As a drought and the Great Depression continue to ravage Fremont County, Kansas, Deborah Nelson is attempting to raise seven boys, with the help of her neighbors and the spirit of her beloved friend, Grandfather Blue Sky. With her husband, Christian, missing for two years, Deborah has had no choice but to learn to rely on herself in uncertain and challenging times.
Even as black blizzards rage throughout the plains, Deborah is still determined not to return to Minnesota where life is sure to be easier. Thankfully, her bachelor neighbor, Victor Whitesong, has agreed to share parenting responsibilities, relieving some of her burden. Encouraged by the county agent, Deborah implements Roosevelt's conservation programs on her land. Tensions escalate as the KKK wreaks havoc on the community, forcing it to take action. Deborah and Victor fall in love. But they must keep their relationship secret, fearing the sheriff, who already abhors Deborah and suspects they caused harm to her husband, even though his body has never been found.
In this continuing historical saga, Deborah is about to discover the depths of racial prejudice when she opens her heart to her Indian friends and changes the dynamic of her family once again.
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Read an Excerpt
For the Duration
Earth's Memories Series, Book IV
By Nancy Larsen-Sanders
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Nancy Larsen-Sanders
All rights reserved.
Looking for Water
The little boy drew the small paintbrush along the wood, pressing too hard, moving the bristles with difficulty, and then not pressing hard enough. The brush swooped into the air like a bird startled from a fence post. Drops of white paint landed here and there, and a hot wind blew dust into the spots.
He grinned, his mouth full of baby teeth so white in his tanned face. "See, Deb'r! Me paint!"
"Good job, Jimmy. Good."
Deborah Nelson studied her old work shoes, not bothering to wipe the spatters away. They were her favorite, most comfortable shoes, marked with memories of other jobs ... the shallow cut on the leather from the time she used her foot to brace the sharp disk on a field implement ... oil from greasing the temperamental Maytag washing machine ... the marks from being gouged by broken barbed wire hidden under blown-in thistles. And there were the new soles that Victor Whitesong had proudly cobbled under August's teaching eye. Playing with words, the way her husband Christian used to do, Victor had said, "Look, I didn't cobble up the job."
"Next, Deb'r, next." Jimmy was learning the word next.
Before they had started painting the addition to Victor's house, Deborah had put a worn-out T-shirt from one of the bigger boys over Jimmy's overalls, pulled the stretched neckline up in back, and pinned it with a clothespin. Socks, so worn they could no longer be darned, covered his hands and shoes. He had laughed as she dressed him, knowing he looked silly, even saying he looked silly, but not bothered by it. The last thing she had done was split the cuff of a man's stretched sock, which she pulled over his blond hair like a stocking cap. A tuft of hair stuck out of a hole where the sock's heel would have been. He had said, "Thank you, Deb'r."
She had crouched down. "Let me hug you before you get paint on yourself." He hugged back, nuzzling his face against her neck.
He swaggered about, waving the small brush. "Me! Me ... paint!" Each time Jimmy said me, he jabbed his index finger into his chest. He grinned at the bigger boys who were also painting the side of the house.
Deborah wore her hair in long braids, and she stopped to tuck them inside her collar and tie a bandana over her head. Jimmy gestured with his brush. "Hair. Black." He was learning his colors.
She held his hand and dipped his brush into the bucket of paint. He needed help. Jimmy either barely dampened the ends of the bristles or overfilled them with paint onto the handle. He made a light, useless stroke on the board, and she put her hand on his, helping him feel the amount of pressure needed to move the brush. When she let go, he managed to paint a stripe.
Seven boys, her two and John Strate's five, were helping her paint Victor Whitesong's house, doing whatever part of the job each was capable of accomplishing. Jimmy Strate wasn't the best of painters, but he desperately needed to feel he was a part of the group. At the stage where his awareness of being the youngest and smallest was driving him to be more like the big boys, Jimmy often said, "Me big!"
The hot wind had been blowing all morning, and a sudden gust sent more dust and dry grass flying about them. "Oh, man," groaned Paul, the oldest of John's boys. "Dusty white. The drought is going to be preserved on the side of this house."
Jimmy blinked his eyes free of the dust. A broken piece of leaf stuck to saliva in the corner of his mouth, and Deborah bent to brush it away.
"Thank you, Deb'r."
"You're welcome." She had never known such an appreciative child.
He thrust out his hand. "I'm two!" She could imagine he was holding up two fingers within the sock.
"Two going on three," she sang.
"Free!" He held up his sock-covered hand again. His brush stroked the board with paint.
August Goodman came around the corner of the house. "That's a dandy job, Jimmy. All you boys, you're doing a real fine job." The old man removed his straw hat and wiped his face. "You be sure you stay in this shade. It's a hot day."
"You'd better follow your own advice, August." Deborah examined him closely. He seemed hot and tired. "Come sit on this tar bucket. You can supervise us."
"I believe I will, daughter." He was frail, and the overturned five-gallon bucket just fit his smallness. She brushed his white hair back from his forehead, and the breeze caught it, ruffling its dampness.
"That air feels good," he said, watching the boys. "Here you all are, working so hard while I sit, and I'm the one who caused the work."
"That's not how we see it." She smoothed his hair to one side. "We're getting a lot done, and that's satisfying."
The old man's face wasn't quite as flushed now. He grinned and bounced on his seat in that typical manner of his. His face sobered. "Daughter, I've been thinking about how much we've been getting done since all of us decided to work together. But I don't think Audrey and me can say we're doing a lot at eighty-five."
She wondered why he was thinking that. "That's not true. You do chores, you cut and rake alfalfa, and Audrey gardens and cooks. Both of you help to supervise and teach the boys. We're all grateful that you taught Harlan and Lawrence how to tie shoes. Sure saves on shoestrings." All of the boys laughed. "This many children need serious watching over. You know it, they know it."
Flies buzzed about Deborah's head, and she batted at them tiredly. "Age doesn't matter. You've brought your experience. Where else would I have learned things like making sauerkraut and dill pickles? Or how to smoke hams without burning down the smokehouse?" They both laughed, remembering how Christian had once set the smokehouse on fire.
Paul had been listening. "Grandpa August, if Grandma wasn't cooking, my dad might be, and sometimes that's a catastrophe."
"Well," the old man said, "I reckon that's a consideration for sure. Though he does make a good boiled egg and coffee."
"Oh? You ever been around when he has let some eggs boil dry?" Lester asked. "You ever smelled that?"
"You've taught me plenty about weather," Paul said.
Lester said, "Yep, and about the old days when you first came to Kansas. I like learning about the olden days."
All of the boys had been listening.
"I've learned things about your Indian friends from the old days," Harlan said.
"I liked learning how to plant tomatoes from Grandma Audrey," Lester said.
"Tomato worms," Lawrence said.
"What about them?" Paul asked.
"Grandma Audrey couldn't see them, so I got to pick them and feed them to the chickens. That was fun."
David said, "Grandma Audrey helped me learn to read."
"You taught me how to harness a team and drive a wagon," said Jonathan. "Even David learned how to do some of it."
August looked more cheerful. "I suppose there's something to all that." Jimmy pretended he was going to paint August's face. The old man reached out and patted the boy's cheek. "Watch out there, young fellow." He slapped his knees and stood. "I'd better go tell John and Victor how to do that porch repair."
* * *
There had been some argument when August suggested his calf shed be moved and added onto Victor's little two-room house. "You've done enough for me, old friend," Victor said.
The old man had his reasoning ready. "Now, Victor, a kitchen and one bedroom are fine for a bachelor. But if you're going to have John and all his boys live with you, where they going to sleep? I don't need the shed anymore ... had to get rid of all my calves." His voice ended on a mournful note, so unlike the old man.
"You'll need it when the beef market bounces back. You'll have calves again—"
"Nope. This drought and the Depression don't appear to be ending soon and I'm eighty-five, getting old. Does it seem likely I'll need a calf shed again? Consider this as just one of my contributions to our cooperative."
Victor grumbled, "It looks like you and Audrey are doing a lot more cooperating than I am."
"I'm not contributing much," John said. "Being a man without a home or job, I don't have much to offer."
"Hold on, both of you," August said. "Victor, you been working hard. John, you're contributing your strong back and the strong backs of all your boys—from the fifteen-year-old down to that little two-year-old."
Victor said, "John can fix a truck before I even know there's something wrong."
Deborah thought she had heard enough. "Let me put in my two cents. John has carpentry skills, and we're going to need them when we add the shed."
Victor laughed, maybe with some relief in the sound, she thought. He had to have been concerned where everyone would sleep in the little house.
"Sounds like it's settled," said Victor. "You're right, old friend. We've got to have space for five boys who get bigger and bigger with each day."
"Me," Jimmy had said. "Big."
* * *
John proved himself to be the best carpenter of all of them, simplifying the moving job by cutting the shed in half. He jacked up each half and moved it on a long trailer. He taught Paul and Lester how to mix and pour cement for the foundation. Once the shed was set down, John worked alone while the rest of them went about their work with the livestock and gardens. He created two new rooms from the shed, putting in ceilings, floors, and windows. After installing lath and wire netting, he plastered and whitewashed the walls.
"I've never seen such good work." August inspected each room, peering closely at the smooth plaster. "Not a crack. John, you could make a living doing this ... if there was a living to be made. We aren't going to look back on 1932 and say we made a killing, but Victor will have a big enough house."
* * *
Deborah helped Jimmy dip the brush. There was a satisfied look on the boy's face as the white paint covered the faded barn-red of the boards. "Good boy, Jimmy. Good boy." She filled her own brush and painted spots he missed.
"Good, Deb'r. Good," he praised her. Together they dipped his brush.
She listened to the chatter of the boys and a resounding hammering from the front of the house. Crockery and utensils clattered in Victor's kitchen as Audrey put away dishes from their noon meal.
This was the first time Deborah had been on the backside of Victor's house. No buildings were here, just his young trees, each with its dike for holding water, trees that August and the small boys had watered all summer. The pastures, filled with meadowlark and killdeer songs, stretched all about her. Numerous yucca and prickly pear grew in a rugged area close by, and a barbed wire and rock post fence was near the addition of the house. The dryness of the grass was worrisome, so yellow gray without the usual hints of August green. A few puffy clouds, driven by the drying south winds, sometimes briefly dimmed the blistering sun. Their shadows raced over Victor's land, darkening further the drabness of the buffalo grass.
In the north was a distant smudge, not a cloud, its shape becoming more clearly defined as it moved closer. To the eye, its definition broke into the minute parts of a flock of geese. They swooped east, west, and even briefly back to the north in its V-shaped pattern, yet always progressing southward, bit by bit. Deborah faintly heard their honking.
"What would your Grandfather Blue Sky say about that?" Paul watched the geese. "It's so early, too early, for geese to go south."
"Well, I think Grandfather would say they're on the move, looking for water. The drought has been bad up north, clear into Canada."
"I've been curious, did you believe everything the old Indian said?"
"I didn't always readily accept everything, but that was okay with him. He wanted me to question." She smiled. "I was known for my stubbornness and my opinions. Yet I trusted Grandfather Blue Sky more than any other human being." She helped Jimmy dip his brush.
"He was your teacher and your friend ..."
"I've been wondering, did he ever comment, like other folks, as to how Indian you look?"
"Oh, no. Of course he knew what some folks were saying—what some folks did and said—but he knew my parents were Swedish. I always wanted to be Indian though. I wanted to be like Grandfather, I loved him so. I decided that learning what he knew was the best way to be like him."
"That makes sense," he said.
She managed to guide Jimmy's hand just as he dipped the brush. She looked at the sky again. The flock of geese was well into the southeast now.
"Boys, look," she said softly and pointed.
A red fox, its ears perked, crouched on a knoll not far away. Even Jimmy stared. "Don't talk too loud," she said, "although I'd say he's been hearing us already. Maybe he won't run away."
"Why's he this close?" Paul asked in a low voice.
"Water, I suspect. Looking for water or hunting. So many critters needing water."
"Maybe he'll find your little pool."
Deborah regularly allowed her pasture tank to overflow, creating a pool for small animals. "Or maybe he knows you boys sometimes water Victor's trees."
With an abrupt movement that startled them, the fox leaped into the air and landed near a yucca. He had attacked a rabbit. There was a flurry of small legs, even some flying fur, and the rabbit's wild but all-too-human squeal chilled their hearts. There was silence, and the bundle of fur in the fox's mouth was bloody. The fox trotted away, head lifted with his burden, not bothered by the watchers.
The boys were transfixed. The thought came to Deborah that what John's children had seen might be a reminder to them of the horrible time their mother had killed Melonie, their sister—followed by the woman's hysterical screeches and probably the cries of Jimmy who had fallen to the floor from Melonie's lap.
She heard Lester gasp and looked up at the boy on his ladder. A windblown cloud had just covered the sun. As quickly as it had come, the shadow was gone. Lester still described his reoccurring nightmares about his mother's attack on their sister Melonie as being like a black cloud or shadow coming down. More than once, when Deborah had worked with the boy, she had seen him react to a cloud's sudden shade.
The pain they were feeling distanced Paul's gray eyes and left Lester white-faced.
Hoping to distract them, Deborah said, "We don't often see a fox that close. I only hear them down by the creek," she said.
"Bad fox," Jimmy said. "Nice bunny."
The tension was broken. They turned back to their work.
* * *
The painting of the addition was going fast. Paul was supervising. "We've got to do it right, you guys, for Victor." He dipped his brush, helping Harlan and Lawrence at the lower levels. Jonathan and David worked on his other side.
Each boy painted at the height he could reach, while Lester stretched to the highest boards and eaves. He climbed down. "Deb'r, I'm ready to move my ladder."
"Okay." She helped Jimmy dip into the paint can. "Lester needs me. Work until your brush runs out of paint, Jimmy. I'll be back, okay?"
He grinned. The sock on his head had slipped, and she tugged it down and kissed his nose.
Deborah and Lester pulled the ladder away from the house. They were just positioning it in a new spot when she heard Jimmy.
"Yuk!" He screamed. "Deb'r!"
Jimmy had licked the brush, thick with paint, and the whiteness smeared his tongue and dripped down his chin.
Deborah let go of the ladder, hearing it thud against the house. "Jimmy! Oh, no."
"Ice cream," he screamed. "Yuk!"
"No, it's not ice cream." She called for help. "John, Victor!"
Deborah grabbed the tail of the little boy's protective shirt and scrubbed at his tongue. He drooled saliva, and it joined the tears that ran down his face.
Victor was beside her, his gentle hands holding the boy's head. "Did he swallow it?"
"I'm not sure." She scrubbed at Jimmy's tongue, and he gagged. When she rubbed again, he vomited.
"That vomit doesn't seem to have paint in it," Victor said.
John was helping Deborah wipe Jimmy's chin. "Yeah, but would it come up? Or would it just coat his throat? There's lead in that."
Victor held the little boy's hands, trying to soothe him. "Hey, little feller."
John said, "He probably didn't get enough to hurt him—"
"Toxic," Deborah said, sobbing with Jimmy. She sat on the ground and held him on her lap while they cleaned him. It was her fault. Little ones trusted the big folks to take care of them, to not put something dangerous where they would get into it. Remembering the time David stepped on a nail in the old woodpile, she shuddered.
Audrey came with rags and a basin. "Whatever it is, his pores will absorb it," she said. The old lady bent to look at the crying boy. "I've got soap here, and clean rags."
Excerpted from For the Duration by Nancy Larsen-Sanders. Copyright © 2013 Nancy Larsen-Sanders. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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