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In Ebb, Nebraska, things are pretty much as they were fifty years ago–aside from that coffee shop–and that’s just the way folks like it. Plucky Wilma Porter is the proprietress of Ebb’s only Bed and Breakfast, and she knows everything there is to know in town: the mental state of Clara Tucker Booth Yune, a rich recluse who says only two words at a time; the gossip at Loretta Parson’s Bold Cut Beauty Salon; and the sad series of events that have led poor Calvin Millet to the edge of desperation. Calvin is the ...
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In Ebb, Nebraska, things are pretty much as they were fifty years ago–aside from that coffee shop–and that’s just the way folks like it. Plucky Wilma Porter is the proprietress of Ebb’s only Bed and Breakfast, and she knows everything there is to know in town: the mental state of Clara Tucker Booth Yune, a rich recluse who says only two words at a time; the gossip at Loretta Parson’s Bold Cut Beauty Salon; and the sad series of events that have led poor Calvin Millet to the edge of desperation. Calvin is the owner of Millet’s Department Store, a village mainstay for generations, but many fear that it–and the downtown–won’t survive his terrible run of bad luck.
Wilma prays for a miracle to save Ebb’s special way of life, but she’s surprised when it arrives in the form of a traveling salesman, if that’s what he is. Vernon L. Moore claims to peddle games of chance, but he sticks his nose in odd places and says things like, “uncertainty is the spice of life.” He is welcomed nonetheless, because he seems to have the power to change minds, save fortunes, and fix broken hearts.
“A folksy, wise and gently amusing look at the importance of living life to the fullest and not only trusting in chance, but embracing uncertainty as the spice of life.”
–Rocky Mountain News
“By the end of the stranger’s six-day visit . . . Chances morphs from Fried Green Tomatoes into a wisecracking It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“An accessible, engaging story peppered with characters who are eccentric, conflicted, tragic and humorous.”
“Just what the doctor ordered.”
–Detroit News and Free Press
The Sad Edge of a Slippery Slope
My name is Wilma Porter. I own the Come Again Bed and Breakfast, which is the only B & B in Ebb, Nebraska, and the only one in Rutherford B. Hayes County that is recommended by two Internet directories. I bought the place from Clement Tucker, our very own Warren Buffett, who contracted an acute case of Midlife Crisis about five years ago and decided to build himself a modern house with all the latest conveniences.
The Come Again is a single-turreted, three-story Victorian mansion that was built by Silas Tucker the Second shortly after the Civil War. There's a single, grand oak tree in the front that antedates the house and a black asphalt driveway leading up to a formal porte-cochere and a little parking area for my guests. Last year, I had the house painted bone white except for the roof, which is black. I think the contrast is meaningful.
Clara Tucker Booth Yune, Clem Tucker's older sister and Ebb's most prominent recluse, occupies the entire third floor of the Come Again on a permanent basis. There are six bedrooms on the second floor. I live in the one that faces the back garden; the other five are for rent. Each bedroom has its own bathroom; the Cornhusker Suite even has a Jacuzzi. Downstairs, there's a living room the size of a tennis court, a parlor for the TV, a den, which I keep for myself as a rule, and a giant-sized dining room that will seat sixteen. Except for my kitchen, which is commercial grade, the entire house is decorated in beautiful old antiques that Clem Tucker left behind or I bought cheap at estate auctions and refinished myself in the basement.
Like most folks who live in Ebb, I was born right here, but about an hour after I got my high school diploma I jumped on a bus to North Platte. I came back with my two daughters after the divorce fifteen years later. Both girls are grown up and gone now. One is up in Omaha and the other is over in Council Bluffs, across the river.
By most measures, Ebb is a small town. It is the county seat, but only two thousand people live inside the city limits. There's not a lot to do here most of the time, and that's the way we like it. If we need some excitement, we can drive up to Lincoln. For twenty years, every politician in this area has been elected on the "No Wal-Mart, no how" platform. We take a similarly dim view of fast-food franchises, slow-food franchises, convenience-store franchises, and all other franchises with big, backlit signs in primary colors. The only exception is the new Starbucks on Main Street, but Ebb is so small that we only have the one.
All the rest of the stores on Main are unique and most of them have been in operation for more than fifty years. The biggest and most famous is Millet's, the last remaining department store in the tri-county region. Millet's, which is pronounced like "mill-it" and not like "mill-ay," sits right at the corner of Bean Street and Main, where it's been ever since Joshua Millet opened it up back in 1920. It has survived the Great Depression, rural flight, three bank bankruptcies, World War II, a flood, and God knows how many droughts and tornadoes. Now it is owned and managed by Calvin Millet, June and Joshua III's only child. Calvin is a smart, hardworking young man, and everybody in Hayes County shops at his store as if it was a patriotic duty, but we're all afraid that Millet's will not survive his run of terrible bad luck.
Calvin was a homely baby, bald and sort of wedge-headed, but he grew up to be tall and handsome in a gangly, fair-haired sort of way, kind of like Gary Cooper. He was too skinny to play high school football, a form of religion in these parts, but he studied hard and got good grades even though he worked in his father's store. After graduation, he went up to Lincoln and got himself a four-year degree in accounting, and then he joined the Air Force to see the world. They sent him to Bossier City, Louisiana.
Calvin had hardly been gone for any time at all when his parents were killed in a train accident. I could tell at the funeral that he had already started to lose his hearing. He's fine now; he wears tiny little hearing aids in both ears, but the Air Force had to give him a medical discharge so he came back home to run the family store. A year or so later, he married Mary Beth Tucker, Clem's only child and a bit of an airhead, but a real beauty and the catch of the county from a financial point of view. Six months after that, Lucy was born. I know what you're thinking, but the human gestation period in rural America is only six months for the first baby. After that, it's nine months.
When Lucy Millet was eight years old, she contracted some sort of neurological disorder. I hear it's similar to Lou Gehrig's disease, but more aggressive and unnaturally painful. Anyway, a real sick daughter was more than her momma could handle, so she pulled up and left for L.A. Just disappeared in the middle of the night. Took the Jeep and the dog and the George Foreman cooker and left Calvin a note saying she was real sorry.
Mary Beth's departure caused quite a buzz at the Quilting Circle. Most of us are divorcées ourselves, so we aren't inclined to be critical of any woman who leaves a man. In fact, we have a support system in place so that a woman can do it right: counselors, lawyers, day care, even police protection. But Mary Beth didn't use the system, and her husband and sick daughter suffered for it. She hasn't been welcome in these parts since.
Apparently, being a waitress to the stars was not keeping her in the manner to which she was accustomed, so Mary Beth came home anyway but just long enough to sue Calvin for divorce. Since she had only abandoned her husband and sick child in the dead of night, and taken the dog and the Jeep to boot, the court was sympathetic to her predicament. Calvin now pays her alimony. In case you were wondering, the judge is married to a Tucker, once removed.
Little Lucy Millet is the sweetest little blonde-haired girl you have ever seen and she is smart as a whip, but she isn't getting any better. For the last three years, Calvin has flown her all over the country looking for a doctor who can cure her, but all they've done is slow the disease down and, according to rumor, empty the Millet bank account. Calvin has health insurance through the farmer's co-op, just like everybody else in these parts, but most of Lucy's treatments have been experimental, and that means that the HMO won't pay for them. Unless somebody gets those insurance companies under control, I figure that two aspirin and a glass of water will count as a medical experiment before I'm dead.
The tornado hit last month while Calvin and Lucy were away at the Mayo Clinic. That was too early for tornadoes as a rule, but the weather has been unseasonably warm all year. Luckily, it was a tiny thing as twisters go. It missed the town and everything else in Rutherford B. Hayes County except for Rufus Bowe's grain silo and Calvin Millet's place. Actually, it tore the roof off of Rufus's silo and dropped it on Calvin's house--dead center. I drove out to see what happened with my best friend, Loretta Parsons, who is Ebb's sole resident black person and the owner of the Bold Cut Beauty Salon. Calvin's home was a sight to see. It looked like a pile of rubble with a great big aluminum teacup sitting in the middle of it. You wouldn't think that anybody's aim could be that good, not even God's.
After the tornado, Calvin and Lucy stayed with me at the Come Again for a few days until he found them a cracker-box of a house to rent in Carson, about fifteen minutes down the road toward the Kansas line. Calvin hasn't talked to Buzz Busby about rebuilding yet, even though that place is so small and so far away from town. I would know for sure if he had.
We're all sad for Calvin Millet and worried sick about poor Lucy--any caring person would be--but I have to tell you the honest truth: we're just as scared of rural America's variety of the domino theory. If Calvin's finances fall apart, then Millet's Department Store will fail. If Millet's goes under, then the county's political resolve will collapse and we'll get a Wal-Mart store one week later--in a ravine ten miles from nowhere because the land will be dirt cheap. The next thing you know, everybody in the county will be shopping for bargains in the ravine, so Loretta will have to shut her doors, and so will the Starbucks and every other place on Main except for the Corn Palace and the Yune Library. Then the girls won't bring their kids back after they get divorced and that will be the end of Ebb as we know it.
You may think that I'm exaggerating, but this town is perched on the sad edge of a slippery slope. I went to church and wished to God I could help in some way, but He sent us a salesman. That's right, a salesman. At least that's my theory. You be the judge.
Excerpted from In the Land of Second Chances by George Shaffner Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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2. Do you think that Ebb is the land of second chances referenced in the book’s title? What other meanings, both literal and metaphorical, do you think that the title suggests?
3. How does Vernon Moore immediately make an impact upon arriving in Ebb? What is it about his personality that compels those he meets? Does his instant charisma remind you of anyone that you’ve come in contact with?
4. "Something important was going to happen in Ebb," Wilma relates on page sixty-nine. How does this statement foreshadow the events to come? In which ways do the six days that Vernon Moore spends in Ebb have long-ranging, life-altering consequences for its townspeople?
5. Do you think it’s significant that Vernon sells games of chance? How do they hew to his philosophy that "uncertainty is the spice of life"?
6. Vernon Moore ultimately is a seller of hope. Why does he decide to take on the daunting task of convincing Calvin of a life after life? Why does Calvin finally come around to Vernon’s way of thought?
7. How does illness make Lucy Millet stronger? How does she display hope? In what ways is she a typical little girl? Why do you think she wants to come back to life as a seal?
8. How does "reasoned faith" link logic with spirituality and religion? Who in the novel had the most difficulty with accepting the notion of reasoned faith? What do you think about the concept?
9. Do the Three Paradoxes remind you of any other religions or philosophies? Did your thoughts about life after death change at all upon reading this book? Did your view of a benevolent God change?
10. On page 209, Clem is concerned with "the true identity of Vernon Moore." How would you answer that question?
11. On page 224, Vernon says, "it’s a bit of a long story; more like a parable really." Do you think that In the Land of Second Chances functions as a parable? If so, how?
12. How does the Quilting Circle act as a powerful force in Ebb? How do the townswomen display their affection and support for one another? Do men enjoy a similar outlet?
13. What is it about Vernon’s position as a stranger that enables him to gain the confidence and trust of the town? Before his arrival, were the residents of Ebb too insulated from the outside world? Do you believe that Ebb is truly the "last oasis of nice"?
14. Does Loretta’s philosophy on love change after Vernon Moore comes to town? How does her attitude toward him differ from how Wilma expresses her feelings about him? How do Wilma and Loretta complement each other in their deep friendship?
15. Do you think that Clem seeks to protect the interests of the town by his actions? In which ways is he motivated by his own selfishness?
16. What finally motivates Calvin to tell his daughter that she’s dying? What would you have done if faced with a similar situation? How do you envision Calvin’s life after Lucy’s death?
17. What’s an example of a lose-lose situation in the book? Name one that you’ve faced in your own life and discuss how you grappled with it.
18. SPOILER ALERT: The next question reveals an important plot point.
Why do you think Clem proposes to Wilma at the story’s conclusion? Do you think she will accept? What do you think Vernon Moore would advise her to do?
19. Vernon Moore is a questioner. What is the value of such a mindset? Who else in the book is loath to take things at face value? Do you know anyone who shares that kind of questioning attitude?
Posted October 15, 2014
Posted March 30, 2009
A traveling salesman hadn't come to Ebb, Nebraska in years and Wilma Porter, owner of the town's Bed and Breakfast and "in the know" when it concerned the town's residents, was very curious and quite willing to answer any question the well-dressed Vernon Moore asked about the residents of Ebb. Who was this mysterious stranger who brought so many changes to the lives of Calvin and his daughter, Lucy, age 11, and dying, their father-in-law and grandfather, Clem Tucker, Loretta, the out-going, black beauty operator, Wilma, herself, and to the town of Ebb, and what was he selling? Why couldn't any record be found of Vernon Moore, and when he left town on Easter Saturday, why did he tell Wilma he was going to Trinidad, Colorado and Loretta that he was going to the island in the Caribbean?
I love the new law passed in the town of Ebb at Lucy's funeral, that "no child proceed a parent in death, but if a child should break the law, he or she will be cared for unceasingly."
The author definitely wants the reader to view the story through the beliefs of his or her personal faith and suggests that Vernon Moore was of another world.
Eunice Boeve, author of Ride a Shadowed Trail
Posted November 22, 2004
What a little gem. I will admit I'm a sucker for a text that lifts the spirits and makes me feel good about the world. That said, Shaffner goes several steps beyond 'mere' heart-warming. I've recently read 'The Five People You Meet in Heaven' and enjoyed it, but for me, it paled in comparison. I was swimming in details of the many rich characters and relationships in the middle-American town for the first several chapters. Then the writing sucked me into that 'can't put it down' vortex. I love the sensation that my life is getting in the way of finishing a book and 'The Land of Second Chances' delivered just that dilemma. Delicious! There is some significant philosophy artfully tucked away in this text. I was deeply engaged by the story, but also struck by the gentle touch used to deliver some spiritual reckoning. Using logic and odds calculations to address age-old spiritual and philosophical issues is at a minimum unique. For me, it is also quite compelling. The story waltzes you through such explorations with empirically powered, odds assessments - backed up with 'even if it's a toss-up, why choose a frown?'. Shaffner gives us all something to smile about! I hope to see more from him.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 15, 2004
'In the Land of Second Chances' is one of those heartwarming books that can make you smile through your tears. The book features a cast of characters, some a little on the eccentic side, who deeply care about each other and their small rural town. With the help of a mysterious traveling salesman they face a series of adversities with love, humor, and perseverance. This is a story for today, one that reminds us of the importance of love, community, and the indomitable spirit that allows us to face even the most heart wrenching pain and hopelessness. This is a story about hope. A must read for all audiences.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 13, 2004
It's a delightful story delivered in an easy read style. The characters and setting are vividly depicted in the mind's eye...amazing given the efficient writing style of the author. I suspect this will be a big Christmas hit with families and individuals who cherish the human spirit.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 8, 2008
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