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When the Corn Died: Chapter Nine

Updated on May 20, 2016

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.

Smudgy Morning

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.

Going to Washington!
Going to Washington!

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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    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 13 months ago from New York, New York

      Glad you are continuing on, but understand your feelings on this one nonetheless. Still here is to no beginnings for this story in weeks to come and Happy Friday now, Bill!! :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, that's why I prefer novels. I can write a long one and not feel like I'm doing a half-assed job, like in short stories. Oh well, a lot of people enjoyed this and that is, after all, why I write. Thank you and Happy Weekend to you.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 13 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, this is a beautifully-told story. I think you could leave it here, and let all of us create our own happy ending. Thank you for sharing this family with us. Have a great weekend.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 13 months ago

      I was so happy to see another installment this morning. Thank you for a good read, as always.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 13 months ago from Southern Illinois

      It was sad that they were losing the farm but a new life on the horizon is a welcome addition to this wonderful story. I'm happy that you're going to continue writing this story. Thank you....

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 13 months ago

      My gosh, Bill, that sounds like my family. Are you sure you're not picking my brain by remote? Except that they didn't burn out, but they just couldn't make a living on the rocky hillsides of the Ozarks after the GD. They went to Washington State to pick apples. Both families came back and tried farming in the 1950s with the same result, so it was back to Washington State. I have never met my cousins' children, who are now grown. I love your state, and sometimes wish we'd moved with them, but my parents were Southern born & bred, as they say.

      I love the story, but you are at a good stopping place, so if you choose to stop, I understand.

      Question: Are those apples still as delicious as I remember? They used to ship them back to us fresh from the orchard. Happy Friday, and have a good weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Linda! I suspect there will be one final chapter and then we'll let you all dream up your own story from then on.

      Have a great weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      My pleasure, Pop! Your support means a great deal to me.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Ruby, a little sadness traded for a new, exciting future. This family will be fine because of.....love.

      Thank you dear friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      MizB, I have you to thank for the Washington chapter...you suggested it earlier, so thank you!

      Yes to the apple question. Last years crop was exceptional....already looking forward to the picking this year.

      Have a wonderful weekend, my friend.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 13 months ago from london

      Well, the meals, the get together, the farm and now the prospect of apple picking somewhere else. A touch of romance, I see and you're cool. See you next week, Bro.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 13 months ago from SW England

      Sounds like you were as surprised as any of us to find out they were moving! These characters do what they want don't they? I love it when what we create does things like that. It makes them our own, don't you think?

      Can't wait to find out how they get on with apples.

      Ann

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 13 months ago from The Caribbean

      First off, thanks for taking the time to keep your readers entertained by your story-telling. Says much good about you. I love the family loyalty and care you illustrate in this story.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 13 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Just a note to let you know that you are not allowed to stop here. If the Harpers can continue on then so can Billybuc.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 13 months ago from Massachusetts

      Well, I definitely didn't see that coming. Bravo, great twist to the story. I certainly hope the chapters continue so we can see how they make out in Washington. I'm sure they'll love the Pacific Northwest.

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 13 months ago from Hollister, MO

      Can hardly wait, through two sets of tears... Enough said. ;-)

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 13 months ago from The Beautiful South

      Glad I caught this, wouldn't want to miss a one! Apples in Washington, sounds promising!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 13 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A great story and what a twist here. You shared from the heart.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 13 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      And I am going with them to Washington. Getting hooked on your story and there is no way now that they'll be able to leave me behind.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 13 months ago from United Kingdom

      Evelyn truly is a wonder. She just seems to have the knack for making everything all better. Where would this family be without her?

      So next stop Washington State. Can't wait for the next instalment.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      You will indeed see me next week, Manatita, and I thank you, my friend. It's the weekend....let's have some fun!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, I had no idea they were heading west until a little birdie whispered in my ear. I love it when that happens, although I can't tell Bev I'm hearing voices. LOL

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Dora, thank you...love of family and loyalty....two traits I believe to be so important.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Duly notes, Eric! Thanks for the gentle warning. :)

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 13 months ago from southern USA

      I do hope your wonderful series will continue, for I have thoroughly enjoyed each story, and this one is especially good.

      If not, this one here is a good one to wind it up with the promise of much hope for the future in Washington and all the family staying together.

      I love the humor about not cussing in the home and then Evelyn slipping up .

      I also love the budding new love developing before our eyes.

      Thank you for another wonderful read.

      Blessings always

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 13 months ago from Dubai

      Travelling to Washington State together, a brand new beginning. Wonder what awaits them, great write.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, I had to get Washington into it....they had to follow the same path as my grandparents. :) This is, after all, slightly autobiographical.

      Thanks my friend and Happy Sunday to you.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Enough said for sure, Bill. Sorry about those tears but happy for your response.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Jackie, all I can say is this story will end with a happy conclusion, so I'm guessing Washington will be the medicine they all need. Thanks for catching up with the story.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Always from the heart, DDE! That's what we writers do. :) Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Rasma, I'll tell them to save room for you in the back of the old Ford truck. :) I'm sure they will be happy with your company.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Zulma, happily, for this story, we won't find out what the family would do without Evelyn. She is going to lead them west.

      Happy Sunday to you in the UK!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Faith, that's the problem with a short story series....eventually it has to come to an end. I'll try to keep this one going for a little bit longer. Thanks for the encouragement, my friend, and blessings to you on this Sunday morning.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Vellur, I think their real tough times are behind them...now it will be a great adventure. :) Thank you!

    • Missy Smith profile image

      Missy Smith 13 months ago from Florida

      I'm so excited to read this every week, and now that romance is blooming that I was waiting for. There is nothing like a romance back in the good old days. They truly knew how to fall in love and stay in love. Stories of love from this era are beautiful, tortured, and strong. I wish more existed in these modern times.

      I cannot wait for the adventures they will have in their new surroundings. I can't wait to read the struggle of starting fresh and staying together. I love this story!! I said that, right? lol.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 13 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      All that activity and excitement in one chapter! What a sad thing to have to burn their corn. Damned grasshoppers!

      I love the coziness at the Hospital..makes me happy to know that a romance is blossoming. They'll be a wonderful couple. As great as Evelyn & Peter Sr.

      Absolutely amazing how they just take to the roads to travel on foot & a possible ride from kind people. What a different time and how much more real & peaceful the world was....

      Evelyn always says the right thing. She has a positive outlook and I'm glad she reminds her family what's most important. I have a feeling they're glad too!.

      I understand this has to end soon Bill and I trust you'll give us an ending we'll never forget!. love, Sis

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 13 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a lovely story, Bill. I hope it continues for at least a little while longer. It will be interesting to see what happens to the characters when they reach Washington.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Missy! It's so odd for me to write a story like this one....it's nice to receive such glowing reviews on it.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Hey Sis!

      I'm a big softy. I don't want it to end either so I suspect it will be with us until I absolutely have to pull the plug on it. Thank you so much for following along. I think we all need a feel good story with values we all wish to see more of....or maybe people just like stories about corn. LOL

      hugs and love,

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you for the compliment, Alicia. I suspect it will be with us for awhile longer.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 13 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Now THAT'S "corny," bro!........LMAO.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      LOL....I know, Sis. Sorry about that. It's early and I'm a corny guy early in the a.m.

      Have a great day, dear friend.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 13 months ago from Northern California, USA

      A real twist here, Billy. At first, I thought about how bossy Evelyn was, but then I guess back then people didn't have time to have a huge conversation about things. You had to do what needed to be done, like it or not. What's to talk about? I like how true to life this story is. I'm feeling all of their pain and happiness. I even felt Emma's apprehension at the thought of inviting herself to travel with the Harpers.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Interesting observation, Marlene. I hadn't thought of Evelyn as bossy. I'll be careful how I portray her because I don't want her to appear that way.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 13 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Oh, don't change a thing, Bill. I probably should have said "assertive". Maybe bossy wasn't the best word to use. I like Evelyn the way she is.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Marlene! I really do appreciate your reflections on the characters. Who knows, this may end up a book one of these days.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 13 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      I'm so glad this 'writing exercise' went sideways on you! May they continue to do so.

      I think we're all loving this story as we can identify with the main characters in it.

      Keep them up.

      Lawrence

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      That was my hope, Lawrence, so I appreciate your affirmation.

      Have a wonderful weekend and thank you!

      bill

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 13 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Out of the blue comes WA. That is just so much like me. When I suddenly decide that I am going elsewhere, off I go.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I love it, Deb! This was me when I was younger, willing to take off and try new adventures.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 13 months ago from Oklahoma

      Wonderfully done!

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 13 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Home is where the heart is...beautiful opportunity for change.

      Love ya, Maria

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Again, Larry, I greatly appreciate you following this whole story.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Maria, change isn't so scary when you have loved ones nearby...as you well know.

      love,

      bill

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 13 months ago from Texas

      Heartwarming in the middle of heartbreaking. I love the notion of friends becoming family. It's actually so rare.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      It really is rare, Shanmarie, just as someone sitting down and reading all these installments is rare, and I thank you for it.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 12 months ago from Central Florida

      Wow, that was unexpected! Evelyn has taken the bull by the horns once again and this time she's leading it westward. She certainly is a good role model for Emma.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 12 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, the women in this story will be the backbone throughout. I wouldn't have it any other way. :) Thanks always, my friend!

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