Boondock Ramblings

Fiction Friday: The Farmers’ Sons (Harvesting Hope) Chapter 7

This week’s chapter is a pretty long one, so brace yourselves. It is also the week where I am announcing that this latest book should be out to read in full this summer, most likely the end of July. And because I like announcements, I am also announcing that the final title of the book will be Harvesting Hope but I will be calling it The Farmers’ Sons here on the blog.

This story may be a little more raw than some of my other stories, but I hope my regular readers know that even if I mention topics such as sex, drugs, suicide, or low self-esteem, I always try my best not to get too descriptive or graphic. I am not someone who will be writing erotica on here, in other words, but the subject matter is a little more gritty than your average clean/Christian fiction.

So, with all that said, here is Chapter 7 of the story and at the end there will be a sneak peek of Chapter 8. If you don’t know, I share these chapters as a work in progress, so there will most likely be typos and plot holes, etc. If you notice them, please feel free to share with me in private or in the comments. Also feel free to share with me your thoughts on the story so far, on the characters, and on where you think the story should go next.

To read Molly’s story from the first book of this series, download a copy on Amazon or read it through Kindle Unlimited. To read the other parts of this story click HERE or find a link at the top of the page.

****

Ellie winced, curling her legs up against the heating pad pressed against her stomach. A burning pain had started in her lower stomach an hour earlier and was curving around to her back. She’d finally given up and taken ibuprofen. It hadn’t kicked in yet.

Outside, the sun was glistening off the trees where the leaves had come out on the maple tree behind the building. She enjoyed the blooming trees and flowers on her walk home from work, despite the pain that had increased after lunch time.

Was it the stress of the last few weeks causing her pain to be worse? Maybe her condition was simply getting worse. Either way, she prayed for the pain to end soon. She had Bible study in a couple of hours. They were studying Proverbs 31, and she needed to be there, not only to lead the study, but to focus on something other than her deepening depression.

She drifted off into a fitful sleep for 20 minutes before a knock on the door woke her.

Trying to ignore it, she rolled on to her side, facing the back of the couch.

The knocking continued. Then a voice she didn’t want to hear sent an aggravated growl up from her throat.

 “El-bell! Are you in there? I have to pee! I held it all the way from Scranton.”

Ellie flung the blanket off her and glared at the door as she walked to it and unlocked it. What is she doing here?

Judi bounded in as soon as she opened the door.

“Oh, my gosh. Thank God.” Judi dragged a suitcase on wheels behind her and walked into the middle of the living room. “I think my bladder is going to burst. Where’s the bathroom?”

Ellie sighed and motioned toward the hallway beyond the kitchen. She shuffled back to the couch and flopped on her face, waiting for her sister to come out and explain why she wasn’t in New York City right now. A few minutes later, she heard her sister’s heels on the laminate floor.

“Whoa. Has the break-up hit you hard or what? You look awful.”

She squeezed her eyes shut, wishing Judi would go away again. “Thanks, Judi.” She spoke into the couch cushion her face was pressed into. “If you must know, I’m having cramps.”

“Oh.”

Cupboard doors opened and banged closed. “Got any food? I’m starving. There is like nowhere to stop on the drive down here. Or in town, of course. This place still doesn’t have any good restaurants.”

Ellie tilted her head to one side, still laying on her stomach. “What are you doing here?”

Judi shoved a wheat thin in her mouth. “Wow. That’s rude. I haven’t seen you in over a year and all you want to know is what I’m doing here?”

Ellie sat up and hugged a pillow against her chest. Her sister had just arrived unannounced, but had the audacity to call her rude? Yeah, okay.

Judi should consider herself lucky that Ellie was too tired to yell.

“I’m sorry,” she said, holding back the annoyance she felt. “It’s just that you don’t visit very often, so this is a bit of a surprise.”

Judi poured a glass of iced tea and then started opening the vegetable drawers. “Do you have any lemons? I like lemons with my tea.”

“Bottom drawer, in the back.”

“Where are the knives?”

“Second drawer from the stove.”

“Cutting board?”

“Cupboard next to the fridge.”

“Awesome. Thanks.”

Ellie listened to the click of the knife against the cutting board, waiting for her sister to enlighten her with her reason for the unexpected visit. After a few moments Judi sat in the blue plush chair across from Ellie and crossed one bare leg over the other, the hem of her maroon shorts pulling up to her thigh. She took a long drink from the iced tea before speaking.

“I was worried about you, El.” Her foot bounced as she talked. “You sounded so sad on the phone so I took some time off work and come see if I could cheer you up.”

Ellie looked at her sister through narrowed eyes. “You’re still working?”

Judi scowled. “That’s not nice. Yes, I’m working. I’m still at that designer clothing store I told you about.” She placed her glass on the table next to the chair. “Oh! Which reminds me — I have some of the cutest outfits to show you. I get an employee discount. I thought we could try them on and go out to Mooneys or drive up over the state line and find somewhere to show them off.”

Ellie raised an eyebrow. “I hope you don’t mean tonight because I can’t tonight. I have Bible study.”

Judi made a face. “Tell me you are not still leading Bible studies.”

“I am still leading Bible studies, yes.” Ellie tried to keep the aggravation out of her voice, but it wasn’t working. She took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and tried again. “I have a Bible study at 7. You’re welcome to come along.”

Judi scoffed. “No thanks. Sounds boring. A bunch of uptight women sipping tea, highlighting passages in their Bibles, and acting as if they are so perfect and special.”

“Judi, come on. That’s not how it is.” Ellie tossed the pillow aside and walked into the kitchen to make herself a cup of blueberry tea. The cramps were still there but staring to fade to a dull ache. “These are nice women. Real women, talking about real issues. They aren’t fake.”

Judi stretched a leg out and propped her foot on the coffee table. “Real issues, huh? Like what dress to wear to church on Sunday? Or how ashamed they are for noticing how good looking the pastor is? Or maybe they talk about how disgusted they are with all the people who go out and live lives instead of sitting around reading some old book all day.”

A bird chirped from the branch of the cherry tree outside below the kitchen window and Ellie wished she could turn into that bird and fly away. She filled the kettle and sat it on the burner and turned it on. She turned toward Judi and leaned back against the kitchen counter, folding her arms across her chest.

“What happened to make you so angry at Christians, Judi? You never used to be like this.”

Judi sighed. “I’m not angry at Christians. It’s just —” She shrugged. “Some of the women that go to that church seem so stuck up. They act as if they are so perfect.”

The bird chirped again, and Ellie could almost feel herself in flight, gliding above the roofs of the buildings in town, over the courthouse and the library, to the edge of town where the train tracks cut a path between the business and residential districts. If Judi hadn’t been there, she would have closed her eyes, completing the mental journey out of town, across the farmland, down the path of the highway; transporting herself as far away from her current life as possible.

“Some do, yes, but not all. Most of those women are normal, everyday women who just want to learn more about God and how they can trust him during the good and bad times. It really isn’t fair for you to judge them.”

Judi turned in the chair and laid her arms across the back of it, propping her chin on her arm. “Is that what you talk about with these women? Your bad times? Like your bad times with Jason?”

Ellie bristled at the mention of Jason. The anger she felt toward Judi for bringing him up startled her. It was sudden and visceral. She didn’t talk about Jason to anyone but Lucy. Judi didn’t even know why she and Jason had broken up. When she’d asked, Ellie had told her they’d grown apart, and she didn’t want to talk about it. For once, Judi had left it alone.

Ellie turned and set the tea bag in the honeybee mug Molly had given her last year for her birthday. “Have you been home to see Mom and Dad, yet?”

Judi laughed. “I see how it is. Not going to talk to your little sister about the big breakup. Well, fine. You don’t have to. We’ll get you out to some clubs, meet some good-looking men and you’ll forget all about that dirty cow farmer.”

Judi stepped around the island separating the living room and kitchen and hoisted herself up onto the countertop next to the breadbox. “I’ll pop over to the parental units tomorrow. See what’s going on at the old homestead.”

Ellie reached in the cupboard next to the stove and reached for the jar of honey. “Did you even tell them you were coming?”

“Nah. I knew they’d be glad to see me no matter what.” Judi reached into the breadbox and pulled out a piece of the homemade bread Ellie had brought back from her parents Sunday. She bit into it and groaned with pleasure. “Mom’s homemade bread. So good. Makes me almost sad I gave up gluten.” She shoved more of the bread into her mouth, talking with her mouth full. “This one little piece shouldn’t hurt.” She looked down at her hips and patted the left side. “I hope anyhow. I can’t afford to gain weight or I won’t fit into that cute skirt I brought with me.”

She jumped off the counter. “I’m going to go grab my bag. It’s cool if I stay here, right?”

“Yeah, I gue—”

“Cool. I need a shower and a nap. I drove straight through and I’m beat. Have fun at your Bible study.”

Ellie waited for the teakettle to whistle, tapping her foot against the floor, her jaw tight. First, she’d had to deal with Brad, and now she had to deal with Judi. Could this week get any worse? She rolled her eyes.

“Don’t speak it into existence, Ellie Lambert,” she whispered as the teakettle whistled. “You know it can.”

***

She’d stood in the locker room doorway, dirty blond curls spilling down her back like a luxurious spider web. She pressed one finely manicured hand flat against the door frame, the other curled around her slender hip.

There had been so many nights over the years, especially recently, when Jason closed his eyes and saw her in his mind’s eye, hating himself all over again.

Lauren Phillips.

Bright red lipstick highlighted full lips. Dark eyeliner and light blue eye shadow complimented her green eyes.

“Hey, Jason, you’re looking good.” Her gaze had traveled down the length of him and back up again, lingering on his bare chest. She pulled her lower lip between her teeth, a soft purr vibrating in her throat. “Of course, you’re always looking good.”

He’d slid his shirt on, pulling it down with a quick jerk. “Thanks. You look nice too.”

She took a step forward, sliding a hand down a thigh length black mini skirt. “You think so?” She straightened her shoulders, pushing her chest forward, the red fabric of her shirt stretching tight against her slim figure.

“This is a new outfit.”

He nodded, cleared his throat. “Looks great.”

Returning to packing his gear in his locker, he tried to give off the vibe that he wasn’t interested in whatever Lauren was offering. And she was offering a lot. Not so much in words but loud-and-clear in body language.

She was attractive, yes, but Lauren also had a reputation around campus, and it wasn’t a good one.

Her fingertips trailed up his arm as he slammed the locker door closed, swirling a pattern up his shoulder and along the back of his neck. “We’re having a party tonight down at Phi Beta Kappa. I need an escort.” She played with the hair on the back of his head. “Interested?”

He shook his head, wishing her touch didn’t feel so good. “Nah. I’ve got a workout session scheduled.”

Her lips were close to his ear. “The party will be going late. Stop by and join us.” She leaned even closer, her breath hot against his skin. “When you’re done.”

Everything about Lauren was the opposite of Ellie. Ellie’s sweetness was genuine. Lauren’s sweetness was an act, a way to get into the heads of men she’d set her sights on to conquer. At least that’s how he saw her looking back.

No matter how many ways Jason tried to vilify Lauren Phillips, though, he couldn’t. He was the one who had decided to accept her offer to go to those parties, to let her lull him into what he’d hoped would be a pleasure filled distraction from the distorting thoughts that had settled on him at college.

The first kiss, outside his dorm when she’d walked back with him from the gym, had been intense. It had sparked a physical desire in him he’d almost caved in to but had resisted, using the excuse he had a class to get to. It wasn’t a lie, but he knew he was copping out. Any other guy on campus would have accepted her advances and launched a counter-attack of their own.

When Lauren kissed him hard one night after a party at her apartment, his will crumbled around him. Her arms wound around him like a serpent. As she pulled him toward an open bedroom door in her apartment, her hands up under his shirt, he knew he was crossing a boundary he’d set for himself years ago. He hadn’t even cared anymore. He needed something, anything, to drown out the pain of Ellie’s rejection, the doubts about his faith clouding his mind.

For those brief moments he’d forgotten who he was, and it felt amazing.

At first.

The guilt set in like a heavy chain around his neck within moments after he’d stumbled through her bedroom door, carrying his shirt and jeans.

The alcohol had blurred his senses. It had all been so rushed. She was dressing before he’d even had time to wrap his mind around what had just happened.

“That was fun.” Her tone was casual as she buttoned her blouse. “We should do it again sometime.”

He’d woke up a few hours later in his dorm room, unable to remember how he got there. Alex stood over him, his expression a mix of concern and confusion.

“Hey, Jase. You okay?”

Jason had moved in with Alex at the beginning of the second semester of his sophomore year to remove himself from the peer pressure of living with a bunch of football players in a frat house downtown. Alex, who he’d met his freshman year during an English Lit class, hadn’t offered him the break from temptation he’d been hoping for.

Instead, Alex had talked him into visiting bars, meeting women – meeting Lauren. Part of him could have blamed Alex like he tried to blame Lauren, but none of it had been either of their fault. He’d made his own decisions, and now he had to live with them.

Alex’s reaction to his state of mortification was less than supportive. At least at first.

“You got with Lauren Phillips?” He raised his arms to celebrate. “That girl is hot. She wouldn’t even give me the time of day. What have you got that I don’t?” Alex slapped the back of his hand against Jason’s right bicep. “Oh, yeah…muscles.”

Jason vomited in an empty container from the Chinese restaurant.

Alex made a face. “You’re throwing up after sleeping with a hot woman? Is it the alcohol or do you need to tell me something else? Like maybe you don’t like women? Maybe you like —”

“Alex!” Jason wiped his hand across his mouth, looking for a paper towel to clean himself off. “I like women. I am definitely attracted to women. That’s not it. If it was, I wouldn’t be in this situation right now.”

“What situation? Wait. Didn’t you use —”

“I just mean the whole Lauren situation. Come on, Alex. Don’t make this worse than it is.” Jason sat back, pressing his hands to his face. “I’m not the guy who just jumps in bed with a woman I don’t even know. You know that.”

“You mean like me?”

“That’s not what I meant. I just mean that I wanted to have a connection with the woman I – with whoever I first — I mean…”

“Oh.”

Alex shrugged, scooting himself back onto the top of the dresser, his legs hanging down. Jason could tell he didn’t want to talk about his friend’s bedroom experiences, or lack thereof.

“Okay, listen, you made a mistake. That’s all. It’s not the end of the world. Just cut Lauren loose and take some time to think about things. About what you really want. This is college. This where we screw up and learn our lessons, right?”

Jason had definitely learned a lesson from the experience, but he wished he hadn’t had to.

He’d almost lost his football scholarship that year after showing up late to too many practices and showing up more than once with a hangover. He avoided Lauren after their encounter, ignoring her phone calls and telling her he had homework to do that one night she’d pounded on his dorm room door.

“I guess you got what you wanted,” she snapped, arms folded across her chest, standing in the doorway as he tried to close the door. She lifted an eyebrow and smirked. “Or maybe I just got what I wanted.”

It was the last time he’d seen her, other than across the campus from time to time when she was hanging off the arm of one of the other football players.

He had refocused himself for the remainder of that year and for the next year after that. All he wanted was his degree, so he could go home and make sure his family’s business survived. He’d also realized he wanted to go back to Ellie. Along with God she was an anchor for him, and when he’d let go of them both, it had spun his life out of control.

The front door slammed open, bringing Alex and a gust of wind into the room and jostling Jason from his memories.

This was present day Alex, Alex seven years later but in some ways the same ole’ Alex. But hopefully not exactly the same Alex, since he was dating Molly now.

The crash of thunder and rush of pounding rain roared into the living room, quieted only when Alex pushed the door closed, his clothes clinging to him. Sliding his cowboy hat off, he propped it on the hook next to the door, then paused and looked at Jason, sprawled on the couch on his back.

“All the lights are off and you’re listening to sad country music. This can’t be good.”

“It’s not sad music. It’s Chris Ledoux.”

“Who you only listen to when you’re sad.” A crack of thunder rattled the window and lightening lit the sky outside.

Alex winced as he pried his wet button-up shirt off and tossed it toward the laundry room. It landed in the hallway, and Jason hoped he would pick it up this time. “Thinking about Ellie?”

Jason tipped his head back against the arm of the couch, his long legs stretched across the faded grey cushions, one arm laying across his forehead, the other one hanging off the couch.

“Yeah. And Lauren.”

Alex reached up and flicked on the light switch.  “Ah, man, no. Not a good combination. You can’t sit here sitting in the dark reflecting on past mistakes. It’s not healthy.”

Jason burped and reached for the can of soda on the coffee table without sitting up. Alex kicked at an empty bag of potato chips on the floor. “Um… this isn’t healthy either. Where are your regular veggie sticks and protein shakes?”

Alex pulled his wet tank top off and walked behind the couch toward the hallway leading to the bathroom. “Listen, I’m going to go get dried off and changed. When I come back, you better tell me what’s up.”

“Will you have your shirt on when you come back? Because I don’t need to see that.”

Alex scoffed and slapped his hand against his bare chest. “Of course, you need to see this. Who doesn’t?”

“You really want me to answer that?”

“Yeah, well —”

“If you say Molly likes to look at that I will get off this couch and mess up your pretty boy face.”

Alex raised his hands in a surrender motion. “Okay. Okay. Calm down, big boy.”

A few moments later, dried off and wearing a fresh t-shirt and pair of jeans, Alex smacked the bottom of Jason’s feet and told him to shove over and sit up. He sat a water bottle on the coffee table and cracked open a can of soda he’d grabbed out of the fridge on the way back to the living room. He took a long drink before sitting where Jason’s feet had been.

“Come on, man. What’s going on? Talk to your old friend Alex while you flush all that junk out of your system with this —” He squinted at the label on the water bottle. “Electrolyte enhanced mineral water. Whatever that is.”

Jason groaned and sat up, picking up the bottle. He leaned his elbows on his knees and sipped the water, staring at the turned off television. In its reflection, he saw a hollow version of himself, eyes heavy and empty.

Rain drops against the metal porch roof out back filled the silence. He rubbed his hand along his jawline, staring at the television until his haggard image blurred. The last three weeks had been full of training sessions for the fire company mixed in between building pens for the goats and planting corn and rye and his regular duties at the farm. His body was screaming a warning that he couldn’t keep this pace up much longer.

Alex cleared his throat, leaned forward, and propped his elbows on his knees. “Listen, Jason, like I said that day Ellie overheard us, I’m sorry for any part I played in you meeting Lauren.”

Jason waved his hand dismissively. “No more apologies, Alex. Like I told you then, my choices got me here, not yours. It wasn’t your fault. I decided to go with you to those bars and parties and I chose to sleep with Lauren, even if alcohol did cloud my judgement.” He pushed his hands into his hair and shook his head again. “If anyone should feel guilty, it’s me for not influencing you in a more positive way. I should be doing that now.”

Alex leaned back again and slid his hands behind his head, grinning. “So, you mean you should be my spiritual guide?”

“Well, maybe, yeah. Someone has to help you. You’re a mess.”

Alex playfully tossed a pillow at Jason’s head. “Thanks, jerk, but we’re talking about you. Not me. So, what are you going to do about Ellie? Molly says you and Ellie talked a few Sundays ago.”

 “Talked.” A derisive laugh escaped Jason’s lips. “More like yelled until I was hoarse, and she was bawling.”

Alex tossed the empty soda can toward the recycling bin in the kitchen. It bounced off the edge and rolled across the kitchen floor. “Yeah. Didn’t sound like it went very well.”

Jason swallowed hard, remembering the way Molly had looked at him. It had been almost as bad as the way Ellie looked at him.

“She said she needed time but I’m pretty sure she meant she needed to never see me again.”

Alex shook his head and leaned against his hand, propping his elbow on the arm of the couch. “It doesn’t seem fair. I mean, it’s not like you slept with Lauren when you two were dating. You were broke up.”

“That’s not the point in her mind.” Jason stretched his legs out in front of him, propped his feet up on the coffee table. “The point is, I never told her about it. She feels like I broke her trust.” He closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “And she’s right. I did.”

Alex tipped his head back against the couch, looked up at the ceiling. “The thing is, though, you’re a guy and guys can’t always push their needs aside like women can.”

Jason tilted his face toward Alex, cocking an eyebrow. “Oh, yeah?” He folded his arms across his chest. “You don’t say.”

“Listen, it’s admirable that you and Ellie waited for this special time between each other. It really is, but is it realistic? Like I said, guys have needs. She gets that, right?”

Jason narrowed his eyes, tipped his head to look at Alex, trying to stay calm. “Yes, Alex. Guys do have needs and you’re dating my sister. Anything you need to share with me right now?”

Alex laughed, rolled his tongue inside his cheek, propping his ankle over the opposite knee as he folded his arms over his chest and shook his head. “Let’s not get off topic here —”

“I’m on topic.” Jason watched Alex intently. “Tell me more about how the guy who is dating my sister has needs that need to be met. I’m listening.”

Red spread quickly across Alex’s cheeks and ears. “Listen, I respect Molly.” He cleared his throat and picked at a string on the bottom of his jeans, back to Jason. The smile had faded.

Jason cocked an eyebrow. “Yeah. And?”

Alex held his hand up, palm out. “Hey, remember what I told you after you found out about me and Molly? About things being private between a man and women, even if that woman is your sister? That applies here too.”

Jason wasn’t looking away. Alex cleared his throat again. “But — since I like my face being in one piece, I will tell you that your sister is worth waiting for.” He paused for emphasis, his gaze meeting Jason’s. “In every way. Okay? Now, let’s move this conversation back to your situation with Ellie.”

Jason’s eyes stayed narrowed. “Just because we men have needs, Alex, as you put it, doesn’t mean we have to have those needs met all the time or at the wrong time. There’s something called self-control and I should have had more self-control with Lauren. I’d committed to staying sexually pure for my future wife. It may sound old-fashioned to you, but it was how I felt and how I still feel.”

The teasing disappeared from Alex’s tone. “I get it, Jase. I do. Okay? You’re right. It sounds old-fashioned to me, but it also sounds nice. It just doesn’t seem fair to me you’re losing everything you had with Ellie over a woman like Lauren Phillips.”

Standing and walking across the floor to look out the window, Alex let out a long breath. Raindrops speckled the windowpane. Thunder rumbled in the distance. He turned to face Jason again, leaning back against the door and crossing one leg over the other. “That girl was trouble. I saw her making out with Jake Murray at a party a couple days later. I think she made her way through the entire football team that year. Probably that semester even.”

Jason rubbed his eyes, a stinging ache growing behind them. His chest tightened, and he shook his head. He felt like he was suffocating under the weight of shame-filled memories.

A pounding on the door gave him the chance to quickly pass his hand over his eyes and swallow his emotion. Alex stepped away from the door, turned, and opened it, letting in the sound of the pouring rain.

Molly stood on the porch, breathless. Rain matted her hair to her forehead and face, drenching her clothes. “My truck has a flat up the road and I think Liz is in labor.”

Jason grabbed his hat and jacket. “We’ll take my truck, come on.”

By the time he pulled his truck behind Molly’s, sitting along ditch about a mile from their grandmother’s house, the rain had stopped. Liz was pacing alongside the road, rubbing her protruding belly.   She had pulled her long dark brown hair into a tight ponytail and her face was pale.

Alex jumped out first, helping Molly out next. “Should you be walking around like that?”

Liz shrugged and tossed her hands up. “It’s either this or sit in there and hyperventilate.”

Jason glanced in the back of the truck. “The spare is here at least. Your water broke yet?”

Liz rubbed her arms and continued pacing. “If you mean all that water that is supposed to come out before the baby does then no. It’s just cramping right now. Intense cramping. Every ten minutes or so.”

Jason retrieved the jack and spare tire from the truck bed. “If your water hasn’t broken, we’ve got time to change the tire.”

Liz made a face. “When did you become a doctor?”

Kneeling next to the flat tire, Jason grinned. “I’ve watched about a few hundred cows give birth in my lifetime and not much happens until the water breaks.” He stood, pushed his foot down on the jack handle. “I’m sure it’s the same with humans.”

Liz scowled, folding her arms across her chest. “Jason Tanner, did you just compare me to a cow?”

He winked under the brim of his John Deere cap. “If the shoe fits, sweet cheeks.”

Liz kicked mud at him and growled. “If I wasn’t about to give birth, I’d kick your bu —”

“You’re not about to give birth.” Jason loosened a bolt on the tire. “You’re probably just having false labor.”

Liz swung to face Molly. “It’s fine if I bludgeon your brother with the tire iron, right?”

“Not unless you don’t want to get to the hospital,” Molly laughed.

Jason reached into his pocket and tossed the keys at Alex. “Take my truck. I’ll drive Molly’s.”

Liz winced and held on to the side of the truck, breathing slowly. The color in her face had drained again, and she bent over slightly.

“Get going,” Jason said, jerking his head toward his truck. “I’ve helped plenty of cows bring babies into the world, but I have no interest in doing it with a human.”

Molly took Liz’s hand and slid her arm around her waist. “Lean against me and breathe like we learned in class.”

Liz nodded, a tear escaping from the corner of her eye. Jason looked up to see her look at Molly with glistening eyes. “I don’t think I can do this,” she whispered.

Alex laughed softly as he opened the passenger side door. “A bit late for that.”

He winced as Molly’s fist hit his upper arm. “What? It is.”

Jason chuckled and shook his head. “Better watch it, Alex. Molly doesn’t get angry, she gets even.”

Molly turned her scowl from Alex to Jason, then back to Alex before smiling at Liz and rubbing her back. “Ignore them. Focus on the fact that soon you’ll be holding your baby in your arms.”

Alex placed a hand under Liz’s elbow and helped her into the truck.  

Liz’s shoulders noticeably relaxed as she leaned back against the seat, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. “Stay calm. Have a baby. Beat up Alex and Jason. I can do this.”

Alex laughed and patted her shoulder. “At least you have your priorities straight.”

Chapter 8 Sneek Peak

Chapter 8

Jason watched the truck disappear down the road for a moment before turning back to the tire. He worked a bolt loose, saying a quick prayer for Liz. Quick prayers were all the prayers he allowed time for these days. Any longer and his thoughts spiraled out of control.

The crunch of tires on gravel brought his head up. There was little chance he didn’t know whoever was driving by. Everyone knew everyone in this county. When he recognized the old blue pick-up pulling up behind Molly’s truck, his heart sank.

Tom Lambert, his dark brown hair speckled with gray, leaned an arm on the wall of the truck bed.

Book Review: In Sheeps Clothing by Pegg Thomas

Book and author: In Sheeps Clothing by Pegg Thomas

Publisher: Spinner of Yarns Publishing

Genre: Christian Fiction

Description:

Yarrow Fenn, the talented spinster sister, was passed over when her intended walked out on her years before. She’s content with her life – for the most part – until Peter Maltby arrives in town. A journeyman fuller, Peter comes to Milford, Connecticut, not to woo the young women, but to rise to the rank of master fuller and return to Boston for some unfinished business. When their lives intersect over an orphan lamb, sparks are kindled. But their budding romance will have to survive revealed secrets when someone else shows up in Milford.

My Review:

This read was a delightful, short, and sweet journey into the past. I am not someone who usually reads historical fiction but the cover and title caught my eye and I gave it a chance. The story flowed easily and the writing was very good. The book is very short and I could have done with a little more about both characters, but that’s only because I really enjoyed learning about them both. I will definitely be looking up more books by Pegg.

Book Review: Avoiding Marriage by Karin Beery

Avoiding Marriage by Karin Beery

Publisher:  EABooks Publishing 

Description:

Two years ago, Jessica Miller made a mess of her already confusing life. Now, she’s back in Boyne Heights, and she’s determined to fix her reputation. She can’t seem to avoid the past that haunts her, but that’s the joy of small-town life—word spreads and people remember. Intent on her mission, however, she faces her past head-on, taking a job with her ex-boyfriend while avoiding her grandmother’s attempts to find her a new one.

My Review:

I was provided a complimentary copy of this book, which I appreciated because I might not have picked it up on my own. It was the first time I’d read anything by this author so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I don’t usually read a ton of light romances or novellas but apparently, I am missing out because I really enjoyed this one. In fact, I enjoyed the characters so much that my only complaint is that the book wasn’t long enough. I know there are other books with these characters, however, so I am looking forward to reading more about them in the future.

Part of me felt, at first, that the premise was a little unrealistic – the idea of a young woman going to work for her ex-boyfriend who is now married, but then I thought about all the people around me who are doing similar things. I mean I even know of an actor whose ex-wife produces movies with him. What this book reminded me was that people move on, heal, and grow in many different ways so even if I wouldn’t be comfortable with that, there are plenty of people who are and have been.

The main character’s (Jessica’s) life was very relatable to me. To some, it may have seemed she had more on her than “real” people would, in regards to her family’s situation, but in my world, families are messy. There are divorces and hurt feelings and addictions and recovering addicts, etc. I like that Karin isn’t afraid to face those issues head-on. In the midst of all of Jessica’s struggles is the chance for love and that brings lighter and sweeter moments to the story.

This is a quick read for an avid reader, which is nice because then you can move on to Ashley’s story (which occurs before this one) in Practically Married or other books by Karin.

I received a copy of Practically Married from the author. This in no way affects my review. All opinions are my own.

Looking back at April in photos

April was a strange month weather wise at times. Warm sun, rain, gloomy days, snow, then warm sun again. In other words, it was a typical April for our state. I thought I’d look back on the month in photos since, as usual, my life wasn’t super exciting and there isn’t much to write about it. There were some playground trips, running in the backyard, Easter, weird medieval helmets and blooming spring flowers. Who knows what May will bring that will be worthy of a photo or two.

My No News in May Challenge. Want to join me? Wait. Hear me out.

So I am sinking into a deep depression and have lost a lot of motivation off and on for the last year. You know why. Todays news is depressing, demoralizing, and creates insane amounts of division. Prop that on top of other life stressors and many of us have the making of a good ole’ fashioned mental breakdown.

Of course we are in control of how we allow the things we read and hear affect us but we are also responsible for what we allow in our ear and eye holes and I don’t know about you, but I’ve allowed too much in off and on (not consistently) for more than a year now.

I’m ready for a break during which I hope to accomplish some other goals in life including, reading my Bible more, praying more, finishing writing book two in my series, planting my garden, reading more, closing out my children’s school year, visiting some local parks, picking up drawing again, and searching for UFOs. The last one is a joke, but who knows. With all the free time I’ll have on my hands, I may just do that.

It isn’t that I like news sites or visit them because I’m really invested in what is happening in the world. It’s a way to distract myself, procrastinate, and, quite frankly, it is easy to become addicted to what I call panic or drama porn. Our thoughts are inexplicaply drawn to the negativity of life and where can we find the most negativity today but on a news site.

We can easily fall down rabbit holes, even without meaning to.

Anyhow, I digress. The point of this post is to try to hold myself accountable and to see if anyone else would like to join me in a news fast for the next month. This is not a total news fast. I am keeping myself at one hour a week which can be broken up however I like but for now I think I will allow about 8 minutes of news a day. This will include quick scans of one site and no more sinking into rabbit holes or checking Twitter (which I don’t even have an account on. What in the world am I doing? The place is a sink hole of depression and the worst society has to offer, in my opinion.) or any other social media accounts related to news.

You can keep yourself to more hours a week if you want, but I am curious to see if less news will make some of us who are susceptible to all the different messages overwhelming our brains feel less anxious. Join me if you like, cheer me on, or just ignore me. I’m okay either way but I hope by posting here I will feel guilty if I allow myself to be sucked into a media/news-induced hysteria. Let’s see how it goes. I’ll post some updates later in the month and in June. I’ll see if I utterly failed or at least had a little success.

Sunday Bookends: Reading novellas and Watching Spring Bloom

Welcome to Sunday Bookends where I ramble about what I’m reading, watching, listening to, writing, or doing.

***

What I’ve Been Reading

I finished a couple of novellas in the last couple of weeks that I’m not sure I mentioned or not previously. One was Avoiding Marriage by Karin Beery. The other was In Sheep’s Clothing by Pegg Thomas.

The description of Avoiding Marriage is:

Two years ago, Jessica Miller made a mess of her already confusing life. Now, she’s back in Boyne Heights, and she’s determined to fix her reputation. She can’t seem to avoid the past that haunts her, but that’s the joy of small-town life—word spreads and people remember. Intent on her mission, however, she faces her past head-on, taking a job with her ex-boyfriend while avoiding her grandmother’s attempts to find her a new one.

The description of In Sheep’s Clothing is:

Yarrow Fenn, the talented spinster sister, was passed over when her intended walked out on her years before. She’s content with her life – for the most part – until Peter Maltby arrives in town. A journeyman fuller, Peter comes to Milford, Connecticut, not to woo the young women, but to rise to the rank of master fuller and return to Boston for some unfinished business. When their lives intersect over an orphan lamb, sparks are kindled. But their budding romance will have to survive revealed secrets when someone else shows up in Milford.

`

I will offer reviews of both of them later in the week.

I am currently reading Kindness Goes Unpunished (A Longmire Mystery) by Craig Johnson,

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and I’m going to start The Number of Love by Roseanna M. White as part of a Goodreads book club.

Little Miss and I finished Little House on the Prairie and are now reading On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The Boy is still reading To Kill A Mockingbird.

What’s Been Occurring

The weather was nice most of last week, except for Thursday when it rained and stormed, with high winds, bringing with it colder air. Despite the nicer weather, we really didn’t do much other than schoolwork and playing outside and at the little playground down the road from our house.

We also explored our back and side yards to see which flowers are blooming this week. By yesterday the leaves were starting to come out in full force on the trees around our house and I’m guessing they will all be out by the end of this week.

I hope to start planning our garden this week, including figuring out where to get the topsoil. We will see if I can get myself motivated enough to actually do it.

What I’ve Been Watching

This past week I watched The Secret: Dare to Dream with Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas. It was a very sweet, clean movie and is currently on Amazon prime. It was fairly predictable plot wise, but it was okay.

I also watched a few episodes of the old All Creatures Great and Small show and a British comedy game show called Would I Lie To You?

What I’ve Been Listening To

I listened to a lot of the Unashamed podcast with the Robertson family from Duck Dynasty fame this past week and also a live album from Needtobreathe.

What I’ve Been Writing

Last week I shared a post asking if Laura Ingalls Wilder was racist and a new chapter of The Farmers’ Sons in two parts (one Friday and one Saturday).

That’s my week in review. How about you? What have you been reading, watching, listening to, or doing? Let me know in the comments.

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmers’ Sons Chapter 6 Part 2

Here is part two of the chapter I posted yesterday. If you read down to the end you’ll also get a sneak peak of next week’s chapter. If you would like to read the story of Jason’s sister, you can learn more about The Farmer’s Daughter HERE or at the link at the top of the page. If you don’t have a Kindle or Kindle Unlimited, I’ll have options to order digital copies of the book other ways in June. You can also order a print copy on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

To catch up on the rest of The Farmers’ Sons click HERE.


***

Jason glanced up at the tops of the trees as he drove, noticing the limbs bending in the wind. Wind and fire. Never a good combination.

He saw the smoke before he saw the fire. Dark clouds rose up in plumes against a backdrop of the blue and green hillside, over the roofs of the homes he passed. When he rounded the corner, he saw flames ripping across Lester Franklin’s side yard and the dry-yellow field next to it. Lester, a truck driver for a local heating oil business, was standing a few inches away from the flames, beating them down with what looked like a wet burlap sack used to store grain.

Cody was already there in his blue Ford pick-up. The fire truck hadn’t arrived yet.

“Controlled burn that got out of control,” Cody called as Jason jumped from his truck. He handed Jason a shovel and a hoe. “Lester was burning some old brush and branches. The grass was dryer than he realized. Let’s try to keep it from going toward the house until the truck gets here. We’ll dig a buffer zone and hope it doesn’t jump it. If it does, we may need to light another fire, but hopefully the guys get here first. If a flame sprouts up in front of you throw some dirt at it or take one of the soaked bags over there and try to beat it back.”

Cody briefly explained the concept of a buffer zone and how to create one, demonstrating it as he began creating a line between the field and yard.

The heat from the flames hit Jason full force as he started digging behind Cody. He dug quickly, hoping the flames would keep their path on the other side of the line. Cody grabbed a stack of sacks and soaked them under the outside spicket then returned to digging the path, beating back the flames with a soaked sack every few minutes.

Twenty minutes later, drenched in sweat, Jason heard the sirens of the fire truck blaring about a mile away at the same moment the wind shifted and sent flames slamming toward him and around him. He stepped back fast but not fast enough to keep the fire from jumping from the ground to his jeans.

Cody was next to him in seconds, patting his palms against Jason’s pants, down near his ankles.

 Once flames were no longer slithering up his legs, Jason grabbed one of the sacks as Cody pointed toward the Franklin’s house.

“It’s spreading toward the bush by the back porch!”

The truck pulled into the side yard a few minutes later and blazed toward the back field, siren blaring. Behind it were three more trucks with blue flashing lights on top, volunteers jumping out as soon as their trucks were in park.

“Get the hose and soak the porch!” Cody shouted.

The hose was being rolled out as a smaller truck pulled in behind the larger one.

Brittany Manahan’s arm bumped Jason’s as she pushed past him with the hose. “Hey, rookie, back up before we drown you.” Her arm shot up as she gestured toward the firemen back at the truck. “Let ‘er loose, boys!”

Water shot out across the top of the porch, doused the blazing bush at the same time. Jason moved back to the field where spindly patterns of fire were reaching toward the woods behind the house.

He hit the flames back with the wet sack until the hose from the smaller truck was pulled his way, then grabbed the hose, joining Denny Ward and Jacob Beecher. The three men dragged the hose through the burnt grass toward the flames that still hadn’t been tamed.

By the time the fire was out a half an hour later, Jason’s face and neck were slick with sweat and any skin showing was smeared with soot.

He staggered toward the house with Denny and Jacob, dragging the hose behind them.

“Good job for your first brush fire, Tanner,” Brittany said tossing him a water bottle. “Drink up, I don’t want to have to try to carry your big butt to the ambulance.”

Brittany was a paid EMT for the Tri-County Ambulance service, which covered the county Spencer Valley was in and two others. When she wasn’t riding with the ambulance, she was responding to fires as a volunteer member of the Spencer Valley Fire Department.

Jason caught the bottle, twisting the cap off. “Thanks.”

Brittany tossed her head back, releasing dark curls from a hair tie with one hand and yanking the rest of the strands from where they’d been shoved under the collar of the fire suit.

She drank down half a bottle of her own before focusing her gaze on Jason. She leaned one arm against the trunk of the tree next to her. “You’re a natural at this. You knew what to do without any of us telling you.”

Jason shrugged a shoulder. “Just a quick learner. But Cody did give me some pointers”

Denny walked up to stand under the shade of the tall maple tree with them. He winked at Brittany. “His being built like a Greek god doesn’t hurt any either, does it Brittany?”

There was no mistaking the red that flushed up Brittany’s cheeks, but she didn’t give the men time to harass her about it. “I hadn’t noticed, Denny. Something you need to tell us, or maybe Heather when you get home?”

Heather was Denny’s wife. Jason had graduated with both of them.

“Very funny, Manahan. Don’t try to deflect. You’ve been checking out Tanner since he signed up.”

Brittany tossed her empty water bottle toward Denny, slid the jacket of the fire suit off and turned back toward the rig. “Sounds like maybe you’re deflecting your own obsession with Tanner,” she called over her shoulder.

Denny elbowed Jason in the ribs. He nodded toward Brittany, now across the yard by the truck. “Watch out for that one. She’s a man eater and she’s definitely been checking you out.”

Jason laughed softly, shook his head. He didn’t know if what Denny was saying was true or not, and he didn’t really care.

 “Not worried about it.” He took another long drink from the bottle. “I’m steering clear of the opposite sex for a good long while.”

Denny leaned back against the tree they were standing under. “You and Ellie still on the rocks?”

Jason nodded, finishing the water in the bottle, and crushing it in his hand.  A cool breeze slid over his skin and he closed his eyes briefly to enjoy it.

Cody walked over, leaned one arm against the tree, and shook his head. He looked at the charred scene around them as he guzzled a bottle of water.

“Last year we had too much rain, this year we could use some more. I’d love a year where we’d get just the right amount of rain.”

Denny and Jason agree with quick nods of their heads.

“It would certainly make farming a lot easier,” Jason commented.

Elizabeth Franklin stepped out on the porch with a tray of lemonade and a plate of cookies. She placed the tray on a small table and cupped her hands around her mouth to call across the yard. “Come on over, guys. Have some refreshments before you head out.”

Cody grinned, patting Jason on the shoulder as they walked. “Volunteers may not get paid in money, but we do get paid in baked goods.”

Jason patted his stomach, still flat, but knew it wouldn’t be much longer if he didn’t stop taking ‘thank you’ gifts of food. He would need a couple extra hours in the gym this next week.

Elizabeth poured glasses of lemonade, waving over the rest of the fire fighters still on scene. “Goodness, boys, that was scary. We can’t thank you enough for saving the woods and the house.” She looked up as Brittany walked over, now out of her fire gear. “Sorry about that hon’. I forgot our fire department has a young lady now. No offense meant.”

Brittany waved her hand dismissively, taking a glass of lemonade with the other hand. “No offense taken, Mrs. Franklin.”

Elizabeth propped a hand on her hip. “Brittany, you know you can call me Elizabeth now. I haven’t been your teacher in ten years.”

Brittany made a face. “I’ll try but I can’t make any promises. Just seems weird.”

Jason laughed. “I didn’t even have you as a teacher and I don’t think even I can call you Elizabeth.”

Gray streaked the older woman’s dark blond strands pulled back in a ponytail. She folded her arms across her chest and looked down at Jason, standing on the ground next to the porch. “That’s right. I never did have you in class, did I? I do remember having Molly. One of my brightest students. How’s she doing these days?”

“Good. Working hard at the country store, managing our website, and of course, still working on the farm.”

Elizabeth pressed her hands against her lower back and stretched back slightly. “She’s not married yet either is she?”

Jason’s chest constricted at the question, though he knew Molly’s former English teacher had no idea she’d struck a painful chord.

“No. Not yet.”

Elizabeth smiled affectionally and winked. “Well, you both better get on it and give Robert and Annie some grandchildren to cuddle. They’re just going to love being grandparents. I know Lester and I do.”

Being reminded of not having children yet at his age, while wondering if he ever would, was making Jason wish that fire had consumed him.

Cody jerked his head toward the trucks after a few more minutes of chatting. “We’d better get these hoses rolled up and the rigs back to the fire house.”

The conversations broke up as the firefighters pulled off their gear and headed back to the trucks or their own vehicles. Jason dragged a hand across his forehead, looked at the black smeared on his skin, and grimaced. It was going to take a lot of soap to get all this off.

Brittany climbed into the passenger side of the larger fire truck and leaned her head out the window. “Hey, Jason, some of the guys and I are going to Mooney’s after we clean up. Wanna join us?”

He shook his head, wiping his hands on his pants. “I’ve got to head back to the farm but thanks for asking.”

He didn’t miss the wink she gave him. “Next time, okay? I’ll buy you a beer.”

He waved as the truck pulled out then winced as he watched the truck head down the dirt road.

Maybe Denny was right. He’d better watch his back with that one.

Standing in the shower fifteen minutes later, after telling his dad he’d be in the barn soon to help with the milking, he let the water run hot down his back. Exhaustion ate away at his strength. He leaned his arm against the wall and his forehead against his arm.

He hoped the water would loosen his muscles and wake him. He still had a farm to help run. When he thought about Elizabeth’s comments about grandchildren, he turned the knob further toward the hot, hoping the water would burn her words out of his mind like it was burning the soot off his body.

“Hey, Jase.” Alex’s voice from the other side of the door made him groan softly. “Any idea where the toolbox went? A hose on the milker broke again.”

While he would have liked to have been able to shower in peace, he couldn’t deny how grateful he was that there was always something to keep his mind off what he didn’t want to think about.

Sneak peek of Chapter 7 for next week:

Chapter 7

Ellie winced, curling her legs up against the heating pad pressed against her stomach. A burning pain had started in her lower stomach an hour earlier and was curving around to her back. She’d finally given up and taken ibuprofen. It hadn’t kicked in yet.

Was it the stress of the last few weeks causing her pain to be worse?  Maybe her condition was simply getting worse. Either way, she prayed for the pain to end soon. She had Bible study in a couple of hours. They were studying Proverbs 31 and she needed to be there, not only to lead the study, but to focus on something other than her deepening depression.

She drifted off into a fitful sleep for 20 minutes before a knock on the door woke her.

Fiction Friday: The Farmers Sons Chapter 6 Part I

As always this story is a fictional serial which I update every Friday. it is also a work in progress and will be turned into a book once I’ve posted the chapters here on the blog and once it has been edited and maybe even rewritten.

I will share part two of this chapter tomorrow on the blog.

Let me know what you think of the story so far in the comments. What do you think should happen next or what has happened so far? And if you would like to read the first book in this series, you can find it on Kindle Unlimited or order a digital copy on Amazon. You can also order print versions on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

To catch up on the other chapters of this story click HERE.

***

Robert set a steaming mug of black coffee on the table in front of Jason and another in front of himself. Sunlight was trying to peek through dark clouds outside and the light in the kitchen cast a warm glow across the wooden table Ned had made 20 years ago.

“I’ve been thinking of some other avenues for revenue for the business.”

Jason laughed softly, reaching across the table for the creamer. “So that’s what happens when we leave you alone too long.”

“It certainly is.” Robert slid a sheet of paper across the table at him. “We’ve got a group of results from the genetic testing on the jerseys. It looks like we have enough with the A2 gene that we can start producing A2 milk once we build a bottling plant to process it.” He pointed to some figures at the bottom of the page. “That’s going to be the cost which part of the money left over from Alex’s mom will cover the majority of.”

Jason read over the paper. This move would definitely be another source of income for the business if it all came together.

His eyes fell on a few words at the bottom of the page that raised his eyebrows. “Goats? You want to add goats?”

Robert stirred creamer and sugar into his coffee, turning it a light brown. He nodded as he sipped. “The way I figure it,

Robert laughed. “But their milk is. It’s just another product we can add to the inventory of the store. Not to mention, we can make soap from the milk.”

Jason grinned and cocked an eyebrow. “Who’s going to make the soap?”

“Your mom and Molly are interested.”

“Molly? Making soap?”

Robert sighed. “Focus, Jason.”

Jason looked back at the paper again. “What’s this over here?” He squinted. “Should have been a doctor with this handwriting of yours, Dad. Corn maze? You want to set up a corn maze in the Fall?”

Robert sipped his coffee. “Yep. Diversify. Landon Bennett from the Lycoming Farm Bureau is going to put me in touch with a maze designer he’s worked with the last three years.”

Jason rubbed his chin under his bottom lip thoughtfully. “And this brought in some revenue for Landon?”

“Double what he makes in six months with milk sales, but he also added rides, crafts, and set up a pumpkin patch, which we have more than enough space for.”

“Have you talked to Walt yet?”

“Briefly. He agreed we need to get some figures together before we make any decisions. Maybe it won’t be plausible, but at this point I say we try everything and see what sticks. The alternative is —”

“Something we don’t need to think about right now,” Jason said quickly.

Robert set his cup of coffee aside and picked up a pen. He drew an arrow to a figure at the top of the page. “The money from Cecily was an amazing, appreciated boost for us and I think we need to capitalize on the breathing room it gave us.”

Jason nodded. “I agree.”

Robert set his pen aside, folded his arms on the surface of the table. “Now that we’ve got the business talk out of the way, maybe you’d like to talk about some more personal issues.”

Jason shook his head as he stood, the paper in his hand.

He leaned back against the kitchen counter, looking at the paper and taking a long gulp of his coffee. “Nope. I’m good. Plus, we’re not done with business talk. We still need to figure out where and how we’re going to build a shed or barn for the goats you want to buy. Not to mention where to buy the goats. Then there’s the need to get some plans together for the bottling plant. I can talk to Greg Stanton at Stanton Designs about that tomorrow when I’m in town if you want.”

Robert nodded. “We can figure that all out in the next few days. Your Uncle Walt is scoping out some of the space near his barn for the goat barn. We’ll see how that works.” He folded his hands in a triangle in front of him and propped his chin on the tips of his fingers, his eyes narrowing. “Jason, I know things have been rough between you and Ellie. If you need to talk —”

“Dad, I appreciate it, but I’m good. Really.”

“Are you? Really? Because you don’t look good most days. You look pretty beat up. It’s honorable of you to offer to help out the fire department besides everything else you’re doing, but do you think that maybe all of this is just a way to avoid dealing with the situation with Ellie?

Jason shrugged, placed his empty mug in the sink. “It’s not a situation. It’s moving on.”

Robert leaned back, draping an arm over the back of the kitchen chair. “So, the relationship is over?”

Jason shrugged again. “Maybe. I don’t know. It seems to be what she wants.”

“Any reason she wants this?”

Jason slid the paper onto the kitchen table, leaning his palms against the edge of the counter, trying to decide how much he wanted his dad to know. “She thinks she can’t trust me.”

“Did something happen to make her feel this way?”

“Not recently, no.”

“Jase, you know I love you, no matter what. You can tell me what’s going on.”

Jason blew out a breath. “I screwed up, Dad. Okay? I screwed up in college and I never told Ellie. Can we just not talk about this right now?”

Robert didn’t appear to be getting the message. “Okay, well, how did you screw up?”

Jason pressed thumb and forefinger against his nose and closed his eyes.

“Dad, I don’t want to talk about it, okay? I just —” He gestured with his hand, clenched his fist closed. How long was he going to hide his shame from his family? “I was down in college. I started drinking. It didn’t last long, but . . .”

“You fell in with some wrong people?”

Jason smirked. “Well, Alex, for one, but yeah…one person in particular. A woman.”

Robert sat back in his chair. “Ah. I see. And you never told Ellie about this woman and whatever happened between you two?”

Jason nodded. “A few months ago, she overheard me and Alex talking about it. I was going to tell her before that but when I tried to, she thought I was proposing so —”

The squeal from the scanner hooked to Jason’s belt startled them both. Jason twisted the volume knob.

“Sorry.”

The voice on the scanner broke through the static. “Department 12, brush fire. Corner of Drew Road and Pine Creek Road. Fully involved and spreading.”

Jason stood and reached for his cap. “That’s just up the road. It would be a good training opportunity for me.”

Robert nodded, his mouth pressed into a thin line. “Okay, but be careful and let’s talk about all of this again later.”

“Yeah. ‘k.”

Out in his truck, starting the engine, Jason was glad for the excuse to leave. He was tired of talking about his past life, his mistakes, Ellie. He was tired of thinking about them, too. Luckily, he now had a brush fire to fight and later he would have a bottling plant and a goat barn to figure out how to build. Plenty to keep his mind off the thoughts burning painful paths through his heart and mind.  

***

Robert envied how quickly Jason rushed out the front door. He couldn’t do anything quickly anymore. He lumbered like a bear shot with a tranquilizer dart most days, staggering across the pastures like a man 20 years older than he was.

It was amazing Annie still had anything to do with him.

It was a silly thought, grounded in self-pity, he knew it, but the thought was still there. Annie was vibrant, active, beautiful. She deserved more than a hobbling old man.

He winced, standing and placing his empty coffee mug in the sink.

There she was now. He watched her walk across the side yard toward the clothesline.

He listened to her often complain about the wrinkles she was finding, the gray hairs that were cropping up here and there, what she saw as extra skin under her chin. He saw none of those things, though.

To him she was still the 17-year-old girl he’d fallen in love with, the 19-year-old who had given birth to his son and then four years later their daughter. There had been a loss in between, a son they’d named Joseph even though he’d been born at 28 weeks, not old enough to breathe on his own, not strong enough even when the machines breathed for him.

A breeze blew stands of her dark brown hair across her face. She pushed them aside, behind her ear, and propped a clothespin in her mouth.

How was it that the sight of her still sent his heart racing in his chest, his muscles tightening with a desire to hold her close? They hadn’t had a lot of time alone together since the accident and before that he’d been working hard to pay off the loan by the deadline. The last several months had been filled with her waiting on him, especially when he’d first come home and slept in a bed downstairs until his pelvis and leg healed more.

He enjoyed waiting on her instead and had hated not being able to do for himself. Now he could get his own breakfast, his own coffee, do some work around the farm, and take showers without her helping him undress and dress again, though he had to admit that part had been fun in some ways. He smiled, thinking of her helping pulling off his jeans each night and how he’d chased her from the bathroom before she tried to remove anything else.

It was ridiculous, he knew, but somehow he had felt less of a man with his leg all mangled and in a cast. The way he winced from the pain in his pelvis each time he’d moved didn’t make him feel very masculine either. Even with the cast off, he still felt like only half of a man.

Annie hooked a sheet over the line, pushing herself up on the tips of her toes to reach. He grinned, his eyes traveling down her legs, exposed thanks to a pair of denim blue shorts.

Robert’s physical pain was better now, but there were still too many things he couldn’t do that he wanted to, including climbing onto the tractor, lifting heavy objects, dancing with his wife under the stars. Not that he’d danced with Annie under the stars regularly. It had only been that one time, three years ago, after they’d helped on of the pigs give birth and he hadn’t wanted to go back to the house yet.

He’d like to try it again, though. Hopefully soon the pain would be all the way gone and his leg wouldn’t be so stiff. He tried to bend the leg, now free of the lighter cast, and grimaced.

Hopefully then he wouldn’t feel as old and helpless as he did now.

He wondered if his dad had felt this way when age, and later dementia and heart failure, had forced him to slow down. Ned had been cognizant enough before the dementia took over to realize he was losing his mental faculties. They’d talked about it one day sitting on Ned and Franny’s front porch, rocking in the chairs his father had built for him and Franny to rock in when Ned retired.

“I’m not of much use these days, Robert,” Ned had said, his cloudy blue eyes looking out over the yard where chickens scratched at corn and a barn cat rolled in the grass. “Not to you boys. Not to your mom. Not to anyone.”

“Don’t say that, Dad.”

“It’s true. I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday.”

Robert had laughed. “I don’t even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday.”

Ned shook his head. He hadn’t laughed. “Who’s going to take care of your mom when I don’t know who I am anymore?”

Robert had reached over and done something the Tanner man rarely did. He’d squeezed his father’s hand and looked at him until he looked back.

“We will dad. Your kids and grandkids. And most importantly God will.”

Ned’s eyes glistened. “Do you think I’ll even know who God is when I forget who everyone else is?”

“Yeah.” Robert clutched his dad’s hand tighter. “Yeah. I do. And if you don’t, it doesn’t matter because he knows who you are.”

Was Laura Ingalls Wilder racist?

As I have mentioned in my Sunday Bookends posts recently, Little Miss and I have been reading Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder before bed. I read the books as a child and I’m guessing I either didn’t understand how horrible the references to Native Americans in the book sounded back then. It is also possible my Mom explained to me what I have been explaining to my daughter this week, which is that the fear the Ingalls had of the Indians was really a fear of the unknown. They were drawing their views of the Native Americans from stories they had heard and not personal experience.

This past week, I made reading the book an educational experience in addition to being an entertaining one. I also explored the reason behind the racist-leaning language in Wilder’s books by doing what so many of us do these days — I Googled it.

As an adult re-reading Little House on the Prairie, I was taken aback by what Wilder wrote about the Native Americans. I didn’t remember the negative descriptions from when I read it all those years ago. Part of me had considered abandoning the book, so I didn’t have to discuss such a difficult topic with a 6-year-old, or at least skipping those sections. It was hard to skip the sections, however, since so much of the book is about the Native Americans and the Ingalls encounters with them. I’m glad I didn’t abandon the book, because then I would have missed those moments where the fictional version of Wilder challenges the views her mother and others living on the prairie have of the Native Americans.

One reason the real Laura couldn’t have questioned the negative views of the Native Americans when her family lived on the prairie is because she was actually only 2 when they moved to Kansas and around 4 or 5 when they left. In the fictional children’s book, she portrays herself as around 8 or 9. She also writes that baby Carrie was alive, but in reality, Carrie had not even been born yet.

 Laura Mclemore points out on The Little House on the Prairie website that it is important to understand the history behind Wilder’s story when considering how she writes about the Osage. For one, Wilder’s mother held a fear of the Osage people because of a massacre which occurred in Minnesota, near where the Ingalls had lived before moving to Kansas, around 1862. That massacre occurred when the Sioux and Dakota tribes rose up against the settlers after many of the men left to fight in the Civil War.  Laura’s mother and their neighbors, the Scotts, remember that massacre when they express anger and fear toward the Osage people, even though they are a different tribe.

It’s also important to remember that Wilder wasn’t actually writing an autobiography when she wrote her children’s books. While there were some authentic life experiences, as well as actual people, in the books, Wilder was actually writing historical fiction using her real family as the basis for the stories.

In 2018, Wilder’s name was stripped of a literary award named after her by American Library Association in 1954 because many believed her depictions of both Native Americans and African Americans were racist. The decision to remove her name bothered some people, including Amy S. Fatzinger from the magazine The Atlantic.

“The books indeed include several pejorative passages about Native people that reflect ‘dated cultural attitudes.’” Fatzinger wrote. “At times, they also work to dispel myths about American westward expansion; some scenes illustrate the complexity of race relations on the frontier and remind readers that countless families like the Ingallses were illegally occupying Native lands. As a result, Wilder’s approach can leave readers with conflicting messages about Native characters, requiring a more nuanced consideration of the texts themselves.”

While reading the book this week to Little Miss, I could see what Fatzinger means about scenes showing the complexity of race on the frontier. The various descriptions of Native Americans are definitely shocking by today’s standards and show how misguided the Ingalls family and other settlers were about the tribes living around them. While Wilder relayed some of the more prejudice comments she heard about Native Americans while growing up, she also did something other writers of the time didn’t do, Fatzinger wrote, and that was to point out that white settlers had illegally moved onto land occupied by the Osages. Charles Ingalls tells his family they are moving to “Indian Country” because politicians in Washington had sent word that the land would soon be free of Native Americans. Yes, just like today, politicians were adept at stirring up trouble and leaving people hurt in the wake of their ineptitude.

“Even readers who find such scenes troubling might assume that Wilder was simply repeating the attitudes of her time,” Fatzinger wrote in her article. “A closer look, though, reveals that she usually presents misconceptions about frontier life only to later challenge them; similarly, negative views of Native people are often juxtaposed with more favorable ones. In Little House on the Prairie, young Laura listens to various perspectives about Native people uttered by the adults around her and questions them. Laura asks her Ma, for example, why they’re traveling to Indian Territory if she doesn’t like Indians. It’s a question that highlights the absurdity of the events that follow, like when the Ingallses huddle in their house petrified of the Osage neighbors whose land they are attempting to appropriate.”

Through questions she asks her parents, Wilder also showed that her younger self had doubts about whether the Native Americans were “evil”, even though she had a very obvious fear of them and referred to them as “wild”, “smelly,” and “savage.” She writes that Ma was always leery and upset by the Native Americans, especially when they entered the home uninvited, but Pa was much more laid back, saying more than once, “As long as we are peaceful toward them, they will be peaceful toward us.” Of course, he also had a prejudice view of them because at one point he almost calls them devils, but Ma cuts him off so he doesn’t make the children afraid.

I believe Wilder wrote her books from the perspective of a child who had a fear of the unknown which included Native Americans, but also from the perspective of a woman born in 1867.

Credit: Little House on the Prairie blog/site

Her writing mainly focuses on what others thought of Native Americans and she relays their views through the eyes of a child trying to make sense of it all. She doesn’t leave those racist ideas to sit there alone, without explanation. She addresses them again as you progress through the book. When the neighbors say, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian,” Laura’s father disagrees, especially when Soldat Du Chene, a member of the Osage tribe talks the rest of the Osage people out of declaring war on the white settlers.

“No matter what Mr. Scott said,” Laura writes. “Pa did not believe the only good Indian was a dead Indian.”  

Keeping in mind the need to offer context to Laura’s story and instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, I took Mclemore’s suggestion to use the books as a teachable moment. One night before bed,  told Little Miss who the Native Americans were and how they lived in our country before the white Europeans.

I wasn’t sure how she would respond to my story of how the white Europeans chased many Native Americans off their land. I hoped she wouldn’t demonize either side.

Little Miss,6, is sharp, though, so I really shouldn’t have been surprised when she said, “I’m guessing the white people started the war.”

Ouch.

I hadn’t even mentioned war. I would imagine she heard about that in a cartoon or in lessons I’ve taught to her brother about similar subjects.

I told her that sometimes the white settlers started the war because they wanted the land and sometimes Native Americans started the wars because they were upset that the white settlers had taken their land and hurt their people.

I also explained that what the white Europeans did was wrong, that some of them may have been our ancestors (especially on my dad’s side where we have traced our family back to very early settlers in Connecticut), but that doesn’t mean we are to blame for what happened. We do, however, need to remember that dark part of our history so we don’t repeat it. We also need to recognize that the land we now live on was land was once occupied by people who settled this land long before our ancestors did. Although, we actually may have some Native American ancestors on my mother’s side, but we have not been able to officially connect us to the Cherokees my aunt and mom believe we may be related to.

After I told her, that the land we lived on now was probably where members of the Iroquois nation lived and that we would study them soon in our history, her curiosity was piqued.

“You have hooked me,” she announced. “Now I want to know more.”

Five minutes later she was asleep with my promise that we would soon learn more about Native Americans. The next day we watched a video by a Native American woman on YouTube about the Native Americans of the northeast and those of the Midwest. Little Miss enjoyed it but looked up after the woman talked about the women of tribe cooking and cleaning and scraping the buffalo hides and said, “I’m guessing this is when the men thought women couldn’t do the same thing that men could do, right?”

She’s a little too smart for her own good at times.

I agree with Mclemore’s suggestion for parents who would like to teach their young children about life in the 1800s and that is to not ignore Wilder’s books.

“I suggest that rather than banning books or refusing to read them, we use them as a platform for examining the history of the United States,” she writes. “What better way to learn our history than by reading a classic like Little House on the Prairie and using it as a platform for discussion?”

Incidentally, I am taking this same approach with To Kill A Mockingbird which I am reading with my 14-year-old son for his English class.

I also agree with Fatzinger to not remove Wilder’s references to Native Americans from her writing, or in fact remove any references to races that we disagree with. By doing this we are effectively removing any mention of the race at all, which closes the door to discussions about why stereotypical views of a race are wrong.

You can learn more about Laura Ingalls Wilder at http://www.littlehouseontheprairie.com and more about Fatzinger’s view of Wilder’s work on The Atlantic site.