I worked on this book this week, finally feeling creative after shutting off the news and social media. I probably wrote 1,000 words Tuesday night, saved and shut off my computer, only to discover that the computer, which saves to Microsoft OneDrive, had not saved any and I mean ANY of my changes that I had worked on for hours that evening.
I had been saving for hours and all of it was gone when I opened it up right before bed to add something. I normally email a copy to myself but it didn’t matter because none of the changes had saved so the emailed copy didn’t have any of the changes or additions either. I have no idea why it happened but now I am working on rewriting entire chapters, fixing errors and rewriting rewrites.
Some days I just want to give up on this silly writing thing but then I remember that no one really reads my stories or books anyhow so this whole writing thing is really just a hobby and I should not be upset by a hobby. Ha! A hobby is for fun so I had fun going back and rewriting all that I had lost and I will be rewriting much of it again in the future when it is all complete.
Anyhow, to catch up with the story, you can click HERE or at the top of the page. This is a work in progress and as always there could be errors, typos, plot holes, etc. that I will hopefully fix in the final draft. My other works of fiction are linked to at the top of the page as well and both of my books are currently on Kindle Unlimited: A Story to Tell and A New Beginning.
The serene scene of cows grazing in a field bright with golden sunlight was in stark contrast to the direct view Molly had of a grieving Alice Stanton. Alice’s hands were pressed to her face, the tears she’d fought to hold back for much of the day spilling down her cheeks and through her fingers.
Alice, a small woman with long dark brown hair streaked with graying highlights that fell to the middle of her back, was known by many in town as usually being upbeat and optimistic in situations others found too overwhelming. Today, though, Alice was the one overwhelmed.
Her cheeks were splotched red from crying and her usual upbeat demeanor had crumbled under the pressure of her family’s financial strain. Her body trembled with each sob and it was all making Molly feel awkward, unsure how to respond to Alice’s tears. But then Molly did what she’d want someone to do for her if she was in the same situation: she pulled Alice into a hug and let Alice cry on her shoulder while stroking Alice’s hair.
The Stanton’s farm had fallen on hard times three years ago and instead of trying to survive another year they had given up, like so many other farmers, filing for bankruptcy and choosing to sell off their animals, equipment and land.
“Oh, Molly,” Alice said as she lifted her face and tried to dry her eyes with an already soaked, crumpled tissue. “I can’t believe this is really happening to us.”
Molly looked across the Stanton’s field at the tractors and farm equipment lined up in rows, people walking around the items, looking at them thoughtfully, studying them, discussing their worth. Behind the farm equipment were rolling hills, fields filled with cows that were also being bid on, and beyond those fields, other farms dotting the landscape, some of those farms on the verge of bankruptcy as well.
“That’s our life for the last 30 years,” Alice said in disbelief, looking out at the large crowd and the auctioneer setting up his booth. She gestured at the scene with one quick movement of her hand that she returned to the cross necklace, clutching it tightly. “There it all is – set up for strangers and neighbors to pick through and pick apart. It’s so surreal.”
Fresh tears spilled down Alice’s face and Molly felt the sting of tears in her own eyes.
“What will you and Jim do?”
Alice shook her head. “I don’t know for sure yet. I picked up a job at the bank and Jim has an interview at the meat packing plant next week. Isn’t that ironic? He couldn’t afford to produce milk and meat himself so now he’ll have to work packing some factory farm’s meat.”
The auctioneer started the bidding on the Stanton’s hay baler, rattling off its attributes and suggested prices in a quick paced tone, almost too fast for Molly to keep up with. The men standing in front of the auctioneer trailer were a mix of mostly men, some well-dressed while others had obviously driven straight from the barn to the auction.
The well-dressed were usually from the corporate farms, having driven two or more hours. Molly looked at them like vultures come to feed on dying carcasses of the small family farms. She knew she shouldn’t think that way. They had their place in the world too, but Molly agreed with her dad and other small farmers who worried about the loss of quality and safety in corporate farming. Then there was the questionable care of the animals and the reduced profits for small farming operations when the bigger farms moved in. Molly didn’t know how it all worked really, but small farms were all she’d ever known and she felt a fierce loyalty to them.
Molly knew from past auctions that many of the farmers from the family farms didn’t want to bid, not because they couldn’t use the equipment, but because they didn’t want to see their neighbors go out of business. And in some cases, the bidding farmers wondered if they might be next and if they should waste money on equipment they’d soon be selling themselves.
“This was a four-generation farm,” Alice said softly, watching the auctioneer. “Jim’s grandfather took it over from his father, who died very young from tuberculosis. This was all Jim ever wanted to do, from the time he learned to walk, pretty much. If this is this hard on me I can’t imagine how devastated he has to feel about all of this. He won’t even talk to me about it. He’s so matter-of-fact about the bills and how we are too far in debt.”
Alice found another tissue in her jeans pocket and wiped the tears from her cheeks.
“I just wish he would talk to me about how he is feeling,” she said, blowing her nose. “I worry about what holding it all in is doing to his health.”
Molly’s chest constricted. She understood Alice’s worry for Jim. Molly had the same worries about her father who rarely spoke about how situations his family had faced or were facing him made him feel.
Alice lowered her voice and leaned closer to Molly. “Did you hear about Larry Jenson?”
Molly shook her head.
“He couldn’t take the pressure,” Alice whispered tearfully. “He felt like he’d let his family down when the farm failed last year. His wife found him two nights ago in the barn, a bottle of pills in his hand, an empty glass that smelled like whiskey next to his body. The coroner told his wife he’ll most likely rule it a suicide but he’s waiting for the toxicology report.”
Molly gasped. “Oh my gosh! His wife and family must be devastated.”
Alice nodded. “She is and I think that’s one thing I’m worried about with Jim. If he won’t talk to me about how all this making him feel, maybe he won’t talk to me if he’s thinking of . . .” Alice shook her head, closing her eyes briefly. “I can’t even bare to think about it.”
Molly laid a hand on her shoulder. “You won’t have to,” she said, hoping she was right. “Just keep an eye on Jim and be there for him. When he’s ready to talk he will. I’m sure he’s just keeping quiet now to make sure he can get what needs to be done done.”
Alice turned her head, wiping the tears from her face. “I’m going to go make sure they have enough hot dogs and snacks for the bidders. If I cry anymore my eyeballs will fall right out.”
Molly watched Alice walk back toward the barn and bit her lower lip, wondering when the day would come when her family auctioned their life away. She turned and watched her dad walking with other farmers, studying equipment, contemplating about quality and price. Jason and Alex stood at the back of the crowd talking to a small group of younger farmers and Molly recognized one of them as Jason’s former classmate Jeremy McCarty. The McCarty’s had been farming their land with a head of 250 dairy cows for three generations, but Jason had said the family was considering selling out and moving to Kansas within the year.
“This is a fine harvester,” the auctioneer said. “Three years old. Great paint job still. Well taken care of. Let’s start the bidding at nineteen. Nineteen thousand. Nineteencanigetnineteen? Nineteennineteennineteen – Nineteen in the back. Can I get twenty-twenty-twenty? Twentytwentytwenty – twenty-one. Twenty two thousand-twenty-twothoussandtwentythreecanigettwentythreeandtwentytwentytwenty -three! Twenty-three!”
The bidding went on like that for the rest of the afternoon while Molly served buyers hot dogs and soda and agreed with other farmers that the day was one of sadness; the end of an era. This was the first auction Molly had been to, but she knew there had been others in recent months and she knew there would be more. The faces of many of the farmers who walked by were etched in worry, eyelids drooping from late nights of crunching numbers.
“Sold off half the herd last month,” one farmer said to another, standing in the doorway of the barn where a makeshift concession stand had been set up. “If we can save some money this year, I’m hoping to bring some more cows back.”
“I saw the most recent reports from the dairy bureau,” the other farmer said. “The numbers don’t look encouraging.”
Both farmers shook their heads.
“This is all I’ve ever done,” the first farmer said. “It was all my dad and his dad ever did. I can’t imagine what I’ll do with myself if I have to finally pack it in.”
His friend laughed, clapped him on the back.
“How about finally retire and take Eloise on that cruise she’s always wanted?”
“I get sea sick, but even if I did go, what will I do with myself after we get back?”
The farmers stood, hands shoved in their overall pockets, silent for a few moments, and looked out over the field full of farm equipment, buyers and curious onlookers weaving around each other.
“Welp, best get back to the barn and milk what’s left of my cows.”
“Yep,” the other farmer nodded, still looking out at the auction. “Need to get back and make sure mine are all in the barn for the night.”
The two men parted ways, heads both down, deep in thought as Molly watched them. She sat on the stool behind the table and felt a strange heaviness in her chest. The idea that these men, so much like her father, could no longer live the lives they had hoped to broke her heart and made her world feel upside down.
She sat down on the stool behind the table, opened a bottle of water and watched the trucks pull in and out of the Stanton’s side yard where a makeshift parking lot had been set up.
She had been considering walking away from farming, seeing what the world was like beyond her parent’s corn fields, but at the same time she dreaded the possibility that in the near future she wouldn’t even have a choice if she wanted to be involved in farming or not.
“Whatchya thinking about?”
Molly startled at the sound of the voice to the right of her. She looked over to see Alex grinning, his black cowboy hat tipped low on his head, a black sleeveless shirt revealing his tanned muscular biceps. She wasn’t sure when he started wearing that hat, but every time she saw him in it, it flipped her stomach upside down.
Alex had come to their farm a city slicker, but he should have been born a country boy as fast as he had adapted to life on the farm.
She shrugged as an answer to his question, then thought for a moment about how to answer.
“Alice was just telling me about Larry Jenson, this local farmer . . .”
Alex cracked open a Pepsi and sat on a stool next to her.
“The one who offed himself? Yeah. Jason was telling me about that.”
Molly’s eyebrows darted up, and Alex knew he’d said something wrong.
“Offed himself? Really? That wasn’t very sensitive, Alex.”
“Oh. Sorry. I mean —”
Molly sighed. “It’s okay. You can’t help being insensitive. You’re a man.”
“Anyhow, it’s just — I mean, Mr. Jenson had to be really down to do that, you know? What if —”
“Molly, your dad would never do that, if that’s what you’re thinking, and neither would Walt. You know that.”
“I don’t know. Do I? If things got bad enough and —”
Alex shook his head. “Not going to happen. No more thinking that way, okay? Your family has a good thing going. They’ve got the farm store, the rain has finally let up, there should be a good crop this year. Everything is going to be okay.”
He looked over at her, reached out and laid his hand against her shoulder. “No more worrying, okay?”
His hand on her skin flustered her for a moment, but she managed to nod as she looked at him.
“Okay. I’ll try.”
She pulled her eyes from his, her heart pounding.
She watched the farmers walking by the open barn door, cars pulling in and out of the field that was serving as a makeshift parking lot.
Alex watched too.
After a few moments of silence, he looked at her again.
“So, if you’re done worrying, I’m heading back to see how much equipment your dad is going to make me haul out of here when he’s done bidding.”
Alex’s grin as he stood to leave not only lifted her heavy mood, it made her feel almost giddy. She leaned forward on the stool, propped her elbow on the table, her chin on her hand and welcomed the distraction of watching him walk away. Now one wore a pair of jeans as well as Alex Stone.
Alex tried to push Molly’s worries from his mind as he walked toward Robert and Jason. He whole heartedly believed that Robert Tanner would never leave his family, in any way, no matter how tough it got, at least not on purpose. Still, Molly’s concerns were contagious.
He had been noticing how tired Robert had been looking lately, but he wasn’t about to mention it to Molly or Jason. Alex had tried to step up more, offering to take on jobs Robert would normally do, hoping it would encourage Robert to slow down. Instead, Robert had replaced the jobs with different jobs, never slowing down, always on full-speed. Alex had acted confident with Molly, but inside he worried like she did that all the pressure of running a large farming business would finally break the man he’d come to think of as a father figure.
“So, when were you going to tell me about the financial trouble the business is in?”
Robert’s back was to his sister but he didn’t have to see her to know that Hannah was standing with her arms folded across her chest, her leg cocked to one side, and a tight scowl pursing her mouth into an angry frown. He inwardly groaned and titled his eyes toward the heavens, silently praying for an interruption.
He and Bert, her husband, had talked last night about telling her about the issue with the loan so he knew this moment was coming. Bert had even called an hour ago to warm him she was on the warpath. Bert had already had his hide chewed and it hadn’t been pretty. Robert knew he was next.
He had hoped she would find Walt first, but Walt told him last night he’d be an hour away today, picking up supplies for the farm store at a partner farm. Walt had a way of avoiding conflicts by making himself hard to find.
Robert cleared his throat before turning away from the tractor he’d been preparing to climb into. It was obvious it was time to face the music with yet another woman in his life.
He turned and saw his youngest sibling standing in the exact way and with the same expression he had pictured in his mind. “Good morning to you too, Hannah.”
“Robert, I can’t even believe that you and Walter and Bert kept this from me. I had every right to know what was going on. I’m a full partner in this business.”
She was doing that thing now where she pointed one finger down at the ground at the end of every sentence and emphasized every other word.
“Hannah, I know. It was wrong. I just – we just —”
“Didn’t want me to know because you thought you could fix it on your own? Because I’m a woman? What?” She placed both her hands on her hips, her nostrils flared.
“You know that’s not why.”
Hannah’s light brown hair, now streaked with blond highlights from exposure to the sun, was pulled back in a tight ponytail, and her brown eyes were flashing with fury.
Robert was a mild-mannered man who often spoke softly and was rarely angered. He remained calm when others weren’t and normally Hannah admired this quality but today she wanted to see some actual emotion from him, to see a response behind his normal calm, closed off demeanor.
“No, Hannah, that wasn’t it at all.”
“You need to be honest with me this time, Robert. Don’t keep hiding things from me.”
With a heavy sigh Robert sat on a square bale of hay near the barn door and leaned forward slightly, arms propped on his knees. “Walt and I wanted to protect you because of how hard Dad’s death was on you. We planned to pay things off at the end of this summer with the corn harvest, but as you know, that’s not going as planned. We were going to talk to you once we had the money to take care of the shortfall. Until then we tried to shield you so you wouldn’t have to face anymore stress. You’ve been the main one caring for Mom, we saw how hard you tried to act like Dad’s death didn’t affect you, but Hannah . . .”
He looked at up at her from where he was sitting, saw her mouth was still pressed into a thin line. “Walt and I know it almost destroyed you. We didn’t want that to happen again. We didn’t want to see you hurt and worried again. We thought we could handle it. We were wrong. I’m sorry.”
Hannah’s shoulders had already started to relax as she listened to her brother and her face was less pinched than before. She sat next to him on the hay bale, not sure whether to yell or cry. The emotions she had been shoving inside for the last year chose for her.
Robert reached over and squeezed her hand as tears rolled down her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Hannah.”
She nodded and accepted the wadded up handkerchief he handed her, blowing her nose into it and wiping her eyes.
“I know you didn’t mean to keep me out of the loop. It’s just — I always feel like I’m the last to know everything. I was the last to know that Daddy was sick. No one wanted to tell me when the doctors said his heart was in worse shape than they thought. And now here we are, possibly losing our livelihood and I’m in the dark again.”
Robert shook his head. “We’re not going to lose the business, Hannah. It’s going to be fine. Walt and I,” he took her hand again. “and you, will go over tomorrow and talk to Bill and we will work out a plan, like we should have in the beginning.”
Hannah nodded, sniffing and blowing her nose again. “Okay.”
She looked at her brother, tears glistening in her eyes. Seeing her in such a tender moment, so vulnerable and emotional, was unnerving to Robert. Hannah was always the strong one, the determined one, the one who seemed to have it all together, even though she was the baby of the family. Even at their dad’s funeral she’d been composed, strong, and had only cried once, briefly, in front of everyone else.
He knew from what Bert had told him, though, that the tears had flowed, hard and fast at home, locked in her room at night or in the bathroom when she thought no one could hear her or see her. Robert didn’t know why his sister had always fought so hard to hide her emotions but he was glad to see a part of that wall breaking down now, even if it did make him uncomfortable.
“We need to talk about Mom,” she said finally, after a few more moments of tears and blowing her nose.
“She’s still pretty down, isn’t she?”
Hannah nodded. “I’m worried about her, Robert. She has little interest in anything anymore. I can’t get her to go to church. She complains all the time.”
Robert knew all of this already. He’d listened to his mom complain about a variety of people and situations in recent months. He’d also listened to her refusals to attend church with him and Annie, instead saying she didn’t feel well and would rather read her Bible at home.
“I’m not ready to lose Mom too.” Hannah choked out the words. “But I think she’s just given up since Daddy died.”
Robert slid his arm around Hannah’s shoulders and pulled her gently against him. “I’ll go talk to her. All we can do right now is love her through this.”
Hannah nodded against his shoulder and blew her nose again.
She looked at the soggy handkerchief crumpled in her hand. “Is the handkerchief you always have shoved in your pocket and blow your nose on all day?”
Robert sighed. “Yes. It is, but I haven’t used it yet today.”
Hannah wiped her eyes with the corner of the handkerchief. “Oh. Thank God. Men are so gross.”
Robert shook his head. Some things never changed.