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A Writing Challenge: The Lone Sentinel
Credit Where Credit Is Due
My good buddy Mike (Mr. Archer from HubPages) wrote to me the other day. He had an idea for a writing challenge and he passed it along to me. Here it is:
“Bill, hope this finds you well this morning. I had a thought this weekend (strange as that may be). We were traveling the interstate between Joplin and Springfield and I spied a fireplace not far from the road. It is a sight I look for every trip and have seen it many times over the years. But his time I wondered: what is its story? Then I thought of you and your challenges and wondered if you could inspire others to create such a story. It is a lonely fireplace, standing aloof and solitary beside a fence separating the highway from an empty field. In past years there has been a wreath hung on one side of it during the holiday season, but not this past one. Makes me wonder if the person who was placing it there has passed and no one remembers the reason for it anymore. Anyway, there you go. What do you think? A good challenge for others to spin a yarn about?”
So there you have it.
Mike didn’t have a picture of this fireplace, so I found one online that is basically the image we need for this challenge. Use it for your challenge, write your response to the challenge and send me a link so I can link it to this one. And that’s all you have to do! Let’s see if your creative juices are flowing today, shall we?
And now, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll give it a try.
The Lone Sentinel
The year was 1845.
Ezekiel and Sarah Miller loaded the last of their belongings onto the Prairie Schooner and prepared to leave their home. They were Oregon-bound. It was late-March, and soon the grasses would grow on the open plains, and they needed to be in St. Joseph in two weeks. There they would sell their horses and hopefully find a good team of oxen, the noble creatures that would pull them, carry them, and lead them westward over the desolate lands and unforgiving mountains.
Their log home with its massive stone fireplace had served them well for five years. It sat on fifty acres just outside the small village of Joplin, Missouri. Lead had been discovered in the valley, and people were trickling in hoping to cash in on that metal, but there were war drums in the distance. Already the small village was divided, north and south, and sooner rather than later those whispers of division would become angry shouts, and the Millers wanted no part of that dispute.
So they had sold their home to a young couple, the Paxtons, said goodbye to family and friends, and now they climbed aboard the wagon, encouraged the horses with a flick of the reins, and they were off for lands unknown.
The Paxtons Work the Land
Fifty acres of prime farming land in the Joplin Valley, and Sam and Delores Paxton were determined to make it work. Sun up to sun down they worked the land, planting corn, nursing those seedlings, caressing the young stalks with love, and cursing the weather at every turn. It was back-breaking, thankless work, but eventually they harvested their first crop, and that gave them money for supplies over the winter, and the gods of weather cooperated, smiled upon them, and gave them hope for the future.
But as so often happens, hope is ground under the boots of outside influences, and so it was for those living in Joplin as the 1860s unfolded and the sounds of war echoed from the rolling hills. Gray uniforms came a’callin’, and right on their heels the blue-bellies were in hot pursuit, and homes soon had bullet wounds that matched the wounded psyches of those just trying to make a living.
The Paxtons, mom, dad, and two fine sons, eventually found themselves casualties of the war, and the west called to them after twenty-five years of tilling the soil, and they said goodbye to family and friends, loaded their wagon, and followed the sun to an uncertain future. The last of their fires produced smoke, and that smoke billowed from the grand chimney, beckoning to a minister and his wife, and soon Reverend Holland and Mrs. Holland took ownership of that cabin and made it their own.
Pray to the Lord
The Hollands erected a fine barn on the property, and raised a cross to sit upon it, and soon the growing city of Joplin had a Baptist church to worship at. The country nursed the wounds of war, the economy turned robust, and throngs of easterners moved to the valley in search of a quieter life. The church congregation grew, peace and prosperity spread along the riverbank, and the smoke of tranquility rose from the great stone chimney once again.
And so it was for a number of years, the calendar pages turned and a new century dawned upon Joplin. Families came and families left, the constant evolution of life in a Midwest town. The log cabin grew in size, rooms were added, but the stone fireplace remained, standing guard over the property, a sign of continuity in an ever-changing landscape. The dirt road was paved, then re-paved, and horses were replaced by horseless carriages, then trucks carrying the fruits of commerce, and Joplin grew to a good-sized city.
The End of an Era
Then one night, it must have been 1958 or ’59, a fire swept through the home. The family, luckily, escaped, but by dawn the home was ash and all that remained of that 1840’s cabin was the chimney, now covered with soot and looking her age. The property was sold once again, this time to an absentee farmer, and the fifty acres were devoured by surrounding property until an agribusiness emerged totaling two-thousand acres with steroid-corn and all the personality of a doorknob.
The two-lane road was widened and an interstate replaced the quaint dirt road of years gone by, and progress rolled by at faster speeds, rendering the countryside as just one constant blur, but to a discerning eye, to an eye intent on seeing that which is important, that chimney stood as a reminder of days gone by, traditions lost and a slower, happier time.
The lone sentinel standing guard for history.
Would you like to see more of these challenges?
And Now It’s Your Turn
Do with it as you please. I look forward to your creativity, and I know my friend Mike does as well. You do not have to use the same title, The Lone Sentinel. All you have to use is the picture. Remember to let me know when you write your response so I can link it to the original article.
And now, in the words of my high school teacher, let’s do it to it like Sonny Pruitt.
Have fun and good luck!
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”
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