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When the Corn Died: Chapter Thirteen

Pushing west

Pushing west

Where Are They Now?

When last we read about them, the Harpers were just outside Bozeman, Montana where their old Ford overheated. They are bound and determined to make it to Wenatchee, Washington, and start a new life as apple farmers, but the Great Depression has a nasty habit of shattering dreams.

Let’s peek in and see how the Harpers are doing.


We said goodbye to the Turcottes the next day. They rode along with us for twenty miles then said they were going to follow State Road One-Ninety-One south into Yellowstone. There was supposedly work there with the CCC and they needed money badly for their families back east. And so we shook hands, wished them well and watched as the two brothers took their first weary steps south towards the Gallatin Range. Ahead of us, to the west, stood a couple hundred miles of pure ruggedness, followed by a God-forsaken desert; I heard Evelyn sigh as she looked west with me, then felt her hand on my arm.

“It’s a big country, isn’t it, husband?

“Yes it is, Evelyn.”

“But all that bigness, Peter, simply means big opportunities. Let’s get back on the road and gobble up some of those opportunities before they’re all gone.”

It’s hard to imagine a man finding a better woman than Evelyn.

We took it slow that day, coaxing the old Ford, babying her, really, but she had served us well over the years and deserved some pampering. The peaks ahead of us, and to the south, all had a mantle of snow, an odd sight for Iowa farmers and a chilling reminder of all we left behind and all we faced ahead, rugged peaks, jagged peaks with the ability to slice a man’s dreams and leave him bloodied and broken.

Thirty, forty miles an hour, up one side of a hill and down the other, stopping often to put more water in the radiator, collecting our thoughts and our nerve, always pushing west. We passed the occasional ranch and drove through small towns with unfamiliar names, Logan, Three Forks, Cardwell and Whitehall. We crossed over rivers read about long ago in school books, the Gallatin, the Madison and the Jefferson. We saw the mines of Butte and the old prison at Deer Lodge and we followed the Clark Fork, its waters running shallow and peaceful into Missoula and still more mountains.

Crossing into the west

Crossing into the west

Pushing Further West

We began to have a sense for what the pioneers must have felt ninety years earlier, the enormity of it all, the butt-puckering feeling of insignificance in a wilderness that knew nothing of economic depressions or the vagaries of a stock market, that cared less about the silliness of man. This country always was and always would be, and my family seemed to recognize, as one, that we are all just visitors on this land and we damned well better respect it for the wonder that it was.

The heat lessened as we climbed. Gone were the clouds of dust and choking stench of rotting farm animals. The air was clear and even in August it had a bite to it, a hint that winter was fast-approaching and only a fool would be making this trip a month in the future.

As the sun set ahead of us, and dusk weighed down upon us, we slowly passed a sign that welcomed us to Idaho. We decided it was as good a spot as any to have a late dinner and find comfort in the blanket of approaching stars. Peter Junior and Emma set about making a fire while Evelyn unpacked some plates. I grabbed the .22 and Timothy and I went off in search of rabbit. Our luck was good and my aim true, and twenty minutes later Evelyn was skinning and gutting the rabbit as daylight left us for good and the fire announced our intention to stay for the night.

“A man could get swallowed up in this country,” Peter Junior said to anyone listening as he stared off into the darkness.

“True words, son,” I answered. “I suspect a man learns, right quick, to respect this country and give it its due. That or die young, a fool.”

Do the mountains never end?

Do the mountains never end?

After Dinner

We finished off the rabbit, a feast fit for weary kings and queens, and laid out our blankets for a night under stars so plentiful as to seem suffocating. Evelyn curled up next to me. Peter Junior and Emma, completely tossing aside all pretense, bedded down next to each other, with young Timothy content between them. The quiet was unnerving at first, so vast and unknown, but then it became comforting and I felt myself relax.

“What are you thinking about, husband?” Evelyn whispered.

“I was thinking I was the luckiest man alive, hon. You know, if we stopped and thought about it, this trip of ours, this starting over in a new land, well, it could be downright terrifying, and we would have a right to be depressed, leaving our farm behind us. But I don’t feel any of that. I’m looking up at the stars, and imagining God behind them, smiling down, and I know why He’s smiling. He’s approving of our decision and He’s glad to see a family glued together with love. That’s what I was thinking about, darling. I was thinking about love.”

I felt her hand slide down my stomach and then felt her touch, probing, tentative at first but then definite, and a part of me stood at attention and my breath shortened.

“How quiet do you think we can be, husband?” she said into my ear.

“I think we should find out,” I said in return, and then I kissed her, rolled over on top of her and made love, for the first time in my life, in Idaho.

The Next Morning

Dawn arrives late in the mountains, but by seven we had a fire going and were drinking coffee in preparation for a new day of adventure. As the gray of dawn turned blue we noticed, to the southwest, a plume of golden smoke rising from the mountains.

“What do you suppose that is?” Emma asked.

I was already rising and heading towards the truck as I answered.

“Unless I’m as wrong as I’ve ever been, that’s a forest fire. Gather up the stuff and let’s get the Ford moving west. There’s a town about twenty miles down the road. Maybe they’ll have some information for us and we’ll know what’s going on. Hurry now. I don’t like not knowing the story of that smoke.”

And That’s Where We Will Leave Them Today

But never fear, we will return to the adventures of the Harper family next week. Thank you so much for embracing this family and their story. I admit, I was skeptical when I started out on this writing journey. I didn’t think a story about common folk just living their lives would be appealing to too many people. Boy was I ever wrong!

I’ve decided not to make this into a book, so it will be around for awhile still. We’ll let the Harpers get to Washington and then they can decide if they want to continue telling their story. As is always the case, the characters in my stories make the decision how far a story will go.

Again, thank you! I’ll see you next week.

2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


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

Sha, I can definitely say that did not come from my grandmother....the sexual boldness, that is. LOL

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 14, 2016:

I love that part of her feisty personality!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 14, 2016:

Sha, it's an interesting observation you make about sex back then. I've read biographies and bibliographies by some people who said sex was not nearly the taboo we consider it to be back then.....during the Roaring Twenties, in the cities, it was pretty common....but your point is also well-taken with regards to simple folk/farmers....I guess I just wanted Evelyn to have a little something extra. LOL

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 14, 2016:

Evelyn's libido always surprises me. For some reason, I was under the impression sex was considered more of a duty back in those days, rather than pleasure. In other words, I didn't think it was lady like to enjoy sex, let alone initiate it.

Your descriptions of the terrain, sky, stars, etc. put me right there with the Harpers, Bill. I can almost hear the stars twinkling in the vast land that is carrying their dreams.

Love this story!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 30, 2016:

Lawrence, I had my doubts about anyone liking this series....no real "action" no thriller, just good people living their lives. I am pleasantly surprised.

Lawrence Hebb on May 30, 2016:

I love this story. I think that the reason so many people love it is they can identify with the characters, and Evelyn's way of putting it "A family glued together by love" is awesome.



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

Very kind of you, Deb! Thank you!

Deb Hirt on May 25, 2016:

Even in reality, there is never a dull moment. However that is correct if you know how to tell the story of life.

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

Shyron, don't you worry about the Harpers. Come hell or high water they will make it.

blessings and thanks always

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

Maria, this one is a walk in the park for me. I just think of my relatives and capture their collective persona...then sprinkle in some love.



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

Thanks Frank. Every once in awhile I'll have a good one. It's why we keep writing, isn't it?

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on May 22, 2016:

Bill, I hope the Harpers don't have to fight a forest fire on top of everything else. But I am enjoying their eventful trip and hope the don't get to Washington too soon.

Blessings always.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on May 21, 2016:

This story is as easy to read as it is to write, as you've shared...a winning combination, I'd say, dear Bill.

Love ya, Maria

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on May 21, 2016:

leave a man bloodied and broken.. love that line

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 20, 2016:

Shanmarie, you are very kind. Thank you very much. I'm truly humbled.

Shannon Henry from Texas on May 19, 2016:

Well! That's some talent you have, bringing the characters so much alive that they decide their own fate. ;)

As for the story being unexpectedly appealing, it's because it's so human and relatable. You're just a natural.

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

Thank you Vellur. I need to go write the next chapter now. Thanks for the reminder.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on May 15, 2016:

I enjoyed reading and I hope it runs into many more chapters. Great write.

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

You are very kind, Genna. Perhaps, through this story, I am able to thank my extended family for the sacrifices they made so that I can enjoy the life I have. I suspect I didn't thank them enough when they were alive. :)

Blessings always, my friend.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on May 15, 2016:

Their trek northwest was brought vivid to the mind with your we-are-there imagery, Bill. One of my favorite lines: "This country always was and always would be, and my family seemed to recognize, as one, that we are all just visitors on this land and we damned well better respect it for the wonder that it was." I love the ease with which you tell this beautiful story, and the characters -- as natural as their surroundings. I get the sense there was a kind of déjà vu/destiny that somehow marked this journey, to be written by you for some time. This is a book I don't want to put down; the pages really do turn themselves.

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

Rasma, that is music to my ears. If I can make a scene come alive then I have done my job as a writer. Thank you!

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

Michael my friend, it was a battle on this end to respond to your fine comment. The internet kept disappearing on me in the middle of my responses. Let me just say that any story with love as the main theme is a story you will understand very well.

Peace be with you!

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

I'm so glad you are enjoying this, Alicia. Thank you for always being here. See you in Wenatchee next week.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on May 13, 2016:

Your story had me traveling along with them and that smoke also shook me up. Looking forward to the next.

Michael-Milec on May 12, 2016:

More than anything to me the Harpers are on a miracle and a mercy journey of hope. Finding happines and being content under given circumstances, you are my dear friend, sending the message to the world of true family value in mutual trust, contentment and love in action. I know, they will reach their destination, since they are under the wings of heavenly protectin. Won't be easy though.(Sigh)

Peace with us.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 12, 2016:

I'm still enjoying reading this story very much. I love the photos in this chapter, too, especially the first one.

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

Clive, I know you commented, but I can't find it now. Anyway, thank you for riding along.

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

That's very kind of you, Missy! Whether they buy my novellas or not, I am enjoying the process greatly and will continue to write about things that are important to me. I appreciate you, my friend, and peace be with you always.

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

Awww, thank you very much, DDE!

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

Zulma, I'll try not to disappoint you regarding Emma and Peter Jr. I sense the same thing, that this is a union that needs to become legal soon. LOL

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

Faith, I agree with you about a good loving woman by your side.

As for handling forest fires back then, the quick answer is they didn't handle them well at al. We've come a long way in that department.

Hugs and blessings coming your way.

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

Thank you Dora. That part is easy for me since I've driven this particular route many times.

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

That was my goal, Bill, so thank you very much.

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

That's sweet of you to say, Nell. Thank you! I hope you enjoyed your "comfort break" from reality. LOL

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

Very true, Flourish...they were the inspiration for this next chapter. Thanks for mentioning that and of course for following along.

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

Thank you so much, Jackie! Go ahead, call me a tease! LOL

Missy Smith from Florida on May 12, 2016:

I like how we are traveling along with the Harper's. You put us in that old truck climbing those mountains with them. The scenery is beautiful.

I also want to say how I hope many readers buy your novellas or come here and find your stories, Bill. In the world we live in today, I think your stories emote what we all should be thinking about and going back to. I feel love when I read your stories. I feel hope, and I feel determination for a better way of life. It's all what we, today, need to be gravitating back to. Everyone needs thoughts of just what you write about with your loving stories. Love and Peace ~Missy

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 12, 2016:

The journey you take me on here is amazing and adventurous!

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on May 12, 2016:

What a delightful journey. I'm glad Peter Jr. and Emma are together and making a little family for themselves. Will there be wedding bells in their future? I do hope so.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on May 11, 2016:

Who wouldn't love this wonderful story of the Harpers and their adventurous life full of love. You added an extra bit of spice here under the blanket of stars!

With a good loving woman by your side, you can get through anything in this life.

I hope it's not a forest fire, for I can't even begin to imagine how they handled it back then, or if they did at all.

I'm enjoying traveling along with the Harpers and looking forward to next week's adventure.

Peace and blessings

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 11, 2016:

Adding my thanks for taking me on the trip. The vastness of the USA is not lost on me. You're really good at making us see.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on May 11, 2016:

Love following this story Bill. Nice touch with the forest fire. Very curious to see where you take this next. I definitely feel like I'm along for the ride with the Harpers.

Nell Rose from England on May 11, 2016:

I always get comfortable to read your stories Bill, feet up, cuppa, lol! you never disappoint, leaving us on our toes as always, nell

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

Oh, Sis, it's my pleasure This is a short story spawned from and fueled by love. It's the easiest story to write so far, but it's so nice to have it appreciated for what it is.

Thank you Paula!

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 11, 2016:

Well done. With all the forest fires in the news that was a sadly realistic add.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on May 11, 2016:

Leaving us with a mystery and wanting more, Bill. Well done!

Clive Williams from Jamaica on May 11, 2016:

Nice little adventure there. I love me some rabbit stew.

Suzie from Carson City on May 11, 2016:

Closeness, courage and determination, all under the star-lit sky.....even expression & "activities of "love"...you devil, you.

A lot of imagery (scenery) and you made it all visible & vibrant, Bro. I'm enjoying this journey just as this wonderful "family" is, with the same hope in my heart. No regrets, just sweet anticipation. I'm part of this story....and BTW, Thank you.

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

Thank you Eric, my friend of few words. LOL Have a great Wednesday, buddy!

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

Thank you MizB! I don't mind honest, well-intended critics at all. How else will I learn? I hope you enjoy it and I hope Mr. B is doing better. As for the Harpers, Wenatchee is right around the bend in the road.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on May 11, 2016:


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

The Harpers are good folks, Bill, and I'll tell them you said so. :) Thank you my friend.

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

Thank you so much, Ruby! I'm sure the story will continue for awhile. I'm so happy you are enjoying it, my friend.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on May 11, 2016:

One rabbit, a feast for five people? Come on, Bill, he could have shot at least two, unless it was a jackrabbit. I wonder if my uncles and their families had this type of adventure on their way to Wenatchee to pick apples. I can't wait for them to arrive so I can see what Wenatchee is like.

BTW, I just now found time to begin reading your Billy the Kid novella (been sittin' in the doctor's office a lot waiting on Mr. B). I like it so far. You know I'm going to be your harshest critic because what I do is out of love for you and your writing, my friend. It is very well-edited. Ebooks usually are not.

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on May 11, 2016:

The Harpers are good folks. I am so pleased that we get the share their adventure, and be a part of it. Thank you, so much! Looking forward to each chapter!! ;-)

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on May 11, 2016:

I rode along with the Harper family, through the hills and mountains. Your writing is so vivid I could almost taste the rabbit. I took a walk while you made love, then settled down for a rest under the stars. This is a wonderful/beautiful story that I hope will continue...

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

Pop, we have a ways to go with the Harpers....need to get them settled in their new home, find jobs, work towards a new farm....I think I can guarantee they will be with us for awhile.....and thank you so much.

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

Thank you so much, Harishprasad...I will try to always entertain you, my friend.

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

Thank you, Mike, and I'll be by soon to see your latest.

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

Janine, thank you so much and Happy Hump Day! I had one store to do but now I'm right where I belong...typing out words.

breakfastpop on May 11, 2016:

I hope the Harper's keep wanting to tell their story. I have said it before, and I will say it again...I love the way you write.

Harish Mamgain from New Delhi , India on May 11, 2016:

A captivating tale of man's enterprise in search of green pastures ! Bill, how I missed such a nice stuff before ! You write so well. Looking forward to read more of it.

Mr Archer from Missouri on May 11, 2016:

It is so easy to get lost in your words Bill. Having been to Montana once and dreamed about it ever since I can see the wonder and beauty through their eyes quite easily. I look forward to their next adventure! Have a good day Sir.

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on May 11, 2016:

I truly felt like I am along for the ride with them now and glad you are keeping this story going for a future book. Sounds like a great plan to me and now wishing you a very, Happy Wednesday Bill!! :)

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