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When the Corn Died: Chapter Ten

Updated on April 15, 2016

Ok, Where Are We in This Story?

Well, simply put, the Harpers are in stormy waters. Peter has had to burn half the corn crop to kill off the grasshopper infestation, meaning they won’t be able to pay the mortgage, meaning they are about to lose the farm to the bank. Great Depression, bank foreclosure, tough times for millions.

But Peter’s wife Evelyn simply refuses to admit defeat. She has told the family that they are all moving to Washington State where they will become apple farmers. Simple as that!

So let’s see if it really is that simple.

The Harper Farm
The Harper Farm | Source

What the Hell?

“Do you have any idea how many miles it is to Washington?” I asked Evelyn, unable, or unwilling, to accept her crazy idea.

She smiled at me. She knew I couldn’t resist that smile, damn her all to hell. Same smile our son, Peter Junior, has, the smile that melts my damned heart every single time.

“I know exactly how far it is, husband. According to Mrs. Lander at the library, it is one-thousand, six-hundred and seventy-four miles from Charles City to Wenatchee, Washington. I figure that’s about forty hours of driving, but add in necessary breaks and we can figure to be on the road about three days total.”

I was shaking my head while she was talking.

“And you just expect the five of us to pack all our belongings into that beat up pickup truck, climb up into it, and drive all those miles across mountains so high they seem alien in nature? There are times, Evelyn, when I don’t know for sure if that old truck will make it into town, and you want to drive it across the Great Plains in the heat of summer and then over the goddawfullest mountains known to mankind? Damn, woman, we’ll be lucky to make it to the Iowa state border before we break down on the side of the road, and then what will we do?”

Evelyn walked across the room and kissed me on the cheek. Then she smiled that damned smile again.

“Husband, I swear, you can be as fussy as an old woman. If we break down, well, then I’ll grab your hand, and you’ll grab Peter Junior’s, and he’ll grab Emma’s and she’ll grab Timothy’s, and then by God we’ll start walking west until a solution presents itself. Now enough of this jabbering. We’ve got work to do. I want you to head into town and find us a buyer for this farm and also for our cattle. Take Peter Junior with you so you men folk can cuss and fume a bit and we women won’t have to listen to you. Emma and I are going to start packing belongings and getting the things we don’t need ready for sale. Now get going, please. We all have work to do.”

Never Argue with a Determined Woman

Those were my words of advice to Peter Junior as he and I headed into town and he asked me if his Ma was serious.

“For the love of God, Pa, does she know how dangerous a trip that’s going to be? Look what happened to me and I only traveled one state south. She’s talking about halfway across the country. And what if we do make it to Wenatchee or whatever that town’s name was? We don’t have any money? We don’t know a damned thing about apples other than how to eat them. What makes her think we can just become apple farmers? You have to talk to her, Pa.”

I pulled the truck over to the side of the road under a big old oak tree. The shade felt good as the Iowa sun spiked the temperature back towards ninety and dust devils danced across the western landscape.

“Listen closely, son! Your ma is the kindest, gentlest woman I’ve ever known, but she’s also tough as nails. She don’t talk about her family much because it hurts her to do so, but let me tell you, she’s known pain. She watched her father die in a storm back in Nineteen-Eighteen. Before that her mother died of cholera and her younger sister drowned when the family crossed the Ohio heading west. Despite all that pain she believes in the good of life, and above that she believes in the power of love.

“I don’t have the heart to tell her no, son, so we’re going to Washington. Besides, that woman is determined. If she thinks we can make it then I’m real close to believing it myself. Simple as that!”

Peter Junior nodded when I was done talking. He walked down the road a good hundred feet and looked off into the west, staring at the flatness of this country but I’m sure imagining mountain peaks soaring to the heavens. He reached down, picked up a clump of dirt and threw it down the road, then slowly walked back to me.

“I reckon you’re right, Pa. Let’s go sell us a farm.”

Back at the Farm

Evelyn and Emma spent the better part of the morning sorting through boxes that were up in the attic, determining what was important and what was just plain foolishness, while young Timothy went around to the critters, lugging a grain bucket with him and feeding them best he could.

The two women were comfortable in the silence as old friends often are, seeing no need to interrupt work with mundane statements that only served to take up air space. These were serious times and neither felt the need for lighthearted banter as the sun crawled across the southern sky. Finally Evelyn wiped her hands on her skirt and looked at the young woman next to her.

“You’re sweet on my son, aren’t you, Emma?”

The young woman at first seemed not to hear the question, but finally she looked up.

“I reckon I am, Mrs. Harper. He’s a good man and I know, I’m older than he is, and maybe some think I haven’t mourned the loss of my husband properly, but there is just so much good in your son, and love, and, well, yes, Mrs. Harper, I’m sweet on your son.”

“Emma, if you call me Mrs. Harper one more time, I swear I’ll scream. Call me Ma, darlin’, and welcome to the family.” And with that she engulfed the younger woman in a hug few humans had felt, a hug that said you are accepted and loved and by God always will be.

“Let’s go see how your son is doing. This stuff will wait. At the end of any day, there are only a few things that are truly important. How did you treat other people that day? Did you tell your loved ones how important they are to you and better yet, did you show them? Did you do more good than harm? So sorting through these things really isn’t important. We could leave for Washington tomorrow with just our clothes on our backs and we’d have everything we needed that was important.”

In town
In town

In Town

I pulled up in front of the Charles City Savings & Loan and shut off the engine. I could taste dust on my lips as the constant wind blew more farmland to the south. It made a man wonder if things would ever be the same again.

I found Robert Stapleton, the bank manager, at his desk shuffling papers. He shook hands with Peter Junior and me and told us to have a seat. We did.

“What can I do for you, Peter?” he asked me.

He was a pasty man who found it hard to make eye-contact. I’ve known him since we were kids and I honestly can’t say I feel one way or another about him. He grew up rich. I grew up with cow shit on my boots. Enough said!

“I brought you two months of mortgage money, Robert. Evelyn’s been working part-time, and we sold off some of our cattle and hogs, so that should even us up on what we owe you. Now I want to know if you know of anyone who wants to buy our farm. We’re all moving to Washington State just as soon as we can find a buyer.”

Watching Stapleton react to my words, or to put a finer spin on it, not react, I was reminded why I didn’t particularly warm up to the man. He’d been the same way when we were kids. You could tell him it was raining outside or you could tell him the fever just killed off the town, and his reaction would be the same, namely no reaction. He always seemed detached from reality, or above all the mundane trials and tribulations normal people experience, like his mind was locked on weightier problems. I felt myself getting angry.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Harper. I truly am. That farm’s been in your family a good many years and it’s a shame to see it change hands.”

He didn’t seem sorry at all.

“I could probably be persuaded to buy that farm from you for, oh, say fifty dollars an acre. At that price, after you pay off the mortgage, you’ll clear maybe a thousand dollars. That will give you a good stake to start off with in Washington.”

No doubt about it. Now I was angry.

“That land is worth double that, Robert, and you damned well know it, even with this Depression.”

“Peter, that land is worth whatever someone will pay for it, and you damned well know that. If you can find someone willing to pay more than by all means, sell it to them. But my offer is fifty an acre. Now I really need to get back to work unless there’s something else. Please tell Evelyn I sent my regards.”

I could feel Peter Junior’s hand on my arm and his squeeze telling me no good would come from me knocking Stapleton ass over teakettle. I got up slowly, not really trusting what I would do next.

“Draw up the papers, Robert. I hope you sleep well at night. You know, Robert, I never really liked you when we were kids.”

“Peter, I can honestly say, I never really gave you any thought, good or bad, when we were children. You were just part of the scenery we passed on the way to my daddy’s bank, and the same can be said for your wife Evelyn. She was a pretty girl but my goodness she was, after all, just a farmer’s daughter and always would be.”

Peter Junior should have gripped my arm a little tighter. Before I really understood what was happening, my fist was connecting with Stapleton’s jaw and he was collapsing on the floor.

The silence of defeat
The silence of defeat

Back Home

“YOU HIT HIM? Peter Harper, I swear, what in the world has gotten into you?”

Evelyn was not happy with me.

“Do you know how lucky you are he didn’t have you arrested? You can’t go around hitting people simply because they didn’t notice you as a child. For God’s sake, Peter Harper, what were you thinking?”

“He also said you were just a farmer’s daughter and always will be.”

My bride turned and looked out the kitchen window. I’m not sure what she saw out there other than the cottonwoods and fence line, but when she turned back to me she was smiling.

“He probably didn’t realize he was paying me a compliment. Well, then, you should have helped him up and hit him a second time, husband. Now who’s hungry? Emma and I fixed a banquet for the Harper men and you damned well better love it.”

To Be Continued

The stage is set for the move out west. Hopefully you’ll join the Harpers next week as they pack up and head out on a great adventure.

Until then, have a wonderful week and thank you so much for joining me.

2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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

      The town's first slum lord....great line, Sha, and too close to the truth for comfort, I'm afraid.

      Trusting Evelyn's instincts is a good move, my friend.

      Thank you!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 19 months ago from Central Florida

      I could feel Peter's blood boil when the banker made his snide comment. Frankly, I was surprised he offered to buy the farm. He'll probably sell it for twice what he's paying the Harpers. Shoot, he may even build several homes on the land and become the town's first slum lord!

      The Harpers have a long haul ahead of them. Ballsy move, to be sure, but I trust Evelyn's instincts.

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

      I love her too, Genna, and I knew her well. If she were still alive she would love your comment.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 19 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I have high hopes for the Harpers in Washington. And I'm sorry, but I couldn't help but smile when Peter socked Stapleton in the jaw. Hard times brings out the best and worst in people, and this fellow probably had it coming for some time. “He probably didn’t realize he was paying me a compliment. Well, then, you should have helped him up and hit him a second time, husband." Lol. I love this woman.

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

      Ann, thank you so much. More than halfway there? That's encouraging so thank you! A simple story about simple people, but people are never all that simple now are they?

      bill

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 19 months ago from SW England

      I love the way you represent this family and, this time, the frostiness between the two supposed friends. I'm glad he floored him in the end and the humour of Evelyn is priceless! We get such a clear picture of life in those days and the effect it had on good, simple families (and I don't mean their minds were simple). The conversation is forthright and basic, just as it had to be then.

      You said some time back that you knew you were a good writer but wanted to be a great writer - you're certainly more than half way there in my book, bill.

      Ann

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

      That is the highest praise you could give me, Shanmarie...thank you!

    • shanmarie profile image

      shanmarie 20 months ago

      Helped him up and hit him a second time, indeed! LOL

      You know, there's something vintage about this entire series. Even the way you recap and introduce each new episode. Love it.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      YOu are amazing, Maria....love and loyalty...a powerful one-two punch for anyone.

      love,

      bill

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 20 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      The expressions of loyalty in this story are lovely, dear Bill.

      Heading for the latest installment...almost caught up. Love, Maria

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I understand, Lawrence. There are some people who probably deserve to be punched twice. LOL

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 20 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      I totally agree with Deb but didn't want to appear 'violent'

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Deb, I love it. I'll stand by your side in a bar fight any old day. LOL Thanks, Deb!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Very true, Lawrence. Pioneers, no matter the country, had that attitude....necessary to survive those harsh times.

      Thank you my friend.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 20 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Peter was right to pop Stapleton and I would have done the same. Maybe I would have even given him two hits.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 20 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      Awesome! Not just the moving out west but the whole 'never give up' attitude.

      Love it

      Lawrence

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      This probably won't be a book, Alicia, so I'm fine in continuing the story. Thank you!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 20 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I love the character of Evelyn. What an admirable woman! I was afraid that the last installment was the last one in the series. I'm very glad that you're continuing the story.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I totally agree with you about comments, Shyron. I love the interaction on HP through the comment section. I would miss it greatly.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 20 months ago from Texas

      Billybuc awesome, I was hoping that someone in the bank would hear the banker’s offer and double it, but then Peter popped the banker and that was almost as good.

      Blessings always

      P.S. I sure hope HP does not stop the comment section. Comments are almost as interesting as the hubs themselves.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      How sweet of you, Missy! That's what I wanted people to feel when they read this story...so thank you very much.

    • Missy Smith profile image

      Missy Smith 20 months ago from Florida

      I smile the whole time as I read one of these installments. Stories like these could really make people want for a different perspective of life. So many these days have lost true meaning of family togetherness through thick and thin. We are lost in the world today, but when I come here to read your story, I find myself in a better place. Thank you! :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I try to, DDE! Thank you for the affirmation.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 20 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      You write with great passion.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Michael my friend, I believe in the human species and our instincts and willingness to live life even under horrendous conditions. Thank you for your kind words.

      Pax vobiscum, my friend!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Dora, that's a very high compliment and I thank you for it.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Manatita, flow is so important to me, so thanks for that affirmation.

      blessings and love, my friend...blessings and love!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Pop, thanks for being persistent. I appreciate the extra effort on your part. Happy Sunday to you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Faith, thank you for the comment about the dialogue. Writing dialogue for a period piece is hard for me, so I'm gratified by that comment.

      Blessings to you, my friend, and Happy Sunday!

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 20 months ago

      It is highly adorable reading genuine life stories written under the cover of fiction (!). Your masterly writing my friend is giving us both simultaneously. You have made Harpers a bright shining star, visible in daylight leading willing to live, into survival success.

      Have a great weekend.

      Peace and blessing to you and yours.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 20 months ago from The Caribbean

      The conversations and the reactions are so human; nothing sounds fictitious. Great work, Bill!

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 20 months ago from london

      Nice one. Evelyn was in good form at the end, and this was a pretty mean Robert indeed! Flowed well.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 20 months ago

      I am so glad I checked back. I wrote a comment and it appears to have disappeared. I just hope the Harpers don't disappear, because I love this family.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 20 months ago from southern USA

      Dear Bill,

      I'm thrilled you did not end this wonderful series with last week's chalter! Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this action-packed chapter. This one has so many great lines. I especially love the paragraph when he had to pull over the truck under the big Oak.

      Your dialogue is stellar between the memorable characters. Boy, that banker had it coming. And that Evelyn is one heck of a woman.

      I'm excited to read along in their new adventure.

      Peace and blessings always

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Aesta, I'm so happy that you are enjoying this story. It is inspired by real people, people I knew and yes, they were tough, but beneath it all was a love of family and a belief that with family anything could be accomplished.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Linda, thank you so much for the great comments. I'm so glad you are enjoying these characters. If they seem real to you then I've done my job as a writer, and it makes me happy to read your detailed comments and observations about them. They are, after all, my babies. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I love that suggestion, Bill! Why not, right? No reason to give the banker a partial crop. It's not like the banker will go out and harvest it in his three-piece suit. :)

      Happy Saturday, my friend!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Zulma, that's what I was thinking...the straw that broke his personal back. Too much, too soon, and that insult was the capper, so to speak. Still, I think the banker is lucky he dealt with Peter and not Evelyn. :)

      Have a great weekend!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Ruby! I made that one up, although I'm sure it's been used somewhere along the trail of life. See you next week, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Bill! I'll try to give you a flavor or Washington State in the weeks to come.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 20 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I had been reading on early life in America and although it was hard, it also made men and women tough. Truly admirable. Not the opportunists who get rich on the pain of their brothers. I just have to follow the lives of these people. Am hooked.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 20 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, as I wrote last week, we could have imagined our own ending to this story at that point, but if we had done so, we would lost so much!

      The exchange between Evelyn and Emma was magical.

      And I would not have envisioned the meeting of Peter Sr. and Stapleton. That was certainly worth the price of admission right there. And then we get this zinger from Evelyn -- “He probably didn’t realize he was paying me a compliment. Well, then, you should have helped him up and hit him a second time, husband."

      Bill these people have certainly come alive to all of us in the skill of your pen (OK, I know you don't really use a pen anymore, but you know what I mean.)

      Thank you for taking the time to share a bit more of their story with all of us. I find myself comparing "me" with Evelyn--I fall far short. She is someone I would love to emulate. What an amazing woman! And I sense that there were many just like her back then. Thank God for them--for their love and patience, faith and determination, grit and courage.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 20 months ago from Massachusetts

      Road trip. How exciting. Can't wait to see what awaits the Harper's as they pack up and head west. He should burn the rest of his corn before selling the farm to Mr. Greedy Banker.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 20 months ago from United Kingdom

      Peter, Peter...what were you thinking? You can't just go around punching potential customers. I hope Mr. Stapleton doesn't retract his offer on the farm.

      Nice one, Bill. I never expected Peter Sr. to lash out like that. Evelyn, yes. (I'm not fooled by her calm, controlled demeanor. I bet she packs a punch.) But Peter? Well, he has had an awful lot to deal with. I guess that was the straw that broke his camel's back.

      I guess the family will be hitting the road soon. I can't wait to see what adventure's they'll have.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 20 months ago from Southern Illinois

      What can I say? You make moving to another state, across miles of barren land, broke and homeless, an adventure of a lifetime. I despise the banker but love Evelyn and Emma. I hope they do not encounter too many hardships on their journey, but knowing you, it'll be exciting...Love this word, goddawfullest. lol..

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 20 months ago from Hollister, MO

      You handled the 'banker's stare' extremely well. Seen it many times. Been there, done that. Emotions strong. Well done! Looking forward to the trip to Washington State. ;-)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      MizB, that's music to my ears. Thank you....Evelyn on lithium....love that line!!!!!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Vellur, I think it's safe to say, this will not be a boring trip out west. Thanks for traveling along with the Harpers.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 20 months ago

      Oh, I just want to choke that damned banker. I'll swear that Evelyn's on lithium, and Peter is becoming the perfect enabler! Except I do admire him for socking the banker. Maybe Peter Jr.'s going to have to take the reins. It just gets more interesting every day. I wait for each new installment and am anxious to see how this plays out.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 20 months ago from Dubai

      Peter Harper cracking a jaw, infuriated by Stapleton's comment. Must be quite a journey from here on, looking forward to reading more.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Sis, I spoke to Evelyn and Peter Sr. and they are saving you a seat in the back of the pickup, so you can make that trip with them. I just hope it doesn't rain on you because, well, there is no canopy. :) Bring a rain bonnet, Sis. You just might need one. :)

      I love it....thanks for really getting into this story. I'll see you next week as the Harpers steer west.

      love,

      bro

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Eric! I'll take awesome any old day.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      My family did the same thing, Jackie, so for me this is very personal. Thanks for sharing about your aunt and uncle.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 20 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Bro.....OK! How to take the bull by the horns! You go, Evelyn. What a woman. No sitting around pouting, no self-pity for this amazing woman. She's got the brains, power & style to lead her family down the right path, via Love & common sense.

      LOL....YES! A hard left hook is precisely what that pompous, arrogant banker had coming. In fact, I'd say Pete Sr. used a lot of self-constraint! Your readers are all growling in anger right about now, Bro! "Let me at 'im!" Grrrrrr.

      Let's go family. Gather our necessities & each other & get moving on that 3-day trek. We got a new life to get started....the sooner, the better.

      I LOVE this chapter & look forward to traveling with the Harpers! Sis

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 20 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Awesome.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 20 months ago from The Beautiful South

      Oh that dirty banker! Guess that is a true story many times over! OK you really got me into this one. haha

      Can't wait for the big adventure. I had an aunt and uncle with a passel of kids in a car that looked like an ambulance head out from the east coast and I was there when they all drove off (packed to the hilt) going to California so this is very real to me! It did happen, a lot!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Clive.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      You are the first, Frank, and I thank you. Janine usually beats everyone but I was a little late posting this and she's off being a mother. :) Nice going, buddy, and thank you!

    • clivewilliams profile image

      Clive Williams 20 months ago from Nibiru

      Good Writing Billy.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 20 months ago from Shelton

      wow first one here.. yeah like the smile comment.. it could be manipulating LOL.. again a wonderful story.. and it never lets down..:) awesome my friend.. oh.. am I really the first.. let me hit post comment so I can assure that :)