Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Do you know what half a dollar is?

Farmer Boy (Little House)I'm reading my kids Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is the third book in the Little House on the Prairie series and a story about Almonzo, a young farm boy in New York State, who eventually becomes Laura's husband. The Little House series is a must read classic. Lots of moral teachings and is interesting and easy to read.

One story includes Almonzo going to town with his family for Independence Day. He meets his cousin Frank who has a nickle burning in his pocket and quite nonchalantly goes and buys a five cent lemonade. Frank teases Almonzo about not having any money and dares him to ask Almonzo's father for a nickle to do the same. Almonzo reluctantly succumbs to peer pressure and approaches his father timidly and asks for the nickle. After finding out the purpose of the request his father pulls out a half dollar and holds it out. Here is an excerpt from the story.

"Do you know what a half a dollar is?"
Almonzo didn't know it was anything but half a dollar.
"It's work, son. That's what money is; it's hard work."
Almonzo didn't understand at all.
"You know how to raise potatoes, Almonzo?"
"Yes," Almonzo said.
"Say you have a seed potato in the spring, what do you do with it?"
"You cut it up," Almonzo said.
"Go on, son."
"Then you harrow - first you manure the field, and plow it. Then you harrow, and mark the ground. And plant the potatoes, and plow them, and hoe them. You plow and hoe them twice."
"That's right, son. And then?"
"Then you dig them and put them down cellar."
"Yes. Then you pick them over all winter; you throw out all the little ones and the rotten ones. Come spring, you load them up and haul them here to Malone (nearest city to where they live) , and you sell them. And if you get a good price son, how much do you get for a half a bushel of potatoes?"
"Half a dollar," Almonzo said.
"Yes," said Father. "That's what's in this half-dollar, Almonzo. The work that raised half a bushel of potatoes is in it."
Almonzo looked at the round piece of money that father held up. It looked small, compared with all the work.
"You can have it, Almonzo," Father said. Almonzo could hardly believe his ears. Father gave him the heavy half-dollar.
"It's yours," said Father. "You could buy a sucking pig with it, if you want to. You could raise it, and it would raise a litter of pigs, worth four, five dollars apiece. Or you can trade that half-dollar for lemonade, and drink it up. You do as you want, it's your money."

I had a lot of thoughts while reading this story. A few of them are as follows:
  • How many kids know how to grow potatoes?
  • What things do I buy so easily but cost me half a days worth of wages?
  • What things do I "drink up"?
  • How do I teach my kids to value hard work?
  • How does peer pressure effect me?
  • What things do I need to teach my children that will help them throughout their life?
  • I have a lot to learn about growing things.
  • Small things matter, five cents at a time.
  • Would my kids be able to handle a sucking pig?
  • Can I handle a sucking pig?

So, what would you do with your half dollar?

Here's what Almonzo does. Almonzo goes back to his cousin and shows him the half dollar. This draws a big crowd of boys at the news of Almonzo's good luck. Here's the last part of the story:
"The boys wouldn't believe it till he showed them. Then they crowded around, waiting for him to spend it. He showed it to them all, and put it back in his pocket.
"I'm going to look around," he said, "and buy me a good little sucking pig."


  1. Doug, I love your blog and these my friend are very very very good questions to consider. I think that you're path to simplicity is one that will bring a lot of joy and peace....can't wait to visit the simple farm....and by the way...every man worth his weight as a husband has some "girl" in him. That's what I always tell the unmarried folk.

  2. Crazy Dog Lady,

    I hope your husband isn't as girly as me. You're welcome at any time to come and visit the simple farm as long as you can stand sleeping arrangments akin to a renovated garage. Bring your own mosquito net.