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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.


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)


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

It's time to move on for the Harpers....a better life awaits them out west, my friend.

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

This took a might turn for the better for the Harpers. If they can get a fair selling price for the farm, this will be great. I want a happily ever after for them.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 02, 2017:

Aww, thanks Peg! I usually just write about things that interest me, and this time period has always fascinated me.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on December 02, 2017:

I like the way the loss is turned into a new beginning for this family. Apples, yum. Sounds like a brand new adventure and a road trip awaits. I already like the characters and the family dynamic.

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

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

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

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.

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

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

Shannon Henry from Texas on April 24, 2016:

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

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

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



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

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

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on April 22, 2016:

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

Love ya, Maria

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on April 22, 2016:

Wonderfully done!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 18, 2016:

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

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on April 18, 2016:

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.

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

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

Have a wonderful weekend and thank you!


Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on April 15, 2016:


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.


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

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

Marlene Bertrand from USA on April 15, 2016:

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.

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

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.

Marlene Bertrand from USA on April 14, 2016:

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.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 11, 2016:

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.

Suzie from Carson City on April 11, 2016:

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

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 11, 2016:

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

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 11, 2016:

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 Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 11, 2016:

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.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 10, 2016:

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.

Suzie from Carson City on April 10, 2016:

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

Missy Smith from Florida on April 10, 2016:

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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!

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on April 09, 2016:

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

Faith Reaper from southern USA on April 09, 2016:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on April 09, 2016:

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.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on April 09, 2016:

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.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 08, 2016:

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

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on April 08, 2016:

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

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on April 08, 2016:

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

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on April 08, 2016:

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.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 08, 2016:

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.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 08, 2016:

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.

Ann Carr from SW England on April 08, 2016:

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.


manatita44 from london on April 08, 2016:

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.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 08, 2016:

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.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 08, 2016:

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

Thank you dear friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 08, 2016:

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

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 08, 2016:

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.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on April 08, 2016:

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.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on April 08, 2016:

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....

breakfastpop on April 08, 2016:

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

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

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.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 08, 2016:

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.

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on April 08, 2016:

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!! :)

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