These Happy Golden Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, was published in 1943 and is the eighth of nine books written in her Little House series, also known as The Laura Years. This book is based on Laura's teenhood near De Smet, South Dakota, in the late 19th century, and focuses on Laura's short time as a teacher and her courtship with her future husband, Almanzo Wilder.
These Happy Golden Years spans the time period from 1882 to 1885, when Laura marries Almanzo.
As the story begins, Pa is taking Laura 12 miles from home in the dead of winter to her first teaching assignment at Brewster settlement. Laura, only 15 and a schoolgirl herself, is apprehensive as this is both the first time she has left home and the first school she has taught. She is determined to complete her assignment and earn $40 to help her sister Mary, who is attending Vinton College for the Blind in Iowa.
This first school proves difficult for her. Laura must board with the Brewsters in their two-room claim shanty, sleeping on their sofa. It's a bitterly cold winter, though not so bad as the previous one, and neither the claim shanty or the school house can be heated adequately. The children she is teaching, some of whom are older than she is herself, test her skills as a teacher. Laura does become more self-assured as the term continues, and successfully completes the two month term.
To Laura's surprise and delight, homesteader Almanzo Wilder (with whom she became acquainted in Little Town on the Prairie) appears at the end of her first week of school in his new two-horse cutter to bring her home for the weekend. Already fond of Laura and wanting to ease her homesickness, Almanzo takes it upon himself to bring her home -- once, on a dangerously frigid day when the temperature drops lower than -40° -- and back to school each weekend.
The relationship continues after the school term ends. Sleigh rides give way to buggy rides in the spring, and Laura impresses Almanzo with her willingness to help break his new and often temperamental horses.
Laura's old nemesis Nellie Oleson makes a brief appearance during two Sunday buggy rides with Almanzo, who later explains to Laura that he only offered Nellie a ride because he felt sorry for her. Nellie's chatter and flirtatious behavior towards Almanzo annoy Laura, who causes the still-skittish horses Almanzo is training to bolt, which terrifies Nellie. Shortly thereafter, Nellie moves back to New York after her family loses their homestead.
In between, Laura's Uncle Tom (Ma's brother) visits the family and tells of his failed venture with a covered wagon brigade seeking gold in the Black Hills. Laura helps out seamstress Mrs. McKee by staying with her and her daughter on their prairie claim for two months to "hold it down" as required by law. The family enjoys summer visits from Mary.
The family finances have improved to the point that Pa can sell a cow to purchase a sewing machine for Ma. Laura continues to teach and work as a seamstress in town so that the family can afford to buy an organ for Mary to play when she returns home and purchase clothing for herself.
Almanzo invites Laura to attend summer "singing school" with him and her classmates, which they both enjoy. On the last evening of singing school while driving Laura home, Almanzo -- who has by now been courting Laura for three years -- proposes to Laura. During their next ride, Almanzo presents Laura with a garnet-and-pearl ring and they share their first kiss.
Several months later, after Almanzo has finished building a house on his tree claim, he asks Laura if she would mind getting married within a few days as his sister and mother have their hearts set on a large church wedding, which Pa cannot afford. Laura agrees, and she and Almanzo are married in a simple ceremony by the Reverend Brown. After a wedding dinner with her family, Laura drives away with Almanzo and the newlyweds settle contentedly into their new home.