When the Corn Died: Chapter Three

Updated on February 26, 2016

The Harper Family Welcomes You Back

Step into my time machine and join me as we travel back to the year 1933. The country is in the throes of the Great Depression. President Roosevelt has been in office for six months as our story unfolds. The Harper family is trying to make a go of it in rural Iowa on 120 acres of corn and heartache. Their only son has gone to Missouri to work in the mines, and a young mother and her son are staying with the Harpers because, well, she has nowhere else to go.

Let’s see what else is happening on the farm.

A VISITOR COMES A’CALLIN’

I saw him approaching from a good ways off, a cloud of dust rising behind, smudging the otherwise green landscape. By the time he reached our driveway I knew this wasn’t a sociable visit.

I climbed down off the John Deere and wiped the sweat from my eyes. July first was going to be a hot one, already eighty in the shade and not yet ten a.m. I took a drink of water from the old canteen I keep with me out in the fields and watched a lone cloud slowly drift across the sky. It was too damned hot which, of course, meant good corn-growing weather, and the sea of green stalks in every direction was a testimony to that fact.

The new Ford coupe pulled up in front of the farmhouse and stopped. The driver shut off the engine then just sat there, probably enjoying the shade of the giant oak overhead. I was just climbing over the fence when he opened the car door and stepped out.

Mister Robert Stapleton, the owner of Charles City Savings and Loan.

He was here to ruin my day.

On the Harper farm
On the Harper farm | Source

Bad News Arrives

“Morning, Peter,” he said as I approached. He was a gaunt man, as though his body absolutely refused to put on any more weight than was absolutely necessary. His complexion was permanently pasty, probably burned easily, and his expression never quite conjured up a smile. I’ve known him since we were kids. Can’t say one way or another how I feel about him. He just is.

My parents worked this damn farm. His parents owned the damn bank. Legacies were passed on and so here I was, in dusty overalls, reaching out my hand to shake his, he in his button-down three-piece suit.

“Morning, Robert. What do you say we go into the kitchen for a glass of lemonade? We can talk there where it’s cooler.”

I held the screen door open for him and followed him into the kitchen where my wife, Evelyn, and our new boarder, Emma Jameson, were mending clothes at the kitchen table. Emma and her son, Timothy, were living with us for a spell, helping us out while we helped them.

Evelyn flashed her winning smile, the one designed to win over the darkest of hearts, for she knew, as did I, what this visit was all about.

“Robert,” she said. “Sit down and let me get you some lemonade. It’s mighty good to see you again. How are your wife and daughter doing? I haven’t seen Daisy in gosh, it must be a month or so.”

Stapleton looked uncomfortable at our table, unsure where to put his hat, fidgeting with his hands.

“The wife and daughter are both fine, Evelyn. Thank you for asking.”

He fidgeted some more.

“I wish this was a social visit but it’s not. Now that July is here you folks are three months delinquent on your loan. As the bank’s representative I need you to tell me how you plan on paying what is past due. I need to leave here today with some answers, folks.”

He wanted answers and I had none.

“We’ve got a good crop of corn this year, Robert. By September we should be able to meet our debts.” I sounded hollow and I knew it. Betting your future on nature and crops is a fool’s bet.

Evelyn walked over to the counter and opened up the cookie jar. She took some money from it and handed it to Stapleton.

“Here’s twenty-eight dollars, Robert. We’ll have the rest for you by month’s end. That’s a promise and you know well that the Harpers stand by their word.”

Stapleton finished off his lemonade, grabbed his hat and put it on.

“All right, then. You have till July 31st. If we don’t have the remainder of your payment I’ll be forced to begin foreclosure proceedings. I can see my way out. Thank you for your time and hospitality. I’m sorry I had to intrude on your morning.”

He didn’t seem a bit sorry but I decided not to mention that fact.

After he had walked out we heard him start up the engine, then watched him drive back to the main road. I turned to my wife.

“And just where in hell do you think we’re going to get the rest of that money owed, Evelyn?”

She gave me a quick kiss and winked.

“We’ve got thirty days to figure that out, Peter, and no cussing in my kitchen. Now leave us women folk to our sewing, please.”

Rafters of the great barn
Rafters of the great barn | Source

Over Dinner

I spent the rest of the afternoon fretting over the crop and fretting over the mortgage. I’m not sure which of those two wrung the most worry out of me. While I coaxed life out of the old tractor, young Timothy fed the critters. In a matter of days he had learned a few chores around the farm, and even at his young age he showed a willingness to get his hands dirty and do his share. He was always smiling like our son, Peter Junior, a fact that only added to the longing I had for our boy.

Timothy and I called it quits at six and went in to wash up for dinner. Evelyn had gone to town for some staples earlier, and she and Emma were putting food on the table when we walked in. Evelyn treated me to a smile when she saw me.

“We got a letter from Peter Junior. It’s there on the table. He sent twelve dollars. Says he thinks he’ll be home before Thanksgiving. Isn’t that wonderful news, husband?”

God I missed that boy something awful.

I read his letter about tough men in tough times, fights, a stabbing, new friendships and missing home, and then let melancholy spread over me while we all ate a pork roast and mashed potatoes. I was deep into the dumps when I heard my name called.

“Peter Harper?” my wife said. “Where are you? I said your name three times.”

“I’m sorry, Evelyn. What did you say?”

“I said I got a job this afternoon and I start working tomorrow. When I was in town I got to talking to Mrs. Hart at the feed store. Her husband, as you know, is part-owner of the Oliver Farm Equipment Company, and she said their family needs a housekeeper four days a week. She said that big old house of theirs on Floyd Hill is too big for her to take care of. Anyway, I asked for the job and she hired me on the spot. It pays good and I couldn’t say no to the money.”

“Now wait a damned minute, Evelyn. I don’t want you cleaning houses for the rich, and what about our house and the chores here?”

“Peter Harper, I told you I don’t want you cussing in our home. As for me cleaning for the rich, we need the money and this is no time for false pride. Emma here has agreed to help out with our chores so I’m telling you, here and now, that this is going to happen. And while I was talking to Mrs. Hart I told her we had two milk cows and two sows we needed to sell, so she agreed to buy them. She’s expecting you to deliver them sometimes this week.”

“Just like that, wife? Don’t I have anything to say about it?”

She smiled that damned smile.

“Just like that, husband, and no you don’t, and I also think we need to consider selling the Ford. We can use the horse and wagon to get back and forth to town. God helps those who help themselves, and that’s exactly what we need to do.”

Source

That Night

I’ve never been angry with Evelyn. I found it impossible. She was headstrong and willful and by God I loved her.

She kissed my neck and then bit lightly on my ear as we lay in bed.

“Don’t be prideful, Peter. With the money from the hogs, cows, the Ford and my working, we can pay for two months on the mortgage. That leaves us one month to figure out. We just have to make it until harvest and we’ll be fine.”

“No guarantees of that, Evelyn. Corn prices are dropping. No telling what that crop of ours will get us in September. I’m a bit worried.”

“And I’m a bit worried, Peter Harper, that you’re too tired to make love to me tonight.”

I rolled over on top of her and looked into her eyes.

“That will never happen, Evelyn.”

And then she allowed me to find comfort within her as the crickets serenaded and fireflies danced outside the window, and for one hour my concerns were gone.

Hearth and home
Hearth and home | Source

More to Come

Thanks to my grandparents for the inspiration, and thanks to all of you for your support. We’ll join the Harper family next week to see how they are doing under that Iowa sun.

2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Maria, I love that description....strong as steel with the gentleness of a purposeful butterfly....thank you so much for that.

      love,

      bill

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      Maria Jordan 20 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Indeed, Evelyn is strong as steel, with the gentleness of a purposeful butterfly...

      Bill, you are painting a credible canvas of the Harper family and those who are part of their world. Loving this, Maria

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Sha. I wanted Evelyn to be the co-backbone of the Harper family, so I'm happy to hear you say that. I'm loving this story too...thank you!

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      Shauna L Bowling 21 months ago from Central Florida

      You gotta love a strong woman who takes the bull by the horns. Evelyn is one hell of a woman!

      I love the photos you've added to this episode. Although you paint a vivid picture with your words, the photos bring the period into focus.

      I love this story, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Very true, Lawrence.....a good circle of friends can do wonders during tough times. I know they have certainly helped me in the past.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 21 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      There's an old saying "A friend in need is a friend in deed". This story reminded me of some tough times we went through a couple of years ago. We found the real things to value and I think the Harpers will too!

      Lawrence

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Well, Vellur, we'll both find out together. I hope everyone makes it through these tough times.

      Thank you for spending part of your Monday with me.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 21 months ago from Dubai

      I guess all is going to be well after Peter Junior gets home. Those were tough times indeed. Wonder how the story is going to go from here.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I really appreciate that, Genna, and I really appreciate you as a person. Thank you, and blessings to you always.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 21 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      You bring to the pages the daily challenges of good people, who struggled through The Great Depression. The test of character, love, family and ingenuity became the center focus of so many lives. This is such beautiful writing, Bill. Thank you for sharing this inspiring series with us. :-)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Michael my friend, you are too kind, but thank you! I just believe in the same truths as you do, and I want my writings to reflect those universal truth....love....family......faith!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Zulma, my goal was to write a story with strong women, so thank you for the affirmation. Thank God for the strong women in my life. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      She is for sure, Deb! Every strong family has a Mrs. H.

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 21 months ago

      Resonating Universal truth this story impressed on me the heavenly message “Two people are better than one,for they can help each other succeed." At this point Evelyn and Peter are winners in my hope and belief, the two which never disappointed me. So are you, my friend.

      Blessings and peace.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 21 months ago from United Kingdom

      I...love...Evelyn. While the husband worried, the wife sorted it out. A woman after my own heart. Peter needs to stand aside and let her get on with it. Not that he could stop her. Great character.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 21 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Mrs. H is a wise woman and a problem solver. She can hang with me any time.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Peggy! This is my tribute to my family, and the thousands of families like them.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Rasma! I'm looking forward to more too. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      That's what I like to hear, Mike. If you can hear those things then I've done my job. Thank you!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 21 months ago from Houston, Texas

      What a wonderful story Bill and to know that it comes from your own family history makes it even more interesting. This should be part of a book! Our ancestors who settled this country had grit and courage which is demonstrated in this hub that you wrote. Happy to share.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 21 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      A wonderful story full of hope and love. Looking forward to more.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Gwenneth, I'm glad you found this authentic. Thank you very much.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 21 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      I can hear the empty freight trains rumbling through in the background. And hear the wind rattling the corn husks.

    • Gwenneth Leane profile image

      Gwenneth Leane 21 months ago from Glen Osmond, Adelaide, South Australia Australia

      Your story is true to the times it was written about. I am a child of the era and understand the need for making do and finding ways to make money just to stay alive.

      Your story is interesting, and well written

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Missy, thank you so much. You did well writing this on the phone...better than I would have by far.

      It is supposed to be a nostalgic piece. I never lived then, obviously, but I've heard enough stories to feel confident in my authenticity.....they were simpler times for sure, and survival, for many, depended on helping each other....and as you know, I believe love is crucial to happiness, so you best believe love plays a huge part in this story.

      So, long-winded way of saying thank you and I am honored by your friendship.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Pop, I really do appreciate your support and kind words. I happen to totally enjoy the way you write as well.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Well Happy Saturday, Bill, and let's hope the weekend is a winner. Thanks for sharing a part of this morning with me.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, DDE! I am humbled by your kind words.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      My head is swelling, Frank, but thank you very much.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      That's what I wanted, Alicia, a strong woman who could handle life and support others. Thank you for the affirmation.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Writing as we speak, Sis! These people are like the Energizer Bunny....nothing can stop them from chugging along. Love, baby, Love....ya gotta believe in its magic!

      Thank you Sis! See you at the farm next week.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Faith, you had me laughing out loud with that frisky whiskey thing. LOL I'll cut down on the love-making from now on. We don't want Peter dying young, do we? LOL

      blessings, my friend, and Happy Weekend to you.

    • Missy Smith profile image

      Missy Smith 21 months ago from Florida

      Hey Bill, I'm typing on my phone again because we've had an outage of Internet service in my area with our carrier, so I hope this comment is understandable.

      I absolutely love this story! I believe it is my favorite. Although I like the Billy the Kid saga, this one really makes me nostalgic. I want those simple times back where families were loving to each other. The times where there was enough time in the day to be with each other. And oh, how I wish I lived back in those days when a husband truly loved his wife and it just felt secure. I know you and your wife have this kind of marriage, as I believe Jodah and his wife do too, but it is really rare these days I think. Maybe that's why enjoy talking to you two fellas the most. I know you are faithful, truthful, people who will always give me great feedback.

      One of my favorite movies of all times is "Field of Dreams" and I know this story is nothing like that as it is a different era, but the wholesome feel I felt watching that movie, I feel reading your story.

      Even with all the hardships your Hartman family is going through, they are still happy and know if they have each other things will work out. I really love this story. Thanks for sharing it with us. :)

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 21 months ago

      I am totally into this story. Billy, I love the way you write!

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 21 months ago from Massachusetts

      Great way to start my Saturday morning. Looking forward to the next chapter. Have a great weekend Bill.

    • profile image

      DDE 21 months ago

      A good writer shares the best adventures and to a great degree.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 21 months ago from Shelton

      I like the feel of this installment.. so realistic and believable... you are indeed the master story teller here on Hubpages.. bless you and thanks for sharing :) Frank

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 21 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      My favourite character in this story is Evelyn. I admire her strong personality! I'm very interested in seeing how the tale progresses.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 21 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Gosh...The bankers were the bad guys even in the '30's! I don't LIKE him. Go on, Git!

      You go girl! Evelyn jumping in to save the day. I love it. This couple is just too sweet & too real. What a perfect example of family unity & the blood sweat & tears that flow gently from Love. Even Jr. sending his folks $12! It warms my heart.

      Emma & Timothy are working out just fine living with these wonderful people, just as Evelyn predicted. Just in time to help both families get through the rough times. The good old days.

      The bad news isn't all that bad. Not to these salt of earth people. They can deal with anything!

      "That will never happen, Evelyn." Awwwww how SWEET & sexy. I am IN love!!..........Waiting bro...tick tick tick Chapter 4 Please!!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 21 months ago from southern USA

      "Wife" hit the problem head on and then some, and "husband" knew he needed to show "wife" some love ...and that he did! Wow, I'm with Jackie on that hour. Tee hee

      I have faith they will be okay with their mortgage. Speaking of rain and corn, there is a funny new country song out now and the lyrics are: "I love the rain, 'cause rain makes the corn grow, and corn makes whiskey and whiskey makes my baby a little frisky." LOL But those lyrics wouldn't fit this wholesome story here with the whisky and all, but the frisky part is here in the story no doubt.

      I am looking forward to the next chapter of your wonderful series, Bill.

      Peace and blessings always

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Jackie, I was exhausted just thinking about one hour. LOL Thanks for making me smile.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 21 months ago from The Beautiful South

      Great continuation of that time period Bill, you had me right down to the end. One hour... please.....hahahahaha. Made me tired just thinking about it. But it is your story. (Just kidding you!)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Ah, yes, Manatita....gentle...gentleman...gentlemanly....I can live with that. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      True words, Alan....short-sighted, knee-jerk reactions under the impetus of desperation. This country knew it well back in the 30's.

      Good to see you again. Thanks for the visit.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you once again, Ruby! That's all I want from this, a loving adventure for all.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 21 months ago from london

      Well, so you both found ways of earning money. That darn necessary commodity! Sorrow about the cow.

      I have noticed the way you talk about making love. A pretty gentlemanly way, I must say. Chuckle...chuckle

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      Alan R Lancaster 21 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Nice trite story, Bill. Nice observations, captures the time. The Depression reached everywhere, like Mister D's long, bony fingers People in high places made mistakes, just like them lower down in the pecking order.

      Trouble with foreclosure is the banks didn't get the full value of the properties on re-sale, it was a knee-jerk panic reaction.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 21 months ago from Southern Illinois

      Who could ask for anything better than this story? It has all the components of a great adventure, hope and family. There will always be bankers who care more about money than family. Timothy has already stolen my heart and Peter Jr. sending money home is what a family is all about in hard times. Catch you next time....

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Dora! I wanted to create a couple who respected each other and of course, love will always play a part in my stories....I'm so glad you are enjoying it.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Oh, I think so, Bill! This is not going to be a good summer for our friends in Iowa.

      Thanks, Bill! Happy Friday to you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, thank you! My relatives lived through the Depression, and their way of speaking stayed with me and helped me fashion the dialogues. As for this weekend, rain is on the way, but today is sunny and warm, so I'll enjoy it while I can.

      Happy Weekend, my friend, and thank you!

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Marlene. In many ways this is a new type of writing for me, and your affirmations and comments help me greatly.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Linda! I feel like I know these people...not much of a stretch since they are based on my family. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Not at all the good old days, Mike, and I'm very happy I didn't have to live through that era.

      Thanks for being here, buddy!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you MizB. I'm so happy you are enjoying these characters and especially Evelyn...I wanted her to be a strong woman.

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      Dora Weithers 21 months ago from The Caribbean

      I like the respect and connectedness between the spouses. I also like the way you describe the individuals with such matter-of-fact observations. Thanks for demonstrating these fine writing qualities in your story.

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      William Leverne Smith 21 months ago from Hollister, MO

      Good wife, there. Well done. Still problems ahead. Weather an issue.

      Thanks for sharing your stories! ;-)

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      Ann Carr 21 months ago from SW England

      Love this story; it gives me such a good idea of what life was like then. You have a knack of making the vocabulary fit the time setting too - well, of course you do 'cos you're a good writer!

      Hope this Friday is fine and dandy for you and that you all have a whacky weekend whatever the weather!

      Looking forward to the next chapter, bill.

      Ann

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      Marlene Bertrand 21 months ago from Northern California, USA

      My heart sank as soon as I realized who that Robert character was. This story is mesmerizing - told with such honesty that I can't help but feel the emotions of Evelyn and Peter. I'm anxiously awaiting the next episode.

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      Linda Lum 21 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Gosh, I love these people, especially Evelyn. Good looking and smart too. Peter's a lucky man indeed. Thank you for sharing them with us. This is a wonderful way to end the week.

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      Old Poolman 21 months ago

      Gosh those were hard times, not part of the good ole days we talk about. Great story, keep them coming.

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      MizBejabbers 21 months ago

      Aw, what a great story, and what a great inspiration Evelyn is. I love her character and just hope my grandmother was like her during the Great Depression. This is a good way to go into the weekend. Have a good one, Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad you enjoyed it, Janine. A little "feel good" to start your Friday. Have a great weekend and thank you, my friend.

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      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thankful indeed, Eric, and I'm thankful that you are such a loyal friend and follower. Have a great Friday, buddy,and thank you!

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 21 months ago from New York, New York

      Aw, made my Friday morning and truly enjoyed this second chapter in this short story today. Happy Friday and have a wonderful weekend now, Bill!! :)

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 21 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      A wonderful story, I am glad to have caught it so early. A great way to start a day thankful for all we have. Love of course being at the top of my blessings.