Fixin' Things:A Novel of Women at Gettysburg

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Seventeen-year-old Megan Loren feels unloved, unwelcome and unwanted except by the one person who should not want her. She plans to one-day leave the farm that does not feel like home and the elder sister who seems to see her only as a responsibility.

When the Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the American Civil War, comes to Loren Farm, Megan learns that home is portable, and responsibility and love are interchangeable.

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Seventeen-year-old Megan Loren feels unloved, unwelcome and unwanted except by the one person who should not want her. She plans to one-day leave the farm that does not feel like home and the elder sister who seems to see her only as a responsibility.

When the Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the American Civil War, comes to Loren Farm, Megan learns that home is portable, and responsibility and love are interchangeable.

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Editorial Reviews

Barbara Holmes
Fixin'Things carries its fair share of characters, but we're never to the point where we begin to wish for a map. Sam, the black man taken in by Megan's mother when they were young, the eccentric Aunts who live in the rented house...all wonderfully engaging and delightful to meet. Although this is a novel, Bell's layers of harsh life, hate, bigotry and newfound love come incredibly close to a work of non-fiction. Fixin'Things gives readers a shocking yet enjoyable glimpse into a Gettysburg life.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780595218417
  • Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/28/2002
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 278
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 9.14 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Fixin' Things

A novel of women at Gettysburg
By Peggy Ullman Bell

Writers Club Press

Copyright © 2002 Peggy Ullman Bell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-595-21841-7

Chapter One

Thursday June 25 1863

Loren Farm

Seventeen-year-old Megan Loren grabbed both rough-hewn doorjambs and leaned from the hayloft. The little doorway opened to nothing but hot sticky air. The corral lay twenty feet beneath her toes. A matched pair of black Kentucky Walkers and a small strawberry mare looked on as eleven Union cavalrymen dismounted. Most were strangers. Two were locals. Megan called and waved. Their captain, her sister's husband Edwin Brown looked up and winked then slowly licked his lips.

Megan grabbed a pitchfork and stabbed the hay so hard she jarred her shoulder. Edwin had not been home since April 27, 1861. Her sister had hosted a going away picnic that day for Adams County boys and men who had enlisted with the Union. Not the least of whom was her beloved husband.

Angry tears obscured Megan's vision as Edwin disappeared into the farmhouse. Kathin will be thrilled.

* * *

Megan's elder sister Kathin was in the hidden loft above the Loren kitchen. The tiny room sizzled and stank with sweat.

"I'm sorry we couldn't make you more comfortable," she said to the young Negro woman on the rumpled cot.

"'S all right," the woman said. Her breath labored as she brought her infant to her breast.

"It won't be much longer," Kathin said. "Our friends will move you to the next station as soon as they dare. I'd have put you in the cellar where it's cooler, but we haven't felt safe using that hidey-hole since the Governor's warning that the Confederates might be moving north again."

"We fine," the young mother said tiredly. "See? He sleepin' now. Don't know it's hot. You go ahead on."

"Rest well," Kathin whispered as she left.

The door at the foot of the steps opened at her slightest touch. The weight of the cupboard that concealed it swung it closed behind her. The kitchen felt cool after the swelter of the loft. Kathin heard a scuffling noise from the adjacent dining room and she grabbed a skillet. With the skillet raised above her head, she skirted the kitchen worktable and stepped through the doorway to the dining room ready to conk the groundhog that sometimes sneaked in through the cellar.


Edwin Amadeus Brown lounged at the dining table resplendent in Union blue with one booted foot on the table, the other extended toward her and serving as a hat-rack. The pale blond waves flowing to his shoulders looked thinner than they had when he rode away in '61. Other than that, he seemed little changed.

"Where the hell have you been woman? I've waited twenty minutes."

"In the necessary." Kathin lied knowing he would not have checked the outhouse. He preferred chamber pots emptied by others. "Why are you here?"

"I'm often in the neighborhood to escort supplies and recruits from Carlisle Barracks," he said. "The whores in town are most accommodating," he added with one brow cocked as if anticipating her reaction. When Kathin did not react, he kicked his hat up into his hands and muttered, "Only came by today because I've a couple local telltales in tow. A gentleman must guard his reputation," he said as he donned his hat then took a step toward her.

Kathin raised the skillet, her habitual fear of him diluted by his absence.

Edwin sniggered. "Is that anyway for a dutiful wife to greet her husband after two long years of war?" He wrenched the skillet from her hand then forced her into a rough embrace. Kathin pummeled his chest with her fists. He laughed and ground her breasts against him. "Keep it up kitten. You know I love it when you fight me."

Kathin went limp.

Edwin caught her right wrist and used it to maneuver her toward the downstairs bedroom.

Kathin dragged her feet. "Not that room! Edwin. Please. Not that bed!"

"Shut up. I'll use any damned bed I please."

Oh God!

He tumbled her onto her great-grandmother's counterpane.

Please, God, don't let Megan come in and see this!

* * *

Megan sat cross-legged on the dusty hayloft floor, her lap full of week-old kittens. The loft was muggy and close with heat from the forge in the lower portion of the barn. Megan could feel a damp 'V' forming on the front of her everyday calico dress. The kitten's anxious mother, a huge orange mouser rubbed against the hem of her crisp white pinafore apron.

Megan stroked the mother cat, struggling to keep her mind devoid of thought. She ached to confide in her sister but she did not want to hurt her. Finding kittens beneath Kathin's dusty saddle had not helped.

Outside, a midsummer storm roiled northward out of the Shenandoah Valley after long weeks of drought. It was on such a day, ten years before, that Kathin's strawberry mare filly had returned to the barn without her. Their mother rushed out into driving rain to find Kathin and she had never recovered from the chill. Their father drank himself into the grave beside his Mary Margaret two years later.

Megan picked up a kitten and used its soft fur to wipe the dampness from her cheek. Kathin married Edwin before the diggers closed Daddy's grave, she thought, trying to forgive. At first, Edwin had seemed like Galahad and Adonis in a package.

Megan shivered and blamed it on the heat.

The rhythmic clang of steel on anvil vibrated the floor upon which she sat. "How does Sam stand to light the hearth in this weather," she asked the kittens in her lap. "Sam's the heart of Loren Farm," she told the cat. "His hammer sounds its pulse."

Laughing at her own silliness, she removed the kittens from her lap one by one and stood them on the floor. The orange mouser checked each of them end-to-end then purred approval as Megan rolled to hands and knees. Pins and needles stung her legs as she stood up.

To her right, an empty wagon partially blocked the oversized doorway. Dust motes danced in intermittent sunbeams on either side. In her mind, she saw the hayrick as a white-hooded Conestoga, a Prairie Schooner like those made in Lancaster two counties to the east. Thoughts of new horizons teased her mind as she crossed the loft and paused to lean against the right rear wheel of her imaginary chariot to freedom.

An earthen ramp led from the hayloft to a rutted track that ran along a fieldstone fence. Beyond the fence, beyond the pasture the setting sun played hide and seek with the leading edge of the approaching storm. Megan shaded her eyes and stared, sure her future was out there somewhere west beyond the mountains waiting.

I'll go one day, she decided as she started down the ramp. Every weekly carries advertisements for teachers in the west. But first, I have to fix things with Kathin.

* * *

Out of sight at the edge of the woods across the road from the Loren pasture, a man in a crumpled gray Confederate lieutenant's uniform shifted from one sore foot to the other and wondered which was worse–riding an appropriated plow horse or wearing someone else's boots.

Boots were not among Chris Alexander's favorite things, but he forgot how much his feet hurt when he spotted the girl at the top of the earthen ramp. Through a pair of formerly-Yankee binoculars, he saw a sprinkle of freckles on her nose. He lowered the binoculars and gave their lenses a quick polish with his shirttail. When he refocused them, he saw her wave to an older, lovelier version of herself–a woman, coming toward him over the rise with a weariness about her that reminded Chris of his mother before his stepfather died and freed her.

Thunder rumbled in the distance but Chris paid no attention. He had grown up with storms that roared out of the Gulf, picked up steam in Alabama and slammed into the Appalachian foothills of northern Georgia with a swirling, shrieking freight train fury. Compared to them, a Pennsylvania storm did not amount to much.

The girl sauntered down the ramp, swishing her skirt to shoo the chickens that had appeared from nowhere to interfere with her every step. The woman waited between the barn and a stuffed-to-the-rafters corncrib. When they joined and disappeared beyond the rise, Chris lowered the binoculars. He would have liked to investigate further, but the farm was not on his self-appointed rounds.

A soft sprinkle fell from looming clouds as he stashed the too-tight appropriated boots in the bole of a nearby tree. Then he crossed the road and padded up the now deserted lane. The ring of a blacksmith's hammer lent buoyancy to his steps as he passed the barn.

Fifty yards down the far side of the ridge stood a two-story fieldstone farmhouse surrounded by a low picket fence. The arbor over the gate looked ready to crumble beneath its burden of climbing golden roses. Beyond the gate there was a close-cropped yard and beyond that an indented porch. A sharp pang of homesickness struck him he saw a wedding ring quilt draped over the back of the swing. His mother had made him a comforter in that pattern. 'For your someday bride' she said.

The sound of wheels and hooves reached him just as the storm broke. "Who'd have guessed the colonel's lady knew how to drive," he muttered as a mule-drawn buckboard passed the barn.

The woman and the girl stepped out onto the indented porch and he ducked around the corner of the house and hurried into the apple orchard farther down the ridge.

* * *

Megan stared as Edwin's sister Sybil yanked the mules to a sit down stop beside the arbor.

"Wheeee!" Sybil's daughter, Lainy Mercer chortled as she bounced down from the buckboard.

"Something awful must have happened," Kathin said despite her niece's apparent glee.

Skedaddling from rumors of Confederate invasion had become a sport along the Mason/Dixon Line since the war began in '61, but Mrs. Confederate Colonel Thomas Jason Mercer usually arrived at Loren Farm, from her husband's Maryland plantation in an expensive brougham ensconced behind an even more expensive Negro coachman.

Megan grinned as Lainy hiked her hoops and splashed across the yard.

"Alaina Diane Mercer you come back here and help me down from this conveyance."

Lainy laughed and pranced past the drip line and onto the porch where she tossed her head like a wet Cocker Spaniel, spattering secondhand raindrops in all directions with her side-tied curls.

"Oh Aunt Kathin I'm so sorry." Lainy reached a dainty hand to wipe a spot of water from Kathin's cheek then, on tiptoes, she replaced the raindrop with a kiss.

Sam appeared from beyond the rig and Sybil deigned to let him help her disembark. The instant her feet touched ground, she yanked her hand back to her side and kitten stepped across the puddled yard.

"They took everything," she wailed as she stomped onto the porch with her mouth set in the habitual moue that might have been pretty when she was Lainy's age but which had since settled into a permanent and unattractive pout. The Brown family's phenomenal good looks had bypassed Sybil and been gifted to her daughter.

"It was a Confederate commissary detail," Lainy said. "They didn't think we'd mind what with Papa being in their army and all. They had official orders."

"Orders, my foot! I don't consider any order official unless it comes directly from your father and don't call him Papa. If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times young lady. You are to call your father Sir."

"Papa doesn't mind," Lainy whispered to Megan.

Kathin grabbed the quilt from the swing and draped it around Sybil's sodden shoulders. "We can talk about it in the morning," she said. "Right now we need to get you dry and warm."

"Then don't stand there like a ninny. Open the door."

Kathin's no ninny, Megan fumed as she yanked the screen door open. Lainy tilted her hoops, slipped through the doorway, swayed across the dining room and disappeared into the kitchen before her mother waltzed inside.

"Your nigger can bring in the bags," Sybil said as she wriggled her broad behind into Kathin's favorite rocker.

Megan fought the urge to dump her from the chair. Why doesn't Kathin say something? Sam's nobody's nigger and never was.

Sam had been an enterprising five-year-old when their mother, Mary Margaret O'Hanlon stepped off the boat from County Clare and found him mucking stalls for pennies on the Brooklyn docks. Way before mother met Daddy. Megan recalled the oft-repeated story. When Mother came to work off her indenture at Herr Tavern, Sam came to Gettysburg with her. And, when she and Daddy were married, Sam carried the rings. She remembered Kathin using the tale to comfort her on lonely winter evenings. Sybil and Edwin have no right to treat him like a slave.

The growl of the storm suited Megan's mood. Kathin ran to close the door when a wind gust pushed the end of the swing against the wall. Rain dashed against the windows at either side of the door. Beyond the right one, the entrance to the back stairs stood open. A draft from an upstairs window flickered the lantern on the sideboard along the staircase wall. At the end of the sideboard, the entrance to the north hallway loomed dark between the parlor and the cellar doors. Beyond the hallway, another closed door and then the corner. On the east wall, two windows flanked the doorway to a covered porch, above which was a balcony overlooking Kathin's garden. A huge Queen Anne china cabinet stood against the south wall next to the growth-marked doorway to the kitchen through which Megan saw Lainy peek once before she disappeared again.

"Have you heard from Edwin?" Lainy's mother asked.

"He was here this afternoon," said Megan, holding her voice steady with concerted effort.

"Well!" Sybil sniffed then touched a tiny kerchief to her nose. "I suppose he's all right, but one would think that in two years of bloody war he'd at least send word to his baby sister."

"I'm sure he has other things to think about," Megan said.

"Like his precious reputation," Kathin muttered in a dull and lifeless tone.

Megan wondered. Does she love him or doesn't she?

Kathin turned to Sybil and said, "Let's get you upstairs and out of those wet clothes."

"I don't want to go upstairs."

Kathin shrugged. "Do as you like."

Megan stomped to the kitchen in a haze of uncertainty. She hated the way Kathin kowtowed to Sybil Mercer. Why does she listen to her? Irritated by her own confusion, Megan snatched Lainy's dripping cape off the ladder back chair beside the work table and stuck it on a wall peg next to the summer cold walk in fireplace.

"Everybody knows that chair was the one piece of pre-Revolutionary furniture saved when the original Loren homestead burned in 1784."

Lainy looked appropriately chastened as she took down the China soup tureen. Her azure eyes were moist with apology as she removed its brightly painted cover.

The kitchen was warm and friendly with the aroma of chicken corn soup. A large pot simmered at the back of the cast iron stove. Puffy white dumplings floated to the top as Megan lifted the lid. She ladled boiled potpie into the open vessel without comment.

"What are you picking at me for," Lainy asked. Megan did not respond.

When the tureen was full, she waited while Lainy clinked its lid on then she lifted it by its double handles and turned away. "There's fresh bread in the warmer. Slice it and bring it with you," she said as she left.

In the dining room, Sybil said, "You'd better hide your stock."

Lainy entered behind Megan. "Empty your cupboards too," she said as she plunked the plate of fragrant sliced bread onto the table well out of her mother's reach. "You don't they will," she added as Megan set the tureen near the head of the table.

Kathin nodded. Megan and Lainy took their places at the table opposite one another. Moments later, Kathin set a steaming bowl in front of Lainy who slid it toward her mother.

"I know I couldn't eat a thing," Sybil said while picking at a dumpling with her spoon. "They burned Old Clubfoot's ironworks," she added proudly.

"Must you use that awful nickname?" Kathin asked.

"Why not for pity sake? Old Stevens IS clubfooted."

"Senator Stevens may be clubfooted but he's always stood straight for what he believes," Kathin said.

"Straight for his bank account while leading this country straight to hell," Sybil said.

Megan sighed. Born in Philadelphia living in Maryland and married to a Confederate officer, Sybil Brown Mercer had trouble remembering which side she was supposed to support. There was nothing in the least unusual about her ranting against a Confederate commissary detail one minute then blaming the entire war on a Union senator the next. In this particular case, the object of her scorn was Pennsylvania's Republican Senator Thaddeus Stevens, owner of Caledonia Furnace.

"They burned his precious business and it serves him right," Sybil said. "He's the one stirred this whole mess up in the first place with all his talk about confiscation and free territories. Stevens shouldn't have gotten so all fired up over slaves anyway. Most of them are better off than Stevens' workers."

"That isn't so," Megan put in. "Everybody knows Senator Steven's been paying his workers out of his own pocket for months to keep them from suffering. He's probably better off without the ironworks but the workers won't be."

Sybil sniffed. "On what Old Clubfoot paid them they were eating worse than Mississippi niggers already."


Excerpted from Fixin' Things by Peggy Ullman Bell Copyright © 2002 by Peggy Ullman Bell. Excerpted by permission of Writers Club Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Thursday June 25 1863....................3
Friday June 26 1863....................37
Sunday June 28 1863....................53
Wednesday July 1 1863....................77
Thursday July 2 1863....................105
Friday July 3 1863....................127
Saturday July 4 1863....................151
Sunday July 5 1863....................181
Monday July 6 1863....................187
Monday, August 3, 1863....................201
Thursday November 19 1863....................233
About the Author....................265
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2002


    Exceptionally written. Author keeps you 'in' the action. Paints the picture well. Books typically depict men in war, to depict women in such a vivid manner is a tribute to the author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2002

    Real Women in the Civil War

    This is an unusual novel about the marvelous ways which women gave comfort and love during the civil war, an ode of love as responsibility in the care of others. While many books chronicle the adventures of males during this war, this is the first I have seen to get to the heart of the woman as homemaker,caregiver, and patriot. It is a book you will remember and ponder long after reading. The characters are diverse and stimulating. As fine a work of historical fiction as I have seen. It has everything from sexual abuse, to burying of body parts after surgery, to helping slaves to get north,to family conflicts. Throughout there is the heroism of women. I highly recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2002

    Excellent Second Novel by this Author......

    Peggy Ullman Bell's second book does NOT disappoint! This is an excellent historical fiction from the author of 'Psappha, a Novel of Sappho,' and will be noticed! Well written, vivid, accurate, and a fascinating, exciting read. A most enjoyable story of a young woman's coming of age. Ms. Bell's writing in this book, as in 'Psappha', takes you there and you can watch the story unfold! Hope to hear a LOT more from this Excellent author. Sandra House, Word House

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