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When the Corn Died: Chapter Fourteen

The Westward Trek Continues

The Harper family is about to leave the Rockies behind and enter what is known as the Inland Empire of Washington State. Their new home is about 170 miles due west, waiting for them with open arms, but this is during the Great Depression and rarely did things go smoothly back then.

Let’s see how the Harpers are doing.


We pulled to the side of the road and looked out over the land before us. One minute we were on the western flank of the Rockies and the next we were looking out over land so brown, so dusty and so uninviting that it seemed like a mirage.

“How much further to Wenatchee, Peter?” Evelyn asked me as she wiped sweat from her forehead.

“Well, straight up ahead is the city of Spokane and after that we have about one-hundred and seventy miles of desert. At the rate we’re traveling we should probably reach Wenatchee in about, oh, seven hours, maybe a little less if the truck holds up.”

It was hard to believe all that green gave way to all that brown. The smoke we had seen earlier hadn’t been a forest fire. Instead it was a brush fire and judging from the size of the smoke cloud to our south it was one sizeable fire. The wind was blowing it eastward, towards the mountains, so it was no worry to us. Still, we had our own worries with a godforsaken desert before us and the truck’s increasing tendency to overheat and damn it was hot out.

Our son, Peter Junior, walked up and stood next to us.

“Hard to believe Wenatchee is the apple capital of the world, Pa.” he said. “Looking at this land, it doesn’t seem like anything could grow here.”

“Wenatchee is a different world, Junior. It’s on the Columbia River so it gets natural irrigation, and streams flow down from the Cascade Mountains. From what I’ve read it’s the perfect soil and conditions for apples. Compared to what we’re looking at now it’s an oasis. And I suggest we quit jabbering or we’ll never see that oasis today.”

We all piled back in the truck, Peter Junior, Emma, young Timothy, me and Evelyn. I put the old Ford in gear and coaxed it down the road as the sun climbed on our backs.

Bleak like a moonscape

Bleak like a moonscape

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The further west we travelled the flatter the land became and the more desolate it was. Dust devils swirled to and fro while tumbleweeds raced across the barren land. I thought of the lush Iowa soil we had left, soil so black, so soothing in your hands, a symbol of life and bounty, and then I looked at the dusty soil blowing all around us and I admit, I was feeling we were on a fool’s mission. As always, Evelyn read my thoughts. Her hand reached out and held mine.

“Mr. Wyman from the feed store back home, he traveled to Seattle once,” she said. “I was talking to him and he said to be patient on this trip of ours, that this bleakness was a test for the weak-of-heart, and if we passed this test we would be rewarded with beautiful land and sparkling clear waters. Don’t you worry, husband.”

I still wasn’t sure how I got so damned lucky, having Evelyn for a wife, but only a fool questions the decisions of the Lord Almighty.

We drove for three hours and I swear we saw a total of two people. One was an old farmer hauling hay in a pickup truck to God knows where. There were no farms visible no matter which direction you looked. He just materialized on a side road, waved at us as we passed him and then continued on down another side road. The other person was a young girl leading a scrawny, fly-bitten horse along the road we were driving on. We slowed and asked her if she was all right, she said yep and we continued on as the sun climbed into the southern sky and beat down on us with a fury.

Two people in three hours!

I was feeling pretty damned helpless when I spotted a lake off to the south, about a quarter-mile from the road, the only color other than brown we had seen all morning. I suggested we sit by the waters and eat some lunch and stretch our limbs. Nobody argued with that suggestion.

We found us a grove of trees to sit under. Emma spread out a blanket then helped Evelyn set out some lunch. There wasn’t much talking for a good half-hour as we all contemplated what we had left behind and what was in front of us. It wouldn’t have taken much convincing to get me to turn that truck around and head back home, but Evelyn put all that silliness to rest.

“We’ll be all right now, you all hear me? There’s nothing left for us back east. Our future lies straight ahead. Now finish up eating and let’s go see our new home.”

Green means hope

Green means hope

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One Final Turn Northward

Another three hours of dust and we turned north onto State Highway Twenty-Eight. The landscape changed as we began to once again gain elevation. Trees became more plentiful and we crossed small streams. Arid land changed to pine trees, farmhouses could be seen and then the pines changed to apple trees, trees pregnant with fruit, and old trucks loaded with apple crates were a common sight and it all changed again as we crested a hill and looked down on a valley shaped by the gods, the blue of a mighty river winding through a city busy with the living, the color of plenty, differing shades of green calling to us, saying welcome home, strangers, put down your roots and stay a spell.

We got out of the truck atop that hill and looked in silence at the Columbia River and the town of Wenatchee. Stress and fear, real-life entities during the trip, left me at that moment as I sighed loudly. I felt my eyes water up and there was no shame in that feeling. I put my arm around Evelyn, she did the same to young Timothy who reached out for Peter Junior and he to Emma, the five of us looking down on our future, the sun reflecting off the life-giving waters, and it was Timothy who broke the silence.

“Home!” is all he said, all that needed saying, the truth from a child’s lips, one simple word filled with hope.

“What’s next, Pa?” Junior asked me.

“Well, folks, we’ve got about four-hundred dollars left. I suggest we drive down into town, find a place to spend the night and then tomorrow we can find work and begin the next chapter of our lives. Unless, of course, any of you want to go back to Iowa, in which case we’ve got some talking to do.”

My family all shook their heads at the same time.

“Well then, hop in the truck. Like Timothy said, we’re home!”

Hope ahead!

Hope ahead!


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 16, 2016:

Sha, that kind of praise will go to my head. LOL Not really, but it is beautiful and I thank you for it.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 16, 2016:

I have to tell you, Bill, I got goosebumps when Timothy said, "Home!" Your descriptions of the terrain and what the extended Harper family sees and feels are very vivid. I could almost hear their collective gasp as they took in the beauty of their new homeland.

I look forward to learning where they decide to hang their hats.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 15, 2016:

Thank you Michael my friend. I love this family and all they stand for, too.....blessings to you this fine Wednesday!

Michael Milec on June 14, 2016:

You have made Harpers family an actual real life's advanture with remarcable learning points: To follow that small inner voice, though speaking through the wife leads to favorable destination. I love that family unity, love and understanding, my friend.

Blerssings and peace.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 05, 2016:

Thank you Lawrence. I admit, I had no idea how this story would be accepted. I mean, there is so little violence and angst, it amazes me the modern audience actually likes it. LOL


Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on June 04, 2016:


Bet those apples taste really good, especially after such an epic journey. This is a wonderful story that reflects how things were for many a family during that time.

I agree that young Timothy is 'precious' and very perceptive.

Loving the story


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 02, 2016:

Thank you again, Zulma! The weekend is almost upon us....."show me the way to go home, I'm tired and I want to go to bed...." LOL

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on June 02, 2016:

Promised land! I meant promised land! Dammit, I've got to quit commenting when I'm tired. I make such silly mistakes.

Thank you for the kind compliment, Bill. You enjoy your day too.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 02, 2016:

Zulma, I can darn near guarantee that they will. :) Thanks for being you...have a great evening, my friend.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on June 02, 2016:

The promised at last. I'm looking forward to seeing the Harper family fortunes change for the better.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 30, 2016:

Not much, Deb, other than clean up the mess after the fire. Thanks for being here and enjoy your holiday.

Deb Hirt on May 30, 2016:

It was a heck of a gamble, but wisdom is making it pay off. After all, what else could they have done in Iowa?

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 25, 2016:

Aww, thanks Mike! The lessons my grandparents taught me are engraved on my soul and I need to share them.

Mr Archer from Missouri on May 24, 2016:

Bill we forget that so many people left their homes and headed West to make new ones with little to nothing in their pockets. Your series really brings home the point that we are all descended from these adventurers, seeking asylum from devastation. It is both humbling and wonderful at the same time, and you do a fabulous job at bringing us along for the ride.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 24, 2016:

Eric, if you got a tear then my job is done. Thanks buddy.

Eric Dierker on May 23, 2016:

Great job friend. I got a tear in my eyes when we were all looking down at home. Thank you.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 23, 2016:

I'm so glad to hear that, Vellur. Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 23, 2016:

No, Maria, thank you for always supporting me so strongly. I appreciate you more than you know.



Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 23, 2016:

Sis, as long as you and Bev do, I've got it made in the shade.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 23, 2016:

That's very kind of you, DDE. Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 23, 2016:

Thank you Frank. That's what I was aiming for when I started this.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on May 22, 2016:

Harper's have made it through and then there is the promise of tomorrow with a new beginning. Enjoyed reading.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on May 21, 2016:

A feel good installment ... as Evelyn guides those she loves towards big opportunities.

Thanks for a great evening of reading. Love, Maria

Suzie from Carson City on May 21, 2016:

Bro..Awwwwww....WHO could not love you?!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 21, 2016:

Awesome! I waited for the great line!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 21, 2016:

Thank you Faith. I drove through the southwest once and saw enough sand and sagebrush to last a lifetime, thank you very much. I'm quite happy among my evergreens.

blessings this weekend, and always

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 21, 2016:

Shanmarie, thanks for trying again. You aren't the only one who lost a comment, so don't sign up for that tour quite yet.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 21, 2016:

MizB, I think there have been a lot of glitches lately on HP. .They must be doing improvements to the site. LOL

Thanks for the kind words. I keep wanting to add a few murders to the story. It's hard for me to write about normal people. :)

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on May 21, 2016:

Billybuc, I said it before and I'll say it again. I love the simplicity and the down home characters.. awesome installment

Faith Reaper from southern USA on May 20, 2016:

Dear Bill,

I was holding my breath the whole way and breathed a sigh of relief too when they arrived "Home"!

I'm not too fond of the thought of having to drive through a dessert, but I am so happy for the Harpers that their old truck made the trip to their new home.

This story never disappoints. Can't wait for next week!

Peace and blessings

Shannon Henry from Texas on May 20, 2016:

I thought I left a comment already, but I guess not. That's what happens when I go off on dementia tours, I guess. I find my own distractions a dose my own memory. ;) But. . .Yay!. Home. I for one can relate to the starting over.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 20, 2016:

Sis, there is a lot of you in Evelyn. I patterned her after several women I know, women I admire, women who quietly lead the way with their strength. I'm proud to call you my sister.

Suzie from Carson City on May 20, 2016:

Oh Bro...your Harper Saga is much too "real life" for things to go smoothly for any ridiculous span of time! I, for one, would not know how to handle an overabundance of joy or a long run of good luck.

Please, no curve balls, bro. Life has taught me to keep the seat belt on and prepare for the next collision.

Besides, we've got Evelyn. The woman has yet to encounter an obstacle she can't kick the spit out of, while smiling. We're good!

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on May 20, 2016:

Good morning, Bill. I read this latest installment and placed a comment yesterday, but as soon as I hit the Post button, it zoomed into outer space. It has happened to a couple that I've posted on yours lately. I'm not sure if I'm having network problems or if I break too many of HP's rules. I don't even remember what I said except that Evelyn's consistently calling Peter "husband" reminded me of a David Allen Coe song. I'll not mention the name this time and see if this one goes through.

Your descriptions are just wonderful. I can see everything the Harpers are seeing through your vivid descriptions, and I'm glad they are not disappointed upon their arrival. Keep up the good work, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 20, 2016:

Missy, thank you for the very kind words. I loved teaching and I think my love of learning transferred to my students. Thirty years after I taught some they still stay in touch, so I'm grateful for that.

Green means hope.....let's "hope" we all learn that lesson soon.

Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 20, 2016:

Janine, you're human after all. You weren't first or even in the top ten. LOL Happy Friday and thank you so much, dear friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 20, 2016:

That is high praise, Jackie. I'll have more for you soon. Thank you my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 20, 2016:

Alicia, during the Depression, things RARELY went exactly as planned. Stay tuned and thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 20, 2016:

Thank you so much, Genna! Now the real challenges begin. It's a tough time in our history for a family to start over....fingers crossed!

Missy Smith from Florida on May 20, 2016:

Hey Bill,

They finally made it home. I can't wait to see how they start their new lives.

You know what caught my attention while reading this one? It was recognizing the fact that you had to be the best teacher ever when you taught. You know so much about history, and how things grow and flourish in different areas of this world. If I had a teacher in school that made learning interesting like I bet you did. I would have been a straight-A student. I hate to admit I wasn't. I got bored at school pretty easy.

There is HOPE scattered through this installment, and I like how under the pictures you put that as a message. I especially like the "Green means hope" one. In just a few words it tells the importance of keeping our Earth green and alive.

I'll be looking forward to the next installment. Great story! ~Missy

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on May 20, 2016:

Just checked and saw you published this and seriously not sure how I missed, but glad I checked as I enjoyed seeing the Harper's finally make it to their destination and can't wait to see what awaits them coming up now. Happy Friday Bill and wishing you a wonderful weekend now, too!! :)

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on May 19, 2016:

Well now all I could say was "Oh shoot!" when this ended. I was ready for more. I will sure be back for more!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 19, 2016:

I'm glad that the Harpers have reached their destination. It sounds like a lovely place for them, but I know that things don't always go exactly as planned!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 19, 2016:

Bill, I think there's always a rodeo in Ellensburg. LOL Thanks for being here, and the Harpers thank you as well.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on May 19, 2016:

Thank goodness they've arrived safely. I have to admit I was a bit worried about that old truck chugging through so many miles of barren brown and heat. Dear Timothy's word, "home," was that hope this wonderful family needed to hear at just the right moment -- and your readers, too. :-) We all look forward to the next chapter in the lives of the Harper family.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 19, 2016:

Well Dora, you went above and beyond the call of duty. Thank you for investing the time to do that.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 19, 2016:

Thank you so much, Ruby. I'll be by to read you latest very soon.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on May 19, 2016:

Hi Bill. I was also curious and looked up Wenatchee. A long time ago I spent a night in Ellensburg, which is just to the south. I believe there was a rodeo there and we had a tough time finding a room. Pretty country. Love this story. Looking forward to how things go for the Harpers in their new home.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 19, 2016:

Bill, I actually looked up Wenatchee. Your story has some enjoyable features and learning something new is one of them. Thank you.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on May 19, 2016:

This is another beautiful addition to a wonderful story. The trip before they reached the green pastures was bleak, but the apple trees and pines were a scenic view. I loved your story. Thank you...

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 19, 2016:

Hell, Sis, your comment is written better than the short story. LOL I wish I could write comments like this one. I'd make so many people happy. :) Thank you so much. I thought we'd all take a breather and just arrive unscathed...no injuries, no more heartaches....now comes the business of getting settled in a new town and learning a new way of life. Stay tuned!

Hugs from Olympia

Suzie from Carson City on May 19, 2016:

"Home sweet home." How relieved, happy & excited we all are! Bro, is it difficult to continue writing so beautifully as you travel in that old truck, going over bumpy, rough roads? No way you could bring us such perfect and vibrant scenery without actually being there with us!

Little Timothy is quite the bright & happy boy.....He & his Mama & Peter Jr make a wonderful family. I'm believing only goodness is in their near future. Can't wait to be a part of all the sweetness.

The trip has been the best adventure I've experienced in years. I feel every bit of the joy & anticipation. As a member of the Harper family, I can't help but be damned proud too!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 19, 2016:

My pleasure, Linda. I was going to give them some problems in this episode but decided they needed a break. Thanks for starting your day with me.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on May 19, 2016:

Oh how sweet Bill. Timothy is precious. He doesn't say much, but when he speaks you'd better listen. I do feel that the Harper family has finally left their worries behind. Not that the rest of this will be smooth sailing--farming it hard work, and they need to find a home, some land, and for goodness sake we need to get those two young people married. Thanks for a great start to the day.

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