Whenever I am asked about my favorite books, I inevitably mention the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a child, I read these books with devotion and obsession. They were so full of vivid descriptions of settler life. Oh, how I wanted to make candy with maple syrup and snow. Laura, aka Half Pint, was bright and willful and charming. These books showed me that it was possible to tell stories about being a girl from the Midwest, like I was, and have those stories matter.
And then, of course, there was Almanzo "Manly" Wilder. If I have a first love, it is that man of good Midwestern stock. I loved him because he was always steady, true, handsome, courageous, strong. He tamed wild horses. He was a hard worker. He was good in a crisis. He loved fiercely, deeply, and knew how to be romantic in subtle, unexpected ways.
I am always going to be very fond of a decent man who knows when to tame something wild and when to let it run free.
Some of my most indelible memories from the Little House on the Prairie books involved Almanzo. There was the time he won a buggy race even though he had his horses pulling a heavy wagon. There was that time he and Cap Garland braved brutal winter weather to bring wheat to town so the townsfolk wouldn't starve. That Almanzo was such a mighty good man.
My favorite moments with Almanzo were in These Happy Golden Years, where Almanzo and Laura's courtship flourished. In the book, Laura is teaching during another frigid winter, far from home and all alone. Almanzo comes to the rescue each weekend, with his amazing horses and a cutter. He makes sure Laura is warm and gets to see her family.
I also had a crush on Laura, who knew how to stand up for herself.
Even though she is kind of salty toward him, Almanzo continues showing up each week. After her teaching contract is over, Almanzo picks Laura up in town and takes her on sleigh rides. When spring comes, he takes Laura on buggy rides. He lets Laura drive and admires how she can handle boisterous horses. When Nellie Oleson tries to weasel her way into Almanzo's affections and Laura tells him he has to choose, he makes the right choice.
There's more. After he proposes and Laura accepts his hand in marriage, Laura asks Almanzo if he wants her to promise to obey him. (I also had a crush on Laura, who knew how to stand up for herself and was never going to give her entire self over to a man just because she fell in love.) Almanzo, my beloved Almanzo, he says the perfect thing. He says, "Of course not. I know it is in the wedding ceremony, but it is only something that women say. I never knew one that did it, nor any decent man that wanted her to." When he said those words, some part of me was betrothed to Almanzo forever. I am always going to be very fond of a decent man who knows when to tame something wild and when to let it run free.
Adapted from Crush, by Cathy Alter and Dave Singleton, Copyright © 2016 by Roxane Gay. With the permission of the publisher, HarperCollins. ($20, harpercollins.com)
Roxane Gay's writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney's, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, Difficult Women, and Hunger, forthcoming in 2017. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel.