Boondock Ramblings

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.

Sunday Bookends: Awesome weather, little houses, sheep, and Brits out of place

What’s Been Occurring

The weather was cold here at the beginning of last week but warmed up in perfect timing for our 45-minute drive south to pick up my son’s new glasses. It was perfect timing because after finding a Weis store, which was my excitement for the week, sadly, we found an amazing playground for the kids to play on. For almost two hours my kids played with other kids and not one of them was wearing a mask. Only one parent was wearing a mask and it looked like a spring day from 2019. It was amazing and the best day I’ve had in a very long time.

The kids also had a blast. Our car was full of fresh fruit from Weis, the sun was shining, we had an awesome playground (with a zipline!) to play on, and my son could finally see again.

About the supermarket trip, listen, we live in the middle of nowhere without large supermarkets so this was exciting to me. This was more exciting than finding a Target or Trader Joe’s. Well, not more exciting than a Trader Joe’s. There are no Trader Joes anywhere near us – like even 100 miles near us.

So, don’t judge my sad little life.

The store is like a small version of Wegman’s if you have one of those or Whole Foods. Or if you are in the South, maybe it’s a small version of Food Lion. I don’t know. But they have fresh fruits and produce we can’t get near us.

What I’ve/We’ve Been Reading

I am reading the third book in the Longmire series, Kindness Goes Unpunished, by Craig Johnson right now while also enjoying a lighter book called In Sheep’s Clothing by Pegg Thomas. I’m also reading a few chapters of Anne of Green Gables a week in a hardcover copy I bought many, many years ago. I’m old enough now that I can write things like “many, many years ago” and still be referring to my own life. I’m not sure I’m very happy about that.

Little Miss and I are still reading Little House on the Prairie before bedtime and encountered some harsh language about Native Americans last week that I had to address. I will be posting a blog post about this development later in the week. I’ve already started writing it and asking the question, “Was Laura Ingalls Wilder a racist?”

I’m very sick of the “r” word being thrown around so easily because it takes away from people who actually are, so here is a little spoiler for the upcoming blog post: no, I don’t feel she was and I’m not the only one. I will expound on it more either tomorrow or Tuesday, depending on when I get time to sit down and write it.

The Boy and I are continuing to read To Kill A Mockingbird, a few chapters a week for me, two for him, but I’ve told him he needs to pick up the pace so we can finish it before our school year is over.

What I’m Watching

This past week I watched a movie called Main Street, starring Colin Firth and Orlando Bloom. I did not enjoy the movie for a variety of reasons but the biggest reason being that the movie featured two Brits speaking in Southern accents. I mean, come on. The director seriously couldn’t find any actors from the South to play the parts? Hmmm. Okay. It isn’t that Colin and Orlando couldn’t pull off their accents. They certainly could, but hearing anything but a charming British accent come out of Colin Firth was unnerving. Orlando was so natural in the role, I really didn’t mind hearing him speaking in an American accent. Plus, I’ve never been a huge Orlando Bloom fan. He’s okay, but he’s no Colin, in other words.

My other issue with the movie is that I simply didn’t understand the plot. It was boring beyond belief and none of the stories really resolved themselves in the end. It was fairly clean, however.

The last couple of weeks have been somewhat stressful here for a variety of reasons so I watched a lot of comfort TV the rest of the week, including The Andy Griffith Show and Lovejoy.

What I’m Listening To

I am listening to a few podcasts these days including one by Chip Ingraham and another called Unashamed by the men from Duck Dynasty.

I have been staying away from the political podcasts and politics or news in general, with only brief looks at news sites during the week. My nerves are shot. I can’t take it anymore.

I’ve also been listening to this song because it’s been stuck in my head. I like this The Voice UK contestant’s version because I’ve never heard the original. Steve McCrorie won in 2015 and he is back to his original career as a firefighter now, but I’d rather listen to him than most artists who are out on the radio today. He does release some independent music that you can find on Apple Music. He’s a Scottish lad so maybe that’s why I like him so much. I have a thing for Scottish men, probably because my family’s ancestory is Scottish.



So there was my week last week, how about you? What are you doing, watching, reading, and listening to? Let me know in the comments.

Fiction Friday: The Farmers’ Sons Chapter 5

To catch up with the rest of this story (a work in progress presented in serial form), click HERE. Let me know in the comments what you think and what direction you think the story should take, or if there are certain characters you would like to hear more from.

If you would like to read the story where Jason and Ellie were first mentioned, you can purchase a copy of The Farmer’s Daughter on Amazon. You can also find an excerpt of it HERE.


They were the perfect couple.

At least that’s how everyone at church saw them. Ellie and Jason had always sat together during the service, led Bible studies together, and even volunteered for the same church events.

Their break-up had sent a ripple of shock through the congregation, though most were tactful enough not to say anything to Jason or Ellie about it.

Most anyhow.

“Ellie Lambert, what’s the story with you and Jason Tanner? Have you called it quits or what?”

76-year-old Sandy Murphy had lost her tact years ago. She pursed her lips, tilted her head back, and looked down her nose at Ellie, waiting for her answer.

Ellie informed her she and Jason were taking a break and suggested Sandy pray for the situation, if she felt led to.

Sandy scowled for a few moments, her eyebrows knit together, then offered a quick, mischievous smile. “Which direction should I pray for things to go?”

Ellie laughed. “As Jan Karon suggests in her Mitford books, pray the prayer that never fails: ‘God’s will be done’.”

Sandy had winked, squeezing Ellie’s hand. “That sounds like a plan, but I must admit I’m praying God’s will is for you two to work things out.”

Sitting now with her parents in a middle pew of the church, Ellie tried her best to ignore the strange sense of loss stirring in her chest as she starred at the back of Jason’s head. He was sitting next to his parents and sister, four pews in front of her. What was God’s will for her and Jason? She wished she knew because right now she didn’t feel led in any direction, even after praying the “never-fail” prayer.

She and Jason had always sat next to each other before the break-up, his arm around her shoulder, rubbing his hand along her arm absentmindedly as he listened to the pastor, or her fingers intertwined with his, her thumb tracing circles along the top of his hand.

Now she sat alone with her parents and he sat alone with his, if he ever showed up at all. In fact, this was the first time he’d shown up since their shouting match in the parking lot three weeks ago.

Ellie’s eyes shifted from Jason to Molly. Her curls were hanging long down her back, unusual for her during the week when she usually kept it in a messy bun or a ponytail while working the barn or at the country store. The only time Ellie actually saw it in all its reddish brown glory was on Sunday. Ellie had always thought Molly was beautiful, but knew Molly didn’t feel the same about herself.

She also knew Molly had been oblivious to the way Alex Stone had been watching her for months when she wasn’t looking. Ellie had noticed Alex’s gaze more than once, but had never said anything to Molly. She hadn’t wanted to encourage a relationship between two people who were what the Bible called “unequally yoked.” That could create a lot of conflict in the future.

But now Molly and Alex were romantically linked. Ellie didn’t believe that was a good thing. Molly was a Christian, and based on what Ellie knew about Alex, she was sure he wasn’t. There was no future in that type of relationship, which was why Ellie had always been glad that she and Jason were on the same page when it came to their faith. But now . . . well, she wasn’t sure what page she and Jason were on, but it definitely wasn’t the same one.

Her gaze drifted across the rest of the church, across the rows of chairs and familiar faces as the congregation stood for the singing.

Pastor Joe’s wife, Emily was sitting in her normal spot in the front row of chairs. She’d styled her honey blonde hair in curls around her face this morning. That was different. She usually kept her hair pulled back with a headband, a style that Ellie thought made her look twice her age, which wasn’t a good thing since Emily was only a couple years older than Ellie.

Behind Emily were Ginny and Stanley Jefferies. Their daughter Maddie and son-in-law Liam were sitting next to them, visiting from Washington, D.C. where Liam worked as a press secretary for his brother, a United States senator. Next to Maddie was Ginny’s youngest daughter, Olivia, who must have been home visiting from college. Ginny’s son Clint lived out of state with his wife Tiffany and their four children. Or was it five now? Ellie had lost count.

Liz Cramner, Tiffany’s younger sister and Molly’s best friend, was a row over from the Jefferies family, yawning as she sang. Ellie had always thought it was interesting Liz attended Grace Community since her parents were leaders at Encounter Church, the small town’s equivalent of a mega-church. Liz’s dress stretched tight against her stomach, swollen from eight and a half months of pregnancy.

Ellie had mentally scolded herself more than once in the last several months about her judgmental thoughts toward Liz, knowing her jealousy was tainting her view of Liz’s situation. Here was Liz, single and recently out of an abusive relationship, but even she was going to be a mother before Ellie. It was ridiculous to think that way, of course; to believe that a person had to act a certain way for God to reward them and that those who made mistakes would, or should, be punished. Still, the thoughts crept in, and she had to constantly ask God to forgive her for her warped thinking.

As the singing ended and she sat back down, her gaze slid back toward the front of the church and she glimpsed Walt Tanner, his wife Marcia, and sitting next to Marcia, Brad.

She looked away quickly as Brad glanced at her, winked, and smiled. Embarrassment and shame rushed through her, even though she had nothing to be ashamed about.

It wasn’t a lie. You just never told Jason about it. What he kept from you was much worse.

“Good morning! How are we all doing this morning?”

At the sound of Pastor Joe’s voice, she realized she had done everything that morning except pay attention to the actual reason she’d come to church.

She pulled a journal and pen from her purse. If she took notes during the sermon, it would keep her more focused. That was her hope anyhow.

“Today we will be reading from Psalms 103:12.” Pastor Joe paused to wait for the congregation to find their place in their Bibles. “Let us read together. ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.’”

Ellie’s pen glided over the page, looping patterns of leaves and vines and roses around the verse. The pastor’s voice faded into the background as her mind danced over another topic she had never discussed with Jason, another secret she’d kept from him.

Her mind shifted to that day in the doctor’s office all those years ago. She’d been 18, scared, hands cold, hoping that clenching and unclenching her fingers around the sweater she’d laid across her lap would help bring feeling and warmth back, but it hadn’t.

Ellie’s mother had reached over and taken her hand as the doctor spoke. When he finished, Ellie’s lower lip quivered under the weight of reality.

“Does this mean —”

“We really don’t know,” the doctor had said. “If your condition worsens, then, yes, it could be harder for you than other women.”

Glancing at her journal, her eyes traveled over the doodles scribbled around the only words she’d transcribed from the sermon.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

She sighed, leaning on her hand. She was glad that God knew the plans He had for her, but wishing He’d share them with her.

***

After church she was grateful she’d decided to keep the tradition of spending Sunday afternoons at her parents, even though she had moved out. It was better than sitting alone in her apartment, replaying her conversations with Jason over and over in her head. Driving the 20 minutes to her parent’s, though, she thought about the day she’d first seen Jason at the farm store after he graduated home from college.

She hadn’t been able to take her eyes off of him.

Standing across the store, close to the new display of spring flowers, he was talking to his Uncle Walt, one hand on his hip as he gestured with the other.

Ellie was mesmerized.

Has he been working out? Even more than before he left for college?

She shouldn’t be looking at him, right? Was she lusting? They’d just talked about this at Bible study. Taking a deep breath, she’d closed her eyes briefly, then opened them again to take in the full view of him.

She wasn’t lusting. She was simply — she pulled her lower lip between her front teeth, then released it again, her eyes drifting over his muscular upper arms — admiring God’s handiwork. Right? She drew in a sharp breath, wishing she had a fan to cool off the heat rising up from the center of her chest.

She’d seen Jason over Christmas break a few months before, but his muscles seemed even larger, even more well-toned now. Overly muscular men had never interested her so she was glad Jason had never been, and still wasn’t, overly muscular. He was simply the right amount of muscular.

Light brown whiskers dotted his jawline. The unshaven look coupled with the faded blue jeans and a nicely fitting gray T-shirt with the words The Cows Aren’t Going to Milk Themselves emblazoned in red across it, gave him a rugged, should-be-on-the-front-of-magazine vibe. Like a magazine called Hot Farmers or Steamy Country Men or Real Men For the Country Girl in You. If there were such magazines. That last one sounded like the title of a book she would be willing to write it, making Jason and herself the main characters. She couldn’t believe she was even thinking this way. She’d never say any of it out loud, especially around any of the women she met with for Bible study.

It was like she was in high school again, wishing he’d look her way, flash her one of his drop-dead gorgeous smiles, maybe even a wink, anything to let her know he knew she was alive.

A customer had stepped to the counter, moving into her line of sight, blocking her view of him temporarily. Those four minutes felt like a lifetime and when Mrs. Jenkins stepped away from the counter, Jason was gone. Disappointment settled like a hard rock in the center of Ellie’s chest. It really was like high school again.

“Hey.”

She’d gasped and turned, slamming into solid muscle and soft flesh. He must have stepped into the back office area. Probably to talk to his aunt Hannah, the store’s manager.

“Oh gosh, sorry,” she’d mumbled. His chest was solid under her hands, as he caught her under her elbows to keep her from losing her balance. That brief touch lit a fire of memories of tender moments together. The memories had overwhelmed her then and they overwhelmed her now.

“Whoa. You okay?” He had smiled at her. The smile she had been waiting to see.

She stepped away from him quickly, her face flushing with warmth. “Yes. Of course, I’m fine.”

He’d leaned one side against the doorframe, crossed his arms across his broad chest. “Didn’t mean to startle you,but didn’t want to miss the chance to say ‘hello’ either.”

Warmth spread from her chest to the top of her head.

Good grief. This was ridiculous. She’d dated Jason from her senior year of high school up until two years ago. It wasn’t like he was someone she didn’t know. She knew him. Very well. And she wanted to know him very well again.

They’d started chatting until another customer came and then he’d left, saying he’d stop by again the next day.

He did stop by the next day.

And the day after that, until he finally asked if she’d like to go to the movies.

She’d agreed and their relationship was on again, almost as if they hadn’t taken that two-year break starting at the beginning of his junior year of college.

The knock against her car window startled her from her thoughts, yanking her back into the present. How long had her dad been standing there? She rolled the window down, lightheaded, still emotionally caught in the past she’d been remembering.

“You okay, kid?”

She laughed softly, hoping her face wasn’t giving away the emotions the memory had brought back to her. “Yeah, sorry. I guess I zoned out a bit while I was waiting for you guys.”

Tom Lambert held the door open for his daughter, smiling. “You can go right into the house, you know. We still don’t lock the doors and you’re still a part of the family.

Ellie accepted her father’s embrace as she exited the car. She closed her eyes, and breathed in the smells of the farm; freshly milled corn in the silo, flowers blooming, her father’s old spice mixed in. It was strange not living here anymore, but somehow it made her appreciate it all even more.

Her mom slid out of the passenger side of the dark blue sedan and gave her a quick, one arm hug, her Bible cradled in her other arm. “Hey there, hon’. So glad you came for lunch today.”

 Dust billowed up around a truck driving down the road in front of the house, and Ellie watched as it turned into the driveway, parking behind her dad’s old blue Ford.

She tipped her head to one side, squinting against the glare of the sun, curious about who was behind the wheel. When she spotted the driver between the reflections of the trees and the barn on the windshield, her heart sank.

Oh. Perfect. Just perfect. Could this day get any worse?

“Good afternoon, Lambert family.” The driver was speaking to the family through the rolled-downed window with his naturally flirtatious charm. “Ellie. Hello. How are you?”

She answered curtly, eyeing him suspiciously. “Good.”

“Brad.” Her dad stepped into the sunlight and reached out, taking Brad Tanner’s hand as he slid out of his truck. “What brings you by today?”

Brad was still wearing what he’d worn to church — clean brown work boots, a pair of new-looking dark blue jeans, and a black t-shirt tucked in, fitting snug over his chest and arms, which weren’t as muscular as Jason’s, but close. His light brown hair was cut short, his jawline smooth shaven. The familiar Tanner dimple appeared when he smiled at her.

Brad jerked his head toward his truck, turning his attention to Tom. “I’ve been carrying around that engine part we were talking about and when I saw you all outside, it reminded me. I can unload it in the barn if you like.”

Tom nodded. “Thanks, Brad appreciate it. The small shed there would be a better place.” The men walked to the side of the truck.

“How is it going?” Tom asked. “Back for a visit?”

Brad nodded, dropping the tailgate. “It’s going good. I’m back to stay.”

Ellie raised an eyebrow, the words slipping out before she realized it. “Discovered city life wasn’t for you, huh?”

Brad held his hands out to his side, a smirk tugging at his mouth. “The city couldn’t handle all this beauty.”

Ellie groaned inwardly. Yeah. He’s definitely a Tanner.

She had already turned toward the house, so she knew Brad and her dad couldn’t see her when she rolled her eyes.

Ellie’s mother followed her daughter toward the front porch, paused and turned back to face the men. “You’re probably headed home for lunch, Brad, but you’re welcome to join us when you’re done if you like. I’ve got plenty of roast and vegetables.”

“I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

Ellie scoffed softly. She was glad she was too far away for anyone to hear her.

Rena Lambert waved her hand dismissively. “No intrusion at all. We’d love to have you. I’m sure Ellie would love to catch up too.”

Standing on the front porch, Ellie scowled at the front door, her back still facing her parents and Brad.

She opened the front door, turned, and forced a smile. “Sure, that would be nice.”

The scowl returned when she walked into the house. Jason’s cousin, back in Spencer Valley for good.

“Wonderful.” She tossed her purse and sweater onto the couch and blew out a frustrated breath. “Just what I need. More complications.”

During dinner Ellie shot her mother looks, hoping she’d look up and catch a drift of how uncomfortable she was with Brad being there.

Unfortunately, Rena was clueless. She smiled at Brad like he was the prodigal son. In some ways, at least for the Tanner family, he was.

“So, Brad, what did you do during your time away?”

His smile was clearly captivating, like Jason’s, but it didn’t send a giddy ripple through Ellie like Jason’s. Still, she couldn’t help looking at him as he conversed with her parents, admiring the square jawline, the small, attractive lines at the corners of his eyes when he laughed.

“I had a job at a warehouse along the docks in the city.” Rena spooned more potatoes on his plate as he spoke, and Ellie wondered if she should remind her mother that he wasn’t a starving refugee. “We were in charge of sorting packages from overseas.”

Rena kept asking questions, oblivious to the evil eye Ellie was giving her. “Well, that sounds interesting. What made you decide to move back?”

Brad took a sip of his ice water. “Honestly, I just missed farm life. I missed the open air, the slower pace, the quiet nights.”

Ellie smirked. “And your family?”

Brad’s eyes shifted to hers, an amused grin tilted one side of his mouth up. “My family, yes. Them too.” He kept his eyes focused on hers as he spoke, which left her time to notice, once again, how his eyes were almost the same shade as Jason’s. “And other people back here in our little county.”

She pulled her gaze quickly from his, cheeks flushing warm.

“You came back at a rough time for us farmers, but a good time to help out your family,” Tom said, leaning back in his chair. “It’s been good to see Robert back in church. It’s good to see him anywhere, really. That accident could have easily killed him.”

Brad nodded, his previously joking manner fading. “Yes, it really is a miracle.  When I heard the news, I didn’t think I’d ever see him again. That weighed in on my decision to come home too, thinking about how much I’ve missed out on with my family.”

A cow mooed out in the pasture. Tom stretched his arms up over his head and yawned. “There’s Marigold reminding me it’s almost milking time.”

Brad propped his arms on top of the table and leaned forward. “You milking all by yourself now?” He jerked his head toward Ellie. “Now that your help has moved away?”

Tom winked at his daughter. “I hired some help. Young Patrick Mooney comes over twice a day and Ellie helps when her job and Bible studies aren’t filling her time” He stretched his arms over the back of the chair as Rena cleared the plates from the table. “Ellie is missed, but she couldn’t be expected to live here forever. Of course, I worry about her in the big ole’ city of Spencer.”

Brad snorted a laugh. “Yeah, with all the hardened criminals roaming the streets there, loitering, littering and jaywalking.”

Rena returned from the kitchen with a pie that she set in the middle of the table. “I don’t know. Matt McGee says there is more crime in this little county than a lot of us realize.”

Brad tipped his head in agreement. “That’s true, of course. How is Matt anyhow? I haven’t seen him in years.”

Ellie followed her mom to the kitchen to retrieve the plates. The faster they ate dessert, the faster she could say ‘goodbye’ to Brad.

“He was accepted to the state police academy,” Rena called from the kitchen. She handed a stack of pie plates to Ellie. “He will be heading there in a few months.”

Brad looked impressed. “Wow. He’s moving up in the world. Good for him. I always thought he was destined for somewhere bigger than the Spencer Valley Police Department.”

Another twenty minutes of chit-chat dragged on, with Ellie saying very little, wishing this “catching up session” would end already.

When Brad finally announced he needed to help back and help his dad with milking, she was grateful and even volunteered to walk him to his truck.

“That was nice of your mom.” He paused on the front porch, leaned back against the porch railing, and folded his arms across his chest. Apparently, he didn’t understand he’d already overstayed his welcome. “She’s still one of the best cooks around.”

Ellie nodded, staring past him at his truck. “Yep. Well, you don’t want to keep your dad waiting.”

He laughed softly. “Are you trying to get rid of me, Ellie Lambert?”

“No, I just —”

“Afraid I’ll ask what’s going on with you and Jason?”

Her jaw tightened, and she hugged her arms across her chest, as if a cold chill had suddenly hit her instead of a rush of aggravation. “I don’t care if you ask or not. I’m not going to tell you.”

She hated the way he was grinning. “Okay. Okay.” He pressed his palms against the railing, still leaning against it, crossing one leg over another. “You know, I still remember those dates we had all those years ago with a hefty amount of fondness.”

His attempt at a cute Southern accent did nothing to calm the anger bubbling up inside her. “Do you? So fondly you had to talk to Jason about them?”

He shrugged, still smiling, clearly enjoying the bitterness in her tone. “Hey, is it my fault you never told him? How was I supposed to know you two keep secrets from each other?”

 She scoffed and shook her head.

Wriggling her fingers at him, she worked to keep her tone calm and even. “Bye-bye, Brad. Tell your parents I said hello.”

She pivoted to go back into the house, pausing when she felt his hand on her wrist.

“Hey.” His tone softened. Her back was to him, and she stepped closer. His breath was warm on the back of her neck.“I’m sorry. I was just teasing, okay? Don’t be mad at me. I didn’t know Jason didn’t know. We were just chatting about some of our favorite times over the years and I joked with him about the time you and I went out. I figured he knew already, so he’d think it was funny.”

She yanked her wrist out of his grip, then immediately felt guilty for her reaction. She relaxed her shoulders, straightened them, and let out the breath she’d been holding. “It’s fine. Really. I know you didn’t mean to start anything.”

Brad slid his hands into his jean pockets. “I definitely didn’t mean to, but I could tell by the look on Jason’s face I did. He said he had a delivery to make and left. I hope that’s not what caused the issues between you two.”

Ellie shook her head. “There are other issues, but I’m not going to talk about them with you.”

Brad rolled his tongue along the inside of his cheek and nodded, smiling. “Okay. I understand. I hope you two can work things out.” He turned toward the steps, then paused, and turned back toward her. “If that’s what you want, I mean.”

He kept his gaze focused on hers, his eyes narrowed slightly, a small smile playing across his lips.

Ellie rolled her eyes, turned her back on him, and opened the door. “Have a good day, Brad.”

Closing the door behind her, she leaned against it and blew out a breath. Were all the younger males in the Tanner family trying to drive her insane? Because if they were, they were definitely succeeding.

Bi-polar weather and other goings ons

The weather has been mainly nice, yet cold, for the last two weeks here. Then the snow came yesterday. Luckily it disappeared almost as soon as it arrived. I am not a fan of spring snow. This is the second year we’ve experienced it so late in the year. Last year we had been in our new house a couple of weeks when snow blanketed the trees and bushes that had been trying to bloom. (We celebrated a full year of living here last week). I did not take any photos of the snow that fell. I’m completely over snow. It did look rather pretty on the blooming forsenthye bush, however.

We’ve been enjoying playing outside in the backyard on the warmer days, even if there is a chilly breeze.

We are looking forward to warmer weather, though not too warm because we all enjoy cuddling under the covers at night with a good book or a good show.

I’m not a fan of hot weather but weather where we don’t have to wear a coat is nice. Once that weather hits, I hope to take the kids to a local state park to explore the lake and hiking trails.

In between enjoying some nice weather we have been continuing our homeschooling lessons. I have finally learned to chill out if my plans for the day get changed. If we have to push activities off for a day or two because we get interrupted by sunshine or a visitor or whatever, I don’t get all balled up inside with anxiety like I used to. We will get done what we need to get done one way or another.

I also remind myself that learning isn’t something we do only when the school books are open. Every day offers an opportunity to learn, even if it isn’t “traditional” or organized.

We hope to be finished with our homeschooling year the last week in May.

In addition to homeschooling, Little Miss and I are enjoying going out into the yard each day and discovering new trees or flowers that are blooming.

I’m sure we will have plenty more to admire this upcoming week and the weeks after that.

And I’m sure Little Miss will have more time to make her “yard salads.”

Socially Thinking: Which fear will you worship today?

Which fear will you worship today?

What will they tell you to fear and you will listen and obey?

Climate fear.

COVID fear.

COVID panic porn, I’ve heard it called.

How many can’t function each day without knowing how many “they” say have died?

How many start their conversations with, “I see cases are up?” while rubbing their arms as if it will rub their fear to live away?

How many worship a vaccine, a politician, a mask, a so-called social movement, instead of the God who made them?

How many who call themselves “Christians” bow to the shrines of tyranny, the kings of control, the queens of terror while their Bibles gather dust. They reach for the remote before they reach for The Word. Day after day.

“Can I go out today?” They ask. “What do they say? Is it safe?”

“The sun can give me cancer. I should stay inside.”

“The air can give me a virus the news told me is the deadliest virus we’ve ever seen.”

“Seeing people could pass it on, to me, to the world.”

Best to stay inside. Doors locked. Lights off. Life on hold for as long as they say.

Only come out to present the arm for the chemical juice they say will keep you alive until you die of something else anyhow. And next year, they’ll give it to you again and again and again, pumping who knows what into your veins, your chest, your heart, your uterus and out again. Always circulating within you what they told you was safe.

Ah, the great and all powerful “they.”

Always promising life without guaranteeing safety from death.

All the while your brain is shriveling in your skull because you make it wait to be told what to do, not by your own free will, but by the will of others.

I think maybe we all need this reminder right now – this week – in the midst of some very crazy things unfolding.

Boondock Ramblings

Many of us are running to our phones or computers every morning, looking for some good news.

“God, just let there be some good news out there right now,” I find myself saying.

Yes, I’m asking God to make the national news media give me good news.

How backward is that? Very it turns out.

One thing I have learned is that I can not receive the peace of God if I am filling my mind and my thoughts with other voices.

I can’t run to the national media, looking for their reassurance and their peace because they don’t have it for me. They don’t want me to have it. Their business thrives on turmoil and fear. Tragedy and anger and fear and scandal sells. Period. It’s sad, but it’s true.

Don’t look to entertainers, to television personalities or news channels or even pastors to bring you comfort or to…

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Welcome to my random thoughts. Which are often weird and, well, random.

***

My daughter and I watched the Spirit movie, which is about a wild horse. Some of her comments during it included: “First, that’s not how gravity works,” when the horse jumped a gap the equivalency of the Grand Canyon.

Then, when a horse who had been badly injured earlier in the movie shows up alive: “Oh, so she’s still alive. Great. So, it’s going to be one of those movies, I guess.”

She definitely gets this from me because I’m always questioning the realism of movies and books, even if I enjoy the movie or book

***

Our pets have some interesting quirks. I think I’ve mentioned before that our older cat, Pixel, likes to have the water turned on for her in the bathroom sink. She started doing this at our old house and when we moved here, one of the first things I did is turn the water in the bathroom sink on for her to make her feel more at home. Every night when I go to bed she jumps up on the sink and waits for me to turn it on. However, it has to be turned on at just the right force, which is hardly any at all, or she will sit back and give me that “narrowed-eyed bored” look that cats give off when they are annoyed, tired, bored, angry and happy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood there tapping the faucet handle to get just the right amount of water velocity to please this cat.

We’ve only been in this house a year (a year this next week, actually), but already our dog has seasonal traditions, including chasing the bunnies in our backyard during the spring when we let her out on her lead. I don’t even know how she knows they are out there but she will start pacing and whining in the living room and by the time I get her to the back door she’s all tensed up like a racehorse before they’re let out of the shoot. She sticks her nose against the bottom of the door while I hook up her lead and zooms out across the yard as soon as I let her go to catch the offending creatures bouncing in the yard. Sadly, her lead only goes so far, so she never catches them. I let her off one time to give her a chance but she disappeared somewhere over the wood-covered hill behind our house and it took us 10 minutes to get her to come back. That’s not so bad if it’s during the day, but less fun when it is pitch black out and she’s pitch black as well. I’m never sure what else she will encounter out there in the woods (we haven’t seen the area bear yet this year, but I’m sure she’ll be back sooner rather than later.)



***

You know what bothers me about headlines that say a political official “went off script”? That they’re admitting to you that there is a “script” and you are part of their “story.”

***

My family uses a lot of mustard. When I buy mustard, I buy four or five a time and keep them in the pantry because I know some crisis shall befall my children if they reach into the fridge to make their bologna sandwiches and there is no mustard to put on it. I still don’t understand how they eat bologna or mustard. I’ve never been a fan of either.



***

My husband and I are still trying to figure out what town council decided it would be wise to hire a group of dogs and a pre-pubescent boy to run the emergency department for their town. No, this isn’t something ripped from the headlines. Our daughter is back on a Paw Patrol kick. We also can’t figure out why they only have about six people in town yet need all that gear and technology. It has to be costing them a fortune. Not to mention those six people account for almost all the emergencies in town. Maybe it would just be wiser to lock those people up in a room to keep themselves from getting stranded in the ocean, falling into wells, or setting buildings on fire.

I had similar issues back in the day about Max and Ruby. My son loved that show but I could never figure out where Max and Ruby’s parents were and why these children, clearly under the age of 10, were living alone in a house while their grandmother occasionally checked in on them. Once upon a time I wrote an entire blog post about how frustrated the plot line of that cartoon (and book series) made me, but thankfully that blog is long gone and you won’t be subjected to that clear cry for help from a stay-at-home mom who desperately needed (needs) a life.

***

My son wanted a medieval helmet so we let him get one. I don’t know why, but wearing it downtown to pick up a pizza with his friend made him very happy, so there we go.

My family has been trying to help me make my current work in progress more exciting.

***

Stressed this week? Push play on this and take a deep breath.

Those are my random thoughts for the week. How about yours? Let me know in the comments.

Welcome to Sunday Bookends where I ramble about What I’m Reading, watching, writing, listening to and doing.

What I’m Reading

Little Miss and I have finished quite a few Marguerite Henry books now including Misty of Chincoteague, Stormy: Misty’s Foal, Sea Star, King of the Wind, and this week we will finish Black Gold.

We abandoned the White Stallion of Lipizza because it was fairly slow. We may go back to it later, but this week I hope to start reading either Little House on the Prairie or Anne of Green Gables. I am actually reading a hard copy of Anne of Green Gables that I picked up years ago from Barnes and Noble. The old-fashioned looking cover and style of the book attracted me, but I put it on a bookshelf for probably 15 years before I ever actually opened it last week. I always loved the movie with Megan Fallows but I don’t think I ever actually finished the book, so I plan to read a few chapters a week and savor it.

The Boy and I are reading To Kill A Mockingbird during the week and unlike the other books we read this year, this one hasn’t felt like I’m being forced to read it. I’m actually enjoying this book and look forward to reading it after my daughter goes to sleep each night. I enjoyed the other books we read, but sometimes I had to force myself to sit down and get through the assigned chapters. Actually, once I got into Silas Marner, I looked forward to finding out what happened. For Lord of the Flies, I knew nothing good was going to happen, so I actually dreaded continuing on.

Lord of the Flies was not part of any of the set curriculum we had this year. I chose it on my own because I felt it was an important book for him to read and he might enjoy a book about young boys who go wild on a deserted island. Instead, we both ended up somewhat depressed after reading it and longed for something slightly less depressing. Which is why I chose To Kill A Mockingbird. Why, yes, that is sarcasm. Why do you ask? Really, though, To Kill A Mockingbird, even with its eventual tough subject is a little more cheerful at times than Lord of the Flies.

I know many people say To Kill A Mockingbird should be banned because it is “racist” since it uses the “n-word” more than once, but I am smart enough to recognize that Lee is telling this story from the point of a child who was taught to use the n-word by the culture she was in. Lee isn’t saying the word should be used, or that it is right. We are using the book as a learning opportunity and others should do the same.

This week I might delve into a couple lighter Christian fiction book as well. I just finished a Christian novella for an author. I enjoyed it but it ended much too soon. Now I know why my novella is my least popular book. Well, it could be the least popular because it isn’t good, but I also wonder if it is because it is so short. For the book I was reading, I was just getting into the characters and the book and then it ended rather abruptly. My first book did the same, however, so I can’t say much.

In between all the fiction I am also reading Beyond Order 12 More Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson.

What I’m Watching

We have been watching a lot of Everybody Loves Raymond on Peacock. We’ve had some bad news in or around our family lately, or simply in the news, so I have needed comedy.

I watched an independent film this week on Amazon called The Ultimate Life. There is another movie called The Ultimate Legacy and they both have similar themes. The Ultimate Life is about a billionaire who learns he needs to rearrange his priorities in life after he reads his grandfather’s journal. The Ultimate Legacy stars the same actor, Logan Bartholomew, but he is a rich young man who can’t get his inheritance until he completes several steps she sets up in her will. Both movies are by the same studio and are listed under faith and spirituality. They are clean. They are also both fairly well written and acted.

I also watched a Miss Marple episode from the 2005 series and did not enjoy it. I’m too much of a fan of Joan Hickson from the 1980s series. The lady in this series was way too creepy. She looked like she was zoning out or something. And some of what she said made her sound like a serial killer herself.

What I’m Listening To

When I do have time to listen to music, I have been listening to a lot of worship music lately.

I also listened to Jeannie Robertson when going to bed a couple times this past week, but I’ve been falling asleep fairly fast so I don’t catch a lot of it. If you aren’t familiar with Jeannie, she’s a hilarious older lady from North Carolina who talks about a variety of subjects. I will leave a YouTube clip here for you so you can have a sample of her style of comedy (which is light, laid back, and is drawn from her everyday life.

What I’m Writing

I did not write other blog posts this past week, mainly because I felt depressed about the state of the world and had no real ideas on how to share anything without sounding depressed. I have drafted a Randomly Thinking post for this week and I’m sure I will come up with other topics to blog on this upcoming week as the weather is set to be as warm and nice as last week.

I have been working on The Farmers’ Sons and shared a chapter from that on Friday. I am not sure I will stick with that title for the final book. If any of my readers have an idea for a book title, let me know. I will be sure to mention you in my acknowledgements. *wink*

What’s Been Occurring

My son picked up a medieval helmet last week. He was absolutely thrilled when it arrived and walked downtown with his friend to pick up a pizza. Other people enjoyed seeing at as well, including a man who slowed his car down, pointed at my son and yelled, “Awesome mask!”

My husband said he thinks people just need to be cheered up these days and see something funny and light because he witnessed similar responses from people on Saturday when he and my son went to see a movie (their first in over a year) at a small theater near us and my son wore the helmet inside. My son said a little boy watched him either in horror or awe as he shoved the straw of his drink through one of the holes in the helmet to drink while he waited for the movie to start.

One man stopped him in the Aldi’s parking lot and asked to take a photo with him.

The Boy has always loved dressing up and going out in public. I’m surprised he still enjoys it, since he’s become a bit of a recluse as a teenager. At the start of all this virus craziness, he purchased a Plague Doctor Mask and went into stores wearing it instead of a regular face mask.

As a little boy, he loved to dress up as Ninjas or superheroes and go with me to dentist appointments or the store. When he was about 3-years-old, I took him to the local supermarket dressed as Ironman. He got away from me at one point, racing down an aisle. I grabbed what I needed to off a shelf and turned the corner, expecting him to be in the next aisle. He wasn’t. I started to panic and began looking up and down the aisles. I was in the bread section when a voice came over the loudspeaker.

“We have a young Ironman at the front of the store if anyone is missing him.”

Oh boy.

I headed up to the front and was informed they had tried to get him to tell them his name, but he’d only yelled out “repulser blast!” held his hand out and pretended to blast them with the toy blasters on his hands.

The staff seemed mainly amused by the interaction. One seemed a little annoyed, but he apparently had no sense of humor.

We finally tried to curb his costume wearing when he started wearing a Deadpool mask, without really understanding who Deadpool was, other than he was “cool” (Deadpool was way too rated R for him then and still is now, both in the comics and the movies), and yelling at people who thought he was Spiderman.

“I’m not Spiderman! I’m Deadpool!” he screamed at an elderly lady one time.

Yikes.

The Boy cringes now that he was ever so rude, but he was about 6-years-old. We had a good talk about it and he never did it more than a couple of times.

Little Miss isn’t as thrilled with dressing up in public.

She and I were able to get to the playground a couple of times this past week thanks to the warmer temperatures.

I would like to take her to a larger playground, but she is quite happy with the very tiny one in our little town, so we drive down the hill and push her on the tire swing and swings for a while and come home. Works for me.

Thanks to the nice weather we were also able to have Easter at our house with my parents (steaks on the grill instead of a our traditonal Easter ham) and held an Easter egg hunt for the kids in the backyard.

So that’s my week in review. How was your week? What are you reading, watching, listening to, or doing? Let me know in the comments.

Fiction Friday: The Farmers’ Sons Chapter 4

Welcome to Chapter 4 of The Farmers’ Sons.

As always this is a work in progress so this chapter will probably change in content and definitely with typos before a future publication as an ebook.

To catch up on the story click HERE.

***

Spencer was a small town, quieter than a city, but still nosier than a small farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. Instead of drifting off to the sound of crickets and peepers, the squeal of tires, revving of diesel engines, laughter from people leaving the bar down the street, and the occasional whoop of a teenager pulling a late night wheelie for his friends bombarded Ellie’s ears. She’d purchased a white noise machine after a sleepless first week. The synthetic sound of running water had finally helped her drift off and stay asleep.

Tonight, though, she’d scrolled through all the sounds her machine offered and nothing was working.

Chirping birds, jungle sounds, a train bumping on the tracks, the whir of a fan, the hum of an air conditioner.

None of them could drown out her racing thoughts, her memories of the night Jason had not-actually proposed. She still couldn’t believe she’d been so stupid not to notice he’d never actually said the words. It had taken a conversation with Judi a week later to make her question if he really had intended to propose that night or not.

She’d been organizing her bookshelf in her room at the farm when the buzz of the cellphone startled her. As she remembered the call, she realized organizing her bookshelf was apparently a favorite pastime for her. She had shoved Pride and Prejudice back into the “A” section of the bookcase and checked the caller ID.

Oh, great. This should be fun.

“Hello, Judi.”

“Heya, sister of mine. Tell me you’re somewhere exciting doing something that would make me proud.”

Ellie rolled her eyes toward the ceiling, kneeling back in front of the bookcase. “I’m in my room. Organizing books.”

Judi snorted. “Why am I not surprised? You’re so predictable, El.”

A car horn sounded in the background and a mix of car engines and voices filtered through the receiver.

Ellie slid another book onto the shelf. “On your way to work?”

“I’m at a café, actually. They have the best lattes and blueberry scones, and a beautiful veranda overlooking Central Avenue. So, what’s up with you. Anything new?”

Nothing I’m going to tell you about.

“Nope. I’m predictable. Like you said.”

Judi’s laughter grated on Ellie’s nerves. “Predictable, loyal, dedicated, and perfect. That’s my big sister. Still living with mom and dad, I suppose?”

Ellie bristled. “You know I am.”

Judi’s laugh was infuriating. Ellie pictured her wearing a pair of sunglasses, her honey brown hair spilling down her back, bright red lipstick, her head tipped back as she laughed.

“You’re such a trooper, Ellie. Helping mom and dad out and working two jobs. Always showing off. You know, you really should move up here with me. Expand your horizons. Kick the dust off that cruddy little town already.”

Ellie slammed a book into the bookcase. Tension grabbed at the back of her neck, spread down her shoulders. “Judi, you know I can’t.”

“Why?” There was a long slurp, and a muted snorting laugh, following by words dripping with sarcasm. “Oh, right . . . Jason.” Ellie could practically hear the eye-roll. “Your dud of a boyfriend who hasn’t even proposed to you after all these years.”

The tension clutched at Ellie’s jaw, slithered down her chest. “Actually—”

“Wait.” There was a clink on the other end of the line, probably Judi’s glass of peach iced tea on the surface of the table. She always drank peach tea with a twist of lemon. “Did he actually propose?”

Ellie immediately regretted even starting down this path. “Well, sort of —”

“Sort of? What do you mean, sort of? He either has or he hasn’t.”

Ellie closed her eyes against the onslaught of interrogation from her younger sister. She pressed her fingertips against her temple. “He did.”

Judi’s excitement was palpable. Her breath quickened. Ellie could picture her leaning forward, darkly lined eyeliner framing wide green eyes. “What did he say? How did he do it? Tell me everything.”

Ellie felt a pulsating rhythm under her fingertips. “Actually, I asked him if he was eve going to propose. He almost drove off the road and then he said he was going to talk to me about marriage that night, actually.”

Judi’s excitement had waned some. Her tone flattened. “Soooo… wait. You asked him first about it? That’s sort of weird. Like, did he actually say the words?”

“The words?”

“Uh. Yeah. The words.” Judi’s tone indicated she thought Ellie should understand her meaning. “You know, like, ‘will you marry me Elizabeth Alexandria Lambert and make me the happiest man in the world?’”

The thumping rhythm in Ellie’s temple had increased, pushing an ache through the rest of her head. “You’ve been watching way too many romantic movies, Jud.”

A long sigh huffed against her ear. “Well, did he at least say, ‘will you marry me?’ And give you a ring?”

The phone tightened in her hand, and her jaw ached from clenching it. “No. He didn’t say that, and he didn’t have the ring with him.”

Standing at the window across from her bed, Ellie had looked out at her dad driving a tractor into the field. Her mother had been hanging a sheet onto the clothesline between the maple trees in the side yard.

“But you said he said he was going to talk to you about it at dinner, so why wouldn’t he —”

“I don’t know.” Ellie was snapping now. “He just didn’t.”

More slurping and the click of well-manicured nails on a tabletop.

“Well, that’s not very romantic.” Ellie didn’t have to see Judi to know she was making a face.  “But at least you two are finally getting married. This has dragged out long enough. Do mom and dad know?”

Turning from the window, an anxious buzz hummed in her ears, and she marched to the laundry basket to quiet it. She cradled the phone against her shoulder and ear.

Blue top, tan khakis, blue and green striped socks. Red top, light blue denim capris, white socks with red hearts. White ruffled shirt, light blue pencil skirt, tan high heels.

“No. No one knows yet except us and now you. We want to keep it that way, so keep this between us. We’re going to announce it at the firemens banquet in August. After he gets the ring.”

  A series of giggles in the background made it sound like Judi was at a wild party. Her voice faded to muffled mumbling. “Miranda! Heya! Yeah! I’ll be right over, sweets. I’m talking to my sister.” Her voice was louder again. “Calm down, Els-Bells, I won’t tell anyone. I promise. But let me know when I can because I totally want to tell Melanie Fitzgerald – oops, I mean Stanton — I forgot she got married.”

Ellie folded another series of clothes into a coordinating outfit, sliding them in a drawer, scrunching her face in a questioning expression. “Why Melanie?”

“Because we were all friends in high school and she’d be so happy for you. Plus, she bet me $20 Jason would never propose that last time I was home.”

Ellie pulled the phone from her ear and scowled at it. Judi had been friends with Melanie, not her. She thought about reminding her sister is this fact, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Judi was still stuck in high school.

 “Okay, Judi, I’ve got to go.” She slammed the dresser drawer shut. “I’ve got a shift at the farm store in a half an hour.”

Judi’s voice was far away again. “A refill on the peach tea with a twist of lemon, the summer breeze salad with grilled chicken, avocado , cucumber, no tomatoes, and a light balsamic vinaigrette on the side. Right. That’s perfect.” The patronizing click of the tongue made Ellie wince and pull the phone back from her ear again. “Oooh, Ellie,” she cooed. “You’re such a good girl. Helping the Tanners, helping at the farm, teaching those little kiddies. You’re such a saint. So steadfast and dependable.” Judi sighed and if it had been anyone else, Ellie would have interpreted her tone as sentimental. “Anyhoo, have to go. The new guy from the men’s department is here. I’m going to see if he wants to join me and the girls for lunch. Talk later.”

The phone went dead.

Ellie sat on the bed, tossing the phone onto the bedside table. 

Steadfast and dependable.

She knew Judi really meant.

Boring and predictable.

Ellie had quit her part-time job at the Tanner’s store the week after she found about Jason and the girl at college, rented an apartment in town and marched down to Missy’s one Saturday morning and asked for this haircut. It had been a long time coming. The need to change and the changes themselves.

Rolling onto her back and staring at the ceiling in the darkness, she huffed out a sigh.

Changing her appearance and her location wouldn’t change how she’d had to rearrange her life plans again, though. During her senior year of high school, the list had read, valedictorian, graduation, Bachelors in Education, career, marriage, children.

When Jason had suggested the break in college, she’d added question marks to marriage and children. But when they’d started dating again five years ago, she’d been able to add marriage and children back.

Now, though, she’d scratched a thick dark line through the words in her journal. She didn’t know if she’d ever add them back.

***

“Hey, Jason.” Molly called to him from the back room of the store. “We’ve got an order here for Mr. and Mrs. Weatherly. Can you drop it off on your way by?”

He’d just delivered a few hundred pounds of locally produced beef and pork from the meat packing plant two hours away, still had stalls to shovel and a tractor to fix, but dropping a delivery off to two of the nicest people he knew wouldn’t be a problem.

“You bet.”

Molly smiled as he lifted the box. “You don’t mind because Mrs. Weatherly always gives you cookies when you stop.”

He was just glad she wasn’t looking at him the way she’d looked in the parking lot of the church a few weeks ago. He still hadn’t talked to her about it and didn’t know how.

“Cookies, a pie, a piece of cake. Whatever she’s baked that day. What can I say? She loves me.”

His sister rolled her eyes and laughed. “You keep taking those cookies and that stomach of yours is going to grow.”

He shrugged a shoulder. “I’ll just work it all off at the gym the next morning.”

When he reached the Weatherly’s, Ann Weatherly was on the front porch with a smile, wearing a white apron with a border of red cherries running across the bottom.

“Jason Tanner, you’re a sweetheart.” She opened the door for him. “Put it right on the kitchen table there and then I’ll get you a piece of apple pie. I just took it out of the oven.”

He set the box down and held his hand up. “No, no, Mrs. Weatherly. I don’t need any pie. Really.”

She propped her hands on her hips. “I can tell you’ve been working hard already today, and I know you Tanner boys, you’ve got more work to do. I bet the pie would help you get through the rest of your day.”

Jason wasn’t great with ages, but he knew Ann had gone to school with his grandmother. Her husband, John, was probably about her age, maybe a little older. Saying ‘no’ to her would be like saying ‘no’ to one of his grandmother’s.

She gestured toward the table. “Go on and sit down. I’ll cut you a piece.”

Smiling, he shook his head at her persistence. His gaze drifted across the kitchen — the patterned plates displayed in a row on a shelf above the stove, the 1960s-era flowered wallpaper, cast-iron pans hanging on the wall below the cupboards — then wandered down the hallway leading to the dining room, photos hanging on the wall. He walked down the hallway, looking at photos of Ann and John with their children and grandchildren smiling laughing. Here was one of Ann and John on their wedding day. There was one with their daughters, Mary and Ellen and son Alfred. They were older than Jason, probably closer to his parents’ ages, living out of the area now.

Jason felt a twinge of emotion in his chest as his eyes roamed over the photos, an emotion he couldn’t pin down. It was a mix of loss, disappointment, and heartache at the thought he might never have a wall like this, full of photos of his own wife and children.

He ate the pie while listening to Mrs. Weatherly talk about her grandchildren, her plans for her garden, and John’s trip to town to pick up seeds for said garden.

Their conversation reminded him of conversations with his grandmothers. It also reminded him how lucky he was to have a job where he could take time to sit down and chat after delivering food that he and his family had helped grow.

Driving home later in the afternoon, Jason reflected on the conversation with his grandmother Franny a month before Ellie learned about his night with Lauren. Watching his normally outgoing grandmother withdrawal in the last year and a half, become a shell of her former self, had been hard, almost as hard as watching his grandfather fade behind the fog of Alzheimers. She had been avoiding many family gatherings and activities she used to enjoy, including church. Only in the last few months had he seen some of the melancholy fall away.

Franny had ushered him into the kitchen that day, sitting at the table as he unloaded the soup has mom had sent. “That’s very nice, hon’. You tell Annie thank you for me.” She smiled. “What happened? You draw the short straw to bring your cantankerous grandmother dinner?”

Jason laughed, bending down and kissing Franny’s cheek. “Now, grandma, you know I love coming to see you. We all do. Molly had an art class, Dad was working on that broken tractor, and I actually asked to bring it.”

Jason sat on the chair across from his grandmother and leaned back, stretching his legs out.

He decided to jump right into it, not pull any punches. “So, what’s going on with you, Grandma? You know you can talk to me.”

Franny avoided his eyes, stirring her spoon in the soup she’d dipped out. “I’m fine, Jason.”

“You’re anything but fine. Out with it. Is it your eyes?”

She shot him a glare. “You always were too observant for your own good, Jason. How did you know about my eyes?”

“I’ve noticed you bumping into tables when I’ve been here, squinting through your glasses. Plus, there was that whole driving into the back of the dump truck thing.”

She cleared her throat. “Well, yes, I am concerned about them. As for the dump truck — well, yes, I misjudged the distance between it and my car.”

“Misjudge or didn’t see it well?” She didn’t offer a verbal response. Her raised eyebrow and scowl were answer enough. “Do you think it could be macular degeneration?”

“I don’t know.” Her eyebrows furrowed. “I’ve heard of that but I’m not really familiar with it.”

Jason hooked his hands behind his head, keeping the conversation casual. “Ellie’s grandma has it. Her eyesight is slowly deteriorating, but maybe yours isn’t that bad. We can go see Dr. Fisher. Maybe you just need a prescription.”

Franny lifted her finger. “Ah, now. Speaking of Ellie —”

“Grandma, we’re talking about you right now.”

“We’ll get back to that. Let’s talk about Ellie and you.” She slapped her hand on the table. “Why haven’t you proposed to that girl yet?”

“Grandma…”

“Jason, honey, she’s the girl for you. You believe that, right?

Jason laughed softly and cleared his throat, unfolding his arms from behind his head and shifting in the chair. “Yes, Grandma. I do.”

“Then what are you waiting for?”

Jason softly groaned and covered his face with his hands, leaning his head back. This conversation had definitely gone off the rails. “Grandma. . .”

“Don’t let her get away from you, Jason. Do you hear me?”

Jason looked at his grandma, his face flushed but a smile tugging at his mouth. “Yes, ma’am. I hear you, but right now we are talking about your eyesight. I can drive you to Dr. Fisher. Let’s find out what’s going on. It may not be as bad as you think, okay?”

Franny sipped from her glass of water, a small smile flicking across her lips. “Okay. I’ll make you a deal, Jason Andrew Tanner. I’ll let you take me to Dr. Fisher if you agree to propose to that lovely Ellie.” She reached her hand out toward her grandson. “Deal?”

Jason tipped his head back again and let out a deep laugh. He shook his head and chewed his lower lip for a moment, rubbing his chin as he looked at his grandmother’s hand. If he did this, it would mean no more avoiding talking to Ellie about his college mistakes.

His large hand enveloped her much smaller one. “Yeah, okay, grandma. Deal.”

A month later Franny had her cataracts removed, and he’d been ready to confess all to Ellie.

If only he hadn’t failed to hold up his side of the bargain.

Franny knew something had happened between him and Ellie, and he knew she wanted to ask, but so far, he’d been able to avoid her. A family lunch was planned at her house next weekend. He had a feeling she’d corner him before the day was out.