When the Corn Died: Chapter Nine
Thanks for Joining Me and the Harpers Once Again
I really do appreciate all of you who are following along. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll continue this series. I’ve got so many things I want to do and really, this was just supposed to be a writing exercise and I would be done with it.
But that’s a consideration for another day. Let’s head back to Iowa, 1933, and see how the Harper family is handling the loss of half their crop.
It takes a long time for nearly one-hundred acres to burn out, for a dream to die, for a family’s heritage to stop smoldering and for the sky to ever again look as bright and promising as it once did.
We were awake at four, dressed and eating breakfast by four-thirty, and walking out the door to a red, blurred sky by five, me, Evelyn and young Timothy, bone-tired, drained, for the time being, of hope. Not much else to say about that. There are times when words are useless and this was one of those times. I felt Evelyn squeeze my hand as I squeezed my eyes shut, the smoke stinging them, the tears blurring my vision.
As we walked out into the charred fields I was doing the math in my head and it wasn’t adding up. If we had the best yield ever on the remainder of our farm, and that yield fetched the best prices ever, we would still fall short by half what we needed to stay afloat.
It was over!
“Looks like the fire got them all,” Evelyn said, referring to the grasshoppers we tried to burn out, and she was apparently right because I saw none upon the blackened earth. All was quiet, no rubbing of wings, no scattering upon our approach, only the silence of death settling over generations of sweat-stained labor. The bugs had won. I knew it, as did Evelyn. Even little Timothy seemed to understand what it all meant.
“Let’s go feed the cows,” I said. “There’s nothing for us out here.”
An Angel of Mercy
Back in Union, at the hospital, Emma slept peacefully in the chair by the window as Peter Junior watched her from his bed. She was beautiful, so small, so fine, her features the prettiest he’d ever seen, and he allowed himself a daydream, one of happily ever after, and then he remembered his dead friend, the shotgun wounds, and he felt guilty for even allowing happiness to enter his thoughts.
He was lost in those thoughts when she spoke.
“Good morning, Peter Junior. How are you feeling?”
“I want to go home.”
She rose from the chair and walked to the side of the bed.
“But the doctor said it would be wise for you to rest a few more days before traveling.”
“I want to go home. My family needs me and I need them, Emma.”
She gave that some thought and then nodded.
“I reckon you’re right. I miss my son as well. All right, then. Let me go fetch the doctor and see about getting you out of here.” But as she turned to leave the room he reached out and gently grabbed her hand. His was so large, it engulfed hers, calloused palm meeting smoothness, unspoken words passing between them, and the room seemed to bristle with an unseen current.
“Thank you for being here, Emma.” And then he released her hand, yet as she walked away she still felt those rough hands, those gentle hands, and she said a prayer to her dead husband, asking him to be happy for her.
The Day Ends in Sweet Melancholy
The day was filled with animal caring, for there’s never a day off from farming, whether it be one-hundred acres or two, and critters know nothing of rising or falling markets, rising or falling dreams. And while young Timothy and I worked the shrunken farm, Evelyn busied herself with inside chores, laundry and cooking, scrubbing and the answering of phone calls from neighbors offering condolences and well-wishes. I was lost in my world and she in hers.
We all joined at seven for a feast of baked ham and sweet potatoes, a holiday feast so odd for the mood weighing us all down. As we sat at the table and held hands for prayer, Evelyn must have sensed my confusion.
“We have each other, husband. The farm is just a thing. It is not us. We did what we could and it didn’t work out, but we still have each other, and by God we will become stronger because of this. So this is a celebration meal, a meal that says thank you God, for our family, all safe and sound, and thank you God for the bounties you have given us and will give us.”
I’m not sure it’s possible, at that moment, for a man to be any luckier.
I was just taking my first bite of ham when the front door opened and there stood Peter Junior and Emma.
I admit it.
I wept like a baby.
All Together Again
“We had to take it very slowly,” Emma explained to us over dinner after the hugs and kisses had come to an end. “Peter Junior is still mighty sore and those ribs couldn’t take much jostling, so we’d walk for a spell and then take an offered ride when he could handle it. We met some mighty fine people between Union and Charles City, people who treated us like family and made us feel there is still good in this world.”
Peter Junior was having a hard time taking his eyes off of Emma. I may be a farmer but I’m not stupid. My son was smitten with all the gentleness of a kick to the head by a nervous mare. Evelyn noticed it too.
“Emma, we can’t thank you enough for taking care of our son,” she said, but that seemed to embarrass Emma, because she blushed and that topic was quickly dropped. Peter Junior asked the question we had to face.
“What now, Pa? I’m not much for money matters, but I’m guessing we can’t pay the mortgage now.”
The question hung over the table, sucking the conversation dry, that is until Evelyn spoke and our lives turned upside down.
“We’re moving to Washington State,” she said, and the conviction in her voice told me she had done some research and serious thinking on the subject.
What the Hell?
“What the hell, Evelyn?” I said less than eloquently. “What the hell is in Washington State?”
“Husband, I’ve asked you not to cuss inside our home, and now I’m asking you again. The answer to your question is apples. We’re going to sell this farm for whatever we can get for it and we’re going to become apple farmers out west where the growing seasons are longer and we’ll never have to deal with anther grasshopper.”
“Just like that, wife?”
“Just like that, husband. We are the Harpers. We don’t take handouts, we stand together and we make it on our own. This was a setback, a kick in the teeth for sure, but if you think for one damned minute we’re giving up, you are sadly mistaken.”
“I thought we couldn’t cuss in this house, wife,” I said through a smile.
“Special occasion, husband,” and we enjoyed an honest to goodness happy moment together.
No one spoke for a good five minutes. Finally Emma broke the silence.
“Would it be possible for Timothy and I to join you? I think we need new surroundings, and we could be of some help to you, but if you’ve got objections to that I will understand.”
I could feel the heat from the stare our son was giving Evelyn and me. To say it was intense would be a major understatement. Evelyn, as she always does, made it all right.
“Emma, you and Timothy are family. We’d be mighty disappointed if you didn’t travel with us. Family sticks together, isn’t that right, Peter? Peter Junior?”
Outside the birds gave us one more chorus before the sun set and the gentle Iowa sky darkened.
We were going to Washington State.
See You Next Week
Well that was an interesting turn of events. Join me next week and we’ll find out how the Harpers are handling the loss of their farm and the excitement of new beginnings.
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
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