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When the Corn Died: Chapter Three

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.


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

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

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.”


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

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)


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 29, 2018:

Maybe, Rodric, but I like Evelyn's style. Reminds me of some strong women in my life.

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

Peter is such a good man and Evelyn a good woman. Peter is not afraid to let his wife lead, which is not common in those days from what I hear. Evelyn is so much like my Afryka. She is not afraid to lead and take action that needs to be taken. She know how to do it without robbing her husband of his self-worth. That old banker could have been a bit more cordial too! He is so cranky cause he is hungry! Evelyn should have given hims some pie. Maybe he would have been a bit more agreeable.

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

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



Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on April 22, 2016:

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

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

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!

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

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!

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

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

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on March 13, 2016:


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!


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

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.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on March 07, 2016:

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.

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

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

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on March 06, 2016:

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. :-)

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

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!

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

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. :)

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

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

Michael-Milec on March 04, 2016:

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.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on March 03, 2016:

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.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on March 03, 2016:

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

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 29, 2016:

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

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 29, 2016:

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

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 29, 2016:

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

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 28, 2016:

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 from Daytona Beach, Florida on February 28, 2016:

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

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 28, 2016:

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

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on February 28, 2016:

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

Gwenneth Leane on February 27, 2016:

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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 from Florida on February 27, 2016:

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 on February 27, 2016:

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

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on February 27, 2016:

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

DDE on February 27, 2016:

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

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on February 27, 2016:

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

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on February 26, 2016:

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

Suzie from Carson City on February 26, 2016:

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 from southern USA on February 26, 2016:

"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

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

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

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on February 26, 2016:

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!)

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

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

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

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.

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

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

manatita44 from london on February 26, 2016:

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

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on February 26, 2016:

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.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on February 26, 2016:

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....

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

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.

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

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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

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

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 26, 2016:

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.

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on February 26, 2016:

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

Thanks for sharing your stories! ;-)

Ann Carr from SW England on February 26, 2016:

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.


Marlene Bertrand from USA on February 26, 2016:

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.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on February 26, 2016:

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.

Old Poolman on February 26, 2016:

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

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on February 26, 2016:

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.

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

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

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

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 from New York, New York on February 26, 2016:

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!! :)

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on February 26, 2016:

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.

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