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When the Corn Died: Chapter Four

Can You Imagine

I can’t. I’ve tried. I talked to my relatives who lived during the Great Depression and heard their stories and still, and perhaps it’s because of perspective, I cannot comprehend how they got by.

My father, like Peter Junior in my story, rode the rails in search of work, taking odd jobs hundreds of miles from home, living in shanties, doing anything he could to make enough money to send home to his parents. He was fourteen at the time, and he did this until he was old enough to enlist in the United States Army.

My grandparents owned, worked and lost a farm to foreclosure during the 1930s. I’m not sure they ever recovered from the shame of losing their home.

So this story is for my family, and for all those families who somehow survived one of the worst times in our history…..survived, moved forward, continued to foster families, and did it all with dignity and love.


Letters to Missouri

Peter Harper Junior folded the letter and tucked it inside his coat. He was always pleased to hear from his Ma, but this particular letter carried with it some disturbing news. Ma and Pa were behind on the mortgage and the bank was threatening foreclosure. He could picture Mr. Stapleton, the bank president, in his mind, hear his false words of condolences, smell his cheap cologne as he stood in the kitchen of the old farmhouse and explained the need to pay quickly or else.

It just wasn’t right! Peter’s folks were good people. They worked hard, would give you the shirt off their backs, never took from no one, and this is the result? “Hell no!” Peter thought, then smiled at the sight of him swearing in front of his mother, might as well expect a swat on the butt and a serious reprimand.

God he missed them!

The letter also mentioned a young mother and her son living on the farm. Emma Jameson and her son Timothy. Peter pictured her in his mind. He’d seen her around town from time to time, a small thing, not much more than five feet, delicate features, like she’d break in a strong wind, a pretty thing with long, chestnut hair. She had been married to Eli until a cranky cow kicked and killed him. Now it was just Emma and her son, and Ma and Pa had taken them in and let them live on the farm.

Well wasn’t that just like Ma and Pa? He figured it was Ma’s idea and then she had convinced Pa in that way she had. It was the right thing to do, she would have said, and then Pa would have explained the shortage of money and caring for two extra people, and Ma would have said “hush now” and that would be that.

Peter Jr. smiled. Emma Jameson. What was she, about twenty-two, twenty-three years old? About four years older than him. Pretty damned woman!

Peter Jr. was getting ready to answer the letter with one of his own when his best friend Lucas came running.


Trouble in Southeast Missouri

“Peter! One of the shafts caved in. Two men killed. The boss says we work double-time until that shaft is cleared and we’re able to work that vein again. Come on, grab your gear, let’s get going!”

It had been Lucas’ idea to traipse off to Missouri. He heard there was lead mining work down by Purdy in Barry County, about six months worth of work, and in these times, six months of work meant food on the table and a guy couldn’t pass that up. So there they were, three weeks into the new adventure, and God Almighty it was back-breaking, dirty, dangerous work, not much like farming acreage and watching corn grow by early dawn light. This was sun up to sun down, dust and soot, broken bones and cussing miners, tough men, some fair, some to be watched at all times, all desperate and not to be taken lightly.

So Lucas and Peter Jr. hung close together, had bunks next to each other, spent every down moment together, cuz a man needed someone watching his back in the lead mines, making sure no thievin’ no-good stole what was rightfully yours or knifed you for looking at him from the wrong angle after a night of drinking moonshine.

The foreman finally told them to shut down at nine that night as the summer sun was just a fiery memory and the coolness of dusk washed over them. Peter Jr. and Lucas drank from the nearby creek as mosquitoes drank from their veins, and somewhere nearby a coyote sang a lonesome song to the sliver of moon rising in the east. It had been their job to bury the bodies of the two miners once they were dug out, and that job, and homesickness, weighed heavy on them as they stared at the bunkhouse ceiling. Finally Lucas broke the silence.

“Do you think about home much, Pete?”

“Only every damned hour, Lucas. Ya know, I couldn’t wait to get off that farm when I was growing up, swore I’d never be a farmer, pictured myself some famous writer living in London or Florence, but now that I’m gone from it, I miss it something fierce. Who can figure, right? How about you? You miss home much, Lucas?”

“I reckon I do, Peter. I miss my mother’s fried chicken, and the old coon dog snoring at the foot of my bed at night, and I miss Ellie May sitting in the front pew of church, her blond hair spilling over her shoulders, and I miss my pain-in-the-ass kid brother always bugging me to take him fishing.”

There was silence for a few moments as the boys-turned-men pictured it all in their minds.

“I’m thinking of heading back to Charles City, Peter. Pay day is in two days. Collect what’s owed me and go home, help out as best I can, maybe find some work at the implement company if they’re hiring. Seems a shame, though, with money to be made here and money in short supply, makes me feel like a failure, tucking my tail and running home.”

“There ain’t not shame in it, Lucas. We done our best. I reckon I’ll head back with you and keep you out of trouble on the way. Hopefully Ma hasn’t given away all the spare bedrooms and there will be a place for me to sleep at home.”

The two best friends smiled in the darkness and drifted off to sleep with peaceful minds for the first time in weeks.


Back in Iowa

It’s been a long day on the farm. Young Timothy and I got a fair amount of work done, and that’s a fact, but the more you do the more there is to do, or so it seems.

It’s not the amount of work that has me concerned, however, but what I found along the edges of the southern border of the corn field. Grasshoppers. Not huge numbers yet, but the summer has been a dry one, and where there are a few you can bet there will be many soon.


I remember well the summer of Twenty-Two, grasshoppers so thick you could scoop them off the ground in a cupped hand, so thick they completely covered ears of corn and in two months laid waste to twelve-thousand acres of prime Iowa corn.

When Timothy and I enter the kitchen, Evelyn and Emma are just putting the meal down on the table.

I figure the bad news can wait until after dinner.

And We’ll Join Them Again Next Week

I’ll see you all next week when we join the Harper family once again. Thanks for checking in and reading this latest installment. Let’s hope Peter Junior makes it home safe and sound, and those damned grasshoppers move on soon.

2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


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

Rodric, this is a chapter out of my grandparents' lives...grasshoppers were a major problem for farmers. Overnight they could lose acres of land.

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

No, the grasshoppers at the end is killing me! On to the next chapter. This chapter ended too fast. I am afraid something will happen to Peter Jr. or his friend Lucas before they get back home!

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

Thank you Larry and you are right on with your description...the system just quit working and we, the people, had to find a way out of the muck.

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

Shanmarie, I'm very grateful that you are taking the time to catch up. Thank you!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on April 22, 2016:

Every now and then in this world everything just quits working for a while. The Great Depression was one of those times. I got many a story secondhand from my parents about this time.

The families that got thru banded together and did what they had to do. Wonderful represitation of this time.

Shannon Henry from Texas on April 22, 2016:

Wow, this one was a quick read. That's good. I'm behind. Maybe I will catch up! For some reason, I keep thinking of Sarah Plain and Tall as I read this chapter.

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

Maria, thank you so much. I am working hard at improving my pacing, and it was nice to read your comment concerning that facet of my craft.



Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on April 22, 2016:

The story keeps me coming back... the loyalty and dedication to family and friends keeps hope alive - despite a plague of grasshoppers and the threat of losing the farm.

Your pacing is pleasing, Bill. Love, Maria

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 31, 2016:

Sha, your reflections are always interesting and great reads. i'm reading a book right now called "The No Impact Man"....pick it up if you have time. You'll learn more about big corps and how they have tilted the playing field to our detriment.

Anyway, thank you!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on March 29, 2016:

I could feel the boys' homesickness, Bill. After seeing men die in those mines, I reckon they realized life isn't so green on the other side of the fence after all. They had good intentions, for sure, but there's no place like home.

The plague of grasshoppers brought Monsanto to mind. I hate the company and what they're doing to our crops, but I can see from this story (which I know you've researched), that when they first introduced their miracle GMO seeds, farmers probably saw a golden egg. It wouldn't be until many generations later that the effects of pesticides and seeds stuffed with pesticides would be attributed to birth defects, cancer, and death. I know this technology isn't part of the story, but the 'hoppers brought it to mind. It's disgusting how big business plays on folks' hardships to make a profit. I can see how early farmers may have thought Monsanto, Dupont and Dow's "solutions" were the answer to their prayers.

(Somehow I just tied this story in with the 12/59 as a whole lot of backstory. Something to think about, Bill.)

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

Lawrence, you most definitely understand what the Harpers are going through. Thanks for sharing that, my friend.

There are better days ahead.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on March 18, 2016:


I think I'd identify with junior and how hard it must have been seeing his family lose their 'inheritence' like that and knowing there was nothing they could do about it!

A few years ago we lost our home that way, so I think I have an idea how they felt!

Loving this story


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 13, 2016:

Hi Rasma! It was a tough time for use. That time period has always fascinated me. People found out pretty fast what kind of strength they had, and communities were forced to rely on each other, band together, and sink or swim together. I wonder if we aren't seeing it again, the early stages, as so many people struggle in this country? Well, anyway, best wishes to you and Happy Sunday.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 12, 2016:

Deb, just about anywhere is safe than a mine shaft. LOL Thank you my friend.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on March 11, 2016:

I have heard so many stories about the Great Depression and it is amazing that these people had such strength to pull through despite the odds. There is the Waltons Christmas story that gives us a look into how things were especially when the holidays came in a family of six children. So many boys had to quickly become men before their own time putting childhood behind. I am amazed that my own parents who arrived in the 1950s in NYC were able to stand against all odds arriving with barely any money and no possessions and putting it all together through hard work and determination. I shudder to think how it would all have been if they had arrived during the Great Depression but that would have been an entirely different story. I think though that some Latvians did live in the states at that time but I haven't heard their stories. Now you've given me the incentive to check this out. Your story is intriguing and I feel like I am living along with all of them. Hope you have a great weekend.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on March 10, 2016:

I'm glad that the kids are planning on going home. It'll be a lot safer there than in a mine shaft.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 10, 2016:

Frank, thank you so much. I do love playing with words, as you do...all good writers do, I think. :)

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on March 10, 2016:

The boys turned men.. I like that line.. Billybuc you are a professional writer... an entertaining saga you have going on bravo..:)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 09, 2016:

Linda, you are never late to my party, so thank you. I hope you had a nice time out of town. Welcome back!!!!!

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on March 08, 2016:

Bill, sorry to be so late to the party, but I've been out of town for 5 days. I was hoping that another installment would be waiting for me on my return, and you didn't let me down. What a loving tribute this is to your family and the hundreds of others like them who suffered through this dreadful time in our Nation's history. Thank you for sharing with all of us.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 07, 2016:

I appreciate that, Faith. Thank you! It's now Monday, the start of another busy week. I hope yours is joyous.

blessings and hugs coming your way


Faith Reaper from southern USA on March 06, 2016:

Thanks, Bill,

I have been up to a lot, but didn't get to one until today. I have a lot of creative writings in the works, but thought I would go ahead and go with this new one.

I hope you are enjoying a peaceful Sunday.

Hugs and much love

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 06, 2016:

I will do my best, Dora! I'm very happy that you are enjoying it. Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 06, 2016:

Thank you Alicia! It was a struggle for many people and yet many came out of it with dignity...that's my theme...dignity and love overcome obstacles.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 06, 2016:

Zulma, it's pretty similar here in Olympia. We are in a protective little weather pocket most of the time. Extreme weather seems to fly right by us.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 05, 2016:

It touches me to see two young men giving their all to help the family income. These values are not so obvious nowadays. Let's get on with the story, Bill!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 05, 2016:

This story is set in such a sad time in history. I'm enjoying the story very much, despite the sadness. I love the characters.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on March 05, 2016:

I'll hold you to that, Bill. :)

If there was any snow someone else got it. We live in a curious area. We never seem to get the worst of the weather. Other areas get flooded, heavy snowfalls etc. (not a complaint, merely an observation). Our area only ever seems to catch the edge of it. You have a good weekend too.

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

Faith my dear, thank you! I love it when one of my phrases resonates with a reader. I appreciate you taking the time to point that out.

As for your dad getting into the Army at a young age, same with my dad. I think, with the harrowing times of WW2, the strict rules were kind of ignored.

What have you been up to? I better go check your site to see if you've written lately.

blessings and hugs,


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

Music to my ears, Pop...I truly do appreciate those kind words. I work hard at that.

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

M Abdullah Javed, thank you for your kind words. I always try to have a moral lesson in my writings.

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

Michael my friend, thank you for sharing your experience. I love the concept of neighbor helping neighbor....we do need more of it and yes, it just might be necessary in the years to come.

Thank you as always and blessings to you and yours.

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

Wonderful anecdote, Blossom. Thanks for sharing that. I would have like your Dad.

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

Sis, you can butt in any old time you feel like it....and you are correct...four years is nothing, one way or the other.

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

Thank you very much, Bill! The old history teacher in me can't help but teach while writing.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on March 05, 2016:

My dad joined the Army at an early age ...well, somehow he got in under age, and I surmise it was due to the hard times back then.

Your writing is superb here, Bill. I especially love, "Lucas drank from the nearby creek as mosquitoes drank from their veins, and somewhere nearby a coyote sang a lonesome song to the sliver of moon rising in the east. It had been their job to bury the bodies of the two miners once they were dug out, and that job, and homesickness, weighed heavy on them as they stared at the bunkhouse ceiling."

I just love this story. Pete sure sounds smitten with Emma. It will be interesting what transpires once he returns home, even though she is a bit older than he.

Those poor souls working in those mines ...God bless them.

Looking forward to the next chapter.

Peace and blessings always

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

Mike, that is high praise and I thank you!

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

Bill, I honestly don't know if they did....my guess is they were a much bigger problem the closer you got to the real breadbasket of the country.

Anyway, it might be worth a little research.

Thanks for being here, my friend.

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

MizB, thanks for your recollections of family during those times. Tough, tough times for sure. I imagine I would have made it, but I'm sure glad I didn't have to experience it.

breakfastpop on March 05, 2016:

I applaud the way you develop your characters. I can see them, feel them and appreciate them, just as I appreciate you.

muhammad abdullah javed on March 04, 2016:

I love the way you narrate the survival, and the way you advise as to how one should get rid of anxiety and depression. Thanks Bill Sir. Take care.

Michael-Milec on March 04, 2016:

Though you says you can’t imagine, Bill your story witnesses a close encounter with real life of those days surviving on farm. Hard work often since before sunrise, till the sunset, planting in hope for the best results . During the WW2, we only survived on very little of that what in spite of danger and hardship would be harvested ,and as much of livestock we could feed and nurtured. It was unheard of,how much neighbors helping neighbors without distinction who was poor or rich. Love without spoken words is being manifested mightily during the hard times, and that is the best school of life.

Looking forward the story will bring more permanent moral lessons for present and future generation. ( It might be necessary).

Blessed weekend to you and yours, my frind.

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on March 04, 2016:

I'm loving your story. We were lucky as my Dad had a good job, but my parents helped out anyone who called by. Dad made an incubator, bred chicks and when they were grown a bit, killed and 'dressed' them for Mum to give away. I wrote about it in a children's book called 'Joan and the Great Depression.'

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 04, 2016:

Ann, grasshoppers...sorry about that. I missed it at the end when I proofread it. Duh!

I'm ready for the weekend. Enjoy that new home of yours.


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 04, 2016:

Sis, you really need to see a doctor about those stinging eyes. LOL As for the depression ending, I feel the same way...just different degrees of the same old story.

I worked again today. Part of me enjoys getting out...the other part of me resents not being able to write more. LOL

There's not pleasing me, Sis!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 04, 2016:

Thank you Eric. I'm just grateful that you are always here...it's a bonus knowing you enjoyed it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 04, 2016:

Marlene, my 8th grade teacher said I was the sneakiest in the class. LOL Now you know it too.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 04, 2016:

Thank you Ruby and it's grasshoppers, not caterpillars...don't know how I missed that when I proofread it.

Suzie from Carson City on March 04, 2016:

Missy...Scuse me bro...I'm buttin in.......4 yrs. is nothing considering Peter is so mature, responsible & caring...

Stop to think a moment. Would we even think for one second this is an issue if HE was 4 yrs. older than her? Talk about stereotypes & double standards. .Do most of us really get stuck in a rut for decades & decades?

I thought the same thing as you about Peter & Emma when our Master author began weaving ....gotta watch bill...he's sneaky

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on March 04, 2016:

Hi Bill. You are taking us back to a time that few of us experienced first hand. When I'm reading about the Harper family I feel like I'm getting an education on life in America during the Depression. Great job, looking forward to the next chapter. Have a great weekend.

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on March 04, 2016:

Hello Bill. Another good episode. It somewhat reminds me of Studs Turkel's 'Hard Times' a book filled with Depression era first person accounts.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 04, 2016:

I'm so glad to hear that, Zulma....I'll keep them coming as long as people like you are enjoying them.

Have a fantastic weekend....did I hear you got some snow?

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 04, 2016:

Very true, Clive...thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 04, 2016:

I don't think four years is much, Missy, and I think we're due for a romance. :) Thanks and have a great weekend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 04, 2016:

Oh Mike, the parallel between then and now can easily be drawn..many similarities, I'm afraid. Let's hope we find wisdom and turn this ship around soon.

Thank you my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 04, 2016:

Thank you very much, Eldon! I do think it's important to make sure the past never dies...too many sacrifices were made for them to become insignificant. My job and yours is to make sure that never happens...so thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 04, 2016:

Janine, thank you so much. I'm not sure, but I think my grandparents were stronger than I'll ever be, and that's okay....at least they taught me valuable lessons through their strength.

Happy Weekend my friend!

Ann Carr from SW England on March 04, 2016:

Grasshoppers or caterpillars? I'm confused (doesn't take much)!

You bring the history of those times alive and no doubt do your family proud by honouring their memory in this way. The story is all the more gripping because we know it's based on truth.

I truly feel for these people.


William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on March 04, 2016:

Been thinking if the grasshoppers of the 1880s affected Missouri... no you mention them... oh, my. Thanks for another great chapter... ;-)

Ruchira from United States on March 04, 2016:

Had read about the "Great Depression" but your characters brought out the emotions and could get a certain feeling of it...

I still have to read the chapter three and two but will go back...

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on March 04, 2016:

I love this story, Bill, and look forward each week to the next installment. Well, grasshoppers and quitting their jobs, how are they and their families going to fare? Anxious to see.

Coincidentally, this kind of borders on my family. My grandparents made it okay on the farm, and my dad operated heavy equipment in the local mines during this time. There were manganese mines and limestone, sandstone, and marble quarries in operation, and I'm not sure which one he worked in. Manganese mines, I think.

Suzie from Carson City on March 04, 2016:

Yes bro, it is a magic trick to be able to imagine how our ancestors went from one day to the next during the long & desperate era of the Depression. You & I and all our generation were gifted with remnants of the hard lessons learned at that time. It did us no harm at all. In fact I've come to be grateful for the tricks of survival we learned.

Thanks for getting Peter back home. The conversation between Peter & Lucas brought those damned stinging tears to my eyes. What Peter said about missing "home" went straight to my heart's memory. I don't know how you do that.!!

Sure, that's OK, just leave us with worry & concern about the grasshoppers and the boys safe trip home. No problem. Your stories manage to stick with me for days & days anyway!

I saw where you mentioned "the other job"....I picked up some part time work too, bro. I really don't know where the depression ever ended....it just shifted a little.......Waiting for #5! Sis

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 04, 2016:

Well you pulled me so far in I was swatting at imaginary mosquitoes. Then you hit me with the locusts. I parched just reading this. Thank you.

Marlene Bertrand from USA on March 04, 2016:

Yeah, Bill. Let's hope... but then, those were tough times. It is hard to imagine living back then. Your story tells it well. In fact, your story reads like a Netflix original. It's the kind of story I have been known to binge watch for days on end. Sneaky how you're giving us a history lesson in an entertaining way. :)

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on March 04, 2016:

I'm glad Peter Jr. is going home. I have a feeling he might like Emma? The times were so hard and now, caterpillars! You tell a story so well and the characters are so real. I love this..

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on March 04, 2016:

If it ain't one thing, it's another. I guess it's a good think Peter Jr. is heading back home. Sounds like he's going to be needed.

I am really getting into these series. It's been ages since I've picked up a book. I'm enjoying these stories so much.

Clive Williams from Jamaica on March 04, 2016:

very good story. great depression we all have to overcome

Missy Smith from Florida on March 04, 2016:

As always, I enjoyed this installment very much. I love this story. Could there be a romance about to brew when Peter Jr. gets home? I wonder; four years isn't that much older, right? :)

Old Poolman on March 04, 2016:

Your telling a really great story here Bill with some good history thrown in. It is amazing how far we have come since those times, I hope we never go back even though it is said history always repeats itself.

I can't even imagine the frustration and helpless feeling people endured during these times. No work available and the banks not willing to wait for their money. But then, some things really never change do they?

Eldon Arsenaux from Cooley, Texas on March 04, 2016:

This was fantastic. The image of the boys/men drinking from the river as mosquitos drink from their veins was my favorite line. The dust bowl blues go beyond my ability to fully feel. I wish I could do more than imagine, pasting together people's accounts. Like you, the tribulations our families faced seem forgotten, or as historicized as the civil war. The hard faces float below in slipstreams of the past. Stories like this attempt to bring back their humanity, the reality of their situation, and for that, I salute you.

Bravo Bill,


Janine Huldie from New York, New York on March 04, 2016:

Bill, I am with you and still not sure how my own grandparents survived the Great Depression, but they did and truly always been just more than slightly in awe of them for that and so much more. Love that you are writing this for your past relatives and am truly enjoying the story as it is unfolding here. Happy Friday and have a great weekend now, too!! ;)

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