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November 1925March 1927
The land lay flat in every direction, the horizon unbroken by mountains or hills, the gray land meeting an even grayer sky in an invisible seam. Two figures made their way across this vast openness, looking out on their dull, colorless world. Behind the pair, a quarter of a mile away, the monotony of the land was interrupted by the outline of a house, a barn, and a windmill, and even more faintly by a fence enclosing livestock.
Only the crunch of their boots in the snowy field of stubble disturbed the silence. The air was bitter cold, reddening their cheeks. The man wore overalls, a heavy dark brown coat, and a cap with flaps over his ears. The young girl beside him wore a long skirt over her boots and a plaid mackinaw. Her bright red scarf made a vivid crimson splash on the colorless world.
"I guess this ought to do it, Joy."
Bill Winslow fished in his pockets and produced two tin cans. He placed them on an upended ancient wooden apple crate, weathered to a pale silver. Turning to the girl, he smiled and winked at her. "Think you can hit anything today?"
"Sure I can, Dad." Joy Winslow took off her right glove and pulled a nickel-plated thirty-eight out of her pocket. "All loaded," she grinned. "I bet I hit better than you do today."
Winslow, a tall, lean man of forty-eight, had a pair of searching brown eyes and a face tanned by the sun and hardened by the wind. Small creases edged the corners of his eyes, and his wide, generous mouth turned upward in a smile as he studied the girl. Hard to believe she'll be sixteen in a fewmonths. Seems only yesterday she was just a baby. "Bet you don't," he said. "I feel sharp today. Come on, we'll go back an extra ten paces."
The two moved away from the target, and when they halted, Joy held the thirty-eight firmly in her right hand and placed her left underneath. She held the pistol steady for two or three seconds, then squeezed the trigger. The explosion reverberated across the empty field, flushing out a flock of crows from the stubble. Rising with raucous cries, the birds formed a black cloud against the neutral gray of the sky. One of the tin cans lay on the ground.
"I got it, Dad!" Joy cried. Her eyes were laughing as she turned to him and said, "Bet'cha can't beat that."
"I'm not sure I can. You're a regular Annie Oakley." Bill aimed carefully at the second can with the forty-four but missed. He laughed and put his arm around her, pulling her close. "You're a fine shot, daughter. All right, your turn again."
The two fired at the tin cans for twenty minutes, laughing at their misses and shouting when they hit their target. Finally Bill said regretfully, "Reckon we better be getting back to the house."
"All right, Dad." Joy removed the spent hulls from her pistol, and as she did, Bill said, "I want you to have that thirty-eight for your own, Joy."
"You're giving it to me, Dad!" Joy exclaimed, astonishment sweeping across her face.
"Sure am—and the forty-four goes to Travis. I know you'll keep them always because they're more than just two pistols. They're part of our family history."
"I know," Joy murmured. She looked at the thirty-eight and then glanced up. "This belonged to my uncle, didn't it?"
"Yes, Lobo Smith. He carried it when he was a federal marshal under Judge Isaac Parker in Oklahoma Territory."
"Do you think he ever actually killed anybody with it, Dad?"
"Wouldn't be surprised. He's peaceable enough now, but he was pretty wild when he was younger."
"I'd like to meet him. Do you think we ever will?"
"Maybe someday." Bill quickly changed the subject. "This forty-four belonged to your grandfather, Zack Winslow. Zacharias, his name was. He fought in the Civil War. When he came home he did a lot of things. He went prospecting for gold out west and later became a successful rancher."
"Why don't we ever go see any of our relatives, Daddy?"
"Well, they live a long ways away, and besides I haven't always gotten along with all of them. Not something I'm proud of. I've always wanted to go back and make it up to them. Family is very important, and I've cheated you kids out of knowing your aunts and uncles."
The two pocketed their revolvers, put on their gloves, and trudged back over the icy wheat stubble. As they made their way home, they heard the lonely wail of a train whistle. Joy glanced west, where the rails ran, and spotted the plume of smoke. A fervent longing to travel swept over her, as it frequently did. The freight train was headed south, and her heart was in the South. "Daddy, do you think we'll ever go back to Virginia?"
Winslow did not answer, merely shaking his head. When Joy saw that he could not speak, she felt his sadness. She was twelve when they left the hills of Virginia to come to North Dakota, and she still longed and dreamed for those hills and the warm summers of the southland.
When they arrived at the house, Joy said, "I've got to go milk the cows, Daddy."
"All right, but we'll be leaving pretty soon, so don't dawdle."
Joy ran into the barn, where she took off her gloves and heavy coat, leaving on the two flannel shirts she wore for extra warmth. She noted that the cow's breath rose like steam in the cold air.
"All right, Sookey, I'm coming." Grabbing a three-legged stool and a bucket, Joy sat down, leaned her cheek against Sookey's silken flank, and grasped two of the cow's teats. The milk made a steady tattoo in the bottom of the tin pail, a rhythmic sound that Joy found soothing. Milking was one of her favorite chores. When she finished, she slapped the cow's side, saying, "Now, that's a good Sookey."
She was turning to pick up her coat when her brother, Travis, stepped inside. He was two years older than Joy, a tall, lathe-shaped young man with the same cobalt blue eyes as his sister. His tawny hair fell down over his brow as he pulled his cap off and said with a quick grin, "Better get your best dress on today, sis. Charlie Thompson will be waiting for you. You know how sweet he is on you."
"He is not either!"
"Sure he is. I saw him trying to give you a kiss after church last Sunday."
Joy's face flushed crimson, and she threw herself at her brother. Caught off balance, he went down, but he was laughing as she attempted to beat at him with her fists. He pinioned them, rolled over, and held her down tightly. "Don't be mad, sis. You can do better than old Charlie. Come on now." He rose quickly and helped her up. Dusting off the seat of his overalls, he said, "We're going to eat at the Royal Café tonight."
"Yes, and Dad said we could go to a movie. I hope it's Charlie Chaplin."
"I don't. I hope it's Buster Keaton. It probably won't be either one, though, but anything's better than nothing."
"You about ready, Elaine?" Bill finished combing his hair and glanced over to where his wife was buttoning her dress. "Here, let me help you with that." He fumbled with the buttons in the back and then reached around and hugged her. "I remember the first time I ever helped you button up your dress. It was on our honeymoon. No, wait—I think I remember unbuttoning you."
"Well, I should think it was on our honeymoon and not before!" Elaine turned around and patted his cheek. She was a small blond woman with the same cobalt blue eyes she had passed on to two of their three children. She looked tired, for the work on a wheat farm was not easy. She never complained, however, and now she said, "I'm glad you're taking us all out, Bill. Everyone needs to be cheered up."
Bill chewed his lip, then shook his head. "The drought this year was bad. We haven't made any money at all. As a matter of fact, we've lost money."
Shooting a quick glance at her husband, Elaine abruptly said, "We should never have left Virginia. It was my fault."
"No more than mine. We made the decision together."
"No, I thought it would be better. We weren't getting anywhere there on the farm, and Opal made this sound like such a good way to get ahead."
Both of them thought of how they had left Virginia at the encouragement of Elaine's sister, Opal. She and Elaine had always been close, and when Opal married Albert Tatum and moved to North Dakota, the pair had missed each other. Opal had persuaded Elaine and Bill to buy a farm next to theirs. She and Albert had painted a rosy picture, but the move had proved to be more difficult than they could have imagined. The bitter cold winters had been followed with blistering summer heat. During their first two years there, drought had baked the land, and farmers all over the area had suffered dreadfully. All were praying that 1926 would bring them abundant crops and freedom from drought.
"We agreed to come, both of us," Bill said heavily. "Maybe it was a mistake, but we had no way of knowing that."
"I worry about our children."
"So do I. They don't like this place. Joy asked me today if there was any chance of our going back to Virginia."
Elaine longed to urge her husband to take them back home, too, but she held her tongue. They were locked into this land now. Nobody was buying property, and they would lose what little they had if they walked away and left it. Seeing the troubled light in Elaine's eyes, Bill pulled her close and held her. "I don't like this place either, and I know you hate it. But I've been thinking, all we need is one good year. If we have it this year, we'll sell out. Land prices will be higher then, and we'll go back home."
Elaine leaned back, excitement in her eyes. "You mean it?"
"Sure I do! You have to grow up here to get along with these winters, and I miss the hills. We'll do it the first good year we have."
"Then I pray 1926 is the year!"
Bismarck was already held in the dead grip of winter. The snows had fallen and melted before falling again and freezing, leaving the streets a mass of crusty mud and ice. Bill held on to the wheel of the truck tightly as it bounced roughly, then pulled up in front of Langley's General Store. "When this street thaws out it's going to be one big mess," he muttered. "Maybe they'll pave it."
Getting out of the truck, he helped Elaine out first, then his daughters, Joy and Dawn. Travis followed. The streets were filled with the usual Saturday crowd, mostly farmers coming to town for supplies. Bismarck was not Minneapolis by any means, just a small town of about nine thousand in the middle of the North Dakota prairie land, but the railroad did provide a connection with the rest of the country, pulsing two or three times a day with trains coming and going. As cold as it was, some had gathered at the station to watch the train arrive, even though they had no one coming in on it.
"Let's get in the store and thaw out," Travis said. "I feel like an icicle."
"Me too," Joy said. "Daddy, can I have some candy?"
Dawn piped up, "Me too, Daddy!" At the age of thirteen, she was the image of her father—a fact that delighted Bill Winslow.
"I think we can afford that. It'll give us something to chew on at the movies."
"What are we going to see?"
"I know what's on," Elaine said. "It's the Hunchback of Notre Dame."
"Oh, phooey, who wants to see that old thing again!" Dawn exclaimed. "Why couldn't it be Charlie Chaplin? He's funny."
"Well, since there's only one movie theater here, we'll have to take what they've got. Come on, let's go inside. I'm cold too."
For the next half hour the family roamed around the store, going their different ways. Travis stayed close to the glass case full of knives, pistols, and rifles, while Joy inspected the yard goods and ready-made dresses. She spent a great deal of time at the shoe display but did not try any on. As for Dawn, she had not outgrown her love of dolls and examined the sparse stock with intense envy.
Bill and Elaine stayed together to select the staples they would need for the next week. They turned when a voice said, "Hey, Bill. Hello, Elaine."
Elaine went forward to greet her sister, Opal Tatum. Opal was a small, thin woman who had never been hearty. Her eyes were a faded blue, and as usual she had a worried look on her face. "So good to see you, Elaine. I've been meaning to come over, but it's been too cold."
"Yes, it has, but it's good to see you, Opal. Hello, Albert."
Albert Tatum was a tall, heavy man with a full stomach and a fleshy red complexion. A straggly mustache covered his mouth, and his eyes were a pale blue.
"Good to see you," he grunted.
Bill had never felt particularly close to Albert. He had always felt that Tatum had misrepresented the farm to them, although Bill had never complained. "Just came in to buy a few things and give the family a night out."
"We're going to the movies," Joy said. She spoke to the Tatums' daughter, Olean, who was a little older than Joy. Olean was wearing a new coat and new shoes. She was not a pretty girl but dressed better than any of her friends. Now she sniffed, "There's nothing on but that old hunchback thing. Last week we saw Harold Lloyd. Now that was good."
Witt Tatum, at eighteen, was a copy of his father, tall and already showing a heaviness that would catch up with him later. Witt reached out and pulled Joy's hair as she joined the group. Grinning, he said, "That picture will scare you to death. You'd better not go."
"I will too go!" Joy said, jerking away from him. He had always teased her, and now she resented being treated like a child.
Albert looked with displeasure at his brother-in-law. "These are hard times, Bill. Don't need to be spending your money foolishly on movies."
Bill Winslow put his level gaze on Tatum. "I don't expect eating a meal out and going to a movie is going to change things much, Albert."
Tatum was a bluff, arrogant man. He bulldozed his wife so that she had practically no will of her own and had tried the same tactic on Bill Winslow. It had not worked, and the result was a coolness between the two men. "Have it your own way, then."
Travis waited until the Tatums had moved out of earshot, then said bitterly to Joy, "It's all his fault that we're here anyhow. He told all kinds of lies about the place. He talked Dad into buying it. You know what I heard?"
"I heard he got a commission from the man that owned it for selling it to Dad."
Joy stared at her brother. "You don't mean that. He's mean, but he wouldn't do that."
"Wouldn't he? Look at the way he treats his wife. He spoils those kids rotten, but Aunt Opal has a terrible life. I don't know why she doesn't leave him."
Travis Winslow had always disliked the Tatum youngsters. He had had a knock-down, drag-out fight with Witt a year earlier, and though Travis was younger, he had won. Since then Witt had ignored him whenever possible.
"I miss our friends back in Virginia," Travis said. When he saw something stir on Joy's face, he regretted having mentioned it, but there was nothing he could do about it. "Of course," he said quickly, "they're changed now. They're all three years older."
"Still I'd like to see them," Joy said. "Robin told me she'd write, and she did twice, but then she quit."
Travis suddenly realized he had made his sister sad. "Come on, sis, we're going to eat at the Royal Café. I'm going to stuff myself like a Thanksgiving turkey!"
The Royal Café was not a fancy or expensive place. It served meals to the farmers who came in only once or twice a week. But the food was good, and Joy loved eating there. She ordered meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and Travis ordered a steak and a baked potato. Dawn ordered a hamburger and fries, to the disgust of Joy and Travis. "You can get hamburgers anytime," Travis snorted.
"Hamburgers are my favorite food," Dawn insisted. "I wish we had them every day."
While they waited for the food, the three siblings entertained each other with stories about their neighbors, and then when the meal came, they threw themselves into it with gusto. The dessert choices were apple and cherry pie, and even though it was chilly in the restaurant, Joy wanted ice cream on hers.
As they were finishing their dessert Bill Winslow turned to the children and said, "Your mother and I have been talking, and I think it's something you three should know about."
With some apprehension all three youngsters looked up. "What is it, Dad?" Travis asked. "Something bad?"
"No. I think you'll like this." Bill's wide mouth turned upward at the corners. He loved his children dearly and wanted them to have good lives, but he did not see any possibility of that where they were. "The first good year we have—and I hope it's this next year—the price of land will go back up again. As soon as it does, we're going to sell out and go back home."
"You mean back to Virginia to our old house?"
"No, we can't go back to the old place, but we'll find someplace as close as we can get. I'm hungry to see something sticking up out of the ground, like a hill or a mountain."
Joy's eyes blazed with excitement, and she forgot the ice cream that was soaking into her apple pie. "Oh, Daddy, maybe it will be this coming year!"
"Maybe so, punkin'. I know it's been hard on all of us. One good year, and we can go back down south where we belong."
Joy had drawn her chair closer to the coal oil lamp. Before her were four tablets, each of them with a date drawn in heavy black crayon across the front. Picking up the first one, she opened it and thought about how different she was from the time she had written these entries. She had started keeping the journal when she was only nine, and it gave her a great deal of pleasure to turn back the clock and read what had been on her mind then.
The first entry was dated May 20, 1919:
Joy smiled at the misspellings and the large childish scrawls. Her penmanship had improved and so had her spelling. She flipped through the journal, letting her eyes roam over the pages, and then picked up another journal. She had read them all so often she could practically recite them from memory. Her face flushed when she came to an entry in which she had tried to describe her thoughts about getting her first period. The writing was somewhat better but was still immature:
I am going to keep a dairy. It won't be to hard because I like to rite. I will put down everthing in this dairy that is on my hart and someday when I'm a gron up I will look back and no what I was thinking wen I was only nine years old.
Joy had been very honest in her journal, and she was always nervous that someone would find her writings. She kept them hidden as well as possible behind a drawer of a large bureau.
It scared me very much. Mom had tried to warn me but I din't pay much atention. Now I wish I had. I was so scared but Mom talked to me for a long time and its all right. She said its very natural and it means that I'm becuming a full-grown woman. I hope I can talk to Dawn about this before it happens to her. She'll be scared to death!
Picking up the current journal, she folded the pages back, placing at the top November 15, 1925, and then began to write:
Joy studied what she wrote and then continued:
We went out tonight and had dinner at the Royal Café. I had meatloaf and mashed potatoes and for dessert I had apple pie with ice cream. Afterward we went to see The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Lon Cheney. It was not a good movie but very interesting. He is such an ugly man, the hunchback, but the real Lon Cheney isn't ugly at all. I tried to pretend I wasn't scared, but I really was. But the best thing of all was, Daddy said tonight while we were eating that if we have a good year next year and a good crop, the price of land will go up. And if it does, we're going to sell this old farm and go back to Virginia.
She wrote for ten more minutes and then folded the tablet up and put it in the hiding place. Quickly she got into her narrow bed and, shivering, pulled the covers about her. The last thing she did before going to sleep was to pray, "Oh, God, get me and Mom and Dad and Travis and Dawn back home again!"
I've been praying to God that He would get us all home again, and now I'm going to pray even harder than before.
Posted July 21, 2012
Gilbert Morris out did himself with The House of Winslow series. For those who enjoy history and romance, this series is the best. The House of Winslow series starts at the beginning with the Mayflower and follows a family’s linage and their stories though the development of America and the heartaches and joys of life and love. I do prefer the original covers though.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 20, 2012