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When the Corn Died: Chapter Seven

Updated on March 25, 2016

A Quick Summary

When we last visited the Harper family, they were frantically trying to burn out a grasshopper infestation before those little buggers ate their entire corn crop. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they received a phone call telling them that their son, Peter Junior, had been robbed and beaten and was in a hospital forty miles away.

And away we go, back to 1933, to Charles City, Iowa.

Home with the Harpers
Home with the Harpers | Source

QUANDRY

I had to stay on the farm and it broke my heart. My son needed me, but if I left the farm unattended, even for a day, there was a very real chance we could lose it all. Knowing that didn’t make my decision any easier, but Evelyn understood and agreed with me.

“You need to stay, Peter, and that’s just the truth of it. Emma and I will go to Union and see after Peter Junior. You stay here with little Timothy and save our farm. It’s a good thing we didn’t sell the car yet, wouldn’t you say? I’ll call you from Union as soon as I know something.”

I held her for the longest time, drawing strength from her, my rock and the love of my life.

“You be careful, Evelyn. There are hard men out there, hungry men, men willing to do just about anything for survival.”

“I’m taking the rifle with us, husband, and I’m a good shot. Now you stop your worrying. Emma and I will be fine.”

Truth of the matter, she is a better shot than me, and she’s a mother bear going after her cub. Heaven help the man who gets in her way.

I kissed her goodbye, hugged Emma, and Timothy and I waved as the women motored out of our yard and down the state road, their headlights cutting a path through the gathering darkness.

On the road to Union
On the road to Union | Source

My latest novel in the "Shadows" series

In Union, Iowa

Two hours later, at eleven-thirty-two, Evelyn and Emma were ushered into a hospital room, the antiseptic smells assaulting them, the feeling of sickness and death invading their spirits. There was a lone table lamp illuminating a room of white walls and ceiling, tile flooring and one window looking out into the nighttime. In a bed, his head wrapped, his eyes black and swollen, right arm in a cast, his lip newly-stitched, lay Evelyn’s son, Peter Harper Junior.

The doctor closed the door behind them.

“It looks worse than it is, Mrs. Harper,” he said with a gentle, quiet voice. “He has cracked ribs for sure, a broken right arm, more than a few contusions, but there is no internal bleeding and all the damage done to him will heal with rest and loving care. He’s going to be in some pain for sure, but he should be up and about, almost normal, in a couple weeks. I want him to stay here for a couple days, give those ribs a chance to heal a bit, and he took a nasty blow to the head, so we have to make sure there’s no damage there, but my professional opinion is he’s a strong kid and he’ll be all right in time.”

Evelyn looked down on her only child, asleep, wounded and looking so fragile. What kind of world did they live in? How had things come to this, desperate men doing unthinkable things to each other, all for a couple dollars? She felt Emma’s hand on her arm.

“You heard the doctor, Evelyn. He’s going to be fine. Now you didn’t ask for my opinion, but you’re going to get it nonetheless. I think you should stay here with your son tonight and then go back home. Your husband needs you. I’ll stay here with Peter Junior and make sure he’s treated right. When the doctor says he can go home, I’ll call you and you can come pick us up.”

She’s such a tiny thing, Evelyn thought, so small, so delicate, but there’s strength in this young woman, this young mother and widow, and if she says she’ll take care of Peter Junior then by God she will.

“Thank you, Emma. I accept your offer.”

The two women pulled up chairs and sat down as Peter Junior slept.

Red sky in the morning...trouble on the way
Red sky in the morning...trouble on the way | Source

Morning and Hell Come to Iowa

The call last night from Evelyn helped my frame of mind a bit. I was actually whistling when I woke young Timothy up and prepared breakfast for the two of us. The roosters crowed but after so much heat, there wasn’t much soul in that crow, a half-hearted attempt at best.

Timothy and I polished off the eggs and bacon, he helped me clear the dishes and then we went off into the morning in search of grasshoppers. The sky was steel gray as the eastern horizon shed off its blanket of dark. It looked like rain but sure didn’t feel like it. I felt no moisture in the air as we walked to the section we burned the day before. My thoughts were on Peter Junior, him lying in a hospital bed, recovering, me wishing I had been there to protect him from the ugliness of this world, but knowing that’s an impossible task for any father.

I heard them before I saw them.

The battle wasn’t over.

We had burned nearly an acre of growing corn, money on stalks, and we hadn’t wiped out those winged bastards.

Their sounds grated on my nerves, broke me for just a second as I dropped to my knees, looked up into that pewter sky and silently asked what the hell He wanted from me.

I felt a small hand on my shoulder.

“It’s okay, Mister Harper. You and me, we’ll make it okay.”

From the mouths of babes.

I wiped my eyes, stood and considered our options. They were few.

A decent wind was blowing out of the south. It would carry a flame nicely and I wouldn’t have to worry about the direction of the burn.

So it came down to this: let the bugs have our crop or burn it myself.

No damn choice at all.

On the Road

Evelyn steered the old Ford down the road, eyes on the dirt path, her mind on her son. He had awakened around two in the morning and tears were shed. They had talked on and off, little conversations bordering stolen naps, through the rest of the night and into the morning. He missed his friend Lucas something awful, and Evelyn suspected he somehow blamed himself for Lucas’ death, as if he could change the economy, end the Depression and make it all better by sheer force of will, and he had failed to do so, costing Lucas his life. Sheer folly, but Evelyn understood.

Emma and Peter Junior had taken a liking to each other immediately. Their age difference, her being four years older, didn’t seem to hinder them at all, and by the time Evelyn left she got the impression she wouldn’t be missed too much. She was also confident that Peter Junior was in good hands.

Five miles outside of Charles City, Evelyn saw a black smudge on the horizon, then the smudge grew and became a dark column rising up into the air and blowing north towards Minnesota and the Canada plains beyond. The closer she got to town the more her apprehension grew, and as she passed the “Welcome to Charles City” sign, she knew her worst thoughts were reality.

And We’ll Return Next Week

The Harpers, and I, thank you for stopping by. I’ll have another installment in the story next week. Until then, hug your loved ones and enjoy the heck out of this gift of life.

2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 14 months ago from New York, New York

      Aw, hugs right back at you and yes another great chapter here for The Harpers. Off to a kiddie pizza birthday party for my younger daughter's Friday and have a wonderful weekend and Easter, too Bill!! :)

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 14 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Happy Good Friday to you Bill Holland. Man this is a real tear jerker. I don't go in much for tragedies but you got me right there suffering along, because you mix in that hope and strength so well. Thank you my friend.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 14 months ago

      I love this chapter, billy. Keep them coming please. I just want you to know that I haven't started your book yet, because I am in the middle of a book I can't stand!

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 14 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      In those days, the family farm consisted of my grandfather, four sons, several mules and an early traction machine. They also had hired hands at the fall harvest and when they put up hay. Today, all that is handled by one and sometimes two people with massive machines, and the small farms that used to support a family are gone.

      This is a superb story Bill, and it brings back vivid memories of the days I worked on farms.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 14 months ago from london

      Yes, Bro. I home in on some of your great insights. This gift of life, so precious!

      This latest installment is so vibrant, so full of life! It's a bit like what I said about your Billy/Bobby, etc. Something happens, and you become better, sharper, brighter, smarter ... that fighter spirit, eh ...(smile)

      Actually, I admire you doing all these very different pieces, as they sharpen your writing quite a lot. When I was a little boy I would take vague themes and write about them, then I would find unusual words and use them in sentences to make them sound great, a bit like your 'polishing' off the eggs. Ha ha.

      I thought of making life-decisions while reading your Hub. As you can appreciate, we make them all the time. Sometimes easy but they can also make us pull on our grey hairs. Or is it the baldness? You're lucky, you won't know this. (chuckle)

      Another great adventure. The Sun is hot here in London, God has given me and perhaps you, four days off, and all is seemingly improving with the Harpers. Happy Easter, Bro.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 14 months ago from Southern Illinois

      This is such a good story! Hard times but a lot of love. We've come a long way in modern technology, but it seems we've lost that closeness and a friendly helping hand, so glad you're bringing it back...I loved it!

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 14 months ago from United States

      The Harper's are rolling :)

      Thanks to your creative ideas, Bill

      Happy Ester and a have a wonderful weekend!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Janine! Have fun at that pizza party. Save me a slice of sausage, please. :) Happy Easter, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Always hope, Eric.....we always have hope. Happy Easter, my friend, and thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Pop, I'm so glad to hear that.....the bad book will make mine look much better. LOL Thanks and Happy Easter to you and yours.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Will, I'm honored that you think so...thank you! You are right, of course....farming has gone corporate and I find that very sad.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Manatita, no baldness....yet....but three days off with sunshine and for that I am grateful. Thank you, of course...there are life-decisions to be made constantly, yes? Happy Easter, my friend, and blessings always.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Awww, thanks Ruby! I'm so glad you are enjoying the Harpers....yes indeed, closeness and a helping hand. We need a ton of it in this country.

      Happy Easter my friend!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank YOU, Ruchira, and Happy Easter to you and yours.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 14 months ago

      Great story about adversity and how it molded our parents' generation. It broke up a lot of families, too, as many left to go to where they thought the work was. I'm anxious to see how you pull their fat out of the fire, as I know you will. Thanks for a great story, Bill.

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 14 months ago from Hollister, MO

      Something about the fear and pestilence the Harper's face brings to my mind the current toxic political climate - sad thoughts, but your writing here is very powerful. Each of us reacts in our own way. Thanks for sharing... imagine that cloud is going to follow me around today... ;-)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, it's a cloud we are all experiencing lately. I hope this country comes together, somehow, someway......cross your fingers. Thank you for the kind words....Happy Easter, my friend.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 14 months ago from The Beautiful South

      Glad to jump back in here and keep up. Still enjoying it very much!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 14 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is another interesting installment in your story, Bill. I hope you and Bev have a happy Easter.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 14 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I learn something new each time I read your interesting hubs. Life is full of surprises as in your stories. Great work! Happy EASTER!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks so much, MizB! I think we're nearing the end of this series....maybe five more or so...we'll see.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      So glad to hear that, Jackie! Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Alicia and Happy Easter to you and yours.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Happy Easter DDE, and thank you for the kind words.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 14 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, this series is some of your best writing. Ever. You have given life to these characters on a page--I swear they are true flesh and blood.

      On thing that is evident in this storyline is how our lives have changed--and not for the better. Here in the 21st century we have every convenience one could imagine and the ability to communicate around the globe. But ironically all of this technology, all of this connectedness has taken away from us what we need the most. We no longer respect and love each other as we should. All of our "communication" has isolated us. The Harpers had grit and courage but what made the difference, the thing that made them survive was the love. Love and respect for each other, their neighbors, their land, their God, and even the man they didn't know but needed a helping hand.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 14 months ago from The Caribbean

      The caring and trusting makes the burden of the tragedy less heavy. Good reading, for sure!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 14 months ago from Dubai

      The black smudge on the horizon does not seem to be good news, wonder what is going to unfold. Have a great weekend!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Linda, thank you for the kind words. Struggle is something we all can understand, as well as love....I just wish our understanding of love transformed into daily acts of love towards others.

      Happy Easter to you and yours!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you once again, Dora! Struggle is a part of our lives....caring and trusting, as you say, eases that struggle.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Vellur....trouble on the horizon for sure.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 14 months ago from Northern California, USA

      Moments of comfort mixed with anxiety and anticipation... I don't know how you do it, but you have a wonderful way of packing a lot of emotion with a few well-placed words. I'm really enjoying this and all of your series.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I really appreciate it, Marlene. How do I do it? I think I watched a lot of thriller movies as a kid. :)

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 14 months ago from Texas

      Bill, all I can say is "when it rains it pours."

      Is this the way the corn dies

      Billowing smoke that blackens the skies

      As more problems begin to arise

      Like grasshoppers from hell

      Fire from there will not bring their demise

      *

      *

      Blessings my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Love it, Shyron. I just finished the next chapter and I think you'll be pleased with it.

      Thank you my friend.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 14 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Chapter 7 has gone over well~~well, indeed. Three parts jumped out at me and caused me to comment, No, shout.....Don't know if you felt it, but I high-fived you in absentia! GREAT moments, bro!

      ".....and she's a mother bear going after her cub. Heaven help the man who gets in her way.".......AMEN & amen, bro.....there is no help for that particular man!!

      "How had things come to this, desperate men doing unthinkable things to each other, all for a couple of dollars?" (In the early 1930's?) Evelyn~ my kind of woman. A woman of steel nerves and softest of hearts. She'd be a "woman on fire" in today's ugly world.

      Awwww....and here we go, fans-of-brother-bill...he's lit the tiny spark of future romance...just a baby bud of something he'll water & nurture until it becomes full bloom before our eyes....Looking forward to Chapter 8. Sis

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 14 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. A few chapters back I had an inkling that Peter Junior and Emma would become an item. Looking forward to the next chapter.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Awww, Sis, you see it all coming from so far away. A tiny spark indeed....and here I am today, fanning the flames....coming soon to your computer...the birth of a fire. :)

      Thanks my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, I think it's safe to say your inkling was correct. Thanks for the visit...more next week, buddy.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 14 months ago from southern USA

      I hope you had a peaceful weekend, dear Bill.

      I did, and and busy one too, so I am late to this chapter of your wonderful series here.

      I think that little family they adopted was sent by God as they sure seem to be helping out and are so encouraging, especially during these hard times.

      I knew that Emma and Peter Junior would get along just fine.

      I do hate they lost their crop, but being they are God-believing people, I know they will not give up hope and will survive.

      You sure do understand a momma's heart about her babies!

      I am looking forward to reading more in this series.

      Peace and blessings always

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Aww, thank you Faith, and a belated Happy Easter to you. We did have a lovely weekend, my friend. Peaceful, family, accomplishments....all good.

      I wanted to write a story about normal people with normal struggles and, of course, with love in their hearts.

      Mission accomplished!

      peace and blessings, dear friend

      bill

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 13 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      More reality of the lives of Iowa. It's a good story, meant for country folk, and those curious about reality in the midwest.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Deb! I have fond memories of Iowa and the people who lived there....so they will always reappear in my stories.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 13 months ago from United Kingdom

      So much going on here. Disappointment that Peter Sr. seems to be losing his battle against the invaders, a small smile at the eternal optimism of children, worry over Peter Jr. and hope at the possibility of romance. Above all that is the marvel of such strong women holding it all together.

      Nice job, Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Strong women always hold it all together, Zulma. I do believe that with all my heart.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 13 months ago from Shelton

      I love what you put your characters through.. love the drama.. and if this was a book it'll be hard to put down... thanks for the share

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Music to my ears, Frank. You have managed to swell my head today and I thank you!

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 13 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Bill,

      I was hoping for a budding 'friendship' between Peter Jr. and Emma - their losses have the potential to make them stronger together.

      I agree with Frank's comment - loving that I can have a virtual marathon of this compelling story. Love, Maria

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 13 months ago from Oklahoma

      Wonderful historical fiction.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 13 months ago from Texas

      Another good one. The chapters just keep getting better.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Maria, you are so kind in your supportive words...thank you and yes, Emma and Peter Junior will.....spoiler alert....become one. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      My favorite genre, Larry, so thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Shanmarie, you have been so kind making your way through this story...thank you so much.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 12 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I was so relieved to learn that Pete Jr. will survive. To live in the Great Depression where such cruelty and violence were visited on innocents for a handful of dollars is tragic and unimaginable. But there is also faith, strength and love to draw from, like water from a seemingly boundless well, that gives hope. This terrific series is a classic, Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 12 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Genna. It was, for sure, a very tough time to live....in many ways it was Darwinism at its finest, and yet good people stood above the animal instincts of others and stayed strong.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 12 months ago from Central Florida

      I pray the twister Evelyn sees doesn't take her family or their home. The year 1933 is turning out to be one of trials and hardship. Hopefully, faith and tenacity will help the family pull through and thrive. Something tells me they will. I also see a romance budding in the near future. Guess I'll just have to wait and see....

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 12 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Romance for sure, Sha, and your instincts are good...this family cannot be defeated.

      Thanks for riding along, my friend.

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