

His face is all frostbitten, the actor also doing a decent job of pain-acting. 

He’s Johnny Timko, who appeared in The Bionic Woman, Battlestar Galactica, and The Love Boat (yay). 

He was also in a horror movie called Prophecy which has been on my list for a while, and which Roman and I decided to watch this afternoon, for Walnut Groovy research purposes of course.

It was pretty good if you like that sort of thing. It’s about a bear that becomes a giant monster after eating mercury-laced fish and that attacks campers in a National Park. 

I only mention the plot because Timko gets the best death in the entire movie – when he tries to escape from the bear in his down-stuffed sleeping bag.

(Don’t worry, it’s a PG-13 death, at most – not scary or gory. I think it’s no exaggeration to say it’s one of the funniest children’s deaths in the history of entertainment. And you know, I’ve seen a few.)

Coming soon on Little House

Anyways, Betty Bowers is played by Helen Stenborg, who doesn’t have anything nearly as good as THAT on her resume, but who was a distinguished Broadway actress and who was in several interesting film and TV things, including Enchanted, Good Times and a couple episodes of Ryan’s Hope

Here she is in Three Days of the Condor

Well, Doc gives Henry a brief examination.

OLIVE [as DOC]: “Got a saw?”

But Doc says Henry will be fine. (We’ve heard that one before.)

Previously on Little House

Although Henry can barely speak, Mrs. Bowers pounces and demands to know if he’s seen Joey. But I’m a parent, I get it.

Henry reports Joey went off on his own following rabbit tracks.

WILL: Look, Roman is crying.

DAGNY: Even the hard heart of Roman Kaiser is melted by Little House.

I’ll just say, I find the idea of a kid following rabbit tracks in a blizzard to be complete and utter idiocy. Number one, you’d never seen them, they would get drifted over by snow instantly! And even if they didn’t, you’d STILL never be able to see them in the blinding snow and wind.

“Joey,” Mrs. Bowers says again, blankly.

DAGNY: Joey, I’m not angry anymore!

But enough about them, we’ve got a lot of other characters to report on too. Laura, Mary and Carrie are still lost.

OLIVE: Is that really Carrie?

ROMAN: No, they just wrapped another child in a scarf and pushed it in front of the camera.

Carrie is having trouble keeping the pace.

WILL: This is their chance to leave her behind!

OLIVE: Oh my God, Dad.

And Jim Bowers and Ted McGinnis are still searching for their kids.

McGinnis steps on a lump in the snow.

WILL: Is that Carrie???

But sadly no, it’s Joey Bowers.

He’s still alive, so Jim carries him back to town. (I suppose he probably would have done that either way.)

Ted McGinnis, on the other hand, continues searching for Henry. Big uh-oh.

Meanwhile, Mary declares they’re close to “the Linderman farm” (another heretofore unmentioned name), whilst Laura helps Carrie.

DAGNY: Now THAT Carrie is definitely a doll.

Laura snaps that the Linderman farm burned down years ago, but Mary says there’s a shed that’s still standing.

Back in the school, Mrs. Foster is groping a girl’s chest, which I’d say crosses a line, even for her.

Grace tells Caroline she’s having some mental health issues, which Caroline says is understandable.

Jim and Joey Bowers return at this point.

Lottie McGinnis approaches Jim and says “Where’s my husband.” Her manner and speech are quite weird; Luana Anders plays her very flat (too flat?) for some reason.

Jim tells her Ted’s still looking for Henry, but Lottie informs him Henry has already been saved. This was honestly not the best-thought-out rescue effort, just randomly wandering out from the urban core, but I don’t know what other choice they had, I suppose.

The cut to commercial feels quite wrenching this time.

When we come back, the Ing-Gals have made it to the shed. Mary gets out her Christmas candle and Christmas matches.

“Try to block the wind!” she shouts authoritatively. Melissa Sue Anderson plays her like Ernest Shackleton in this one.

Cap’n Mary
“Heave away, boys! Haul away, boys!”

After some boneheaded struggles, Mary gets a fire going.

WILL: She lights matches about as well as Ma peels apples.

Previously on Little House

(But I suppose Mary has a reason to be afraid of fire, after all.) 

Previously on Little House

(And just wait.)

Anyways, for fuel Mary burns the hay on the floor. Do NOT do the same thing at home, everyone.

“My feet are burning!” slurps Carrie. It’s always feet with her, isn’t it?

Previously on Little House

In the heart of the storm, Charles and Mr. Edwards are still searching. Mr. Ed says they should turn around because “we’re almost to the old Linderman place.”

“Wait!” screams Charles, and starts digging something out of the snow. 

WILL: Is THAT Carrie?

OLIVE: How many dead-Carrie jokes are you going to make in this one?

WILL: We’ll soon find out.

But no, it’s actually Laura’s calendar, so they know they’re on the right track.

OLIVE: I don’t believe that.

WILL: Well, it’s like when they find that cross she threw in the river and know which mountain to go up.

OLIVE: Oh, Little House.

Previously on Little House

Meanwhile, Ted McGinnis is screaming “Henry, Henry!” into the snow. The tone of this one, I should mention, is very stark – there’s relatively little music.

OLIVE: The lust-muffin is doomed. At least they got in one last make-out sesh before he died.

WILL: He looks a little like Steve Martin here.

On cue, McGinnis collapses.

Then Pa and Mr. Ed find the girls in the shack. They seem to be okay.

The Ingallses begin the trek back to Walnut Grove, whilst Mr. Edwards soldiers on alone.

OLIVE: Does Mr. Edwards just walk away, and that’s how we get Jonathan Garvey?

ROMAN: Yeah, and four years later he just thaws out singing “Old Dan Tucker.”

Back in town, Mr. Hanson and Nels return with some additional kids. 

DAGNY: Their eyebrows are a nice touch.

This leads to an odd exchange.

MRS. OLESON: Nels, are you all right?

NELS [shivering]: . . . Just fine. . . . How many are still missing?

MRS. OLESON: The Ingalls girls and Edwards children.

NELS: We’ll rest a while . . . and then . . . we’ll go out again.

MRS. OLESON: No, Nels, you can’t! The kerosene’s almost gone, the temperature’s still dropping –

MR. HANSON [shivering]: He can’t hear you.

MRS. OLESON: What?

MR. HANSON: He . . . is asleep. . . . Total exhaustion. . . . He will sleep for hours.

OLIVE: Huh? What just happened?

DAGNY: How did he know Nels was asleep? And how long he’ll sleep? Is he some kind of sleep doctor?

WILL: Well, he sleeps WITH a doctor.

Out in the snow again, Pa and the girls find Ted the Dead.

ROMAN: Set him on fire, it’s a good way to tell if he’s alive.

WILL: Yeah. Or if he’s The Thing.

I say “Ted the Dead” not because there’s anything funny about death, obviously, but because when I was growing up in Wisconsin, there was a midnight movie host on local TV called Ned the Dead.

Quality stuff

Meanwhile, in the church, things have quieted down.

OLIVE: A little bit, doesn’t this seem kind of fun?

Grace jumps up in exasperation.

WILL [as GRACE, hysterically]: “I just pray that John’s all right at home!”

No, actually Grace wants to go out searching for her other kids and husband. Caroline and Doc have to physically restrain her.

With extra-bad timing, Charles, Mary, Laura, and Carrie arrive.

“Isaiah,” Grace says. “Where is he?”

OLIVE [as CHARLES]: “He went lookin’ for his moonshine stash!”

When Grace finds out Mr. Ed’s whereabouts are unknown, she makes a disturbing face and paces about.

Doc comes over and tells Charles the girls are going to be fine (so maybe they’re in trouble after all, ha ha). 

Charles tells Doc that Ted McGinnis didn’t make it.

Some time must have passed, because Nels, presumably having slept “for hours,” is now up and about and futzing with the fire.

Caroline and Grace are rubbing kids’ feet again. Grace goes full-on Mad Scene, saying, “Isaiah and the children’ll be here any minute! He spent his whole life in the mountains! . . . Why, this is just another little snowfall for him!” 

Then we hear Lottie McGinnis scream out “No, oh God, no!”

WILL: Doc must have proposed to her.

OLIVE [as DOC]: “I’d say your husband was still alive . . . but that would be LAME.”

Well, eventually, dawn comes. Everyone is asleep in the church.

WILL: Reverend Alden should kick the door open and go, “Just what the hell is going on here!”

Charles wakes up first, and, realizing the storm is over and the Sanderson-Edwardses have not returned, he shouts at everyone to get up . . .

. . . only just then, Mr. Ed and Co. come through the door – in jolly moods, even. 

WILL: John should be with them.

DAGNY [as JOHN]: “Nothing like a snowy day for READING!”

Well, John or no John, Grace freaks out. Bonnie Bartlett’s a little over the top in this one too.

Mr. Edwards said they only survived because the ingenious Carl made them an igloo. (He says it a little more racistly than that.)

Everyone laughs and cheers and Mr. Edwards actually moves to pass the booze bottles around.

But then, Charles notices the widowed Lottie and orphaned Henry standing aside in grief.

OLIVE: Wow, he really does look like her. 

So Charles does just what you or I would do, grabs a Bible and starts yelling the Nativity story angrily at everybody. (Luke’s version.) 

Mary weeps and everyone else feels embarrassed. Well, it is a bit inappropriate. You’d think they’d at least go find out who was alive before just starting the Christmas Party as planned.

No, I don’t know why Mrs. Lavish is stroking Joey Bowers’s arm.

By the way, Mustache Man and Carl the Flunky are still missing at the end of the episode, but nobody notices or cares.

WILL: And where was Mr. Sprague through all this? They said they were going to round up all the men in town.

DAGNY: Maybe he lives out in the country.

WILL: Nah, he lives over the bank.

DAGNY: Well, who knows.

Who knows, indeed. Bum-Bum-Bah-Bum!

STYLE WATCH: The Springfield Train Ticket Guy wears an interesting crocheted vest. He also hands Charles a nice stripey clipboard at one point.

We get Tartan Nellie yet again, plus she wears her Little Riding Riding Hood getup. Willie also wears an unusual plaid shirt.

Mary has a nice winter coat.

Caroline wears her (sexy) brown dress for the first time in a while.

And Charles appears to go commando again.

THE VERDICT: You know, bringing nearly every important character in the Little House universe into a story like this would overwhelm many writers. But Paul W. Cooper makes sure they don’t get lost in his script. Everybody gets something significant to do (except Nellie, who’s strangely mute in this one).

Think about it – Grace goes nuts, Nels and Mr. Hanson bicker and freeze together, Mary commands the Ing-Gals’ expedition home, Laura drops her calendar, Mrs. Oleson shows her softer side with Mr. Edwards, Willie shows his with Miss Beadle, etc., etc. Carl Sanderson even gets to make an igloo, albeit offscreen. It could be taught in a screenwriting class.

In some ways it is a more Christmas-y remake of Cooper’s “Little Girl Lost,” with its children in jeopardy, hysterical mother, Beadle-blaming, etc. I like that story a touch more – but there’s no denying “Blizzard” deserves its iconic status. Little House at its finest. 

UP NEXT: “I’ll Ride the Wind” [sic]

Published by willkaiser

I live in the Upper Midwest. My name's not really Will Kaiser, but he and I have essentially the same personality.

5 thoughts on “Blizzard

  1. Great recap. I prefer this episode over “little girl lost.” And can I just say I cannot wait until you publish “I’ll ride the wind”. Definitely one of my favorites. Just watched “may we make them proud pt. 1”. The fire scene still gets me. We’re still waiting for snow here in New Jersey. Keep warm & all my best to you and your family for a happy new year.🙋🏻‍♀️

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  2. The Pioneer Girl manuscript was available to read at a university somewhere in Missouri before its publication–I feel like someone from the production company must have gotten a copy, or must have found some of those booklets they sold at some of the home sites. How else would they have known details like Charles Frederick’s name, much less his existence? He wasn’t mentioned in the books. The whole Winoka interlude too has parallels to the Ingalls’s time in Burr Oak, Iowa, which Laura also left out of the books. Somebody on the show must have done some digging for some more info than the books provided– most of the additional literature about the Ingalls and Wilder families came after the show.

    The Long Winter is the best one of the books.

    My brother, who claimed to have been tortured by this show growing up, was once caught by his wife watching this episode.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I get the whole “traumatize“ thing. For me, it’s Part 1 of “may we make them proud”. I made myself watch it the other night when it was on Cozi TV. It’s still a tough watch.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yes, you’re probably right about that, though I can imagine them just taking inspiration from the Children’s Blizzard and running with it as a concept too. The books are a big gap for me; I have only the most basic familiarity with them, and I don’t really like them much. (Sorry, everybody.) That said, their links to the show have become pretty threadbare by this point. As for your brother, I am not surprised by this story. Most people who say they hate Little House either have never seen it or are LIARS.

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