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When the Corn Died: Chapter Five

Updated on March 11, 2016

A Quick Review

Grasshoppers have arrived on the Harper farm, threatening to wipe out a much-needed bumper crop. Meanwhile, Peter Harper Junior and his best friend have had it with mining in Missouri, no matter how badly they need the money to help out their families. They pack up their belongings, collect their owed pay and catch a northbound train for home.

And here we go!

Source

Riding the Rails

Three things can happen when you hop a freight to anywhere. One, the yard bulls can find you and beat you senseless with their billy clubs. Two, you can get rousted, beaten or killed by others riding the rails, desperate men willing to do anything for a scrap of food or a couple pennies. Or three, you can somehow beat the odds and make it to your destination in one piece and still breathing.

Those were the thoughts filling Peter Junior’s head as he and his best friend Lucas jumped the train just outside of Purdy, Missouri at six in the morning, the sun rising quickly in the east, each of them carrying their possessions in a bag tied at the end of a hickory branch, each carrying three dollars and some-odd cents, their last pay from mining.

As his eyes adjusted to the lack of light inside the boxcar, Peter Junior could see they had the car to themselves for the time being. He and Lucas dusted each other off then stood in the doorway and watched the lush Missouri farmland pass by as the train rattled north and west.

“What do you figure, Peter?” Lucas asked. “Home in two days? Maybe three?”

“Sounds about right, Lucas. Depends on our luck and timing, I reckon, but maybe two days if all goes well. Four-hundred miles, give or take. It sure will be good to be home. Seems like we’ve been gone longer than a month, don’t it?”

“Sure enough do, Peter. Sure enough do.”

Source

Back on the Farm

“What are we going to do, Peter?” Evelyn asked as she dished eggs and bacon on my plate.

She was asking about the latest problem on the farm, the grasshoppers discovered at the edge of the corn field. She knew, as did I, that a swarm of grasshoppers could eat through our hundred-plus acres of corn in a matter of days if left unchecked, especially with the weather so hot and dry.

I watched her wash her hands at the sink as I took my first bite of bacon. God she was a good-lookin’ woman. The sunlight streaming through the window framed her head and she looked downright angelic. Hard to believe she had chosen me. With her looks she could have had any of the eligible bachelors years back, but she’d chosen me.

“I was talking to Ned at the feed store. He said to burn some gasoline-soaked rags along the edge of the fields. Something about the smoke driving those bastards off? If that doesn’t work I’ll have to set fire to that section of corn and hope I get them all with the flames and smoke.”

Evelyn sat down at the table.

“You know how I feel about swearing in the house, Peter. Kindly choose your words more carefully.”

“For the love of God, woman, we’re facing the loss of our crops and you’re worried about my language?”

“Peter Harper, every man, woman and child on this planet has problems. That isn’t no excuse for cussing. You are too good a man, Peter, and cussing diminishes you, so kindly listen to your wife.”

What’s a man to say to that? I decided to change the subject.

“How’s Emma getting along? I spend a lot of time with her son, Timothy, but don’t see much of you womenfolk during the day. Do you think she likes being here with us?”

“I think she misses her husband something terrible, Peter. There’s a whole lot of pain in that little gal. She’s got a bunch of healing to do, so I’m right happy she’s with us to help her. Don’t you worry about her. Emma is made of tough stock. She’ll get through this, and one day some good man will see her, and fall in love with her, and then nature will do what nature does. We know all about that kind of nature, don’t we, Peter?”

My loins were on fire as I finished my breakfast, kissed Evelyn and made my way to the edge of the cornfield.

Hungry Little Bastards

Rumor has it one adult grasshopper can eat about an ounce of grain per day. I was thinking about that, multiplying it by hundreds of thousands, as I led young Timothy out into the corn fields. As we approached the area I had seen them in earlier, I could hear them, the rapid flapping of their wings, the scraping of legs against wings, the almost hypnotic shrill as thousands fed upon the lifeblood of our family, the sounds of defeat drifting with the warm breeze. I tried to prepare myself for what I was about to see but really, now, that’s damned near impossible.

In a matter of twenty-four hours the hoppers had leveled a good twenty-square feet of corn. I knew, without a doubt, it was only going to get worse as the sun rose and the temperature did the same.

Timothy and I ran back to the barn. There I gathered up as many rags as I could find, soaked them in gasoline, tossed them all in a crate and carried the load back to the fields with Timothy trailing behind me. He was a good boy, a bit quiet, but respectful and a hard-worker for a boy his age. A look of concern etched his tiny face and I felt bad about that.

“Okay, Timothy, here’s what we’re going to do. We’ll take these rags and spread them out along the edge of this section where the hoppers are feeding. We light up the rags and hopefully the smoke from the fires will drive them away. Let’s get busy, son. We don’t have time to waste.”

Evelyn and Emma joined us a couple hours later. They had brought more rags like I asked them to, and some sandwiches and lemonade. For the rest of the day we lit rags and kept an eye on the fires, making sure we controlled the burn. The smoke drifted through the fields on the breeze, eventually rising in the thermals, turning the sun yellow to red, giving the whole scene an unreal quality to it.

We let the last fire burn out as dusk won nature’s daily battle. All of us stood at the edge of the fields as the daylight faded, looking for movement, listening for the telltale sounds. There was none to be seen, none to be heard.

“What do you think, Peter? Evelyn asked. “Did we get them all?”

“I don’t rightly know, hon. Let’s all of us go to bed. We’ll find out in the morning.”

Source

Good Night

As we washed up and got ready for bed we could hear a train whistle in the distance and that, of course, reminded me of Peter Junior. Evelyn knew. She always knew.

“He’s fine, Peter. He’s a Harper and he can take care of himself. Don’t you worry now.”

“I miss him, Evelyn. Miss him something fierce. I wish our son was home.”

“I do too, husband. Now hush, please. Come lay beside me and hold me tight. I need you tonight, Peter, and I’m guessing you need me.”

Two-hundred and Fifty Miles to the Southeast

Peter Junior pressed a rag against the side of his head, hoping to stop the bleeding. It could have been worse, he guessed. He and Lucas managed to run away from the yard bull before things got real serious in the rail yard outside of St. Louis. They each took a whack to the head but escaped still breathing, so all things considered it worked out okay.

Lucas started laughing as they walked along the tracks north of the city.

“Sweet Jesus, Peter, I didn’t know you could run that fast.”

“Run faster than you, Lucas. He got me while I was staggering out of sleep. He plain ran you down. Good thing he tripped on the rail or he’d still be thumping your head.”

The two friends laughed together as they walked in the general direction of Charles City, two in the morning and their shuffling feet the only sounds to be heard.

We’ll Catch up with Them Next Week

That’s all you get this week. Everyone is alive and well, or as well as they can hope to be under the circumstances.

Thanks for joining me this week.

2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 16 months ago from New York, New York

      Aw, glad they are all at the very least alive and surviving as they can so far. Look forward from more on this story and wishing you a wonderful weekend ahead now, as always Bill!! :)

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 16 months ago

      Oh, boy, this is a simple straight-forward story, and I'm glad they are still surviving. Can't wait for next week's episode, and somehow I don't think we've seen the last of the grasshoppers. I loved serials when I was a kid, and I had to go to the movies every week to keep up with Hopalong or who else was having a great adventure. See you next week on this, brother Bill.

    • Eldon Arsenaux profile image

      Eldon Arsenaux 16 months ago from Cooley, Texas

      The Grasshopper scene evokes a biblical plague visiting The Harper Home, but of course, The West was ravaged not so long ago (and perhaps will again someday with all these unusually-long droughts). I really recommend Bound For Glory by Woody Guthrie. I think it will bring you the same joy it brought me when I first read it. Have an interstellar Friday Bill!

      -E.G.A.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 16 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Wow, tough times. Makes you take stalk of just how good we have these days. Thanks for a great read.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 16 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Thanks for an excellent read! You shared a direct point here and so much to think about in this story.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 16 months ago

      When the cicadas come out in full force I would love to burn rags to get rid of them! I know, I know I have an entourage of bugs speaking for me, but that is different!

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 16 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Tough times, and tough people for sure. Thank you for another beautifully written chapter.

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 16 months ago from Hollister, MO

      I can see and feel their every move. Thank you, so much, for sharing this story with us. What fun! ;-)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 16 months ago from The Caribbean

      Hope the boys get home safely. I like how you introduce the grasshoppers to spread out the plot.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 16 months ago from Southern Illinois

      This was great, so glad the boys were not killed by the yard bulls. I have never been able to understand why they didn't let the hobos ride the trains? Really they didn't harm anyone. This took me back when my mother fed hobos who rode the trains. She never turned one down. She gave them whatever we had. They sat on the front porch steps and acted like gentlemen. See you next time...

    • Missy Smith profile image

      Missy Smith 16 months ago from Florida

      This made me sigh as usual when I was done reading it. I wish people were as wholesome as they were back then. I'll be here next week! :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Janine! First as always, I see. I was working all day so I apologize for the later response. Have a great weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      MizB, I remember well the serials of our youth. Perhaps that's why I have a fondness for this story and the Billy the Kid series. I'm trying to bring back the past in my own little way. :)

      Thank you as always, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Eldon, thanks for the reminder. I'll go seek out Guthrie tomorrow on your recommendation.

      I'm tired so this is short...thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Eric, a pun? Take stalk???? I love it, intentional or not.

      Have a fantastic weekend my friend.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 16 months ago from The Beautiful South

      Great story and sure the boys will add much to it.

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 16 months ago

      Life in real exposition.Yours is exact story of surviving in those days of hard work and struggle when the freedom and liberty has begun to formulate future generations' "American Dream.'' Hope that Harpers will come out victoriously, all happy and well.

      Blessed weekend to you and yours my friend. ( Don't work hard.)

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 16 months ago from southern USA

      I just love that Evelyn, and so does "husband" : ) ...she is one good woman. I didn't realize grasshoppers could eat so much at one time! I hope they are gone for good. When that train whistle blew I thought for sure the boys would come pounching through the door, but maybe next week they will be home safe and sound. Peace and blessings

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Aww, thank you DDE! I think my love of creative writing shows in some of my work. At least I hope it does.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      It would be different, Pop. I've never had that problem with cicadas but I'll bet those little buggers can get pretty loud.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      It is my pleasure, Linda! I love writing about the people who lived during those times. Thank you for finding enjoyment in my stories, and Happy Weekend to you.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, I'm so glad you enjoy it. It's such a simple story about simple people and yet, there is nothing simple about any of them.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Dora! Every piece of fiction needs those little "jolts" to propel the story.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Ruby, I love that memory you have of your mother. I would have liked her.

      I know I like her daughter. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      So do I, Missy. So do I! :) Have a wonderful weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Jackie! It's about time for some romance, don't you think?

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Michael my friend, thank you! This will be a happy story so you can count on the Harpers doing well in the end. In the meantime, until the next chapter, I wish you blessings and happiness.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Faith! The grasshopper infestation was a major problem during the Dust Bowl...nasty little critters if allowed to spread.

      Is there anything more mournful than a train whistle in the middle of the night? I love that sound.

      Happy weekend to you, Faith, and blessings always

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 16 months ago from southern USA

      Oh, I love that sound too, Bill. In the small town we moved to there are trains coming through. At first it took a bit to get used to but now I love hearing that sound in the distance.

      Oh, I hear one right at this moment coming through and now the whistle is blowing. Cool!

      Happy weekend to you too

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Very cool, Faith. It takes a perfect synchronicity of events for me to hear one at night, but occasionally it happens. Here I hear more coyotes than trains for whatever reason. :)

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 16 months ago from Massachusetts

      Great chapter Bill. Looking forward to reading what happens on the farm and following Peter as he heads home. Have a great weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Bill. I'm waiting for the Harpers to talk to me because I don't have a clue what's happening next.

      Windstorm this afternoon so it should be an eventful Sunday. Enjoy your day and thank you!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 16 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is another interesting chapter about the Harper family. I'm enjoying seeing how the story progresses very much.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, as always, Alicia. These are good people and I hope they do well in difficult times.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 16 months ago from SW England

      I think our grasshoppers here are not like those; they don't behave like that, thank goodness. I always think of locusts when it comes to eating crops and fortunately we don't have those either!

      We're all fearing for Peter Junior's safety now so I hope those boys get home in one piece. I'm really caught up in this story, bill, and it seems everyone else is too. Great writing!

      Ann

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 16 months ago from london

      Everyone is alive and well indeed. Grass-hoppers running amok and some grain or livelihood being threatened. Let's see what happens. Sweet and simple story. In Love and Light.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, I'm not sure if there is a difference between locusts and grasshoppers. I'll have to do some research on that one. Suffice it to say they can be a bit troublesome in the midwest of the U.S. when the weather is hot and dry.

      Hope you are well. Thanks for the kind words. I really enjoy writing about this family.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Manatita. That's what I was aiming for, sweet and simple. :) Blessings always to you and yours.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 16 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Reading this story offers a taste of what it was to live like back in those days. I like the pace of this story. It's just the right amount of comfort mixed in with the struggles of that era. This story reminds me that no matter what we are going through, there is always something somewhere that we can be grateful to have in our life.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Very true, Marlene. I will admit that is inspired by the Waltons as well as my grandparents. Lessons learned as a child now find their way into this story.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 16 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Bill~~~ please, I'm begging. Get those boys home safe & sound! Poor darlings. I wanted to run to their aid with hydrogen peroxide, neosporin & bandages~~~ (w/ 4 sons I always had a huge supply!!)

      And the grasshoppers! We can only hope the guys were successful in smoking the "bastards" out!! What a frightening thing to have to face an entire field of your livelihood be destroyed by insects!!

      I love the women, bill~~strong, sensible and tireless...not to mention "loving."

      Great chapter, but I want MORE. Don't rush...just HURRY UP! LOL

      Peace & Love, Sis

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Is tomorrow soon enough, Sis?

      I wanted strong women, Paula. Where would we poor mopes be without strong women in our lives? Truth!

      So glad you enjoy this story. I hate to tell ya, but bad news is on the way, but we need the bad to open the door to the good that follows. :)

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 16 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      You hate to tell me?? Ohhhh bill...but you DID tell me! Arghhhhhhh! No! Dont' say things like, "bad news.".....I get so involved in your stories...now I've got heartburn!!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 16 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Glad that the boys made it home. Now hopefully, the grasshoppers are gone.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Well read on, Sis, the new chapter is here, and take an antacid. :) You kill me! :) In a good way.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Well keep hoping, Deb. We all need hope. :) Happy Friday my friend.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 16 months ago from Shelton

      Billybuc I do have to admit that your story is insightful and immensely entertaining.. until the next chapter my friend :)

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 16 months ago from SW England

      Apparently, bill, grasshoppers are solitary and locusts are gregarious and therefore cause huge problems en masse. Essentially they are the same.

      I looked all that up as I needed to know! See what education you're responsible for?!

      Ann :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Frank, I thank you very much. Kind words, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Well there you go, Ann! See what we both learned? I suspected as much, but for whatever reason, old-timers always refer to them as grasshoppers during the Depression....I've heard of locusts in Africa, of course.....oh well, learn something new. Thanks for the clarification.

      bill

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 15 months ago from United Kingdom

      Wow. Those grasshoppers didn't waste any time, did they? Fingers crossed they've nipped it in the bud. At least, Peter Jr. is on the way home. The family needs to be together if they hope to save the crop.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Tough times continue, Zulma, but I guarantee all will be well in the end. :) You have done yeoman's duty catching up today...thank you! I hope you are well and your writing is progressing nicely.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 15 months ago from United Kingdom

      Yeoman's duty? I'm not familiar with the term but I like the sound of it.

      I had a sudden, severe asthma attack that landed me in the emergency room. Threw my schedule completely out the window. I'm nearly done with my meds and am now caught up with the emails. I'll be back at the keyboard tomorrow. The enforced break has given me time to think about where my story is heading and I've gotten more insight into character motivation. So...ya, it's all good. Catch you later. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Sorry to hear that, Zulma. Bev has her problems with asthma so I at least understand a bit. Best wishes! Yeoman's duty...some nautical term I remember hearing....don't ask for anymore explanation than that. LOL

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 15 months ago from Central Florida

      I sure hope the boys don't meet up with any more trouble on their trek home. It'd be nice to turn the trip home into an adventure that they can pass down to their kids and perhaps even write about. Kinda like you are, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, I wish it were so....but it will all work out eventually. This family has too much fight to give up despite the hard times.

      Thank you as always!

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 15 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      You weave both story lines effortlessly, Bill - I'm pulled into the story 'hook, line and sinker'...

      ...the train scenes remind me of my Dad, the conductor...and the sounds of a train, especially at night, conjure the most peaceful childhood memories.

      Looking forward to heading to the next installment in a bit. Love, Maria

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Maria, you are doing yeoman's duty catching up today. It's great that you have memories of your dad the conductor...there is something very peaceful and reassuring about that train whistle in the middle of the night.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 15 months ago from Texas

      I can see this as a mini-series in my mind. Try your hand at television production? LOL

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 15 months ago from Oklahoma

      Another wonderful installment.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 15 months ago from United Kingdom

      That's twice you've used 'yeoman's duty.' That's it. I'm looking it up. Excuse me.

      Right. According to Google Answers, yeoman's duty 'means not hard work, necessarily, but a duty or assignment faithfully executed.'

      Personally, I don't consider reading and commenting on your writing hard work or a duty. It's a privilege.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Shanmarie, thank you, but then I'd have to deal with Hollywood types, and that just would not do. LOL

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Larry!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Zulma, I want you for a neighbor. Do you suppose you and your family could move to Washington State, please????

      I'm honored, and you don't need to look that word up. Thank you!

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 15 months ago from United Kingdom

      Bill, you're a real sweetheart.

      I've spent the better part of 30 years traveling here and there in search of my home. I'm here now and I'll never leave her again. But who knows what the future holds? The stars and planets may align just right and you may find us on your doorstep. Well, you'll probably find me in the backyard playing with the critters. :) (Don't worry it will only be a visit, not an invasion.)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Zulma, I feel the same way, actually. I would love to visit England but that would require me leaving the backyard, and I don't see that happening. LOL Still, who knows for sure?

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