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When the Corn Died: Chapter Twelve

Real Life

I talked quite a bit with my parents and grandparents about life during the Great Depression. Their answers were, quite frankly, hard for me to believe. My grandmother told me once about making possum stew and I thought she was making a joke. Surely nobody would eat a possum? And squirrel? How could anyone skin a squirrel and eat it?

I was ten when I first heard of my grandparents losing their Iowa farm to the bank. Young, for sure, but not so young that I couldn’t see the sadness on their faces as they spoke of loading up the old Ford and leaving that farm for the last time.

I was twelve when my dad told me he never finished high school, that he left school as a sophomore to “ride the rails” in search of odd jobs to help his family financially. Fifteen years of age and he was hopping on freight cars with hundreds of desperate men, riding around the Midwest looking to make a dollar here, fifty cents there, month after month away from home, living in cardboard shacks…….

So this story is personal, as it should be.

The road to nowhere for some

The road to nowhere for some

The previous chapter

Back to the Story

Peter Junior, Timothy and me got to within twenty feet of the men when the guy with the rifle told us to stop right there. He was a large man, easily over six feet and rock solid. His friend was a scrawny little runt, badly in need of some nourishment and a bath.

“Not a step further, you three,” said the big one. “Now my friend and I don’t want to hurt you and your family, but we need food and we need any money you might have. Do the smart thing, hand over anything you’ve got, and we’ll be on our way.”

Tough men, hardened by the times, as unpredictable as a Montana summer, the country was overflowing with them. I wasn’t quite sure how to handle the situation. Any sign of aggression on my part was liable to get a family member hurt bad, and we were a long way from medical help. I looked at Evelyn and saw only sadness on her face. Emma was holding up right well, but she was obviously concerned for her son, as I would expect.

“Husband,” Evelyn said to me. “Let’s just give them what they want and be done with it.”

I was about to respond when young Timothy stepped forward and began walking towards the big man holding the rifle. He got within three feet of him and stopped. He looked up into that bearded, dirty face, looked at the rifle and then he did the damndest thing….he smiled at the man.

“Mister, why are you doing this? We never hurt you. Can’t you see we’re all tired and sad? Why would you want to make us sadder, Mister? Now kindly put down that gun and Mrs. Harper and my Ma will make us all some dinner to eat. Would you and your friend like to join us for dinner, Mister?”

The west rises in the distance

The west rises in the distance

The Damndest Thing

There wasn’t a sound around that Montana scene but the wind humming a tune of solitude as the big man looked down at Timothy. The mountains continued to stand guard to the west. The sky continued to shower down heat, dust continued to blow across the landscape, as far as the eye could see there was only starkness and helplessness, but a change had occurred.

The big man finally blinked and shook his head, like he was waking up and having a hard time comprehending where he was. He looked at the women and then back at Timothy, shook his head again, but slower this time, then bent down and placed his rifle on the ground.

He looked at me. “I hope you’ll forgive my partner and me. We’re sick and tired of travelling this way, and we miss our families and, well, it’s playing with our minds. This isn’t like us to do something like this and we apologize.” He looked at Timothy. “Son, that’s a kindly offer and if your folks don’t mind, we would be obliged and happy to join you for dinner.”

I felt a ton of worry leave me as I exhaled. The big man extended his hand and I took it.

“My name’s Turcotte….Justin Turcotte, and this here’s my brother Matt. We got booted off the freight back in Bozeman and we’ve been walking ever since. Not rightly sure where we’re going. We’re originally from Virginia. Anyways, again, we’re sorry. Our momma raised us better than this but I swear, the way things are, it just plain drives a man crazy after awhile.”

Before I could respond Evelyn walked to my side and reached out her hand.

“All’s forgotten, Mr. Turcotte. We’re the Harper family and we’re heading for Wenatchee, Washington. Our truck overheated so we’re spending the night here and then continuing on west in the morning. Dinner’s nothing special, just jerky and cheese, but you’re more than welcome to join us.”

“That’s mighty kind of you, Mrs. Harper. My brother Matt here is a mechanic and he’d be happy to take a look at your truck and make sure it’s okay to continue. Me, I’m known as a pretty fair shot back in Virginia. How about I go out and shoot us some fresh meat? I saw some antelope over that little hill and I’m pretty sure I can bag one.”

The final obstacle

The final obstacle

And so It Goes

And so it came to pass that the Turcottes from Virginia and us Harpers from Iowa shared a meal of antelope and cheese on a wind-stripped stretch of road outside of Bozeman, Montana. We learned a great deal about growing tobacco during that meal, and shared some knowledge about corn and grasshoppers in return. We shared stories from better times and conjectured about how this was all going to end.

“I don’t know why,” Evelyn said, “but I have faith in the President. I know there’s some in Congress who don’t trust him, but I think he’s got our best-interests at heart.”

“Well he sure ain’t afraid to stir things up and try something new,” said Matt. “My brother and I are thinking of heading to Yellowstone National Park, maybe get us a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Word has it they’re hiring for some work in the park and we’re hoping to catch on with them. If that doesn’t work out we’ll keep going to California. I know the CCC is working in Yosemite right now.”

I chimed in. “I’ve been paying attention to the happenings over in Europe. This Depression has hit them hard too, and people over there are desperate and throwing in with some dictators. Seems to me no good can come of that. It wouldn’t surprise me none if war eventually ended this Depression. War’s always good for an economy. Bad for the young men caught up in the actual fighting of it, but good for those who make money on such things.”

And so it went as the sun said good night from the west. The two Turcottes helped gather up firewood and pretty soon we had a good fire to keep us warm under the Montana stars. Emma and Peter Junior wandered off down the road, deep in conversation in hushed tones. When they were about a hundred yards in the distance I saw Junior’s hand reach out and hold Emma’s hand. Evelyn saw it too.

“Remember the first time we kissed, husband?” she asked me. Her smile glowed in the firelight, warming my heart and helping me to push the beast back inside for another night.

“Like it was yesterday, hon. We snuck into a stall at Steinman’s barn dance back in Nineteen-oh-three. You were the prettiest girl I’d ever seen and I was determined to kiss you that night. I’ve been kissing you ever since and you’re still the prettiest woman I’ve ever seen.”

“I swear, Peter Harper, you can still take my breath away.”

Another Day Ends on the Prairie

And so another day ended on our journey. We had two new friends and that’s never a bad thing. The truck was healthy, according to Matt Turcotte, and I counted that among my blessings. My son was in love, as was his father, and as I stared up at the ocean of stars, with Evelyn’s head on my chest, I reckoned I was damned lucky to be alive and loved.

The Trip West Will Continue

And I’m damned lucky to have all of you reading this story, so thank you. We’ll join the Harpers on the road next week. I suspect it will take them two more days of travelling before they arrive in Wenatchee, Washington.

Until then, take care and have a wonderful week of writing and living.

2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


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

Not at all, Joy! I was heavily influenced early on by Harper Lee and Steinbeck. It's no surprise that their influence shows in my work. Thank you. I consider that an honor.

Joyce Fischer on October 26, 2016:


You seem to have a liking for picaresque stories. Those traveling rogues and ruffians and down and out travelers are the perfect platform for nudging the reader towards deeper thoughts on humanity. I'm kind of fond of these road trip stories myself. They take us out of the mundane and get right down to the core of question about what kind of human beings we choose to be.

Little Timothy's brave peace making reminded me of another scene in literature, Scout facing the vigilantes in front of the jail in To Kill a Mocking Bird. Innocence facing down tired worn out evil questions how much we choose to let circumstances rule our behavior. When you are young, you see right and work so clearly; but as you get older the bad experiences can start to get a hold on you.

I hope you don't mind these comparisons. It's not that I think you sit down pull scenes from other stories and cobble them together. I just like thinking about how our long literary and cultural history leads us to where we are writers in the present.

Keep up the good work.

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

PS, no apologies necessary. I'm aware of why you are absent and I wish you nothing but calm seas from here on. Sending hugs your way, my friend.


Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on June 06, 2016:

Out of the mouths of babes came to mind as I read of our little hero in this episode....if we just remember to appeal to the good in others....

so sorry I have not been able to keep up, bill...just much happening right now...but I will stop by as often as I can...your writing takes me away from it all for a bit...

my Momma and Daddy and eldest sister lived through the Depression...my sister spoke of eating beets, just beets, all one winter...it was a hard time and the strong survived. Angels are winging their way to you this morning from Florida just about to be hit by tropical storm Colin.

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

Larry, that is music to my ears. Thank you sir!

Larry Rankin on May 29, 2016:

Getting caught up on this story. Just a joy to read.

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

Sha, I really appreciate your final sentence. I hope it's true. I suspect it is.

Thank you my friend.

Love from Olympia

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 27, 2016:

This chapter filled my heart with warmth and love. When the Harpers first encountered the Turcottes I thought perhaps Evelyn would give them a piece of her mind and shame the men into moving on. Who knew little Timothy would be the one to kill 'em with kindness, so to speak. I was relieved to learn the Turcottes really are gentle people. I guess what they'd been through would take a toll on anyone's good sense.

And now we have friends who will travel together as long as fate intends.

What a beautiful story, Bill. Your Pa and Grandpa would be right proud.

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

Maria, that is so kind of you to catch up on the story. Thank you dear friend.

The weekend was a good one and I hope the same for you.



Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on May 21, 2016:

Another beautiful chapter... happy to be catching up with this heartwarming story, dear Bill.

Hope you're having a great weekend. Love, Maria

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

Beautifully stated, Deb. Thank you for saying that. I believe that as well....I hang with good people, like you.

Deb Hirt on May 18, 2016:

I believe that your story will continue to stand the test of time. It is important that this story is told and it will be alive and well in the next century. Honest folk never have it easy, and we must continue to remind each other of the main reason to stay honest for the sake of integrity.

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

Thanks for sharing that Lawrence. I'm laughing because we use jam jars for our cups today. LOL

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


We had Mum over from England a few months ago and got to talking what it was like growing up just before ww2.

She said her family didn't do too badly as three of her brothers (she had eight) were miners but Dads side were so poor they couldn't afford even crockery and made do with jam jars for cups!

I loved this, and the way the situation was dealt with as the men realized what they were becoming was awesome!



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

Thank you DDE! I will always be happy with a review that says "brilliant."

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 14, 2016:

Brilliant! You shared the reality of some families.

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

No apologies necessary, Frank. We have to pay attention to those work loads so we can eat, right? And I won't ask what you've eaten. LOL

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on May 13, 2016:

Billy, a great series continues.. but I think the simplicity here is so next to the way life should be.. character building and family closeness.. revealed here in the series.. I have eaten... never mind...:) I'm sorry I haven't visited sooner.. was just busy with work loads these past few weeks.. but I'll get a catching up...:)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 02, 2016:

Thank you Faith. I'm looking forward to that as well and I hope the Harpers reveal it all to me soon. LOL

Blessings from Olympia

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 02, 2016:

Thank you so much, Bill...yes, this is personal, and for me, that's what makes this story so beautiful. I hope that didn't sound egotistical.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 02, 2016:

Genna, most of us have so many blessings. All we have to do is be willing to see them. I know you agree, my friend.

And by the way, you are a blessing to me. Thank you!

Faith Reaper from southern USA on May 02, 2016:

Hi Bill,

This is still my favorite series you have written. It shows the struggles a family goes through but all the while remaining together and strong no matter what life throws at them. That is what makes is such a great heartwarming story.

I'm glad you shared of your grandparents personal story there at the beginning, making for more interesting reading.

I am already looking forward to the next adventure the Harpers will face on their journey west.

Peace and blessings always

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on May 02, 2016:

Hi Bill. I knew you had a personal connection to this story but had no idea just how much. Wow is all I can say. My grandparents lived through the depression but never really shared their struggles. I wish I had that connection that you have. This is a great story and I look forward to following the Harper's all the way to Washington State.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 02, 2016:

Vellur, I suspect Timothy really didn't know how scary that situation was....good thing he was innocent.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 02, 2016:

Thank you Rasma! Your praise is music to my ears.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 02, 2016:

Spooky, Paula, and oh so gratifying. Thank you Sis! I'm continuing the story this morning. I'll try not to let you down.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on May 02, 2016:

The kind of story I like. I takes you by the hand at the very beginning and pulls you all the way through to the end.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on May 01, 2016:

I love how you are drawing from your grandparents' and father's memories of those hard times; and yes, this beautiful, poignant story is personal, as it should be. I think we all feel honored and fortunate that you are sharing this with us, Bill. Thank you.

Out of the mouths of babes...blessed little Timothy. And so the Turcottes of Virginia and the Harpers became friends. ..." and I counted that among my blessings. My son was in love, as was his father, and as I stared up at the ocean of stars, with Evelyn’s head on my chest, I reckoned I was damned lucky to be alive and loved." No truer or more profound words spoken. :-)

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on May 01, 2016:

Brave, brave Timothy! He saved the day. Looking forward to reading more about the journey of the Harper's family.

Suzie from Carson City on May 01, 2016:

If I do well by your ego bro, it's just an accidental bonus because the fact is, I'm just telling it like it is. Your stories are like giving a special gift to your readers just because they had the good sense to pick up something you've written.

For me, you're amazing talent, style & techniques are the closest I've ever come to "an out-of-body" experience. I'm sitting holding a story by Bill.....but I'm actually not where you see me. I'm IN that story! Kinda spooky. :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 01, 2016:

Thank you very much, Alicia, and my family thanks you as well.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 01, 2016:

Jackie, I know from experience that rabbit is very tasty....so far I've avoided squirrel, thank God! LOL Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 01, 2016:

Missy, you are so kind in your praise, and you speak truths....thank you so much and yes, you have told me how much you love this story...and I never grow tired of it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 01, 2016:

Sis, you keep stroking my ego and I'll keep on writing about the Harpers. Deal? LOL

Thank you.....simple people doing extraordinary things...that, to me, is life in a nutshell.

And I know you understand that.

Happy Sunday, Sis!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 01, 2016:

Shyron, the Harpers thank you, as do I!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 01, 2016:

Pop, it sounds like you are advocating a coup! LOL I'll try not to disappoint you and thus avoid a massive protest.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 01, 2016:

Very true, Shanmarie!

I hope you realize how much I appreciate you following along.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 01, 2016:

Michael my friend, it is a busy time on our little urban farm. Very exciting days here.

Love....there's the answer to all that ails us...love!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 01, 2016:

Thank you Dora! From the mouths of babes.....wouldn't it be lovely if we all had a Timothy to listen to for wisdom?

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 30, 2016:

The description of your family's experience was a great addition to this chapter, Bill. I'm looking forward to Chapter Thirteen and the further adventures of the Harper family.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on April 30, 2016:

Continuing to be a great story.

I have eaten squirrel and the delicious gravy, rabbit too, but my dad and brothers were hunters. You couldn't pay me to eat either today but if I got hungry I know it can be pretty tasty.

Missy Smith from Florida on April 30, 2016:

I loved hearing your personal story about your grandparents and dad. What a great inspiration for this wonderful story you are writing.

That little Timothy made me cry. He is going to make a mighty fine man one day, and it seems he will have a new daddy to teach him more on how to be one, just like your daddy came into your life, right? ;) Have I told you how much I love this story? lol.

Blessings out of struggle. I believe it's through our many struggles here on Earth that make us strong and ready to reap the rewards of heaven. I mean, how would we enjoy it otherwise if we didn't know how to appreciate poverty and sorrow. This, of course, reminds me of Matthew 19:23 in the bible: 23And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Thanks for this great story, Bill! I'm loving every minute of reading it. ~Missy

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

It is my pleasure, Ruby, and I greatly appreciate you riding along on their journey....a journey of the heart, my friend.

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

I always appreciate you stopping by, Bill. Thank you sir!

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

Oh, MizB, I know you speak the truth. My grandparents and parents talked about eating squirrel all the time. I'm told possum is just about the worst meat you can imagine and I believe it. I think I'll pass on that experience.

Thanks for sharing, my friend.

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

Eric, it does my heart good to write it after all that violence in the other story. LOL Thanks my friend.

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

Linda, when you tell me you can see it in your mind's eye, I know I've done my job as a writer. Thank you!

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

Very true, Zulma! We always have the ability to share our "treasures and wealth," and often we find we have much more than we need.

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

Thank you Janine! I could have adjusted to it all back then, but I wouldn't have been a happy camper. LOL Happy Weekend to you, Janine!

Suzie from Carson City on April 30, 2016:

Bro....Leave it to a child to handle a precarious situation. Sometimes it pays well to see things through the eyes of a kid with plain common sense and little fear.

These characters are showing us what hard times, hunger and hopelessness can do to mere mortal man. It should be clear to us, what desperation did to the average human being during the depression. We're entangled in a web ourselves, right here and now.

This journey is going to be a long one and I suspect there will more difficulties ahead.

I also believe in the Harpers and trust them as we go along with them. You're making sure we hang on on, bill. Your story is enlightening & inspirational, more and more with each gripping chapter. Sis

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on April 30, 2016:

This almost made me cry, although I knew Timothy would save the day. I like breakfastpop will not want to give up the Harpers when their journey ends.

Blessings always.

breakfastpop on April 30, 2016:

I may not want to give up the Harpers when you bring it to an end.

Shannon Henry from Texas on April 29, 2016:

I'm glad you haven't ended this story already. Last week you said I would be surprised by who got them out of trouble, but children are so naive in their well-meaning gestures that it does not surprise me at all. It's the perfect way for them to have gotten out of that mess.

Michael-Milec on April 29, 2016:

Human beings are more susceptible to the inner voice in time of need and desperation, could be evil or good. Little Timothy acted upon a drive of divine mandate, and a miracle of soothing hearts has happend. It was love my friend in the voice of the child melting ice of crime into tlife giving limonade. ( If I was having hope for victorious outcome,the last time, now I believe Harper's are entering into a brighter future.)

Blessed weekend to you and all " helpers" on and around your farm.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 29, 2016:

I think that young Timothy was acting on a divine hunch. So glad it worked and what a beautiful friendly exchange resulted from responding to evil with good! Great episode!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on April 29, 2016:

I love your story about the Harper family. I'm sure bits and pieces of this story comes from your grandparents and father. The bond that held the family together is beautiful. I too, can't imagine eating a squirrel or a possum, but I guess when you're hungry even they would taste good. Thanks again for sharing this story with us....

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on April 29, 2016:

Nicely done. The contextual history was woven in neatly. Thank you for sharing this sliver of your family history!! ;-)

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on April 29, 2016:

All’s well that ends well. I’m sure glad that little Timothy had the nerve to handle the situation without any bloodshed. He sounds like a helluva kid.

Now, Bill Holland, I grew up on squirrel meat. Rabbit, too, but daddy drew the line at possum and coon. In fact at one time after WWII, we were so broke that rabbit and a couple of grandma’s chickens were the only meat we had for one whole winter. Good thing my daddy could hunt. I learned to skin a squirrel when I was less than 4 years old. It’s the truth, LOL.

BTW, if you can eat free-range chicken, you can eat squirrel. Hope to see more next week.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 29, 2016:

But for the grace of God through a young child all things could be different. A wonderful continuation of this fine story of hope and love in tragedy. Does my heart good to read. Thank you

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on April 29, 2016:

Little Timothy looking up at those men--truly a Norman Rockwell painting. I can see it in my mind's eye. What a beautiful continuation of the story.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on April 29, 2016:

And a little child shall lead them.

This story reminds me of the parable of the loaves and fishes. People worried there would not be enough food. But with a little kindness and generosity, all were fed.

This is such a lovely story. May it never end.

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on April 29, 2016:

Love how this one is indeed personal and I also heard so many stories of this time period from both my own grandparents and always shocked me how many sacrifices they had to make back then, but cam back stronger than ever after all was said and done. So, am truly enjoying this short story and also loved the note it ended upon this time out. Happy Friday and have a great weekend, too :)

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