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The 3:39 From New Iberia to Charles City: The Short Story Continues

Updated on December 18, 2015

Welcome Back

It’s been a few weeks since we visited with William Dale and Sarah with an “h.” For those of you not familiar with this continuing saga, this is the story of ordinary people living ordinary lives. You’ll find no thriller here, nor mystery. As a writer I am fascinated by the daily struggle, and the daily victories, of ordinary people. I love our resilience, our zest and our willingness to persevere despite constant setbacks. Human beings are fascinating on the most mundane of days, don’t you think? If you don’t think so just take a ride down to Walmart.

Let’s see what’s happening with our protagonists in the wintry state of Iowa.

The train arrives
The train arrives | Source

Back Home

It was with heavy hearts that we stepped off the train in Charles City. Sarah and I had paid a visit to her Maw Maw in New Iberia, Louisiana. The purpose of the visit was to convince Maw Maw to come live with us in Iowa. She is getting along in years, lives alone and we have a big old farmhouse that could accommodate Maw Maw quite nicely….but it wasn’t meant to be.

“It’s nice of you, children,” she had told us. “But my life is in New Iberia along the banks of Bayou Teche. Here is where I was born and here is where I will die. Besides, those winters in Iowa would seep into my old bones and hurt something awful.” And then she cackled that laugh of hers, gave us a hug and the decision was final. “You take care of this granddaughter of mine, William Dale, and she’ll do the same for you. Now git, you two!”

Sarah was quiet most of the trip back home. She would occasionally tell me a story of growing up with the only real relative she had known. She told me of the love she felt in the safe arms of her Maw Maw, and she told me of the guilt she felt in leaving the old woman, but in the end, Sarah knew it was meant to be and it was right.

When we pulled into the station in Charles City on a bitterly cold December afternoon, she put on her overcoat and kissed me on the cheek. “This is my home now, Sugar. I’ve shed my last tear. Let’s get some hugs from your mother and sister. I’ll bet your Ma made dinner for us and I swear I could eat a steer right now.”

And that was that! Sarah was made of tough stock and her period of mourning was over. As we stood on the train platform I realized again how much I loved this woman. The snow clustered in her hair, the light of day was absorbed by her skin then radiated outwards, and her eyes, deep pools of intelligence, snared me and would not let me go.

Home sweet home
Home sweet home | Source

At the Homestead

Ma had, indeed, made us dinner. We all sat down that night to fried chicken, mashed potatoes and, of course, corn. Apple crisp was for dessert, and after we had cleared the table and done dishes, Ma told us we needed to have a family discussion. I knew what that was all about and wasn’t looking forward to it.

“Jeannie, Sarah, William Dale, we’ve got problems. We had a good harvest this year but not good enough to get us current on the mortgage. Mister Booker down at the bank has been calling and asking about it. We need a new tractor and a thousand other little things that will cost money we don’t have. I’m not sure what we’ll do to keep this farm and that’s what this meeting is all about. I’m listening to any suggestions any of you might have. If we don’t come up with a solution I’m afraid this farm is going to the bank if we can’t sell it and I gotta tell ya, that will break my heart.”

The farm had been in our family for a long, long time. My grandfather had died on it, as had my dad. There was a lot of Dale sweat, tears and blood in those acres. Farming wasn’t something I particularly wanted to do with my life but I sure as hell didn’t want to see the land plowed under and condominiums sprout up either. Sarah and I had promised to help out and that’s by God what we would do. Unfortunately, at that moment, I didn’t have the first idea how to turn around our fortunes or luck. Farming is a dying industry for the small guys in this country. It’s all about agribusinesses now, corporations run by three-piece suits and computerized spread sheets dictating every decision. The human factor has been eliminated from farming, washed clean of emotion. Small farms either become housing developments or get swallowed up by the farming giants.

“I’ve got an idea,” said Sarah with an ‘h’.”

A tired farm
A tired farm | Source

DIVERSIFY

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea,” she said. “But at this point we should discuss anything, right?”

My mother leaned forward on the couch. “Sarah, darlin’, we are all ears. What’s this idea of yours?”

"Maw Maw always said the reason why you can't get rid of fleas is because there's just too many of them. You might kill off those on the back of a hound, but those on the belly are still having a party. I think we need to take a lesson from those fleas.

"I think we should diversify. Right now all we really do is corn. Sure, we’ve got a few cattle, but most of our efforts go into corn. I haven’t been here long but from what I understand, corn is a thing of the past for small farmers. The profit margin is just too small, and on two-hundred acres it’s impossible to grow enough corn to make it worthwhile. So we need to move some of our efforts away from corn to other products.

“I was reading in a magazine last week, while Delores was doing my hair at the “Cut and Tuck,” and there was an article about this family farm in Olympia, Washington that is doing real well. They don’t have many more acres than we have but they are hiring helpers like crazy to keep up with demand.”

Now Ma was really leaning forward. “Well keep talking, Sarah. You’ve got our attention.”

“Well, this place in Olympia turned part of their old farmhouse into a Bed & Breakfast. They revamped their old barn into a dance hall and music venue. They turned their cornfield into a corn maze in September and October. They started making cream and butter from their milk and sold it as organic dairy products. They also had a roadside vegetable stand and had an area they turned into a petting zoo for kids. I figure if they can do it we sure as hell can do it, right? What do you think?”

Ma was up now pacing the floor, nodding her head and for the first time in quite awhile, smiling.

“Sarah, what I think is my son, William Dale, has damn fine taste in women. For a southern gal you are surely smart as a whip. Jeannie, William, what do you two think? Can we do it? I wouldn’t know where to start. William, I think you and Sarah should go out to Olympia and gather information, don’t you?”

Jeannie’s answer was to walk over to Sarah and hug her. My answer was to laugh my ass off. For a wondering pilgrim who busted his ass to get off that farm as quickly as possible, it seems I keep finding reasons to return to it and keep working it. I walked over to my mother, took her face in my hands and kissed her forehead. “You’re right, Ma. Sarah is one smart Cajun. She and I will head west after the holidays for a fact-finding trip.”

Renewed hope during the winter
Renewed hope during the winter | Source

And So…..

The four of us celebrated Christmas with renewed hope. Snow fell on the twenty-third, and Christmas morning gleamed as the sun reflected off the white ground. On that beautiful day we did not talk of the changes coming. We spent our time remembering the past and those who once walked this journey with us. We toasted my dad with sweet melancholy, and said a prayer for Maw Maw, hoping she felt the love from a thousand miles away. We ate an early lunch, opened presents, bundled up and all went for a walk around the farm. We shared stories with Sarah of a family built on a foundation of love, and Sarah told us it was all she ever hoped for and she loved us all, and Jeannie told us of a new boyfriend who just might be the one and Ma told us all how proud she was to call us family.

And I thought of the tens of thousands of miles I had travelled after high school, footloose and yes, fancy free, in search of who knows what, but always aware that what really was important, what really mattered most in my life, was this rich Iowa soil, the weathered boards of an old farmhouse and the bond I had with the Dale family, past and present.

Let the next chapter begin, I thought.

And Perhaps There Will Be a Next Chapter

This is one of those stories I don’t want to end, simply because I relate so easily to this fictional family. Charles City, Iowa is where the Holland/O’Dowd family roots are deepest, so I suspect my stories and books will always have a taste of Iowa in them.

I also suspect William Dale and Sarah with an “h” will return soon.

2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 19 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Well that Sarah is a real catch for the whole family. I hope they give the new way a good shot. I also hope that in the spring Maw Maw can come visit and that Jeanine's new beau is a good one. Oh wait this is just a story.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 19 months ago from The Beautiful South

      This sounds like a fantastic daydream turned transferred to paper; Bill. Really enjoyed it!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Eric, sometimes those lines separating fact and fiction are a bit blurred. :) I'll be by to visit you shortly. Thank you sir!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad, Jackie. It's nice to write a story that doesn't have murders in it. LOL

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 19 months ago from Central Florida

      I love Sarah's idea of diversifying. Not only will it bring in some much needed cash, but it'll keep the family from getting bored. I hope you let us follow William Dale and Sarah with an "h" to Olympia. I wonder if they'll run in to Sheila, Bill Hollis and Tweetie on their journey.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 19 months ago from Washington State, USA

      I think there's more than a bit of billybuc in William Dale, and your Sarah with an "h" sounds almost smart enough to be Bev. I am loving every moment of this story. One thing has me puzzled however. Perhaps I'm confusing this story with another one--wasn't there a baby-to-be in a previous installment?

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, that might be a bit obscure even for me, but who knows? It's possible Sheila could be lurking in the shadows ready to bestow some of her wisdom. I hadn't thought of that but now you can bet I will. :) Happy Friday my friend.

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

      Linda, I don't believe there was a baby...shoot, now I have to go back and check it out. I've been so busy I may have lost track of the story line. LOL Thanks for asking.

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

      God, Linda, you were right. Right at the end of the last installment I said it was March and Sarah was pregnant....damn, now I have to do some serious backpedaling. Stay tuned while I dance my way out of this one.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 19 months ago from Northern California, USA

      This was like drinking a nice glass of water. I wonder if Maw Maw is going to consider getting into "agritainment."

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 19 months ago from south Florida

      Your roots are most definitely showing, Bill, in a very entertaining, meaningful way. And Maw Maw's 'flea' anecdote qualifies her as Philosopher of the Month.

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

      Marlene, what a lovely thing for you to say. I love that simile. Thank you! As for Maw Maw, I'm not quite certain what is going to happen to that old Cajun, but I don't think we've heard the last of her.

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

      drbj, I'll let Maw Maw know what you said. She'll be right pleased. :) Thank you my friend.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I hope that William Dale and Sarah with an h do return soon, Bill. I love this story.

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 19 months ago from Northern Ireland

      I love it when you have to do some serious backpedalling, some really great stories "happen" then. Enjoyed this story and it's a good place to end with a view to returning some time.

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

      I'm so glad, Alicia. I enjoy writing about "normal" people and how they make it through life.

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

      Thanks Meg! I just got in too big a hurry and forgot about the pregnancy. Duh! Oh well, it's time to get creative. :) Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 19 months ago from Oklahoma

      To me the everyday is not mined out as well as it could be. Everybody wants to write something dramatic when some of the most meaningful thing occur in the ordinary.

      Wonderfully crafted story.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Larry and I totally agree with you. I love to write mysteries/ thrillers, but delving into the psyches of normal people is just as enjoyable for me.

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 19 months ago from Hollister, MO

      I especially appreciated that introduction...

      Agritourism... your 'diversity' from Sarah with an 'h'... is very real.

      Promoted it hard over in the Kansas Flint Hills for several years...

      Is the basis of the modern "Homeplace" of course...

      Looking forward to next installments. BTW, watch out for that Bill Holland fellow, when they visit Olympia... ;-)

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

      Thanks for the mini-history lesson, Bill. I'll toss in agritourism in the next installment in your honor.

      You are right about that Bill Holland fella...worth keeping an eye on. :)

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 19 months ago from SW England

      She's one smart cookie, that one! I love the humanity of these stories, bill. You capture the essence of general life and make it interesting. I can see those people, I can hear them and I can understand them. Guess what? - Brilliant!

      Hope your Friday and your weekend are fabulously fantastic, bill.

      Ann :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Awww, Ann, you are much too kind, but thank you. I have days when I seriously question my sanity for the number of hours I spend writing for practically no pay at all....so, like all writers, I need an uplifting comment from time to time...so thank you!

      Happy Weekend to you, my friend.

      bill

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 19 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I can relate to this story well even though I did not grow up in a farm. This story is one I can write, everyday events that change people's lives but one that does not make the news. It has charm all its own.

    • clivewilliams profile image

      Clive Williams 19 months ago from Nibiru

      Nice living Story Bill

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 19 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      A sweet Christmas story of hope and promise, dear Bill...with some characters I have grown to love.

      Wishing you and Bev a great Christmas.

      Love, Maria

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 19 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Maria...you're on it girl. This IS a SWEET Christmas story of hope & promise. May I borrow that? I did, didn't I?

      Bro, I love that Sarah. A woman after my own heart. As with all of your wonderful tales, you leave us eager for more and knowing we'll feel another emotion we've not felt in a while.....That's a gift bro.

      Speaking of gifts...."Merry Christmas"to you and Beautiful Bev and your crew of those people who prove you've both done a superb job!!

      Peace, Sis

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Aesta, thank you so much. This is the first time I've tried writing a story about normal life. I'm so glad you like it.

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

      Thank you very much, Clive. Have a great weekend.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 19 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Great story! I enjoyed reading another one of your well-written tales. Your ideas flow through smoothly.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 19 months ago from sunny Florida

      Me either, bill...and isn't that Sarah with an 'h' something after all???

      Keep the adventures coming ....I feel I know this family now...and care about what comes next.

      Merry Christmas, bill, to you and yours

      Angels aplenty are on the way ps

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 19 months ago

      I like this family and I especially admire their willingness to think outside the box!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Maria! Merry Christmas to you and your family, dear friend.

      love,

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Sis, I wish I had some money. I'd pay you to be my publicist. Thank you for the continued nice words. I thought it was about time I wrote about nice people who didn't kill anyone. LOL Merry Christmas, Sis....you are a treasure in a world of refuse.

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

      Thank you very much, DDE.. I really appreciate your support.

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

      PS, the kindest thing someone can say to a fiction writer is "I feel I know this family now." Thank you so much, and Merry Christmas to you and that remarkable family of yours.

      hugs and blessings, always

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Pop. I've grown rather fond of them as well.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 19 months ago from Taos, NM

      I think I have been living under a rock! Lol! I have somehow missed your two short story series. They really show your versatility as a story writer. This one is just as engaging as the other one. Hope to read more of this story.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 19 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      LOL.....I never take money from family & friends. No way possible. By current calculations, my youngest son's "tab" exceeds our National debt. fact. Oh, but I love my BABY! endearing term for brat.

      Ah....what's money?...........No seriously bro, what IS it?

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 19 months ago from Texas

      Bill this is just what I needed to read, a feel good story about Sarah with an H to the rescue.

      Blessings and hugs friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Suzette, I'm just glad you finally found them and like them. Thank you for your kind words. I do enjoy spinning a yarn.

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

      Sis, when I discover what real money looks like, I'll take a picture and send it to ya. :) Enjoy your Sunday my friend. I'll be spoiling Bev on her birthday.

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

      Thank you Shyron. I do like Sarah with an h...my kind of woman.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 19 months ago from Queensland Australia

      A wonderful feel good story, Bill. Which is just what I like to read at this time of year. Beautifully told.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 19 months ago from New Delhi, India

      A sweet and feel good story of hope and promise--I loved reading it. I liked the natural flow of the story and one can relate with the characters.

      Thank you for sharing!

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 19 months ago from london

      Excellent day to day and life stuff, which you so inimitably expressed in your own voice. Yes, I too see the beauty in the ordinary. It can sometimes go almost unnoticed. Still, human struggle, survival, perseverance, hope, success and failure and yes, love, I think we should all be very proud of.

      Have a great weekend, my Brother Bill.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 19 months ago from The Caribbean

      Reality is so present in your story. Old folks like your Maw Maw do not leave their homestead without a fight. Love the hope on which the story ends--hope that still keep the life in less fortunate families. Following all the way.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad, John! This is a story without too much drama. Just good people living their lives as best they can. Thank you!

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

      I'm so glad you enjoyed it, ChitrangadaSharan. Thank you!

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

      I totally agree with you, Manatita. I think there is a place in literature for the mundane. :) Thank you sir!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so very much, Dora! I'm so happy all of you love this story.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 19 months ago from Dubai

      Enjoyed reading this story. It is difficult to let go of things that we have grown to love over the years and have precious memories associated with them. Maw Maw will find it hard to move out and settle in a new place. Great write.

    • agusfanani profile image

      agusfanani 19 months ago from Indonesia

      Sarah is a smart kind of wife. She's been aware the importance of change and her idea has inspired the family.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 19 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      The new structure for the old farm sure sounds like a winner to me. If you can't keep up with the past, take it into the present.

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

      Very true, .Vellur. Very true indeed. :) Thank you!

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

      She is, for sure, a smart person, Agusfanani. Thanks for following along.

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

      I love that, Deb...take it into the present. Wonderful line, my friend.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 19 months ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Bill, I have to do some back peddling myself. ;) How many short stories have you got on the go? I tuned in for the promised romance between Billy the Kid and Genna. Instead, I found these wonderful characters, William, and Sarah. You come into your own when you write from the heart. I love this!

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

      Jo, there are currently two short stories going on, this one and Billy the Kid. Thank you for the very kind words, and Merry Christmas to you and your family. Bless you, my friend.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 19 months ago from United Kingdom

      It's a shame Maw Maw is staying put. I would love to see what she would have made of the Midwest and what the Midwest would have made of her. I hope we hear from her again.

      Such a sweet story. Perfect for Christmas. I (im)patiently waiting to see how Sarah business plan works out.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Zulma, it was scheduled for today, but then I realize it was Christmas. LOL You'll just have to wait a week.

      Merry Christmas once again.

    • Seafarer Mama profile image

      Karen Szklany Gault 19 months ago from New England

      Thanks for the Dale family Christmas story. Don't think MawMaw would come to live with them once part of the farmhouse was turned into a B & B? Anyway....I keep enjoying these characters. Happy New Year, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Mama! I'm sure glad you are enjoying this little "Waltons" ripoff. :) Happy New Year to you and yours.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 19 months ago

      I've missed the first part of this series but did enjoy this portion. Have a wonderful New Years Eve with Bev.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Diana! It's my feel good story...no murders in this one. :) Happy New Year to you and your family!

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 18 months ago from Cape Cod

      I think that the best thing I can say to you Bill is that Mr. Garrison Keillor would be proud to have his name hooked on to that homespun, heartwarming yarn.

      Ol' Gary's retiring this year. P'haps you could wander up to St. Paul and take over. As a story teller, you are right up there with the man from Lake Wobegone and my other radio fave, the late Mr. Jean "Shep" Shepherd who yakked off the cuff every night on WOR in New York for decades. One time they made a movie out of one of his radio tales, "The Christmas Story", which he narrated. You are right up there with the 'A' team sir. Keep pushing, keep writing. Your work will reach a larger audience, but I don't want you to have to wait until you have taken up permanent residence in one of those ol' graveyards you love to walk in! Wishing you the best in 2016.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, you are much too kind, but I'll take your compliment in the spirit it was given. Thank you so much. If I can find a couple hundred thousand more followers like you, I'll be rolling in clover. :) Happy New Year and again,thank you!

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 18 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      I think the comments here have already said it, in the hands of a great storyteller even the everyday lives spring to life with vigour just like this story does!

      Will they make the changes they need to? I hope so

      Lawrence

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Lawrence, thank you for the very kind words. I am humbled.

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