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When the Corn Died: Chapter Two
Thanks for Returning
I was very gratified with the initial comments about this new series. I’m an old history teacher. Combine that with some family history of farming during the Great Depression and, well, it was only natural that I write this series of short stories.
Let’s see what’s happening on the Harper farm this week.
SADNESS RISES WITH THE SUN
Nature seemed to be unaware of my heart’s heaviness, starting off the day with clear skies and a chorus of birds singing natural harmony with perfect pitch.
I didn’t sleep much last night. From the sounds of her breathing, I’m guessing Evelyn spent most of the night lost in thoughts, as I did. We didn’t talk. From time to time her arm would drape over my chest and hold me tight, desperately seeking strength and comfort while knowing there was none.
Our boy was leaving home.
Pete Junior had it in his head to ride the rails down to Missouri. He said there was mining work down there, and he felt a responsibility to the family to make money if possible and send us some. I had to respect him for it, all the while wanting to horsewhip some sense into him. It’s a tough damn world out there, and him only eighteen and never experienced none of it. Hell of a time for him to feel the need to spread his wings.
I kissed Evelyn on the forehead, got dressed and went out to feed the animals. Pete Junior was already outside starting the morning chores when I got there.
“Morning Pa,” he said, and he smiled and it damned near broke my heart.
“Morning Junior. You don’t have to do it, you know. We’ll find a way to make it work here. The Harper family has always hung tough when times got shaky, and by God we’ll do it again.”
He didn’t say anything else, just finished feeding the hogs, wiped off his hands and gave me a hug.
“It’s time for me to go, Pa. I’m meeting Lucas at the church and we’ll hop the nine-thirty freight train as it slows going through town.”
I smiled a smile that had nothing behind it.
“Go kiss your Ma, and you better by God keep in touch regular, you hear? I love you, son.”
“Love you too, Pa.”
The first chapter
- When the Corn Died: Chapter One of a New Short Story Series
A brand new story about life during the Great Depression
We watched him walk away, Evelyn and me. We watched until he was just a dot in the distance, and then not even that, and then she and I stood under the old oak and hugged and cried for awhile. It just seemed like the thing to do. Finally it was Evelyn, naturally, who showed the strength necessary to move on with life.
“Peter Harper, enough of this foolishness now. You’ve got corn to tend to and me, I’m gathering up some raspberry pies I made and I’m taking them into town to sell. Delores at the Busy Bee Café said she’d take them off my hands for three cents each, and every penny helps. I’ll take the Ford if you don’t need it. Should only be gone an hour at most. Oh, I’m going to stop and see Father Ryan at St. Mary’s. He wants me to organize a church bazaar and I said I’d be happy to do so.”
She kissed me good and I was reminded once again just how damned lucky I was to land her. She was forty-two going on thirty and could still curl my toes.
There ain’t no time on a farm to lick wounds, physical or emotional. I had to trust in the Lord that Pete Junior was going to be all right. Put it in the hands of God. That’s what Father Ryan is always telling us, easier said than done, for sure, but still, good words to consider. We do what we can and hope it’s enough. At least the corn was looking good and healthy.
I broke at noon and had lunch with Evelyn. As always, she had the latest news from town.
“Bob from the feed store was in the café when I got there,” she told me. “He says there’s a new government program dealing with farming. Something like the Agriculture Adjustment Agency or some such thing. It’s supposed to help with stabilizing prices. He said rumor has it millions of pigs are going to be slaughtered to help get prices up again. I didn’t quite understand it all. And there’s also some new agency that will be dealing with soil erosion, hopefully it will end the giant dust clouds they’re having down south. Oh, and there was some big shakeup with banks. Seems they are going to separate commercial and investment banks so ordinary people don’t get hurt when those white-shirted blowhards get in too deep.”
“Well, I reckon that’s all well and good,” I told her. “I’m not sure how it all will shake out or help us, but the government sure as hell has to do something.”
We finished lunch, but the conversation had just circled around to what Evelyn wanted to talk about.
“I also saw Father Ryan, like I told you I was going to do. He said Emma Jameson and her small boy are in a bad way. Remember, her husband died back about Christmastime? I guess they are barely hanging on and Father asked me if there’s anything we can do to help. Now I’m talking to you.”
She finished picking up the dishes and turned to me, her eyes intense.
“I was thinking. We’ve got a spare bedroom. Why don’t we ask that young woman if she and her son would like to move in with us until they get on their feet? We could use the help around here, and I’m sure she would appreciate a neighborly hand.”
“Evelyn, for the love of God, we’re barely able to put food on the table for us. How in the heavens are we going to support two more people?”
She put down the dish towel and fixed me with a stare.
“Peter Harper, you listen and you listen good. We have an obligation to help others. You’re a good man, and I know you’re worried, but neighbors help neighbors. It’s as simple as that. If this country is going to recover from this fix we’re all in, it’s going to be because people reached out and helped each other. Now I want to do this, Peter, and I know in your heart you want to do it too.”
What’s a man to say when faced with the truth?
The Next Day
At eight in the morning, Evelyn took the car back into town. Forty-five minutes later she pulled into the driveway and shut off the engine. A cloud of dust spread over the front yard and the chickens scattered in search of less hectic surroundings.
Evelyn stepped out of the Ford, waved and smiled at me. From the passenger side came Emma Jameson and she was holding hands with a toe-headed little whippersnapper of a boy with ragged jeans and too-small checkered shirt. They had one suitcase between them.
Emma was a fair-skinned wisp of a woman, couldn’t be much taller than five feet, with delicate features and long chestnut-brown hair. I’d seen her at church, knew her well enough to say hello to, so I knew she was only twenty-two. Her son was, if memory served me, three or four. She and her husband had been working fifty acres south of town, struggling like the rest of us, when two days before Christmas a cow of theirs had kicked her husband. The kick splintered a rib, a bone punctured his heart and he was dead five minutes later. Since then it had been a real struggle for them, her with no family in the area, living mostly off the kindness of Father Ryan and the local church ladies’ group.
Evelyn led our guests over to me. Emma kept her eyes to the ground, but her son, what the hell was his name, was smiling at me and pullin’ on his ma’s arm to hurry.
“Peter,” Evelyn said. “You remember Emma and her son Timothy.”
I wiped my hands on my jeans.
“I surely do, Evelyn. Emma, it’s surely nice to have you staying with us. This is a big farm and we could use an extra hand to help out. And Timothy?” I reached out and shook his tiny hand. “I need another man to help me with the chickens. Do you think you could help an old man around here?”
The boy’s smile only got bigger as he nodded his head up and down and grinned that damn grin. Emma didn’t say a word, being as she was too busy crying.
“I’m going to take them into the house, Peter,” my wife told me. She favored me with a smile that said I done good. “I’ll show them their room so they can get settled in. Why don’t we all sit down for lunch in a couple hours and we can talk about this new extended family of ours?”
Now I Lay Me down to Sleep
Evelyn and I went to bed at nine, as is our norm. Sunrise comes early in June and the critters don’t much care if their handlers are sleepy, so nine it is at night and four-thirty it is in the morning.
I watched my wife undress and felt the familiar stirrings. The calendar may say I’m aging, but around Evelyn I’m still a young buck. She slid in next to me, draped her arm across my stomach and rested her head on my chest.
“It’s the right thing to do, Peter, and everything will be all right.”
“Yes it is, hon, and yes it will be. You were right again.”
“It’s getting to be a habit, me being right.”
And then she laughed, and her laugh told me what she said was true. We were going to make it, by God. It wasn’t going to be easy, but we’d make it. Our family was now minus one member and plus two more, and even if I didn’t understand it all, it was what it was and it felt right. There was love in this old house, and that love would plug the gaps between boards and keep out the cold winds when they came.
“You make me a better man, Evelyn. I love you.”
“I love you too, Peter.”
See You Next Week
And yes, I love all of you. Thanks for joining my relatives from the past. I hope you’re able to enjoy the story despite its lack of violence and action. I suspect, from your earlier comments, you are.
I’ll be back next week with another installment of “When the Corn Died.”
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)