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When the Corn Died: Chapter Eleven

To Be or Not to Be

I’m very grateful for the kind comments about this story and in particular about the characters. It was my intention to showcase strong women in this story. Women were, in my opinion, the unsung and rarely-written-about heroes of the Great Depression, the spine that kept the family erect while all hell was breaking loose, and I felt it was important that they have their moment in the literary sun.

That’s not to say the Harper men don’t deserve some credit, because they do, but for me, the author, it is the women in this story I most identify with.

So, shall we continue? It’s time to head for the setting sun.

Goodbye to the homestead.

Goodbye to the homestead.

All Packed and Ready to Go

Two weeks flew by in a flurry of last-minute details, all seemingly important but in reality, just busywork when compared to the job ahead of us.

The paperwork had been signed and the bank now owned the Harper farm, two-hundred acres of prime Iowa farmland, ninety years of Harper blood and sweat in that soil. We signed over the corn growing on the remaining hundred acres as well, a good deal for the bank, a deal ending with nine-hundred and twenty-six dollars resting in the center of a hollowed-out Bible packed with our clothing in a trunk.

Peter Junior helped me lift that trunk into the back of the pickup truck, the truck we were depending on to take us out west to Wenatchee, Washington, apple capitol of the United States. Also in the back were boxes with dishware and clothing, family keepsakes and other “essentials,” as well as an old sofa upon which sat Emma, her son Timothy and soon Peter Junior as soon as we were underway.

My wife, Evelyn, joined me as I took one last look at the farmhouse where I was born, where Peter Junior was born, where the Harper family had carved out a name for itself, a name built on integrity and love.

She had tears in her eyes. So did I.

“It’s only a building, husband,” she said to me as she put her hand on my arm. “It’s only land. What’s important is in that old pickup truck and you know what I say is true.”

“I can’t help but feel like a failure, Evelyn. I know none of it’s my fault but still, there you have it.”

She squeezed my arm and stood on tiptoe to kiss my cheek.

“Come on, my love. Let’s follow the sun to our new home.”

Desolation along the road

Desolation along the road

The Journey Begins

The only problem with Iowa is it sits east of South Dakota. That’s what I was thinking as we left Iowa behind and said hello to the Mount Rushmore State, all dust devils, parched land, streams barely a trickle and crops dying a slow death. As we drove through Canton on State Road Forty-Four, I was struck with the realization that the Depression was a massive thing, stretching across borders, affecting millions, a living, breathing creation of terror and hopelessness. The road stretched straight and true westward, like the shaft of an arrow piercing the hearts of those who were brave enough, or foolish enough, to live along it.

Thunderheads rose to the south and shadows moved swiftly across the scorched landscape as clouds danced with the sun and fought for supremacy. We passed farms occasionally, were looked at with curiosity by cattle, saw farmhouses leaning with the wind, abandoned cars standing as sentinels in wheat and corn fields, all in all as bleak a scene as you will ever see. A young boy raised his arm to wave, his tattered clothes barely serving their purpose. A farmer worked on his John Deere, a broken-down man with a broken-down tractor, while chickens scratched the rock-hard soil looking for another day of life.

Evelyn saw it all as I did. Occasionally a mew came from the passenger seat, a muffled cry born from the desperation of it all.

“What will become of them all, husband? How will this country ever stand tall again?”

I had no answer for her. I gave her hand a pat, perhaps the only response she expected.

Now I Lay Me down to Sleep

We stopped for the night on the outskirts of the Badlands. Peter Junior, with the help of young Timothy, made a small fire for cooking while Emma and Evelyn unpacked sandwiches and cheese for our feast. The sun found solace in the distant Pacific, mixing with clouds to turn the sky scarlet, a blood-red hue spreading over the grasslands as they blew in the wind.

As we finished our meal the red turned to gray, then black, and as the cooking fire died out, the sky exploded in stars, millions of stars, more stars than a team of scientists could count, dwarfing our tiny traveling party and filling us with awe. Minutes passed in complete silence, for words simply could not capture what we saw above us. Finally it was young Timothy who summed it up perfectly.

“Look at all the angels, Mommy!”

We spread blankets on the ground in a semi-circle, fifty yards off the main road, the countryside too vast to comprehend, our mission’s goal too Herculean to consider. We were dead-tired from traveling and being worn down by nerves and fear, and as the coyotes howled in the distance and the wind whispered to our inner demons, Evelyn said, “Good night, Harper family,” and sleep embraced us.

The landscape changes

The landscape changes

Another Day

The second day would find us finishing off South Dakota only to meet its bigger brother, Montana.

It was a day of the Little Bighorn and the Powder River. It was a day of scrublands and jackrabbits, rattle snakes and antelope, more dying towns and more hopeless town folk, dust-covered, peering at us from faces of despair.

It was also the day we said hello to the Rocky Mountains, awe-inspiring and terrifying all in one, a fortress of stone protecting the west from interlopers and insuring that only the strong of will would proceed. They rose in the distance, oddly from the south as we drove through Laurel. By the time we reached Livingston they blocked the western and southern horizons.

We had heard of them, of course, but hearing about them and seeing them in person are two different matters, and I began to have serious doubts whether the old Ford would be able to climb the Rocky flanks. My concerns were confirmed when the truck overheated on a rise just west of Bozeman. I pulled off on an access road, got out, opened the hood to billows of steam and silently cussed the gods. The rest of the family kept their distance and gave me some much-needed space until I settled down.

“Looks like we’re spending the night here, family,” I told them. “I don’t see no hose damage, so we’ll let it cool down overnight, fill it with water in the morning and be on our way. It was almost time to stop anyway, so this just forced the matter a bit. Peter Junior, how about taking a walk with me? Let’s see if there’s a source of water nearby. Evelyn, would you and Emma be so kind as to set up camp? Timothy, you might as well come along with the men folk.”

About a quarter-mile to the east we found a stream, not big by any standards, but running true and big enough for our needs. We had brought along a couple jugs so we filled them from the stream and headed back to camp. When we were a hundred yards out we saw Emma and Evelyn talking to two men. When we were fifty yards out we saw one of the men holding a rifle and pointing the damned thing at the women. When we were fifty feet out the rifle turned in our direction and we were told to stop where we were.

To Be Continued

Tough times back then, and desperate people surviving any way that they could.

Join me next week?

2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 28, 2018:

God bless you, Rodric, for following this long series...seriously, thank you!

Rodric Anthony Johnson from Surprise, Arizona on April 27, 2018:

Can't they catch a long break? I just hoped those two men were going to be Mormon missionaries! Dang it. I hope the took the rifle with them and put it in an easily accessible place.

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

It's a dangerous road they're on, Sha, but I guess that could be said for all of us. Thanks for following along. I promise you they'll make it to Wenatchee.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 19, 2016:

Oh, no. Why can't the Harpers just be left alone? It's hard enough to uproot yourself and head for unknown lands, but to have to face outlaws on top of it? Sheesh!

I'll be waiting to see how this turns out.

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

Thank you Ann! My goal was to show you the country through the eyes of a loving family...I'm glad their vision, and yours, is 20/20. :)

Ann Carr from SW England on May 15, 2016:

Adversity often hits from all quarters and this blow is certainly a heart-stopper. Let's hope the women can remain strong; of course they can!

We journey with that family, see the wondrous countryside and feel their apprehension, pain and hope - fantastic!


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 03, 2016:

Beverly Hillbillies, Lawrence, and I can see it too. Great fun!

Thanks my friend...so glad you are enjoying this series.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on May 02, 2016:


Awesome story. You're right that those folks were strong not just physically but mentally too!

To be honest when I read about the beat up old Ford and the couch tied to the back it reminded me of an old TV comedy series I loved as a kid. I can still see the scene as they were driving along and granny was on the couch with a shotgun! As tough as nails but with a heart of gold!

I'll need to find out what happens next.


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

Genna, "this story is like coming home." That's exactly what I wanted it to be. Your affirmation brightens my Monday morning. Thank you!

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on May 01, 2016:

I am looking forward to seeing where this journey takes our friends. Reading this series is like spending time with an old and trusted friend. The writing is beautiful, vivid and natural, and the characters we have taken to our hearts. This is a book, and I look forward to reading it again, as I turn the pages, savoring the words and imagery. It's hard to explain, but this story is like coming home. But, there is a new danger that they must now face.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2016:

I appreciate that, Rasma! Thank you so much!

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on April 27, 2016:

Simply love following this series.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2016:

The old saying "no rest for the wicked" certainly doesn't apply here, does it Deb?

Thanks my friend!

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on April 26, 2016:

Not even any peace for folks that are broken down, I see. The Depression was filled with desperation from all.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 26, 2016:

Like I said earlier, Missy, your instincts are good. Relief is on the way in a surprising source.

Missy Smith from Florida on April 26, 2016:

That sounds like a scary introduction from those men, but this story still carries me away in awe inspiration. I felt the despair as they traveled with all the depressing scenes; however, I still feel that hope and faith this family tucks away inside of them for a better day. :)

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

Zulma, what an imagination you have. Too funny! Wouldn't that be great if Sheila and Tweetie stopped by to save the day? LOL

Happy Monday my friend.

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

Sorry about that, Shanmarie. You'll be surprised who leads the way out of this mess on Friday.

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

Thank you very much, Alicia. I think the excitement will die down shortly for our wayward family.

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

Thank you Dora. I love it when someone finds one of my sentences to be special.

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

Chris, I really do appreciate those kind words. Thank you so much.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on April 25, 2016:

Help from an unexpected source? Billy/Bob?! No. He's otherwise occupied at the moment. (sharp inhale) Could it be another family travelling to Washington from their farm? (Or should I say time-travelling?)

Shannon Henry from Texas on April 24, 2016:

What?! You can't just leave us hanging like that! I bet that Evelyn gets them out if that Ness somehow. ;)

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 24, 2016:

What a tense and dramatic ending! Of course, I'm looking forward to the next chapter to see what happens to the Harper family.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 24, 2016:

I have to mention this descriptive, colorful sentence: The sun found solace . . . as they blew in the wind." I like it. Of course, I also like the spirit of trust and cooperation between family members in the story.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on April 24, 2016:

I'll admit, Bill, when I read your hubs, I'm more focused on your writing style than on the content. You make this look so easy. I love the story you've got going here, although I haven't read it all. But I'll keep learning from you about the form and structure. Great work.

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

Always hope, Eric, but enough realism to make it believable...thank you for your kind words, my friend.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 23, 2016:

Interesting -- such beautiful writing about such a horrible time. Somehow your words breathe a hope into the story. Otherwise I would just be depressed.

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

Pop, help is on the way from an unexpected source...stay tuned...and thank you!

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

PS, you couldn't have said kinder words to me. That's exactly what I was hoping my readers would feel...thank you and say hello to those angels for me when they arrive with hugs and blessings.

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

Zulma, you are cracking me up. Your comments remind me of sitting around with my grandparents listening to serials on the radio...yes, I am that old. LOL Happy Saturday my friend.

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

Aesta, I appreciate that feedback. That's the mood I was trying to capture, so your affirmation helps me greatly. Thank you!

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

Always leave them hanging, Jackie...I learned that one a long time ago. Thank you and Happy Weekend to you.

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

Why not indeed, Michael my friend. I think I have another positive turnaround in me.

blessings this weekend, Michael!

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

Maria, you are a wonder...thank you for catching up on my story. Happy Weekend to you.



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

Wow, Larry, you're catching up on two stories...thank you so much.

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

Paula, the strength and wisdom will come from an unexpected source....trust me, you'll love it. :) Happy weekend, Sis, and thank you!

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

MizB, thanks for sharing that with us. When we are talking about misery, it's hard to distinguish better and worse...misery is misery, is it not, not matter the color of your skin? Sigh.....we are a complicated species.

breakfastpop on April 23, 2016:

Now this is what I call a cliffhanger! I hope you are hard at work helping the Harpers get out of trouble.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on April 23, 2016:

O billy. I got lost in this...memories of those depression years flooded my mind--- not years that I lived through but that my Momma, Daddy, and eldest sister lived through...they ate mainly beets all one winter... Every time I read your offerings I find I am totally captivated... Angels are on the way to you.ps

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on April 23, 2016:

Dammit! Seriously, Bill? Between this and Billy/Bob's antics, my nerves are getting frayed. (heavy sigh)

Hopefully, those men will just take a few things and leave them be. OMG, not the Bible! Please, Lord, not the Bible!

(whimpering) I can't take much more.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 22, 2016:

Oh my, I was engulfed in the desolation and the beauty that danger escaped me. Your description of the depression just made the picture more vivid to me of what people then had to go through and some didn't, of course.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on April 22, 2016:

Great ending to make us all look forward to the next chapter! Great story.

Michael-Milec on April 22, 2016:

If ever Harpers had need for a 'saving' miracle, it was this very moment. Hope,those young Timothy's angels, come to rescue. Evelyn and Emma would join them. You always comes up with a positive turnaround my friend, why not once again ?!

Good night and blessed weekend to you and yours.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on April 22, 2016:

Next Friday it is, dear Bill... leaving off nervous yet hopeful for this plucky family...

Thanks for an enjoyable read through this day...have a great weekend.

Love and hugs, Maria

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on April 22, 2016:

Always compelling. I look forward to the next read.

Suzie from Carson City on April 22, 2016:

Bro....I felt the tug at my heart as my eyes also filled with tears, knowing the overwhelming emotions of bidding "Farewell" to their precious homestead. That's a real tough one, even for the Harpers. Best to look, speak your peace & just breathe in deeply as you walk away.

I clearly saw the gorgeous "blue-red" hue to the star-filled sky that Timothy described so aptly as "all the Angels"....(from the mouths of babes.)

My heart has begun to race at the mention of "men with guns pointed at the women!" Those angels best be on alert~~what, pray tell must this family face now? Such apprehension, Bill....so much suspense. I need the strength & faith of Evelyn!

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on April 22, 2016:

Well, Bill, as the story continues…people who were desperate back then and left in search of better life just didn’t realize the enormity of the Depression. Things had to get worse in order to get better, didn’t they?

An African-American attorney where I work was talking angrily recently about how her family were share croppers and nearly starved during the Great Depression. She was saying that families like “ours” (pointing out another white employee) had it better. She really is not a racist, but she just doesn’t know, does she?

Well, I’ll be anxious to see how Evelyn gets the family out of this one. You will think of something because you are a great storyteller.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 22, 2016:

Thank you so much, Faith....I heard the stories from my grandparents and parents....tough times, but their stories were always reinforced with a message of love.

hugs and blessings this weekend,


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 22, 2016:

Bill, I am humbled...thank you! I'll return us to the tranquility shortly.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 22, 2016:

Ruby, this story is a pure labor of love, and I'm so happy others are enjoying it. Never fear, Ruby, the Harpers will find a way.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 22, 2016:

Thank you so much, Linda! I won't go to rape in this story....trust in love, my friend.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on April 22, 2016:

Hi Bill,

I love how you uplift women here in your story, as they are far too often not. I'm enjoying joining the Harpers on their new adventure, including all the obstacles they are facing ahead!

I felt as though I was in that truck seeing all the sad folks along the way who were also just trying to survive, plus with the mountains ahead. Beautifully penned once again.

Looking forward to reading next week and seeing how this new threat unfolds!

Peace and blessings

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on April 22, 2016:

I was totally caught up in the tranquility of the desolation, and the mountains, that that I completely forgot about this possibility/certainty... great writing, Bill... Thank you, so much, for sharing with us, here!!! ;-)

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on April 22, 2016:

Oh no, men with rifles! This family needs to catch a break. I loved this line about the stars, " Look at all the angels Mommy. " We today can't imagine the hard times the people had to endure back in the great depression. I wonder if we would've survived? I sure do admire the Harper family. Thank you for bringing them to us...

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on April 22, 2016:

Bill, this episode breaks my heart. Are those dear women facing rape? Somehow I know that Evelyn will make us proud once again.

You are capturing the mood of this era so very well, and your description of the scenery puts me there. My mother was born (first-generation American) in Laurel, Montana.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 22, 2016:

Music to my ears, Bill, and I thank you for it. Happy Weekend to you, my friend. See you next week.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 22, 2016:

I couldn't agree more, DDE! Thank you for pointing that out.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 22, 2016:

Marlene, praise doesn't get much better than your words. Thank you my friend and Happy Weekend to you.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 22, 2016:

Happy Friday Janine and thank you for yet another visit to my humble site. Bless the women of the world, my friend.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on April 22, 2016:

Love following this Bill as they head west. Nothing like a good road trip although when one's livelihood and life is on the line it's certainly much more than a road trip. Those of us way too young to have experienced anything close to the depression probably can't fathom just how difficult life was during that period. This is both a fascinating tale and an education. Have a great weekend.

DDE on April 22, 2016:

Interesting of the way you put it here about women. There are many woman leaders and and their strengths speak out loudly.

Marlene Bertrand from USA on April 22, 2016:

Such a journey it is for the Harpers, just going where life takes them. I suspect that is all they can do and they are doing a great job. You, Bill, are doing an excellent job capturing the life of a family during tough times. I feel like I'm getting a first-hand account from someone who actually lived back then.

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on April 22, 2016:

Will totally join you and agree with your assessment about women during this time, as I had a few women relatives back then that truly were inspirational and heroes in my eyes, too. Thanks Bill and Happy Friday now!! ;)

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