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When the Corn Died: Chapter Eight
A Quick Summary
Peter Junior is still in Union, Iowa, recovering from his injuries, and he is being helped by Emma, the young woman who is living with the Harpers. Meanwhile, Evelyn heads home to Charles City to help her husband fight the “infestation” of grasshoppers.
Grasshoppers or locusts? That question has been raised…..pretty much the same bug, and they have been in the past, and will be in the future, destructive under the right conditions.
And now to our story!
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Darkness on the Horizon
I’ve got no words to describe what it feels like to watch your crops burn, the smoke smothering the sun, filling your lungs, choking your hopes and leaving you feeling like a damned failure. This farm has been in our family for as long as I can remember….hell, it goes back through this country’s history, back to the middle of the last century, Harpers pulling up stakes in Pennsylvania and riding the Conestoga out west for a new start, and grandpappy did what he could, as did my daddy, then left to me to carry on the tradition, and that tradition was smoke rising in the sky, blackening the family name, carving out a legacy of futility and, in the end, failure.
I had no clue what we were going to do, what with our future burning to the ground and the Depression still with a death grip on this part of the country. The President says we must not fear fear itself, but it’s hard to live those words when half your crop is soot and the future looks darker than a banker’s heart when the mortgage is due.
The fire was just about out. The breaks we had dug held it in check, ninety acres burned, one-ten still standing tall, green sentries guarding against the blackened Iowa sky. It wouldn’t be enough, no matter how damned good the crop was. It just wouldn’t be enough.
Young Timothy grabbed my hand once again and looked up at me with a smile. His face was streaked with black, tears and sweat mixed with dirt and smoke. That damned smile. The innocence of youth.
I smiled back and as I did I heard a car turn off the road.
Approaching the Holocaust
Evelyn had no doubt where the smoke was coming from. You live in a place long enough and you know every mound and crease on the landscape, like you know the back of your wrinkled hand. Passing the “Welcome to Charles City” sign, Evelyn knew that half a mile down Cooper, six blocks down Main through the downtown section, then a straight shot west on twelve would land you on the Harper farm, and that’s where she was looking now, as the crow flies, west to the Harper farm, her farm, the farm of her family, burning to the ground.
And she pictured her husband, Peter, standing nearby, watching family history float to the sky in the shape of embers, and young Timothy near him, probably not completely understanding the severity of it all, but understanding enough to be supportive.
She pressed down on the gas pedal, her emotions rushing forth as the miles fell behind, past the Pitkin farm, past the water tower, past the general store, the diner, her friends and neighbors, all a blur as her eyes watered over and she turned up the driveway and there was Peter, young Timothy next to him, both so dirty, both so sad, both forcing a smile as the crops continued to smolder behind them.
She rushed from the car, rushed to her husband, the bravest man she’d ever known, the kindest man, strong, always supportive, the best friend anyone could ask for, and her heart broke when she saw his resignation, and they both held each other and their tears mixed together and young Timothy clung to her leg.
At the Hospital in Union
The nurse came in and checked his vitals once again. She seemed pleased with the results, smiled, nodded and left them alone once again.
Eighteen years old, four years her junior, but there was a seriousness to him, a maturity, that made you think he was much older. At times he seemed grave, and just when you started thinking he would never smile again, his face broke out in a big one and it seemed the room got brighter. He came from good stock. Emma greatly respected his ma and pa, kind people, good people, reaching out to help her and Timothy when they desperately needed help.
She had seen him around town from time to time, a man-child, large, quiet, slow-moving but with a purpose, like an arrow aimed at an unseen target, always moving forward, one step closer to that target, and during those times, when they saw each other, he would smile at her, shyly, and quickly look away.
He opened his eyes, looked at her, and treated her with a smile.
“You didn’t have to stay, you know,” he said.
“You’ve said that before, Peter Harper Junior, and I’m ignoring it now like I did then. Nobody should be in a hospital alone and that’s just the way I believe, so I’m here with you until you’re well enough to go home and you best get used to it.”
He seemed to weigh her words for awhile, giving them the time they deserved. He then nodded and smiled again.
“Well, I appreciate it.” He looked away, weighed some more words, looked back at her. “I do believe I’ve got the prettiest visitor in this whole hospital.”
“You hush your foolishness now, Peter Junior, and get some sleep. The sooner you get well the sooner we can get back to the farm and help your folks.”
Was she blushing? God, please don’t let him see her blushing, please don’t let him notice the attraction she felt, the growing warmth spreading through her, the thoughts she was entertaining that maybe life can be all right again.
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Back at the Farm
It takes a long time for the sun to set in July, in Iowa, the land flat, no hills for it to hide behind as it fell into the distant ocean out west. Nine o’clock came and went. Peter, Evelyn and young Timothy sat on the porch and looked out over the scorched past. They all three held hands.
Neighbors had come and gone, offered condolences, brought meals, tried to smile, but not a one said the words that would be a slap in the face, the false belief that everything would be all right, no, no one said those words, for friends do not lie to friends even during the worst of times.
Evelyn squeezed my hand and I swear an electrical current spread through me.
“Tough times just got tougher, husband,” she said to me, all the while smiling that smile. There was no bitterness in her words, just stating fact, making sure the truth was out there for all to see and recognize.
“Without a doubt, Evelyn. We’re knee-deep in it now.”
She squeezed my hand again.
“But we’ve got each other, Peter, and our son is alive and will be well, and we’ve got Emma and young Timothy here, and by God we’ll make it because we’ve got love to tie it all together and make it strong.”
Tell me how a man could be luckier than me at that moment. I leaned over and kissed her. I reached beyond her and ruffled Timothy’s hair.
“I think we should go to town for an ice cream,” I declared. “Who’s with me?”
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Until Next Week
And I hope you all will join me and the Harpers next week, down on the farm, back in Iowa, back during the Great Depression, back to simpler times, or so some say, back when a country was tested, families were strained and lessons were learned by us all.
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)