“‘I’ll Break the Wind’”; or
How Good are You at Milking, Mary?
(a recap by Will Kaiser)
TITLE: “I’ll Ride the Wind” [sic]
AIRDATE: January 10, 1977
Written by Harold Swanton
Directed by William F. Claxton
EDITOR’S WARNING: This recap is rated 13+ for more tasteless commentary than usual. Reader discretion is advised. (Even better, why not skip it altogether and do something productive for a change?)
SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: John Junior faces a Hobson’s choice when he learns he must wed Mary at once or be written off the show.
(Mind you, not the mean pig-farming Hobsons from Season Two.)
RECAP: A treat this week! For this episode, we hosted two of Little House fandom’s glitterati: Angie Bailey and Susie Shubert.
Together, they’ve coauthored the upcoming book Little House Life Hacks.
Susie also recently launched an entertaining podcast called The Knitty Gritty that’s cohosted by Melissa. Gilbert. Herself.
The best part is, this get-together was in person! That’s a rare thing these days, isn’t it, meeting people from the internet in real life, for non-nefarious purposes. Maybe not for you? It is for us, anyways.
Angie and Susie were extremely charming and we had a lovely time. In retrospect, we should have taken a picture. I don’t think anybody did, though.
(Oh, Roman was around for this one too. Olive was absent this week.)
As is usually the case when Little House fans come together, we began by ritually bathing in the opening-credits sequence.
SUSIE: Ah, the theme.
But then, as is also usually the case when Little House fans come together, we started picking things apart.
SUSIE: This version’s a little off. Isn’t it?
WILL: Yeah, Season Three is my least favorite arrangement.
We talked for a while about why David Rose bothered to make tiny changes to the theme every season – adding whistles when Carrie falls, cutting then restoring the “yadda-dadda-da-dah” trumpet riff, etc.
We had no good answers.
DAGNY: This one’s slow.
ANGIE: Yeah. Plodding.
WILL: I think “horrible” is the word we’re searching for.
Season Three’s arrangement is the one with the slow, “swinging” piano part that backs up the main melody. (No, I couldn’t find a good video link of it to share.)
It’s more rinky-dink than honky-tonk if you ask me. Then again, I suppose whether you prefer rinky-dink or honky-tonk is your business and nobody else’s.
Well, anyways, our story commences with a shot of a field, accompanied by music from Mr. Rose that’s much richer and fruitier than the theme was. You might picture a butterfly warming its wings to it, or maybe a doe nursing a fawn.
The title is revealed, and it suggests other musical possibilities.
WILL [as CHRISTOPHER CROSS, singing:] “And I’ve got such a long way to go . . .”
DAGNY [as MICHAEL McDONALD, singing:] “. . . Such a long way to gooooooo . . .”
For whatever reason, the production team places the title inside quotation marks. The first time we’ve seen this, I think.
DAGNY: Who cares?
WILL: Don’t you find that interesting?
This field is being worked by Mr. Edwards and John, who’s been missing this entire season. Not only missing, but unmentioned. You’d be forgiven for assuming he was dead, in fact, but he isn’t. (Yet.)
DAGNY: Wow, they’re haying. We don’t usually see farmwork other than plowing on this show.
John immediately becomes distracted from his labors by a bird. “A soaring hawk!” he cries, or perhaps exclaims is a better word.
SUSIE: Well, he looks hot and bothered. I always had a crush on John. Actually, it continues to this day. Maybe I shouldn’t say that?
WILL: It’s okay, I won’t put it in.
Mr. Edwards says, “Oh, yeah – chickenhawk.” As we noted in the baseball episode, “chickenhawk” is more a rustic nickname for raptors than an actual species.
John says, “What do you suppose is going on in his head? . . . What’s he thinking? He’s got a brain like we have, got a heart.”
Poor Mr. Ed looks like he doesn’t know whether to laugh or weep at this idiocy.
Ultimately, he says, “I suspect that’s the difference between us – you’re ridin’ the wind, and me, I’m just ridin’ a hay wagon.”
DAGNY: Thanks, Little House, for explaining the title.
WILL: “He’s Like the Wind” would also have been good, don’t you think?
Soon the Sanderson-Edwardses are driving away with their load of hay. It’s like an image out of Bruegel, or somebody.
Suddenly, we see Mary running and calling for John. She’s brought him a letter.
WILL: And the character assassination of John begins.
DAGNY: I know you’re a man, but being in a love story isn’t character assassination.
The letter is from the publisher of something called Pathfinder, expressing interest in a submission John sent titled Prairie Songs.
The publisher indicates someone called “Mr. Frederick Deering” will be dispatched to discuss the submission with him in person. I’m surprised John doesn’t experience PTSD after reading the name, actually. You know, given his traumatic history with deer.
Anyways, it’s noteworthy that Pathfinder was a real magazine. It didn’t actually launch until 1894 (no, even I won’t speculate that 14 years have passed since last week’s story). But it was in print for six decades.
Given this longevity, it’s surprising there isn’t more about Pathfinder online. Some apparently consider it the precursor to Time Magazine, others a mouthpiece for Republican propaganda. (Still others consider it both or neither, presumably; and the rest I suppose would have no opinion or knowledge of the matter.)
The target audience for the magazine, interestingly, was farmers, so it’s a nice historical touch including it here.
Mary grins whilst John says, “I’m gonna get paid for doing what I love best in all the world!”
Then he corrects himself and says, “Second best.”
ROMAN: So MARY is what he likes “doing” best of all?
So, John has been missing since he and Mary began courting last season.
He was nowhere to be found when the whole town rallied to rescue Carrie from the pit.
He skipped the dance party when Mary’s mad grandpa came to town.
He avoided getting an ass-butt from Fred the goat. (That would have been great.)
And he was unaccounted for during the crisis of the Christmas Blizzard last week.
He wasn’t even around when Mary, his GIRLFRIEND, was getting beaten up at school.
Anyways, Mary grins harder and says, “I’m so happy for you!”
WILL: Her smile couldn’t get any bigger. You can tell Melissa Sue Anderson is glad he’s leaving.
Okay, so we don’t pay much attention to behind-the-scenes shenanigans here. (It is a point of honor.)
But, it’s well known how MSA and Radames Pera struggled to achieve chemistry on or off the Little House set.
ANGIE: Is that how it’s pronounced? “Rah-dah-mez”?
WILL: I think so. It’s from the opera Aïda.
Of course, as everyone reading this knows, for whatever reasons, Anderson failed to “click” with a few of her costars offscreen. And yet, it’s rare to detect that in her performances with Melissa Gilbert, Alison Arngrim, or whomever.
In fact, when our daughter Amelia first joined this project, she was surprised to learn the two Melissas weren’t best friends in real life (!). She thought their rapport onscreen seemed that comfortable.
But with Melissa Sue and Rah-dah-mez, I think you can tell they don’t like each other. Of course, she didn’t have to kiss Gilbert or Arngrim. I’m sure it can make a difference.
And also of course, growing tensions between Michael Landon and Victor French (which we’ll go into at a later date) are what’s usually cited as the reason for John and the other Sanderson-Edwardses being written off.
But I’m getting ahead of things again. Anyways, John blah-blahs how being a writer will allow him to travel the world. He says he might even visit Timbuktu (a real place, but one that’s such a cliché for an impossibly far-away land, many people think it’s imaginary).
Mary and John walk along Plum Creek fantasizing how one day they’ll be married with their own homestead, horses . . . and cows.
And then John says:
JOHN: How good are you at milking?
Another Little House Quote for the Ages.
Mary says she’s very good at milking.
DAGNY [as MARY]: “Would you like a demonstration, John?”
No demonstration from Mary is forthcoming. They continue along, Mary managing simultaneously to hold John’s hand, walk over rocks, and do her classic arm-swingin’ walk.
John suddenly stops and says he never properly asked Mary for her hand.
SUSIE: Look at those eyes! Look at his hair-wings!
ANGIE: So seventies. Watch out, Farrah.
Mary says he did ask, but he says, “That was yesterday – when I was a boy.”
WILL: Good grief, what a line.
DAGNY: Is it just me, or has his hairstyle changed since the opening scene?
SUSIE: Yes, it has.
So then John says, “Mary Ingalls . . . I love you very much. More than anything in the world! I want you to be my wife.”
“Thank you, John,” says Mary.
(Red-hot dialogue, huh? This one was written by Harold Swanton.)
They give each other a kiss that’s very chaste – not least compared to the randy McGinnises of last week.
So, as I suggested, Melissa Sue Anderson was reportedly uneasy about her love scenes with Radames Pera.
WILL: She must have got over it pretty quick, though. Did you guys ever see her on Love Boat?
DAGNY: It’s the grossest story in Love Boat history.
WILL: And that’s saying something.
DAGNY: She plays a minor who wants Bernie Kopell to take her virginity.
ANGIE: What? Oh my God.
DAGNY: Yeah. Doc refuses, thank goodness.
(NOTE: We went into this Love Boat episode, “Chubs,” in detail in a previous recap.)
SUSIE: You know, they should have done the exact same plot with Doc on THIS show! It would work PERFECTLY!
It’s hard to argue with this.
Anyways, we then cut to the dinner table at the Old Sanderson Place.
After Grace says grace (haw haw, Little House), Mr. Edwards launches an inquiry into how John’s poems got submitted to a dad-burn magazine in the first place.
Apparently Schemin’ Bead had a hand in it. (No surprise there.)
But it’s clear the conspiracy was principally orchestrated by Grace.
The family has a little whimsical conversation about whether a poem’s worth is determined by weighing it on a scale like corn.
Carl isn’t fooled, though.
(Swanton’s scripts are always quite funny like this.)
John starts going on, without irony, about how the letter proves he’ll make his living exclusively from creative writing! (It’s what every wannabe writer feels upon receiving their first acceptance letter.)
Mr. Edwards can’t believe anyone writes for their job. Surely he knows better, right? I mean, even he’s read a McGuffey by this point. Does he think Miss Beadle wrote it in her spare time?
Amused by his father’s philistinism, John then shocks everyone by joking he got somebody pregnant. (He is believably written as a teenage boy at times.)
But he quickly reveals this somebody is Mary, and she’s simply betrothed, not knocked up.
Carl and Alicia make nervous faces at this. I suppose after the pregnancy gag they wouldn’t know what to think.
In fact, the whole family just makes faces and says nothing, until Grace breaks the silence with a shocked – but well-timed – laugh.
Meanwhile at the Little House, various Ingallses mill about. Pa says, “Have you heard any talk about the Rasmussens?”
No one cares for this topic.
Mary suddenly shouts down from the loft that John has sold some of his writing.
“That’s very good, I know!” Pa says. Apparently he doesn’t mind them being uninterested in his hot Rasmussen goss.
Then he adds, “Gonna be nice having a working poet around Walnut Grove!” (It is? Why?)
But then ah ha ha, apparently Pa has not given up on the Rasmussens after all, because now he says he wants to buy their horse if the family is moving away, as rumored. (The Ingallses are short one horse at present.)
Mary changes the subject back to John, referring again to the mysterious Frederick Deering.
Pa is surely stoned by this point (he is smoking), because he just smiles blandly and continues rambling to himself. “You know, that mare’s got to be sixteen hands high,” he says. “Can’t be more than six years old.”
Then he says, “We’re gonna have to put that black horse out to pasture pretty soon.”
WILL: Wait, what? What black horse? Bunny is dead. The Chonkies aren’t even close to black-colored!
DAGNY: No need to get hysterical.
ROMAN: Maybe Charles is color-blind. It explains why he wears pink every day.
Mary fights back, shouting that John’s letter was signed by the editor of the Pathfinder himself, Jeremy Hollis. (Fictional.)
I’m surprised Laura doesn’t bolt, trapped as she is between these two topics.
Then Mary says she and John are going to start saving money together; and that gets Pa’s full attention, finally.
Literally glowing, it seems, Mary says she and John will need to save . . . so they can afford a home of their own!
ANGIE: Wow, who did the hair on this episode?
Of all the things we’ve discussed about this show so far, hair hasn’t really been one of them. (I think we did touch on the subject of Alison Arngrim’s uncomfortable Nellie wigs at one point, I think.)
Well, the hair on the show so far has all been done by Larry Germain, a guy with literally hundreds of credits to his name. These include some real biggies, like To Kill a Mockingbird, Psycho, Spartacus, and the original version of The Thing.
He also worked on some personal faves of mine (the weird Clint Eastwood Civil War movie The Beguiled, e.g.), some plain oddities (Thoroughly Modern Millie), and the TV version of The Miracle Worker that starred our own Melissa Gilbert as Helen Keller (for which he won an Emmy).
He would go on to style the cast members’ hair for several more seasons. The last episode he worked on was “Sylvia,” after which, sadly, he died.
(Of fright, surely. That one is so scary.)
Mary disappears then, and Ma and Pa debrief, er, briefly.
Pa points out Mary is “only thirteen years old.” It’s the first time Mary’s age has been directly stated, or even indirectly stated, I think. (Melissa Sue Anderson would have been thirteen or fourteen, depending on when the episode was filmed. The real Mary Ingalls was born in 1865. And judging the TV Mary’s age in terms of notoriously unstable Little House Universe Time, or LHUT, she could be as old as 33 here.)
Pa goes with thirteen, though, so I will too. Ma says thirteen is roughly the age they were when they started courting.
Laura fangs out at this, quite terrifyingly. Is there a full moon?
(A sidebar. It sounds silly, but when we interviewed her in November, Melissa Gilbert mentioned, I believe, that she thought all the Little House werewolf stories were “just moronic.” But I can only think of one werewolf-themed episode, “The Werewolf of Walnut Grove.”)
(And please don’t send in cards and letters telling me I forgot “The Monster of Walnut Grove.” Although there is a(n anachronistic) full moon in that story, there’s no werewolf in it, just a headless horseman, and of course an insane murderer named Nels Oleson.)
(I also don’t count the stories where Mr. Hanson just looks like a werewolf, obviously.)
(But consider this. While Laura did not metamorphose into a werewolf in “Monster,” she did run around all night under the full moon. . . . Is it possible Laura was actually bitten by a werewolf that night without realizing it?)
(Think about it! Her teeth! Her fondness for dogs, raccoons and the like! Her bursts of rage and violence! . . . Evidence inconclusive, but let’s keep our eye on this.)
After a break, Charles and Mr. Edwards are riding together in a wagon discussing how they might soon become in-laws.
Charles says not to worry, Mary can’t get married till she’s fifteen. He’s sure this laughably strict policy will drive John off.
Mr. Ed then says the only way you could afford to be a full-time poet is to be rich to begin with. As an example, he mentions Lord Byron, whom we know John told him all about in “His Father’s Son.” (Byron’s family finances were complicated, but certainly he became wealthy over time.)
Mr. Edwards says even he (Mr. Edwards, that is, not Lord Byron) had learned more about life than John at his age. (Considering Mr. Ed was actively terrorizing the Mankato citizenry when Charles picked him up in the first place, maybe it’s not a bad thing their upbringings were different.)
Then we see him and John haying again. Carl comes running out to tell them the Pathfinder guy’s here, complete with store-bought suit, satchel and necktie.
They rush back to the Old Sanderson Place, where we hear Mr. Deering’s voice as Mr. Edwards gets a little coffee. We see their cookstove is a Majestic (made in St. Louis beginning in the 1880s).
The camera pans into the living room, where Deering, a little dried-up-looking city man, is sitting before the fireplace talking to John.
The gist of his remarks: Whatever “it” is, John’s GOT it.
WILL: This guy gives me the creeps.
SUSIE: Yeah, why is he sitting and John’s standing? It’s suggestive.
ANGIE: That’s probably why he has that store-bought satchel in his lap!
Creepy or not, the actor, Walker Edmiston, has one of the most fun CVs of any guest we’ve had on the show so far. He was an actor, voice talent, and puppeteer who was a regular on Land of the Lost and guested on the original Star Trek five times!
He was the voice of Slugworth in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory and of the orphaned baby chimp in Escape From the Planet of the Apes.
He did characters on The Flintstones, H.R. Pufnstuf AND Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, The Transformers, The Smurfs, and many more.
Not-so-fun fact: He also did voices for a long-running children’s radio program produced by the long-running hate and censorship group Focus on the Family. (Can’t win ’em all.)
Anyways, like all the best authors, John feels his writing is magically inspired and, well, just perfection realized here on Earth. Asked about his discipline, he says he just lets his own brilliance transport him.
JOHN: I can lie on my back, and let my mind go, and things happen.
SUSIE [as DEERING, creepily]: “On your back, things happen, huh? Well, that I’d like to see.”
Then Mr. Deering says he actually isn’t buying John’s poems, but rather giving him a university scholarship so he can develop his skills further. He says Pathfinder gives such a scholarship “each spring” to a writer “from the farming community.”
(In Minnesota, the alfalfa hay harvest begins in June, so I guess we can date this story to early June of 1881, in the C timeline. That lines up, since that year there was a full moon on June 12th.)
Deering says a young writer’s talent is like “seed corn” that “in a dozen years” might produce “another Sam Clemens [or] Cullen Bryant.”
Sam Clemens, of course, was Mark Twain, still very much alive at this point. In fact, of his best-known novels, only Tom Sawyer was published in the United States by 1881. He was well known as an author of short stories, though.
Deering’s use of Twain’s real name is something I’m not sure about – Clemens had been writing as “Mark Twain” for nearly 20 years by this point, so I’m not sure why Deering doesn’t call him that.
William Cullen Bryant I had to look up. A progressive newspaper editor who was much admired as a poet in his day, Bryant died in 1878.
Mr. Deering doesn’t mention the name or location of the university, but says the scholarship includes “room, board [and] tuition.”
WILL [as DEERING]: “You won’t mind sharing a bed with me, I’m sure!”
SUSIE [as DEERING]: “Ever hear the expression ‘full ride,’ son?”
Mr. Deering hands Grace the paperwork, noting they have a “another boy” in mind if John declines.
ROMAN [as DEERING]: “Willie Oleson.”
Deering departs. Grace is ecstatic, but when she and John turn for Mr. Ed’s reaction, he’s disappeared.
Annoyed, John runs outside to find Edwards has simply gone back to his farmwork without comment.
John says he’ll help with the haying, but Edwards says, “Gonna be a poet, ya got no business pitchin’ hay.” (Amelia is away at college, but let me channel her and say Mr. Ed is a complete dick here.)
ANGIE: John does look like a poet. He has Oscar Wilde hair.
WILL: He does. Of course, so do half the men on this show.
Oscar Wilde, of course, was a major celebrity in the late Nineteenth Century, more famous for his affectations and bitchy quips than his poetry. (I’m a fan, but his poetry is actually really dull.)
ANGIE: John needs a poet shirt. With ruffles.
WILL: Yeah, or a cape!
SUSIE: Capes are expensive. He’ll have to save up for that.
Wilde visited Minnesota as part of a North American tour in 1882, but sadly Landon missed his chance to work him into a Little House story.
Grace follows John and Mr. Ed out, and stands between them and an enormous mountain range.
Mr. Edwards says he guesses he and John are just too different to ever understand each other after all.
WILL: Didn’t they settle all this after the bear attack?
DAGNY: I thought so. It’s like real life, though, these things come up again and again. It’s believable. I mean, not the bear attack.
John tries to tell Mr. Edwards he’s been a wonderful father, but Edwards interrupts him, saying he can’t compare to John’s biological father, the mysterious John Sanderson, Sr.
MR. EDWARDS: I ain’t a patch on yer pa.
SUSIE: “A patch”?
ANGIE: His pa was a pirate.
Mr. E stumps off. Actually, it’s to Victor French’s credit that he plays this scene more with an air of defeat than anything like true meanness or bitterness.
(But there are whiffs of the today’s culture wars about this too, aren’t there? Attack education because you’re afraid what your kids learn will become a barrier between you. . . . Well, whatever, nobody comes here to read stuff like that.)
Anyways, Grace comes forward to explain the situation to poor, simple John Junior.
DAGNY: John is such a dip in this one. Grace is good, though.
WILL: John should just write a crazy “Old Dan Tucker”-type poem and give it to Mr. Edwards. That would win him over.
ROMAN: He wouldn’t be able to read it, though.
John heads off to tell Mary the news, as David brings in a moody solo flute. Dags and I went to a chamber concert last month, and the flute player did some kind of weird thing by Edgar Varèse; sounded quite similar.
Anyways, soon the Little House flute player adopts a lighter tone (I resisted the urge to say “changes their tune”), as John comes bouncing or flouncing up to Casa dell’Ingalls.
Charles says Mary’s studying “under the Big Oak” (whatever that means). Thinking John’s come to ask for her hand, he invites him inside.
But without a word, John runs off, presumably in a Big-Oak-wardly direction.
“Hey, don’t you wanna have a talk?” Charles yells helplessly.
WILL: This is a Comedy Chuck one, in case you haven’t noticed.
John finds Mary sitting in the Big Oak, which is next to Plum Creek, apparently.
ANGIE: She looks Photoshopped.
John tells Mary about the scholarship, saying he’s the only kid in “the whole district” to receive it. (Not sure what “district” he’s referring to – the school district? Minnesota? The Upper Midwest? Must have been in the fine print of Deering’s paperwork.)
Mary looks confused, but John says Mr. Deering said he’d make a great writer someday, “like Mark Twain or Robert Burns!”
Deering didn’t actually mention Burns, but John wisely picks somebody with more name recognition than William Cullen Bryant.
DAGNY: Can you quote any Burns off the top of your head?
WILL: I don’t think so. “A Man’s a Man for A’ That” is what they play when the haggis comes in on Burns Night.
We’ve thrown a Burns Night party some years, though it’s more because we think Scottish stuff is fun (plus Dagny has Scots blood on her dad’s side) than out of any real affinity for Burns himself. (He is a controversial figure these days.)
But I will tell you no matter what else he did, Burns wrote and edited some exceptionally dirty poems, which (perhaps because of the, erm, timelessness of the subject matter) are easier to decipher than his more serious “ken ye nae reekit sleekit” stuff. (No offense, Scots speakers, I love you, please don’t turn against me.)
Known as The Merry Muses of Caledonia, these poems are not at all appropriate for a 7+ blog like this; but here’s one that will give you the flavor:
Wad Ye Dae That?
Gudewife, when your gudeman’s frae hame,
Micht I but be sae bauld,
As come to your bed-chaumer,
When winter nichts are cauld;
As come to your bed-chaumer,
When nichts are cauld an wat,
An lie in your gudeman’s steed,
Wad ye dae that?
Young man, an ye should be sae kind,
When oor gudeman’s frae hame,
As come to my bed-chaumer,
Where I am laid my lane;
An lie in oor gudeman’s steed,
I will tell you what,
He fucks me five times ilka nicht,
Wad ye dae that?
That one brings me joy, for some reason.
But never mind that now. Needless to say, Mary and John’s discourse in this scene doesn’t approach this level of raunch.
WILL: This show’s almost always seven-plus, but this one’s thirteen-plus. Why? Doesn’t seem like there’s anything too suggestive.
ROMAN: Probably because thirteen-year-olds get married in it.
SUSIE: Maybe as we go on we get a look at John’s husband-bulge or something.
I was unfamiliar with the slang term “husband-bulge” (I won’t tell you what it means), but Susie says it isn’t original to her.
Whatever the reason, John tells Mary he’ll only be gone for four years. Mary makes a weird face and mutters “four years” to herself.
WILL: That’s not actually that long for the Nineteenth Century. Imagine if he were a sailor or a soldier.
(I don’t think there’s a more poignant musical treatment of such a situation than this:)
John says he’ll get two or three weeks off every summer.
This seemed strange to me, so I tried to look up an academic calendar for the 1880s from my own alma mater in Wisconsin.
They didn’t have them online, but I found I could purchase a hard copy – for $63.87! Fat chance, Milwaukee-Downer College!
Fortunately, Taylor University in Indiana is less mercenary, and according to their online records, their 1881-1882 academic year began on August 30th and ended on June 23rd. Did John mean to say two or three months?
Oh well, regardless, John says he’ll be home at Christmas too, so that means he’ll see her twice a year.
SUSIE [as MARY]: “But I won’t be seeing YOU.”
ANGIE [as MARY]: “Or anything, in a year or two.”
Mary says John’s going to be very changed when he comes back from Chicago.
WILL: Who said anything about Chicago? He didn’t say where the college is. In fact, that guy didn’t even say.
ROMAN: Chicago had the only university in the country at that time, Stepfather.
WILL: Just think, if she’d married John, Mary’s baby never would have died. They’d be alive and happy living in Chicago.
DAGNY: Yeah. It’s like Sliding Doors. Mary is sort of the Gwyneth Paltrow of this show.
WILL: I think the whole family should go to Chicago. It’s better than Winoka.
ROMAN: I can see it. Carrie in the city, begging for molasses in the streets.
Mary’s attitude about the whole business is pretty pooh-pooh. She insists John accept the scholarship, but implies it’ll ruin their relationship.
ANGIE: I always wanted to be Laura rather than Mary.
SUSIE: Oh, I wanted to be Mary.
WILL: I identified with John when I was young. That’s why the arc of his story makes me so mad. Although, it’s not totally unbelievable. You know, college. . . .
Back at the Old Sanderson Place, Grace is embroidering. I wonder if she misses her midwife and postmistress gigs?
A longing oboe plays John through the front door. Some hours have passed, apparently, because he says he missed supper. Grace brings him a sandwich.
DAGNY: Those are huge slices of bread.
ANGIE: And a huge glass of milk.
WILL: Yeah. That’s an Imperial pint if I’ve ever seen one.
John tells her he’s agonizing over the decision whether to go. She sits down and gives John a loving look.
She says there’s really no question in her mind about it, and adds, “You’ll ride the wind one day, John.”
WILL: You know, wind is always a BAD omen on this show.
ANGIE: Even in a metaphor, it’s a curse.
The funny thing is, Grace was not even present when Mr. Edwards made his comment about John “riding the wind” during their conversation about the stupid hawk. And it’s hard to imagine either of them telling her about it . . . isn’t it?
But that doesn’t matter. Today, Grace is full of sensible advice. She points out John shouldn’t fret about himself or Mary changing, because everything is changing all the time – that’s life.
WILL [as GRACE]: “Do you think I don’t wish I could go back to how things were before you kids came? But I can’t.”
Joking aside, I think this is probably Bonnie Bartlett’s best performance. As you probably know, Grace won’t be with us much longer on the show.
As we rewatch the series for this project, I am discovering I’m really enormously fond of some characters who were never previous favorites of mine. (Miss Beadle and Mr. Hanson are two others.)
Despite Grace’s limited screen time, Bartlett has really developed her from the uptight, Bible-thumping teetotaler of “Mr. Edward’s [sic] Homecoming” into a woman of warmth, wisdom and hard-earned experience.
I think Grace’s experience with Mr. Edwards and the kids (maybe John especially) changes her. In both “His Father’s Son” and here, she’s sort of the opposite of how she was in “Homecoming.” She decides being so rigid isn’t worth it with people you love, and she resents Mr. E’s “I’ll never understand that kid” attitude.
True character growth is pretty unusual for Little House. People either change all at once, or they learn things but forget them by the beginning of the next episode. (Think of Mrs. Oleson.)
Another thing that’s changed: The fake Southern accent Grace had early on in the series has about 80 percent disappeared by this point.
WILL [to DAGNY]: I think Nyssa is still having tummy troubles. She’s farting like crazy.
DAGNY: I’m glad you said something. I was afraid it was one of us.
WILL: Well, it just adds to the rustic farm atmosphere of the show.
(Although I don’t mention her often, Nyssa is our lovely dog, who has been present, if asleep, for all these viewings.)
ANGIE: That would be another good title – “I’ll Break the Wind.”
WILL: Ha! I love that.
DAGNY: We do a “wind-relieving pose” in yoga.
SUSIE: Yeah, there are all kinds of wind. Remember when Whoopi Goldberg said, “What color is my wind?”
I paused the video so we could chat about flatulence for a while. It was mostly Susie who held the floor.
SUSIE: Think of Pa’s popcorn farts in bed!
SUSIE: Or Pa’s Dutch oven – his only contribution in the kitchen!
I think you’ll agree, you couldn’t hit a higher note than that on this topic, so at this point we resumed play.
The next day, possibly, John is goofing off with the horses outside when Carl calls him for breakfast.
WILL: John’s pretty high-waisted.
SUSIE: Yeah, in his purple pants.
I would add a tag at this point for “Men Who Wear Pink or Purple,” but that would cover literally every episode.
Inside, John declares he has something to share. His manner is quite brusque.
He says he’s going to pass on the scholarship. “Oh, John,” says Grace in dismay.
Unlike when Deering was in the house, Mr. Edwards is all eyes and ears this time.
John says he’s made up his mind, he’s going to “stay here and farm with Isaiah.” (Huh? He addressed him as Pa earlier.)
He speaks snappishly to Grace about how becoming a writer was never a sure thing anyways.
SUSIE: Now he looks like Helen Reddy.
Grace, to her credit, argues back quite vigorously. Carl and Alicia, since Swanton’s given them nothing to say, say nothing.
Mr. Edwards leaps up in delight and tells John to go fetch Mary. John says she’s probably already headed to school. It might seem this casts into doubt that this story is set in mid-June . . . but they probably had some snow days to make up after a certain fucking blizzard, am I right?
Grace prods her husband to put a stop to this, but Mr. E says John’s made up his mind, and that’s that. He’s pretty sexist about it, characterizing it as “a man’s decision.”
Grace calls bullshit on this, though, and storms off. Good for her.
Mr. Edwards looks conflicted for a moment – another good choice by French if he wants us to keep from hating the character – then shakes off his doubt and exits.
Meanwhile, at the Little House, Jack is barking stupidly, and Caroline is demonstrating her own milking techniques.
WILL: She should sing the song from “Big Business”!
(Underrated film. Pauline Kael loved it.)
Caroline sees John approaching and says, “Chaaarles . . .”
Charles comes out of the barn and tries to have “the talk” with John, but he ducks out again.
David gives us some exciting music as John catches Mary and Laura on the way to school. He drags Mary off, whilst Laura throws a stick in irritation.
We don’t know exactly where the Old Sanderson Place is located, except that it’s likely east of the Little House (since the Sandersons pass the vicinity on their way to school).
The knowledge that the OSP property is adjacent to that of somebody named Walker is not particularly helpful.
When they reach Mr. Edwards, he gestures joyously at a field and tells them he’s gifting them 80 acres of land. John and Mary giggle in delight.
Mr. Ed proposes they plant winter wheat there.
WILL: Is John short? He looks short here.
DAGNY: Nah, I think Mary’s just tall.
SUSIE: Yeah, he’s a tall drink of water.
ANGIE: Or pint of milk.
SUSIE: Yeah. Not a half pint.
Then Mr. Edwards grabs Mary by the face and screams they can even dig a well there.
DAGNY: No one wants their head grabbed with both hands, ever.
Mr. Edwards goes on, fairly ridiculously if you ask me, for some time.
But actually, this really is a sad story. My interpretation is that, for all his bluster about him and John being so “different,” it really comes down to him not wanting to lose John from his community and his life. It was different back then. If John settled in some far-away city, he’d scarcely ever see him again. (Cf. Lansford and Charles in “Journey in the Spring.”)
And he knows how unlikely it is a university-educated person would ever return permanently to Walnut Grove. I understand the dynamics. I moved away from the country too after college; and to say Mr. Ed is just a selfish asshole in this one (as Amelia would, if she were here) is an uncharitable, though not impossible, way to read this story.
WILL: You know, John is also Sliding Doors. If he had listened to Mr. Ed and stayed in Minnesota, he never would have been killed in the mysterious streetcar accident.
DAGNY: John IS sort of the Gwyneth Paltrow of this show.
Anyways, Mr. Edwards declares they will start building a house immediately, saying he’s already bought a “jag of lumber” (an old-fashioned forestry term, origin unfound-by-me) from Mr. Hanson for the purpose. Really? Even though they can’t get married for another two years? Seems a risky investment.
Mr. Edwards says, “She’s here. She’s all yours. You can go to work on her tomorrow.”
ROMAN: On Mary???
Group hug. (A lot of that in the Nineteenth Century, was there . . . ?)
After a break, we find the Ingalls family at home, having dinner. Mary has no appetite, and Pa wonders what’s up.
ANGIE: The Clairol’s not looking so good tonight, Charles.
A knock announces John at the door. Pa steps outside.
DAGNY: I love how open Charles’ shirt is.
SUSIE: Yeah. I bet he’s all baby-oiled-up underneath. . . .
Charles and John have this long, tortured conversation about John marrying Mary.
DAGNY: Is Charles going to give him the facts of life?
ANGIE: He reads smutty French poetry, he knows.
At one point, Charles says, “Take a deep breath, boy, and swallow hard and say it.”
ANGIE: Ha! “Take a deep breath, boy”!
SUSIE: And “swallow hard”! This is a dirty one.
And with that, I think this recap has truly reached the thirteen-plus content threshold. The squeamish are of course free to bail at any point.
Well, Pa gives John his blessing, and they put some really cool lighting on Michael Landon.
ANGIE: He likes John.
SUSIE: Not for long.
WILL: I’m still surprised he doesn’t beat the shit out of him in Chicago.
Anyways, the niceties out of the way, Pa suddenly harangues John about passing up the university scholarship.
Finally, Charles drops the bomb that John can’t marry Mary until she’s fifteen. John is surprised (I thought Pa circulated that policy in advance, to scare him off?), but says fine.
Incidentally, you may remember that John turned fourteen in “His Father’s Son.” Good Lord, that was in the A timeline!
That makes it eleven years and two trips backward in time later in LHUT, so it’s fair to say that, despite looking like a sixteen-year-old (Ramades Pera’s real age), John the character can be no younger than 25 here. (And Mary’s even older!)
Back inside, Laura says, “What do you expect he’ll say?”
ROMAN [as CARRIE]: “Oh, damn!”
Pa comes back with this shit-eating grin on his face and makes them beg to hear what was said.
But eventually he tells them and everyone rejoices.
Back at the OSP, a grumpy-looking John is tossing books in a box.
ROMAN: This is like Granville throwing away his morphine.
SUSIE: He should just hide the books in his hair.
The music is quite elaborate, a rich string-quartet-type deal.
ROMAN: You can tell David thinks this story’s boring.
Then we see John working on building his and Mary’s house.
Mary sneaks up behind him, covers his eyes, and says, “Guess who.” (Melissa Sue Anderson manages to do this whilst keeping her other body parts about a foot away from him at all times.)
Swanton gives us a couple interesting historical references here, as John jokingly guesses Jenny Lind or Lillie Langtry.
Jenny Lind was a famous Swedish operatic soprano, a gifted singer and the sexual obsession of people like Felix Mendelssohn and Hans Christian Andersen. She would have been past her prime by this point, though (born 1820).
And Lillie Langtry was a British actress and a major sex symbol at this time. She palled around with Wilde and other arty celebrities, and was the mistress of Edward VII for three years whilst he was Prince of Wales. I wonder where John heard of her? Well, I suppose he does read Pathfinder.
(It’s noteworthy the first two names to John’s lips are Victorian sexpots, isn’t it? Call me crazy, but this kid’s dick might get him in trouble someday.)
Anyways, Mary has brought a book of Robert Burns poems. Boy, if I knew he would hijack this episode, I’d have gotten this recap done by Burns Night for sure.
The book was sent by the Bead. I think it’s clear she’s as disturbed as Grace by John’s choice, and trying to change his mind with coarse erotic verse.
But John refuses this literary seduction.
WILL [as JOHN]: “I hate Scotland!”
Mary protests the book contains the hit singles “Highland Mary” and “Sweet Afton.”
“Highland Mary” was written by Burns in 1792 in memory of one of his more serious girlfriends. Sadly, she died at age 23 (of TYPHUS!!!).
“Sweet Afton” (1791), on the other hand, refers to a river, not a woman. It’s been set to music many different ways, but this is the melody I had to learn when I was taking piano as a little kid:
John get huffy at this and says he has no use for books anymore, since CARPENTRY is now his passion.
DAGNY: Look how he’s holding that hammer. Has he ever used one before?
ANGIE: Nah. But he does want to nail Mary.
Softening, John says, “Mary . . . I am through with writin’.”
WILL: Wow, you can tell he means it. He said “writin’” rather than “writing.”
ROMAN: Can “Old Dan Tucker” be far off?
That night, John mopes alone at the table, whilst Grace leafs through a book.
DAGNY: This is a beautiful shot.
Oh God, it’s Burns again! Grace starts reading aloud from “Mary Morison,” about another tragic real-life person. Wikipedia tells us this Mary:
. . . died young, at the age of 20, being a victim of consumption in 1791. . . . [However,] she had a foot amputated after a horse-riding accident, therefore the cause of death may actually have been septicemia.
She’d fit right in in this town, wouldn’t she!
Suddenly, John shocks us by shouting “GRACE!”, very angrily.
DAGNY: He’s becoming a patriarch.
It’s also interesting he doesn’t call Grace Ma here. He did before. Most likely a Swanton touch to suggest the cosmos becomes unbalanced if John’s not writing poetry.
Mr. Ed comes in with a lot of blabbity about getting John’s first crop planted. He stops, though, when he sees everybody’s in really bad moods.
Grace and Mr. Edwards have a side conversation about how John’s personality is changing for the worse. Grace says he never smiles anymore.
WILL: He’s forgotten how to smile? Like, how long has it been?
DAGNY: One day.
DAGNY: The lighting is so beautiful in this one. You can tell Landon directed it.
Actually, it was CLAX! He must have upped his game, knowing how much praise Landon was getting from Walnut Groovy for his cool visuals. (I know it doesn’t work that way.)
Well, just when you thought things couldn’t get more depressing, we cut back to the Little House.
Mary has brought a chair out so she can read John’s poetry by moonlight.
ROMAN: No wonder she goes blind!
Ma comes out and plays with her shirt cuff for a while.
DAGNY: Is she going to disrobe?
Then Ma thumbs through John’s little booklet. The titles include “Meadowlark,” “Winter Kill,” and “Charlie’s Fiddle.”
Ma reads “Charlie’s Fiddle” silently for exactly seven seconds (time it if you don’t believe me), then exclaims, “How does he do it! How does he put into words exactly what I hear and feel when I hear your pa play!”
WILL: That must have been one hell of a first line.
Then Ma tells Mary how everyone winds up having a horrible life rather than the good one they thought they would. She says Mary should get ready to abandon her old life, since she’ll just be an extension of a man soon.
Mary asks Ma what her “old life” was like, and she sort of glazes over and says, “Can’t remember.”
DAGNY: She can’t remember? Is she a Stepford wife?
She says the dreams of her youth have been utterly destroyed since she got married, and describes the drudgery of her current existence.
ANGIE [as MARY]: Mary should ask why she did it, and she says, “You’ve seen your father, right?”
SUSIE [as MA:] “I mean, LOOK at him.”
I’ll say that it isn’t quite clear to me if Ma’s manipulating Mary here, or if she really believes this sad appraisal of her own life. Could be both, I suppose.
WILL [as MA]: “And if you think all that sounds bad, wait till you see what happens to you.”
Anyways, having pulverized her daughter’s heart, Ma says sleep tight.
ROMAN [as MARY]: “Thanks, Ma. I’m going to throw myself down Carrie’s well now. Goodnight.”
After a break, David Rose gives us some very lighthearted music as Mary walks out to where Mr. Edwards is working on the house.
ROMAN: Was David even following the story?
Mr. Ed jabbers on with his usual rubbish, but then Mary stares into space and says:
I loved it. I’d fall asleep thinking about it, then I’d dream about it. A green field down there, new wheat coming up in the spring, wildflowers. . . . It was a wonderful dream.
WILL: Roman, do you think her acting in this one is good or bad?
ROMAN: I don’t know.
I can’t decide myself.
WILL: What about John’s?
ROMAN: I think I’d say John’s is bad.
I’m not sure about that, either. They’re both obviously giving it their all, but there’s something slightly off about both performances.
Anyways, Mr. E gawps at Mary in disbelief. He must think the whole town has gone bonkers by this point.
Mary soliloquizes for some time, bringing in something about chickens and some other stuff.
SUSIE: She’s the real poet of this story.
Then Mary pleads with Mr. Edwards to admit he knows John’s making the wrong decision.
DAGNY: I like this. They don’t get a lot of scenes together.
Mary then screams at him, “We can’t hold him . . . like a meadowlark in a cage!!!”
I’m prepared to say that’s likely a reference to John’s “Meadowlark” poem. (I’m sure you’re glad to have me around to point out obvious things like that.)
Mary starts doing that thing where you think she’s going to throw up, she’s speaking so intensely, and says, “I want him! More than you do, maybe, but not that way!”
ROMAN [as MARY]: “You see, I want him sexually.”
WILL: Please go to bed, Roman.
Finally, Mr. Ed cracks under this pressure. In the end, I do think Melissa Sue is very good in this one.
Yeah, I do.
Mary goes running down to tell John he’s free to be himself and he.
David Rose gives us a big “the end” major chord . . . but just when we think it’s over, they slip us a surprise epilogue on the train platform. (In Springfield, presumably.)
There we see a familiar face.
ROMAN: Mustache Man!
WILL: Yeah, where is he coming back from with this hot filly?
All the Ingallses and Sanderson-Edwardses have come down to see John off to Chicago. (We must have leaped ahead into the fall.)
Caroline hands John a gift box.
SUSIE: “What’s in the box, what’s in the box!”
WILL: Mary is sort of the Gwyneth Paltrow of this show!
ANGIE: Does that make John the Brad Pitt?
Mr. Ed and John do a two-second replay of their I-love-you-no-I-love-YOU conversation in “His Father’s Son.”
WILL: Is John’s jacket purple too? He looks like the Joker.
DAGNY: Yeah, purple, or aubergine.
Mary and John have a moving goodbye and promise to write each other every day.
ROMAN [as MARY]: “How’s your braille, John?”
John grabs that same old carpetbag everybody always uses and boards the train, which slowly begins chugging its way out of the station.
WILL: “CASH for the merchandise! CASH for the buttonhooks!”
John stands by the back door of the train while Mary runs on the platform.
DAGNY: See, you can tell THIS part isn’t Landon.
Once the train is gone, Mr. Edwards comes up and he and Mary walk together.
DAGNY: This was a good Mary-and-Mr.-Edwards episode. They don’t get many chances to bond.
WILL: The arm around his waist is a little much, though.
ROMAN: Well, she did the same thing with Granville Whipple.
One final question: Will John room with Dumb Abel at college? Tune in next season to find out. Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!
STYLE WATCH: Pinky returns after a well-earned week off.
We noticed for the first time the Number Three’s bell is painted red inside.
Charles appears to go commando again.
THE VERDICT: Longest recap ever, I know. Blame Harold Swanton for sticking in eminent Victorians, Scottish folk songs and the like at the eleventh hour!
The best Mary story in a good long while, this one does suffer from Anderson and Pera’s weird chemistry. That said, it’s well written and acted, and quite interestingly directed, and overall is an engaging entry in the saga we’re calling The Rise and Fall of John Sanderson, Jr. Plus, it’s probably the best Grace episode.
Once again, special thanks to Angie and Susie, and absolutely DO check out The Knitty Gritty and Little House Life Hacks!
UP NEXT: Quarantine
5 thoughts on ““I’ll Ride the Wind””
Another great recap. Loved all the talk about Robert Burns since my dad’s side is scotch/Irish. We always celebrated Burns birthday at the Argyle in Kearny, NJ until it closed down. As for this episode being rated 13+ could that have had anything to do with the smoking? Every time Charles seems to light up his pipe, the episode gets a higher age rating. Looking forward to the next one! 🙋🏻♀️
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Hi Maryann! That makes sense, but the 13+ rating actually says it’s for “foul language.” (I didn’t notice any of that myself, and the Burns poem Grace reads is one of the clean ones. 😉) I worked for many years in public health, and I see the value of such warnings. But it’s amusing to me that things like Lansford burning himself alive don’t get the same treatment.
Wow! I’m stumped on this one then. 🤔
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I think I know something! I read somewhere that David Rose rerecorded the theme every year to get paid. He (and the orchestra?) would be paid for the recording and maybe also for the arranging work.
I also know that the network would sometimes air episodes in their preferred order rather than the producer’s order or filming order. It’s possible this episode was supposed to air earlier but a network exec thought it was boring and pushed it to January. I think it’s more likely, though, that Radames Pera was being dismissed and they only wanted to use him in this episode which would require him. Supposedly, though, he’d been promised to be able to return after Mary went blind, but Victor French’s departure dissolved that promise.
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Thanks Ben! How funny to think of David adding a slide whistle when Carrie falls just so he and the whistle player could make some cash between seasons. (Come to that, if money was his motive, he probably played that slide whistle himself to get both paychecks. David Rose, double dipper, ha ha!)
As for your “random order” theory about John’s absence from the earlier stories, that didn’t even occur to me and I bet you’re right, though who knows NBC’s rationale. No matter who did it, it must have been fun deciding the order, sort of like making a mixtape back in the nineties.
Incidentally, your theory also explains why the timeline is so fucked up all the time. I’ll be sure to mention this in a future post. . . . Thanks for reading!