Cinderella Carriage at Kalona Salebarn.
The Kalona Salebarn had a draft horse sale last Monday and Tuesday. We aren’t in the market to buy, but we love to watch the large work horses prance around the ring put through their paces by Amish farmers. The place was packed so I know we aren’t the only ones who like to watch. For me, it’s a good chance to study Amish families so it’s a research day.
In back, the salebarn has a walk way above the holding pens so we toured over the horses. Evidently, we weren’t close enough to get a good look. My husband decided we should walk down between the pens. Up close, the draft horses look like giants which was way too close for me. Paying more attention to what was in the pens than the alley, I soon found myself standing right where a pair of large black horses needed to go to be put in a pen which was behind me. I danced one way then the other and came to a halt behind my husband who flattened himself against a pen until the horses walked by.
We took a tour of the parking lot. The day before had been a sale of old machinery, buggies and the unusual. One small enclosed buggy caught my attention. I was trying to figure out where the door for it was when one man said if I had been there on Monday I could have bought the buggy. I told him I didn’t know what I would do with it. We didn’t have a horse to hook to it. I never did find the door.
The strangest sight for me was a carriage that reminded me of the one in the Cinderella fairy tale. I always take my camera, looking for Amish pictures that might work on a book cover. I couldn’t resist getting a shot of the carriage minus Cinderella.
I took some pictures of the row of parked Amish buggies. The latest style of buggy must be a small, square plexi glass, one seat buggy. Light weight and easy to see out of all the way around. Looked like the only way to climb in was over the seat. On our ride in the country, we passed one such buggy with two young girls in it. I don’t take close ups of Amish people so I didn’t take their picture in the buggy. I did come home with plenty of farm scenes and a one room school which I will be using in my next book in the Nurse Hal Among The Amish series. Check out some of my book covers to see the pictures I’ve used.
Amish cooks had baked many pies and angel food cakes for the bake sale and a grill was going to serve lunches. Just looking at the pies made me hungry for a rhubarb pie so as soon as we got home I went to my garden and pulled enough stalks to bake a pie. The first pie of the season always tastes the best.
The salebarn Amish cafe was really busy. Guess many had the same thought we did that if we ate at eleven we’d beat the rush. No such luck, but we knew about another good place to eat. We wanted to stop by the Mennonite grocery store so we ate in the deli there.
Since it was Tuesday the Amish stores in the country weren’t open. It’s their day off. We drove around, admiring the Amish gardens and picturesque farmsteads. One garden had the biggest cabbage or cauliflower plants I’ve seen for this time of year. I can’t imagine when the seed had to be planted in the house or greenhouse to grow plants that big. Some gardens had rows of milk jugs with fragile plants under them.
We stopped by a well known Raha green house near Wellman to just look around. I have all the tomato plants and peppers I need which I started in February and always enough flowers carried over from the year before to set out. What caught my eye was the pots of Cassia didymobotrya which is known as popcorn cassia. The sign said smell the leaves. I rubbed a leave between my thumb and finger. Believe it or not, the smell is like buttered popcorn and the flowers are yellow and shaped something like popcorn. As usual, I waited until I was home to wish I had bought one of those plants for my mother-in-law. Oh well, maybe we’ll be going back soon. I’ll pick up a plant next time.
Where was I? I had to look back at the last blog post to see which book I left off with. My dial up system isn’t working right. I’ve placed several calls to see why I get disconnected or not able to dial in. Each time I get a different person that thinks the problem is solved. In just a few minutes, I find out I still get cut off. So this morning I’m going to give posting a try before I call in for more advice on what to do Where next.
We went to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa on Friday at the start of the Old Thrashers Reunion. It’s always fun talking to other people and seeing what’s new for exhibits and all the stuff that isn’t new. Now that I’m hard at work on a new family book for my mother’s family I found items I took pictures of to use in my book just like I did last year for my husband’s family book. This one is going to be larger than the one I did last year. I’ve got a larger family to write about. Can’t use the tape recorder so have to call many of the relatives and take notes for an hour or two then try to figure out my handwriting later. It’s fun finding out stories that I didn’t know and I’m enjoying the family history.
One nice thing about getting in touch with relatives is I have expanded my customer base. Once they figured out I write books, they wanted to buy one and have come back for more. As long as they talk about me in their area that spreads my customer base.
A frost warning for Wednesday and Thursday night has me worrying about my flowers. I hate to take them in this early when they bloom the prettiest. I can set them back out after the cool front passes, but they need different containers for living in the house all winter. So no offense to the northern part of Iowa, but I’m hoping the frost stays there for a few weeks yet.
Today I’m talking about my book The County Seat Killer - book 3 of Amazing Gracie Mystery Series.
This story is about the retirement home residents, including Gracie and Melinda. They have to testify at a murder trial at the county seat. The story could be considered a continuation of book one The Neighbor Watchers, but each book has a beginning and an ending. I do make reference in most of the books about something that happened in another book. For those who read the books in order the references will be familiar. When I do a series I put the book number on the cover so it is easy to tell the book’s order in the series.
Though the county seat isn’t such a big city, it is larger than Locked Rock and filled with strangers. When she gets off the train, Gracie is uncomfortable right away. By the time she’s been in town a few days, she is wishing she was safe at home. A strange man keeps following her around town. When a woman is found dead, Gracie gets the feeling that was meant to be her. When she testifies at the trial, she refuses to give a list of Locked Rock men that was visiting the lady of the evening that was murdered across the street from Moser Mansion Rest Home. The judge has her jailed on contempt of court for not cooperating. Gracie hates it in jail, but the sheriff thinks it might be safer for her there than out on the streets until they find the killer that’s stalking her.
I was award first place in the Little Rock, Arkansas’s Arkansas Writers’ Conference Nuts and Jolts contest a few years back for one of the chapters in the book.
So find this book along with the other five in the mystery series in Kindle, Nook, Amazon paperback and in my online bookstore site http:www.booksbyfaybookstore.
At the crack of dawn, chaotic noises funneled through the window pane from the alley below. The loud racket vibrated off the hotel room walls, making it seem like what ever was happening was taking place right in the room. One thud after another was followed by a horse’s shrill, frightened whinny.
Restless yet not quite awake, Gracie Evans, tossed one way then the other. Finally, she turned on her side to face the window. A man’s rough voice, venting angry curses, jarred her to her senses. She batted her eyes against the bright sunlight and swiped a thin strand of gray, wavy hair out of her face.
Gracie turned over to look on the other side the bed at Melinda Applegate. Her eyes were closed.
Under her breath, Gracie growled in her gruff voice, “What’s going on down there
anyway? A body cain’t sleep for all that racket.” Holding up the front of her cotton nightgown,
she sucked in a quick breath when her warm, bare feet touched the cold, wooden floor.
Feeling the mattress move, Melinda slurred softly through a yawn, “What could be the matter at this early hour?” She brushed one of her mass of gray curls out of her eyes and rose up on her elbow to watch Gracie at the window.
“A man in the alley is trying to control his skittish horse while he throws the hotel garbage in his wagon. Looks to me like the fellow’s making matters worse by getting hostile with the horse. If you was to ask me, that man’s not much good with horses. He’s not smart enough to realize the poor nag’s scared more by his voice than by the noise the garbage makes hitting the wagon bottom,” the elderly woman surmised in an expert tone.
The jittery critter pranced, jerking the wagon back and forth. The man had trouble hitting where he aimed when he threw the garbage at the wagon. Finally, he emptied the barrels and climbed up to the seat. With a loud curse, he gave a hard flick of the reins. The skittish horse moved forward with a dancing prance.
Now that the show was over, Gracie took the time to inspect another man, leaning against the back of the saloon. With one foot hiked up on the wall, he sat on his worn thin, scuffed, boot. If not a tramp then maybe a sharecropper. He wore faded jeans with jagged holes at the knees and a thread bare, reddish, flannel shirt. An indolent air was apparent about him as he reared back against the building with his thumbs stuck in his jean pockets. His head, hidden by a dusty, straw hat with the brim drooping, turned slightly as he watched the garbage collector leave the alley.
With as much noise as the collector and horse made, the sharecropper being able to sleep that close seemed like an impossible feat for sure. Besides as far as Gracie knew, only horses could stand and sleep. Maybe cows sometimes, but not men. One thing for certain, she couldn’t sleep for that noise, and she was way up on the second floor of the hotel. So how could that man doze off right down there near the racket? From the look of him, most likely he spent more time with his elbows propped on the bar than he did working on his farm. That might explain his hearing problem.
The man raised his head up. He peered from under his straw hat’s frayed brim at Gracie’s window. He stiffened when he spotted her observing him. In a matter of seconds, he straightened up and put both feet on the ground, seemly more alert. He lowered his head again, but not quick enough. Gracie caught the cold look on his face and the thin lip sneer his seeing her produced. He had the look of a man who had been weaned on sour pickles. Puzzled by his reaction, she reasoned that since the man didn’t know her, it must be women in general that he didn’t like. He turned his back to the hotel and moseyed away with a right sided limp down the alley as though he didn’t have a reason to hurry. All at once, the man stopped. He leaned forward, putting his hands on his knees. His shoulders shook as he barked a racking, dry, smoker’s cough. Once the coughing fit left him, he walked to the boardwalk and turned in the direction of the saloon.
A feeling of foreboding attacked Gracie as he disappeared from sight. She hated it when that warning of danger surged through her. More often than not something came of the threatening premonitions that overwhelmed her.
Trying to ignore the dreaded feeling of something terrible to come, she turned back to Melinda and complained, “Sometimes I get mad at that rooster of Sara Bullock’s when he crows so early across the street from the rest home. Right now that rooster would be easier to take then these city noises. I’ll be glad when we get back to Locked Rock and can sleep in our own beds.”
“For Heaven sake, we just got here yesterday afternoon. Give it a chance. The time will
fly by. You’ll see. We’re awake now so we might as well get dressed. Miss Molly will be knocking on our door before you know it to get us to go with her for breakfast.” Melinda said in her soft voice. She stood up and leaned over the other bed in the room. Gently, she shook the sleeping woman’s limp shoulder. “Time to wake up, Libby.”
“Beats me how you can sleep so sound, Libby,” groused Gracie. “There was a ruckus in the alley just now, and you didn’t even hear a thing.”
The bed covers stirred. Libby Hook groaned. She stretched and rubbed her eyes. “You’d get used to city noises if you’d lived in a big enough one for a while,” she snapped sassily.
“Ain’t gonna happen,” Gracie bristled back at her.
As Melinda predicted, in a short time a series of light knocks tapped on the door. Molly Moser Lang called, “Ladies, are you awake?”
“Who’s got the key?” Libby asked, pulling her dress down over her petticoat. Pinching a handful of material on both sides, she shook her skirt the rest of the way to the floor.
“I have,” Gracie said. Reaching over to the night table beside her, she picked up the key and tossed it to Libby. “Good catch.”
Wordlessly, Libby opened the door and stood back. She pushed hairpins farther into the dark gray bun rolled on the back of her neck while she waited for Molly and Moxie to enter.
“Come on in, Miss Molly,” called Melinda. She placed the comb she’d used on her short, gray curls back in her black, cloth bag and tightened the drawstrings.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Gracie deftly whipped three, long, thinning strands of gray hair into a braid while she studied Melinda. The lady’s soft, cheerful voice always sounded too sugary for so early in the morning, but Gracie resisted the urge to say so. Melinda would just laugh at her. She’d say Gracie was all out of sorts because of being woke up so rudely. Now that
she had time to think about it, Gracie reckoned Melinda was probably right.
Molly hurried through the door. “Are you ladies ready? We best go down to the dining room before we go over to the courthouse.”
Molly’s short friend and permanently, visiting house guest, Moxie McEntire, slid from behind her. “Good morning to ye all,” she greeted. “Let’s go sample city fare for a change. Sure and it tis a fact, I’m ready to eat breakfast.”
“You’re always ready to eat,” groused Gracie, stabbing a hairpin through the two braids she’d crowned round the top of her head.
She straightened her shoulders and flexed her fingers in her lap. She was always glad when she had that chore done. Didn’t take very long holding her arms up in the air to start her shoulders aching. That worried her. How would she get her hair braided when she couldn’t do it herself. The sad thought struck her that maybe she wouldn’t. Her scrappy hair would fly about her face and shoulders, giving her a witchy look. That thought didn’t make her mood any better.
“Well! Sure and ye are a chipper songbird this very morning,” quipped Moxie.
Gracie narrowed her eyes at Moxie.
Before she had a chance to retort, Molly asked, “Is something wrong already? Golly Moses, we just got here?”
“Gracie just woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” Libby criticized.
“I see.” Molly gave that an instant of thought. She decided to put off asking what was the matter with Gracie that early in the morning. “Why don’t we discuss it over breakfast. I agree with Moxie. I’m starving. Let’s go eat.” She headed out the open door.
As the Moser ladies trouped down the hall, Gracie let her mind wonder to what was
ahead that day. She wanted to see justice done as far as Mavis Jordan was concerned. After all,
she did commit the murder of their neighbor, Rachel Simpson, across the street from them in Locked Rock, Iowa the summer before. That wicked woman deserved whatever punishment she received from the law. Actually, Gracie thought she’d look forward to coming to the county seat to testify at Mavis’s trial. After a long, winter, the idea of doing something different besides sitting in front of the parlor fireplace all day seemed exciting to her at the time, but sleeping in this fancy hotel and putting up with all the finery that went with it hadn’t entered her mind. She was definitely out of her element. Now that the time had come, all she wanted to do was head back to Locked Rock as soon as she could. She wanted to be in familiar surroundings, with people she knew and to sleep in her own bed. No other bed at night felt as good as a fellow’s own bed.
Walking behind the other ladies, Gracie descended on the wide, scarlet carpeted stairs to the lobby. She looked down over the women’s bobbing heads in front of her at the vast space. This county seat hotel, for sure, was grander than Molly Lang’s Moser Mansion Rest Home For Women. She never thought she’d see the day she’d be staying in a building fancier than that place.
Forked shadows flickered across the wall beside her. Out of the corner of her eyes, Gracie caught the movements. She stopped, placed a hand on the beefy, oak railing to steady herself and looked up. Above her dangled two enormous chandeliers trimmed with shimmering, crystal bells. The lighting glowed through the glass bells, reflecting prisms that played off the lobby’s dome shaped, gilded wood ceiling. The prisms danced in brilliant, pastel shades of a rainbow like one that dressed up the sky after a quick, spring shower.
An urge of another sort hit her. What she wouldn’t give to be out on her farm on an April morning after a spring shower settled the dust, smelling the crisp, cleansed air. Instead, she was stuck amid dressed up strangers scurrying who knows where with never a how you do to anyone. In the next second, Gracie consoled herself that she wasn’t missing much on the farm right then. So far the first of April hadn’t felt much like spring. The days stayed stubbornly cold and dreary with the threat of a late snowstorm in the air.
Gracie surveyed the lobby. She wondered when the last time was she had seen so many people in one place. Maybe it was at Molly and Orie’s wedding last October. Though it could have been that ill fated barn dance after the wedding that Molly made her go to. Plenty of people turned up there. Even Millard Sokol showed up. Gracie shook her head. She decided she best not think about that wedding dance and her old beau if she wanted to get over her bad mood any time soon.
The hotel bustled with wall to wall people. A line formed at the reception desk. Dressed in a black, broadcloth suit and white shirt, the same clerk, that helped Molly yesterday afternoon, accepted returned keys or handed them back out from the wooden pegs on the wall behind him to other people checking in. A nervous fellow, his eyes darted around the lobby, seeming to miss nothing that went on around him. All the while, he talked to the hotel guests as if they had his full attention.
Over in one corner, people waited in line for their turn to ride up in the bronze elevator. A load of passengers behind the barred door rose and slowly disappeared from sight. That wasn’t to Gracie’s liking to be packed tight like a mess of catfish on a stringer in that hot cage. Besides she’d rather be doing the moving on the stairs with some elbow room instead of riding in that elevator with a cavernous hole under her. The stairs felt safer to her.
Covered with a stack of newspapers, a shiny, mahogany table, with bowed legs and gilded clawed feet, set between two large, crimson sofas in the middle of the lobby. Both sofas were already filled with people, reading the Cedar Valley newspaper. Glancing over one woman’s shoulder as she past by, Gracie made out the bold headlines, “Mavis Jordan Trial Starts Today - April 8, 1904”.
historiA couple weeks ago I went on twitter to click on recent followers. For once the whole list came up fairly quick without telling me to wait because of a hiccup. Turned out to be more tweets than I had received notice about in my emails. I sent a message thanking each one and mentioned my books. In return I had a message back from Kindle Surprise. If I would email my book titles the books would be mentioned on Twitter. I did that. Then I had a tweet on Twitter from Booksie Jar telling me my twitter address had been mentioned along with several others. Pays to keep replying to followers. I am several behind right now. Most of these are fishermen and gardeners but they probably read books or someone that follows them will read my Thanks for following me-buy my books tweet.
I was gone to the Ozarks last week - to Nevada, Missouri to be exact. It is so good to connect with many of my southern cousins on my mother's side. It had been four years since I had been home. We lost a Uncle, my mother's brother, - one that we all considered very special. That brought on reminiscing while my family was together, and the usual I can't retain all this. We need it wrote down with a family tree for our children. Since I took some of the cousins one of my books the stares were directed at me. All right, I did write a book for my husband's family last year. I have many old pictures of my mother's aunts, uncles and grandparents and stories. So I volunteered. Cuts into my writing a book time, but I have entered this thinking of it as a labor of love for my generation of cousins and their future offsprings.
I've heard from a cousin in Oskaloosa, Iowa that a bookstore downtown called Book Vault has put a few more of my books in the online store and when asked in the store they will order the books. This cousin is a good salesman for me. She goes in the store, reminds the clerk that she is related to me and she'd like any book I've written. Now if only I can talk the other 49 cousins that are scattered across the country into doing that. Maybe if I keep passing around free books it will happen.
Now on my blog sites I'm going to submit the first chapter from Specious Nephew - Book 2- Amazing Gracie Mysteries. Most that read the title probably think that I spelled suspicious wrong, but I remembered my Ozark born mother pronouncing the word specious and thought that was the way my Gracie Evans spoke. Remember this series is historical mysteries set in early 1900's. My blogsite http://www.booksbyfaybookstore.weebly.com or http://www.booksbyfay.blogspot.com
If you want to see a review look on Amazon and find the ebook in Kindle and Nook stores.
In this book, the owner of Moser Mansion Rest Home in Locked Rock, Iowa, Molly Moser, is planning her wedding to the butter and egg man, Orie Lang. She is having a garden wedding in the back yard. The residents are invited to the wedding, and they may ask a relative to escort them. Gracie Evans doesn't have any relatives. Libby Hook has one son in California that refuses to come back for a wedding. Melinda Applegate has lost track of her brother and sister since they moved away from Iowa. She decides it is time she tried to find a relative so she advertises in a reader to reader column of a big newspaper. Much to her surprise, Melinda gets a letter from Jeffrey Armstrong. He claims to be her nephew and would be glad to come for the wedding. Once he shows up, Gracie takes a dislike to him. She can just tell he is up to no good, but Melinda won't listen. She is too busy letting Jeffrey escort her around town and on buggy rides. Gracie tries to tell others at the mansion of her suspicions. They think she is jealous, because Melinda wasn't rocking with her on the porch any more. Molly Moser Lang leaves on a month long honeymoon, leaving her friend, Moxie McEntire, in charge of the rest home. If Gracie didn't have enough to worry about with the specious nephew lurking about now all sorts of upheaval breaks loose. Jeffrey's vague threats to quit nosing around worry her. Moxie may be trying to replace the late Rachel Simpson as the town's lady of the evening. With all that's happening, Miss Molly is going to be gone way too long to suit Gracie.
God didn't intend for old folks to like fall, thought Gracie Evans. She vigorously rubbed her aching, left knee. The crisp, north breeze rattled brown leaves on the unkempt, pivot hedge along side of Moser Mansion Rest Home For Women. A shiver run through Gracie, settling in under the dark gray braids wrapped around her head. In an instant a strong gust of wind tore loose a handful of leaves and scooted them along the porch floor in front of Gracie and her companion, Melinda Applegate. The leaves made it all the way to the south end of the porch. They swirled up in a whirlwind motion then scattered across the yard, lodging in the dead leaf piles at the base of the hedge and the picket fence.
Looking at the clematis on the trellis in front of her, Gracie grimaced. The look of it was more proof that fall was an ugly time of year. It was the ninth of September. The vine had thinned to a screen of yellow leaves, like what was left of the ones on the honeysuckle and morning glory vines that grew on either end of the porch.
Not that Gracie needed shade from the hot, summer sun now. The two handmade, Amish rockers positioned behind each of the three vines no longer needed protection. In fact, what little warmth the sun provided soaked into her, feeling mighty good now that this sudden cool snap hinted at an early frost.
She didn't bother to squint through the peek holes in the vines. She'd kept them clear of leaves during the summer to give Melinda and her an unobstructed view of the neighbors comings and goings. Now there were more natural openings then leaves, and wouldn't you know not much exciting to watch across the street since the lady of the evening, Rachel Simpson, was murdered and her house burnt to the ground.
Two doors north of Rachel's house, Mavis and Dan Jordan split up during the summer. That couple sure kept things exciting for awhile with their fighting. Many a night she'd watched Dan Jordan sneak into the side door of Rachel Simpson's house after dark until his wife, Mavis, found out. Then Dan ran off. After that Mavis went off the deep end. She murdered the Simpson girl, realized that Gracie and Melinda knew too much and put fear into everyone at the Moser mansion until Gracie and Melinda helped get Mavis arrested for Rachel's murder. Now the Jordan house stood empty.
A retired couple, Earl and Sara Bullock, owned the house on the middle lot across the street. Nice enough couple but about as exciting as watching an old dog chase his tail. The highlight of their day seemed to be working in the flower beds and garden in the summer. Of course, that was more than she had to keep her busy. Gracie had to give them that. All she did was sit, letting people wait on her.
Now with fall coming on, Gracie expected the Bullocks would stay out of sight, indoors by the fire, but this day had certainly been different. There had been a flurry of activity at their house. For the better part of the day, Gracie sit tight to her rocker, trying to figure out what the heck was happening over there.
The fact was there just wasn't any other way for Gracie to occupy her time in the rest home. She was willing to stick with sitting on the Moser porch until much colder weather hit Locked Rock, Iowa to keep from sitting closed away in the dark parlor. That would happen soon enough. Of course, Melinda agreed to rock on the porch with her. That helped. They always had each other to pass the time of day with. That is, when she could keep Melinda awake.
Besides there wasn't anything wrong with a body being curious. Gracie felt she needed to stay informed about what was happening in the community. What easier way to do it for an old person besides listening and watching the neighbors.
"A penny for your thoughts," suggested Melinda in her soft voice, breaking the silence. She relaxed her head against her rocker, her light gray, curls flattened to her face like tiny springs. The petite woman gave Gracie a long, thoughtful look.
Gracie studied on what she should say before she spoke, wanting to blurt that God hadn't intended for fall to be a season suitable for old folks, but she resisted. Melinda would scold her for being sacrilegious if she bothered to be so truthful. Instead she looked down at the sunlight that filtered through the vine onto her lap. Stretching a crooked finger out, she tapped at the pale yellow sparkles of light that danced along the folds of her brown skirt. Finally, she answered in her brassy voice, waving her finger back and forth toward the open space between the two vines. "I'm thinking now that the sun's peeking under the roof we should move our rockers over so we get the full sunshine. I don't know about you, but I'm mighty chilly. Here it is early in the afternoon when the day should be the warmest. If you ask me it's too early to have this cold a weather."
Melinda smiled at Gracie's complaining. She replied softly, "Well, you know the old saying. If you don't like the weather in Iowa, wait awhile. It'll change."
"Just the same, I'd rather not freeze to death any sooner than I have to. A body could catch her death sitting in the shade on a day like today. Let's move over in the sunlight."
Melinda nodded agreement. She rose, scooted her rocker over, and left room for Gracie. Tugging her rocker into position, Gracie plopped down. Tapping her toes on the floor, she began to rock energetically, hoping that would help warm her up.
A group of children ran down the street, shouting and laughing. Definitely the fall season is for the younger generations, confirmed Gracie to herself. Young ones stayed active enough that they didn't feel the chill in the air. Thank goodness her mind was clear enough that she remembered those days, but she gave a deep sigh when she thought about how long ago that was. Gracie contemplated Main Street with hitching racks almost empty of buggies and horses. "Not much business at the stores with the farmers in the fields, gathering in the corn crops before the first snow came. Orie Lang hadn't even been by much lately to take Miss Molly for a buggy ride."
"He managed to stop picking corn long enough to pick Miss Molly up for church again Sunday. Most times he stays for dinner like last Sunday before he heads back to the farm," defended Melinda.
"Expect Aunt Pearlbee's cooking is the only good meal that bachelor gets. He's no dummy," replied Gracie.
Smiling, Melinda made a tent of her fingers and brought them up to touch her lips. "If you'd been paying attention lately, you'd notice Mr. Orie isn't taking notice of Aunt Pearlbee's cooking while he's here."
"Come to think of it, Mr. Orie didn't seem in such a hurry last Sunday. He spent a good part of the afternoon in the parlor with Miss Molly. He must be about done with the harvest," decided Gracie.
"Reckon so. It'll be good for Miss Molly when Mr. Orie starts coming more regular. Since they've been sparking, Miss Molly seems so happy," said Melinda.
Gracie didn't have a reply for that comment so she sat quietly drifting in her thoughts. She watched a couple of squirrels, chasing each other along side the porch. For the last several days, they'd scampered across the yard with their cheeks full. Now that their fur coats grew thick and fuzzy to ward against the cold, they sensed it was time to store a food supply for the winter. They buried walnuts and acorns in the ground or hid their bootee at the base of the hedge. It seemed like only yesterday, Melinda and she watched from the gazebo while a couple of squirrels scurried up the old maple in the backyard, carrying food to babies in a leafy nest. It must be true that the time passes faster as a body gets older. No doubt about it, thought Gracie, frowning. She looked at the brown spots covering the back of her hands and wondered when they had turned ugly on her.
In her younger days, she didn't have time to worry about yesterday or tomorrow for that matter. In the fall, she kept busy on her farm. Just like the men farmers, she'd work along side a wagon pulled by a team of work horses. She yanked the ears out of the dried shucks and threw them at the wagon. As she walked down the rows between the dried stalks, she shouted, "Come Queen, come Buck." The horses moved slowly past her, stopping when Gracie hollered whoa. All the while hurrying as fast as she could, Gracie worked to fill the wagon, making the most of the daylight hours. She was pretty darn good at picking corn. As good as any man she knew.
And now what am I gathering? She asked herself at that moment in 1903 while she sat on the mansion porch Locked Rock. A sudden breeze blowing from Canada made her mighty uncomfortable. Gracie silently answered her question with, goose bumps. She vigorously rubbed her arms. Tugging her walnut stained, knit shawl tighter over the front of her long sleeve, tan blouse, she smoothed it out in her lap over her calico skirt.
What she needed was something to think about besides being cold like what was going on in the front yard right then. A swarm of monarch butterflies fluttered across the front yard, flitting from the large rest home sign over to the vines then back to the picket fence. They seemed restless as if too tired to light and rest. The orange and black blurs soared up high and floated down in a slow, graceful ballet. Migrating on their journey south, the butterflies needed to rest for a spell, but by morning, they'd be on their way again. Once in awhile in the summer, a lonely butterfly flitted around the honeysuckle, but that wasn't the same. It'd be another year before a large number flocked together to give this kind of show and then only for a few hours on their way south.
As the monarchs fluttered down the street, Gracie relaxed back against her rocker and sighed.
"Gracie, if you keep frowning, you're face is going to freeze that way with as cool as it's getting," teased Melinda. "What's the matter with you today?"
"I hate the cold of fall and winter. That's all. I feel winter coming in my bones already, and I dread it," Gracie said with sincerity.
"Well, worrying about something that you can't stop from happening isn't going to make you feel any better. I swear the better I get to know you the more the word curmudgeon comes to mind." The way Melinda looked at Gracie wasn't altogether flattering.
Gracie gave her a hard look right back. "Whoa there! That don't sound like a nice thing to call me. What is this crud mudge on anyway?"
"The word is curmudgeon. If you want to know what it means look it up in the dictionary in the Moser library," said Melinda.
"Fine friend you are. Calling me names," snapped Gracie, wiggling indignantly in her rocker.
The screen door hinges squeaked. The cook, Pearlbee, shuffled slowly through the doorway, steadying a tray with two cups on it. The thought ran through Gracie's mind that if Pearlbee's hips got any broader, she'd have to turn sideways to go through the doors. Wouldn't do to bring that up to the cook though. Let Pearlbee's dander get up and she turned into a cyclone in action.
"Hi, Aunt Pearlbee," greeted Gracie. "Didn't realize it was tea time yet. We can sure use that."
"Yes, thank you, Aunt Pearlbee. I'm so glad Miss Molly decided to start having tea time. It breaks up the afternoon." Pearlbee lowered the tray down to Melinda. She hooked her fingers in the handle of a steaming cup, lifted it off the tray and wrapped her hands around it.
"I'm sure ready for something to warm me up," said Gracie, reaching for her steaming cup.
The cook's unsteady gait made it hard for her to keep the tray steady. Melinda suggested in concern for the cook's safety, "Aunt Pearlbee, you really should use your cane more."
"Ah's knowed it Missus, but cain't when I gets my hands full," declared Pearlbee.
"Maybe we should come get our own tea from now on. That would be of help wouldn't it, Gracie?" suggested Melinda.
Gracie thought Pearlbee puffed up some. Never could tell when she'd get miffed about someone taking a chore away from her. Gracie sure didn't want that anger directed at her. Let this be Melinda's idea. Noncommittally, she shrugged her shoulders. "Don't make no never mind to me."
"Then that's what we will do. You just let us know when you're ready Aunt Pearlbee. We'll come to the kitchen after the tea." As if she sensed Pearlbee might not know how to take this helping hand, Melinda gave the cook a close inspection and quickly changed the subject to one favorable to Pearlbee. "My, you do look nice in your new uniform, Aunt Pearlbee," she complimented.
"Thank ya, Missus," beamed Pearlbee, swishing her hips exaggeratedly to model the full effect of her newly acquired, black, challis dress set off by a white linen collar and cuffs on the long sleeves. Pearlbee reached for the hem of her full length, stiffly starched, white apron and held it out. She twisted around to show them the fancy way the pointed yoke straps came to a v in back where the ties made a bow.
Gracie took a sip from her cup before she watched the cook model her uniform. Drinking the warm tea make her even more uncomfortable. "Aunt Pearlbee, find us those quilts we cover our laps with when you have time. I don't think it's going to warm up enough out here this afternoon to be comfortable without them."
"Sure thing, Miss Gracie. Ah's be right back." Pearlbee waddled back to the screen door, balancing the empty tray.
Melinda watched the cook disappear then chastised, "Gracie, the least you could have done was tell Aunt Pearlbee you liked her new uniform."
Gracie pursed her lips, thinking about her answer. "Maybe but she looked all right in the ever day outfits she used to wear as far as I'm concerned."
"But she's proud of that uniform, and she does look nice in it," insisted Melinda.
"Don't expect Aunt Pearlbee would have gotten that fancy getup if she hadn't kept up such a fuss over that missing red apron we borrowed and didn't bring back. Miss Molly just gave her the uniform to calm her down," reminded Gracie, looking away from Melinda to across the street. Her mind was torn between arguing with Melinda and wondering what the two strange men were up to at the Bullocks. They made repeated trips, carrying boards and rolls of wiring into the house.
"What do you mean we?" Melinda's sweet, quiet voice rose a little. She darted a glance at the door. Focusing on Gracie, she lowered her voice, "As I remember it, that idea was yours, putting the apron in the package mean Mavis hid in exchange for the bloody dress she wore when she murdered Rachel Simpson. You're just lucky Aunt Pearlbee hasn't found out yet."
Gracie straightened in her rocker, squared her shoulders and jabbed a crooked finger at Melinda. "I'm lucky. As I recall you were right there in the tool shed in the middle of the night helping me find that package. Weren't you?"
Melinda sunk back in her rocker. "You're right," she muttered half heartily, looking down at her folded hands in her lap.
A door bang across the street. Gracie put her attention in that direction. She sure didn't want to miss anything. With curiosity in her voice, she exclaimed, "There comes a couple men out of Sara Bullock's house again. Wonder what she's having done? Sure was a mess of boards and wire, those men unloaded from that wagon this morning."
"Look at that fence post those two men put up in the corner of the yard. Must be all of thirty feet tall. Makes me nervous wondering what kind of animal Earl intends to keep in Rachel Simpson's yard when they get it fenced in," said Melinda.
"That ain't a fence post. No animal needs a fence that high in the air," snorted Gracie in disdain. "That's a city girl for you."
"Well, Miss Know It All, what is it for then? Oh wait, here comes Sara. We'll just ask her," returned Melinda, defensively.
"Yahoo, ladies," shouted Sara, waving at them.
Gracie noted under her breath, "Sara, got her apron on. Must be making a hurry up call."
Melinda returned the wave and called eagerly, "Good afternoon. Come on up here."
Sara settled her wide hips between the arms of a rocker behind the honeysuckle vine. She untied her bonnet and removed it from her head.
Anxious to get out of Sara what was going on, Melinda asked, "We've been dying of curiosity about all the activity at your place. What you fixing?"
Gracie leaned forward to look around Melinda.
Sara took her time folding and placing her bonnet in her lap. She knew the elderly women could hardly wait to satisfy their curiosity. Grinning, she said, "Not fixing anything. I got me a job. That stuff goes with it."
"What kind of job?" Rushed out of Gracie's mouth.
"I'm a telephone switch board operator," informed Sara proudly.
"What's a telephone?" Gracie wanted to know.
"That's one of those new contraptions that people are talking on to each other now," shared Sara.
"Well, what is that big fence pole in the corner of your yard for?" quizzed Melinda.
Sara giggled. "It's not a fence pole. That's a telephone pole."
"See there," Gracie rubbed in. "I told you that was no fence post."
"Well, let Sara finishing tell us what it is then," Melinda snipped, peevishly.
Their neighbor continued to explain, "There will be more poles set down the block. Wire has to be strung on them and hooked to the houses of everyone who has a telephone to send messages over."
"What's going on out here?" Molly Moser peeked through the screen door. "I thought I heard talking."
"Afternoon, Molly. I was just telling Gracie and Melinda about my new job," replied Sara.
"What! You have a job? Tell me, too." Molly popped outside. The screen door shut with a hollow bang and bounced a couple times before it stilled. The young woman scurried over to sit down in the rocker next to Sara. She gripped the rocker seat, leaned forward and put all her attention on their neighbor.
"I'm going to run the switchboard for the telephones out of my home. I'm what they call a switchboard operator," Sara announced proudly. "Want to come see what it looks like? The workmen should have everything about set up by now."
"Sure, I'd like to see," said Molly, eagerly.
Melinda looked at Gracie. "We want to go, too. Don't we?"
"Reckon." With little enthusiasm, Gracie tried to digest what this new gadget that Sara described was all about as they crossed the street. She wasn't so sure she was going to like whatever it turned out to be.
The small, clapboard house the Bullocks owned was one of several look alike houses in town built in a hurry to accommodate people that moved to town after the railroad came. Gracie followed behind Molly and Melinda through the neat, but sparse parlor. Between the worn, dark brown, horsehair couch and a stuffed chair that matched it sat a table with a kerosene lamp in the middle surrounded by books. A rocker was by the front window. Near it sat a small table with a bouquet of pink and lavender asters in the center. Most likely they'd be the last flowers Sara would gather this year out of her flower beds.
The middle of the floor was covered by a large, oval, multicolored rag rug. Knowing how handy Sara was, Gracie figured she braided it from sewing scraps and the best parts of old clothes. Sara like Gracie never threw anything away. Gracie's mother used to say, "Just as sure as shootin' you throw away something, there'll come the day you could have used it." Over the years, Gracie found her mother's advice to be right. What never came up was the fact that finding something later that had been laid back for future use was often a hopeless case. In later years, Gracie hunted through the piles of objects discarded by her parents and herself, searching for an item. If it took very long to find what she was looking for, she'd then have to stop and think a while to remember why she wanted to find the object in the first place.
Sara motioned for her guests to follow her. She led them to a door on the north end of the parlor. "This is the spare bedroom, but there's room for the bed and the switchboard, too."
When they heard the women, the two workers, in chambray work shirts and jeans, got up from a kneeling position. Both of them were covered in dirt and sawdust. They'd stuffed a vast number of rubber coated wires attached to the back of the switchboard into a hole in the board floor. They stepped back from the large piece of plywood nailed in one corner to let Sara and her friends view their handiwork.
"We just about have the switchboard hooked up, Mrs. Bullock. You'll be able to try it out afore long," the taller of the two men told Sara, pointing to the board full of small, gold cranks with white knobs.
Gracie leaned forward to inspect the silver plates below the cranks. She recognized several names. Sara stepped up beside her and picked up a brown, bell shaped piece resting on a small wooden platform at the edge of the switchboard. "This is called a receiver. It's what I listen into when folks talk to me." She held it to her ear and pointed to a wooden framed hole at the side of the switchboard. "This is what I talk into."
"Who all has one of these telephones?" asked Molly.
"The Locked Rock Mercantile and some of the other businesses. Some folks in town like Doc Lawson, Madge Potter, Phillip Harris, and a few others," said Sara. "Not many people yet, but more will want one once they see how it works."
"Sounds like folks that has money to me. I'll bet something like this gadget don't come cheap. What good is it going to be when no one that we want to talk to has one of them," said Gracie in a matter of fact tone.
Ignoring Gracie, Melinda asked, "How far away can you talk on one of these things?"
"To anyone that has a telephone all over the country. Lots of folks have them out east in the bigger cities like New York."
Molly studied the switchboard. Suddenly, she spoke. "I'd like to have one, too."
"Really, Miss Molly," said Melinda, gleefully.
"Yes, think how quick it'd be to get Doctor Lawson if one of us needs him. All we'd have to do is ring him up. Can you sign me up, Sara?"
"I sure can. You'll have one put in tomorrow."
"Golly Moses, that soon. I'm excited about this. Aren't you ladies?" Instantly, her thoughts turned elsewhere. Molly glanced down at the watch attached to her blouse. "Oh my, look at the time. We better think about heading home. Aunt Pearlbee must have dinner about ready, and she doesn't like it if her food gets cold."
My historical Amazing Gracie Mystery series is set in a fictional small town in Iowa back in the early 1900’s. Touring a small Iowa town yesterday reminded me how much things stay the same over a hundred years. For all of us small town citizens that don’t like changes that is a comforting thought. If you like cozy mysteries with a Miss Marple type character you can find my mysteries in my bookstore at booksbyfaybookstore.weebly.com and ebooks in Kindle and Nook. Also, I’m branching out with my paperback Amish and mysteries. Those books are on wensy.com and webstore.com with a fixed price plus postage.
My husband and I drove to State Center, Iowa. Where is State Center? A few miles west of Marshalltown on highway 30.
Did you know that State Center calls itself The Iowa Rose Capital? The stores have rose beds in front of them. In June, the town has a rose festival with a parade and Queen among other things. The coronation takes place in a gazebo in a park filled with walkways between rose beds.
On a side street, we looked around in an antique store called Rat Pack Shop. The inventory there would be enough to do several Antique Road Shows. The owner, Mike, is on the town historian committee and does lectures about the town in the good old days. He is responsible for finding and restoring a one room school house that was in sad shape. The building had become the home of raccoons that weren’t house broken. He had that school moved to State Center to use as an exhibit. Do you remember the PBS One Room School House presentation. The man who restored State Center’s school house was one of the stories near the end of the film. I saw that presentation twice and can’t remember that particular story, but now that I’ve drove by the outside of the school and met the man who restored it, I’m waiting for PBS to reshow the film.
Downtown, we found a store filled with many nice gift ideas from consignors. The owner was playing cards with three other people. As we started to browse she said she’d be glad to stop playing and help us at any time. I didn’t have anything in mind to buy. It was just fun to listen to the small town conversation going on at the card table. What fun it must be to spend the day with friends and customers at the same time. Way to the back of the store behind a stack of crafty things, I found what I couldn’t live without - seven used paperback westerns. My husband was out of reading material for next winter, and I like them, too. When my sister-in-law pointed out I was an author, the owner asked if I’d like to have space there to sell my books on consignment. I’d love to, but I live too far away with the price gas is these days.
The Main Street sidewalk was lined with park benches and picnic tables. In the summer on Farmer’s Market night, people buy fresh produce. They buy prepared food and take the time to have supper while they shop. Others rest awhile on park benches and catch up with what their neighbors have done all week.
We made a pass through the grocery store. The place smelled like a very good pizza baking in the deli. Not many small towns have a grocery store anymore. It’s nice to see one in State Center accommodating customers that don’t want to run to a larger town to shop. The store had affordable silk flowers for Memorial Day and an assortment of greeting cards. I found a stack of cards that said Hello From State Center. You’d really love it here... The picture is a sleepy eyes squirrel holding a bouquet of forget me nots. (and inside) but then, you love it anywhere!"
What a special day yesterday was even though it rained all the time we were gone. Our plan was to spend the day with my husband’s sister, Kathy, and her husband Jerry. We ate a delicious lunch with Jerry in the Care Center at a table set up for his company. The desert was a new recipe for a special brownie with a secret ingredient. For chocolate lovers, I’d say you need to find that recipe, and I can tell you the secret ingredient wasn’t chocolate. State Center can be proud of the nursing home that bears it’s name; a lovely modern facility with friendly staff. We enjoyed our visit. One of the staff and a resident must have been prewarned that we were coming. I was asked if I was the one who writes books.
So on that rainy May day we had a good time, and we thank Kathy for the interesting tour of her town, State Center.
Going to Kalona, Iowa for me is as much fun as it is a learning experience. I’ve written three fictional books centered around Amish people. I want my story details to be right. It helps to be observant while I’m enjoying the day.
I saw a church sign in Kalona, Iowa last week that said - Spring is God’s way of saying I Love You. If that is true, God certainly loves Kalona. The town is in full bloom from redbuds and tulip trees to fruit trees. Deep purple tulips mixed with red and yellow ones lined the neatly mowed yards and sidewalks.
Kalona is the Quilt Capital of Iowa for a reason. The vast variety of handmade quilts for sale are gorgeous. Even one intersection on Main Street has a painted quilt block to remind us as we drive over it. I understand this summer portions of the sidewalks are going to be taken up and sections with quilt block patterns are being put in.
Citizens in that town are all of one variety, the kind that my dad used to phrase as they never see a stranger. Our first stop was at the Visitor’s Information Center. The woman in charge was very helpful. She knows her Kalona information and places to see very well. She gave us handouts and opened one booklet to a map. All the spots of interest she thought we might like in the country, she circled and told us which way to go to get on the right road.
Our first stop was the Quilt show at the community building only to find out the show didn’t start until late afternoon the first day. I was disappointed, but we picked Thursday for our trip after hearing that it would be cold and rainy the other two days. So next best was a stop at the Woodin Wheel shop. There is a large room of quilts and wall hangings that is just about like a quilt show plus the rest of the shop is filled with antiques. This year I took my camera so I told my husband to take a picture of me in front of the store. A woman crossed the street and asked if I’d like to have both of us in the picture. She’d be glad to take the picture for us. Good thing I let her. The one my husband took had me leaning to the side as bad as a sinking ship. In the store, I bought a book about the Amish to go with the two I picked out last year. This one is A Quiet and Peaceable Life by John L. Ruth.
Once we were back out on the sidewalk, I was trying to decide where to go next when my husband wondered off. A hardware store close by had a reel lawn mower sitting between tillers and mowers. For some reason, he has been wanting to try a reel mower like we both had to use when we were kids. My memory is not so short that I want to return to mowing our lawn with one. Anyway, he was on his way into the store by the time I caught up to him. He asked the price and did his usual "What do you think?" to me. The clerk winked at me, and I replied I thought he wanted it which was as noncommittal as I could get. Simultaneously, I was writing the check, and he was outside putting the mower in the trunk. He was happy. He’d just bought what in that area is probably called an Amish lawn mower and in fact had been used by an Amish farmer twice before he brought it back which should have been a signal that even the Amish don’t find mowing with a reel mower a pleasant experience. First thing my husband did when we got home was try the mower out. He’s happy with his buy, but for some reason I’m going to pretend is unknown to me, he keeps asking if I’d like to try the mower. I keep declining. Reminded me too much of the Tom Sawyer story when he tricked his friends into white washing a fence for him. We have a big lawn.
At noon, we went to the Mennonite owned grocery store on the edge of town to eat lunch in the deli. The young woman behind the counter took our order, the tenderloin and French fries, and told us she’d bring the meal to us. When she ran out of customers, she walked by the booths to pick up empty plates and had something cheerful or funny to say to the diners. When she asked if she could get us anything else, I told her I couldn’t eat another bite I was so full. The meal was good. She replied they aimed to please. A couple young men at the back were just finishing their meal. One of them was a sandy haired man with the beginning of a peach fuzz beard. She asked him if he needed anything else. For instance, a razor? I heard his weak chuckle. I think I found her comment funnier than he did.
We made a pass through the grocery store to buy bags of yellow cornmeal which I’ve done several times now. I store them in my freezer until I use them. In this area, no one uses cornmeal to the extent I do so all the grocery stores stock is small boxes. At the checkout, the woman pulled out a green cloth bag and put the cornmeal in it. She said the bag was free- one to a customer with a ten dollar order. I’ve seen the cloth bags in the stores, but so far have stuck with the plastic bags which I find ways to use later. "So you’re going green?" I asked. The lady said, "No, this is the 25th anniversary of our store opening. The bags just happen to be green."
After lunch, we drove out into the country. The gravel roads have frost balls and ruts here and there, most of which have been filled with a pile of gravel. As long as we watched and zig zagged around those areas, traveling was manageable. At night, those roads may have been all right for horse and buggy transportation but not so good for cars.
First stop was the Country Community Store that has all sorts of merchandise that Amish people prefer like stainless steel pots, black shoes in all sizes, glass dishes and lamp wicks. On the way there, we passed an Amish wedding. What a sight to see. The farmer had built a large shed to use for machinery, but while the building was new, the family used it for the wedding. A tent was set up next to the road. I’m guessing it was for the over flow crowd to eat in or the younger generation. Two wooden boxed in wagons had four shelves filled with the Amish men’s hats for the day. Those wagons were probably the bench wagons that brought the benches for the guests to sit on. Most of the Amish community plus English friends and neighbors must have turned out for this wedding. Cars, pickups and even one sporty convertible with a For Sale sign on the windshield were parked along the lawn. In the hayfield were two block long lines of buggies far enough apart to make room for the line of well behaved horses tied to a large rope that had been attached tautly to two of the farmer’s tractors. The tractors had steel wheels, but the larger one had a cab.
The Country Community Store is in a farmer’s yard. A fenced in hen house sets west of the store. On the other side of the parking lot is a large farm house and garden with growing plants under milk jugs. Two large marten houses at the end of the garden had been taken over by starlings. I’d say those birds loved their accommodations from the cheerful chattering they emitted. Why wouldn’t they? They patiently sang on their perches while they waited for the milk jugs to come off those tender plants so they could swoop down and help themselves.
From the store, we drove to the Kalona Cheese Factory. On the way we watched an Amish farmer plowing his hay field with six horses. I took a picture but the subject was too far away. When I read through my handouts, I was happy to see a picture of a farmer plowing with horses. I’ll keep that to remind me of what I saw. The cheese factory has windows in the entry hall that let sightseers watch large vats filled with cheese curds being stirred. In the store, we bought a package of cheese to eat later that had four kinds in it. The woman who helped us asked if we’d like to try a cheese curd. She pointed to a clear plastic container. I asked how we were suppose to pick the curds up. She said with our fingers then went on to say they were noted for that. I asked, "Eating with your fingers?" "No," she said. "For our cheese curds."
We went back to town to wander through two more shops- a gift store and an antique store, then we stopped by the Visitor’s Center again. The afternoon was warm, and we’d worked up a thirst so the Visitor’s Center greeter recommended we try Yotty’s Ice Cream Parlor. We got a cool drink then sat on a bench on the sidewalk and watched people walk by.
Kalona even smells like spring from the Almond soap in the Visitor’s Center rest room that lingered on my hands, to the hanging baskets of petunias in front of one shop to the flower scented shops. We didn’t get to go in all the stores or see the museum and old village, but next year weather cooperating, we’ll go on Friday or Saturday to see the Quilt show and take in the sites we missed this year.
On the way home, we took off across country and passed several Amish farms. At one farm, two women in green dresses covered with white aprons hoed their garden. They leaned on their hoes long enough to wave at us. I was struck by how clean those industrious ladies looked in mid afternoon. No way would my clothes look that clean after a day’s cooking, cleaning, doing chores and gardening. A large herd of horses were on one farm. That must be where the Amish buy new stock, because all the horses were dark red with black manes. I thought about the long line of unhitched horses at the wedding. They all look the same. I wonder how the owners knew which horse or horses were theirs. It must be because the horses were tied right in front of their buggies. It sure wouldn’t do for me to own a horse and buggy in a crowded Amish parking area. I have trouble finding my gray car in a shopping mall’s large parking lot. At that wedding, not one of those horses had a brand name on them to tell them apart.
I’m going to start by telling you about my background. My life experiences are reflected in my writing for a reason. In the late eighties, a retired Benton Community School teacher said to me, "Fay, write what you know about." At the time I didn’t know how that suggestion was going to help me since I didn’t see much in my life that looked like fuel for writing material. However, I I’m going had time to think about the teacher’s advice, and I’ve seen it in other authors books. Take for instance, Mark Twain. He used his surroundings at Hannibal, Missouri, his childhood and the people he knew when he wrote Tom Sawyer. His riverboat trips down the Mississippi gave Twain the sights and sounds Huck Finn experienced on the raft. One of my favorite books is "Gone With The Wind". Margaret Mitchell must have drawn on people in Atlanta to make her characters so real. Of course, I like to think Mitchell pictured Clark Gable as Rhett Butler when she was writing the book. I know I did when I read the story.
The first fourteen years of my life was spent on an 80 acre farm 100 west of Kansas City. My early memories include a wood cookstove, a blue wooden ice box, an outhouse and Dad’s team of work horses. My older brother is 11 years older and left home by the time I was in second grade. My first four years of school were in a one room school house an eighth of a mile from my house. Dad loved the outdoors. My parents took my younger brother and I mushroom hunting in the spring, fishing in the summer and squirrel hunting in the fall. Afternoons on nice days, we walked a quarter mile down a lane to the pasture with my parents to get the milk cows. A large extended family lived around us. We always had company on Sunday or went to a relative’s home for lunch. Memorial day was a family tree lesson and picnic combined. We spent all day going from one cemetery to another, listening to my parents tell about family members. Thanks to an Uncle, 4th of July we had fireworks as pretty as any town. Hot summer evenings, we sat in the yard watching the moon rise and stars sparkle while we waited for Sputnik to come over. Dad had a telescope we took turns using while he told us stories. We learned during the Civil War my parents home town thirty miles away had been burnt by Union soldiers and rebuilt after the war. To the west of our farm was Blue Mound. So called because of the blue haze around it. The spot where the Osage Indian village had been before the government moved the Indians into Indian Territory was a few miles from us. They called that mound The Wailing Mound. It was the burial site for their chiefs. When the Indians came to pay respects, the women cried loudly. Their wailing carried on the wind. When Dad plowed a field, we always found arrow heads and spear tips from Indian hunting trips.
Farming was a hard living. Dad got a part time summer job. Mom kept us in food by canning. What was left over, we took with us to the grocery store in Schell City. Her whole life, my mother called shopping "going to do the tradin’." Mom traded potatoes, strawberries, blackberries and eggs for sugar, flour and coffee.
We left that life behind when I was 14. My parents took over a gas station near Keystone, Iowa with a history that went back to the Lincoln Highway. My summers were spent pumping gas and washing windshields. After high school, I married a man who worked for a local farmer and had a son. A few years later, my husband went to work for the Iowa DOT. We moved into a trailer house on my parents acreage. Dad had two sons and one daughter and out of all three I was the only one who had farming in my blood. I loved animals. The acreage was once a working farm so I took advantage of the outbuildings, and we soon had a menagerie of animals and birds. As my sheep flock grew, we joined the local sheep producer group. My efforts to promote lamb trained me to do public speaking and got the group awarded a plaque two years in a row for promotion from the Iowa Sheep Association as the top promoter of 99 counties. In the late eighties, my life changed again. My parents closed the gas station, and Dad got Alzheimer’s. My husband and I had been looking for a place of our own. In 1991, we moved north of Keystone seven miles from my parents. In 1993, I went to work at Keystone Nursing Care Center as a CNA. That meant most of my animals had to go. Until my dad died in 1999, I spent mornings helping my mother care for Dad and worked afternoons. I enjoyed my conversations with the elderly about their lives in the "Good Old Days". Through those years, I was awarded Nurse Aide in 2004 by Iowa Health Care Association and Professional Caregiver in 2006 by the Alzheimer’s Association. For 8 years I was a facilitator for an Alzheimer’s Support group and since 1999, I have been a volunteer speaker in my area for the Alzheimer’s Association. My husband retired three years ago and I retired in Dec. Our acreage is suited for us as long as our health holds out. The upkeep here is labor intensive to keep the area looking like a park. So far we are succeeding. We know because of compliments from people who drive by. Winters can be long, but for me the time flies by while I’m dreaming and writing a book.
A woman that has worn many hats in my life time. Join me here and find out about those hats.