Laurel's Choices

Laurel's Choices

by Exie Wilde Henson
Laurel's Choices

Laurel's Choices

by Exie Wilde Henson


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Will Laurel Worth be able to survive the alien environment into which she and her young family have moved? As a successful teacher with nurse training and a well-known speaker for social issues such as women’s right to vote, Laurel—the beautiful, auburn-haired daughter of an esteemed professor—has been a public figure most of her adult life. Justin, college educated and already a successful professional photographer, is an adventurer at heart. But when Justin impulsively takes a job supervising a logging crew in the mountains of western North Carolina, he and Laurel find themselves in a primitive, sometimes hostile environment. The Worths’ new home is a two-room, rough-hewn shack in an isolated logging camp. Laurel’s challenges include a near-fatal rescue in a turbulent river, treating diphtheria and snake bites, a panther attack, endless work, and Justin’s skirmishes with outlaws and bootleggers. But she is strengthened by her faith, and Laurel learns to appreciate and love the mountain people. After they move from the logging camp, Laurel is hired to go into remote areas to teach adult literacy, where she immediately encounters more serious problems. Justin joins her in her faith and efforts to bring hope and a better life to these people. As the five Worth children grow to adulthood, their big house resounds with the presence of young people—for first-aid classes, music, ball games, and parties—until World War II calls the young men to fight for their country. Laurel’s Choices is a family saga spanning the years from 1920 to 1950. Set against the backdrop of national and international historical events, this spirited, patriotic book showcases the indomitable American spirit...and the powerful truth that it is not our circumstances but our choices that determine who we become.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781478768227
Publisher: Outskirts Press, Inc.
Publication date: 08/22/2016
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 5.98(w) x 9.02(h) x 0.93(d)

Read an Excerpt



The spring storm assaulted the tarp-covered wagon as it rolled through the forest - with only a few moments of warning. A few fat drops plopped around Justin and Laurel just ahead of the driving curtain of rain. The tarp, tied securely around the sides and back of the wagon, protected their two small children and their household goods, but the two of them were soon soaked. Lightning played around them and thunder seemed right over their heads. Justin knew they were in serious danger.

Tattoo, their Chestnut Bay, stopped in fright. Justin called. "Giddy-up, Tattoo, Giddy-up! He said to Laurel, "We're going to meet the storm head on and go through it as fast as we can. It's just as safe moving as it is sitting it out, maybe more so" He looked at her. "Are you okay?" "Yes, I'd rather be moving, too."

At Justin's urging, Tattoo kept up a fast trot, shying sideways when lightning struck close. The children, four-year-old Sarah and one-year-old Adam, started crying and Laurel reached for them but Justin said, "No. Leave them in their box seats. You may have to help me."

Laurel said, "Sarah, hush crying. Get into Adam's box with him and play peek-a-boo. I need to help your daddy." Sarah's crying dried to a hiccup and she soon had Adam quiet.

An explosive crack of thunder stopped Tattoo in his tracks. He snorted and jerked his head in fear. "Take the reins, Laurel. I'm going to help Tattoo."

Before she could protest, he was over the tongue of the wagon and had swung himself onto Tattoo's rump, scooting up toward his neck, rubbing him as he talked. "Come on, boy. We've ridden through a lot of storms together." He lay down over the horse's neck. "Giddy-up! I'm here with you! Move out!"

Tattoo shuddered and snorted. With seeming great effort, he put one foot before the other and started pulling again. Laurel's breath came in a rush. She waited for instructions as she watched Justin transmit courage and determination to Tattoo. The horse's response was touching. He trusted Justin enough to move out against his own will, despite obvious fear. When he was in full trot again, Justin sat up and took the reins. He kept a running monologue to Tattoo as he rubbed him. Occasionally, he raised his face to the storm - as if he welcomed it.

She watched him. He was in charge, riding bareback through the storm, one with his horse, facing serious danger to get his family to safety. Suddenly, the kaleidoscope in her mind that defined Justin shifted. A moment of truth assailed her. She knew that even while fighting him – about this move – she did not want him to change. She wanted him to be just who he was – different from any man she had ever known. He had talked about her capacity to enjoy life, but he, too, had a voracious hunger for a meaningful life. Had she been trying to cage an eagle?

It was as he said. One moment they were totally immersed in the storm; the next moment they were in startling bright sunlight. It was as if they had driven through a waterfall into the land beyond.

"Whoa, boy!" Justin was off the horse in a moment, hugging him and rubbing his head. "Good job, Tattoo! I knew you would bring us through!" Still soaked, with water running down his face and clothes, he turned and grinned at Laurel. "That was quite a storm!"

Her love and pride glowed. "And you are quite a man with quite a horse, Mr. Worth! A match for any storm!"

"Tattoo and I have ridden out a lot of storms, but this time I was afraid for you and the children. Are all of you okay?"

"We're fine," she said, looking at his dripping clothes. "You're the one who's not okay. We both need to change clothes."

Justin's clothes clung to him and water ran down his back. He shivered in spite of the sunshine. Laurel hurried to the back of the wagon. "If you'll help me untie this tarp, I'll find us some dry clothes."

She rummaged through two boxes to find a complete change of clothes and two towels. He dressed at the back of the wagon and she dressed inside. She then went to Tattoo, rubbed his forehead and said, "You're the bravest and best horse in the whole wide world." When Justin came around with his dry clothes on she was feeding Tattoo an apple left over from lunch. She pulled the horse's head down and hugged him, laying her face against his.

"Do I get one of those hugs?" She went into his arms the way he loved. "Thank you for taking care of us and getting us out of danger so fast." She pulled his face down and kissed him.

He tightened his arms around her. "With all that lightning dancing around, I was afraid the metal on the wagon might attract it, or it might strike a tree and knock it down on us,"

"You didn't act scared. You acted like a part of you was enjoying it." "You know me too well, woman!" He looked at her, pleased. "It was a challenge."

They got back to work. Laurel changed Adam's diaper while Justin wrung out their clothes. He laid them on top of the tarp to dry. Steam rose immediately and soon the wagon was rolling again – toward their new demanding destination.

As the wagon rolled on through the forest, Laurel, breathing the pine-scented air, took it all in. The huge evergreen trees, the rhododendrons, the undergrowth, the new baby leaves on the oaks and maples all shimmered in the afternoon sun. The river rushed around the bends and over the rocks, babbling and splashing but with a deep underlying relentless, flowing sound.

Both children had gone to sleep and Justin was quiet after his rough ride.

Laurel's thoughts turned to the events of the past two weeks when their lives had taken an unexpected, drastic turn. She had taken four-year-old Sarah and one-year-old Adam on a rare visit from the mountains of western North Carolina to her parents' home in Knoxville, Tennessee. She had been there about a week and was thoroughly enjoying being with her family and friends again when she was surprised by a telegram from Justin. She took a deep breath as she remembered....

She stood motionless in the foyer of Papa's house as she read the telegram. She frowned as if misunderstanding, then read it again. Have new job supervising logging crew in Pisgah Forest. Stop Will need to move to logging camp. Stop I'll meet your train on Sunday at 5 pm Stop Love, Justin Stop

She sat down heavily in a chair nearby. What had her impulsive Justin done? What did this mean? They had a good life where they were, a happy family in the small town of Deerbrook. Justin was making a name for himself as a top-notch photographer who traveled to where the action was or to people's homes to take pictures. They had recently discussed setting up a photography studio in town. She had taught school two years and was a sought-after public speaker on social issues such as women's right to vote.

Confusion and fear coursed through her. She had two days left to visit and resented Justin intruding with this news. She stood, raised her chin and decided she would face this challenge head-on when she got home. Meanwhile, she would enjoy the rest of her visit.

She took a moment to collect herself before she stood, folded the paper, and reentered the dining room to the supper from which Justin's telegram had called her away. The news, when she showed them the telegram, caused a flurry of discussion between Laurel's brother-in-law and Papa. Laurel was subdued, wondering what this would mean, what was involved, and Papa, noticing, soon turned the conversation to other channels.

As twilight came that evening, Laurel sat alone on the porch swing allowing the atmosphere of home to enfold her. The spacious two-story white farmhouse and grounds stood in understated elegance that only comes from aging and loving care. Laurel smiled as she looked at the two luxurious magnolia trees that dominated the front lawn where the croquet wickets were kept in place. Then her thoughts encompassed the grounds: out back with the table and benches, the horseshoe stakes, the ball field and the arbor with benches. This home, inside and out, shows a lot of living, she thought. A dream came unbidden that someday she and Justin could have a home and yard like this, where people could come for help or for fun.

The next afternoon, Laurel peeked into her father's study. He was busy at his desk. She watched him quietly for a moment. Hunter Kingsley was well named. The strong bone structure of his face suggested strength of character and revealed his Cherokee heritage. His father and grandfather had been trailblazers in integrating and contributing to white society around them. Her grandfather, Forest Kingsley, established quite a reputation as he successfully rode the dangerous, remote mail route through Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. He fought for the Union Army in the Civil War and it was no surprise when he was elected as a senator where he served the State of Tennessee with distinction for several years.

He married a strong-minded red-head from an old, established Knoxville family, who were proud to have him for a son-in-law.

Laurel spoke softly from the doorway, "Could I come in and visit for a few minutes?"

Her father stood. "Yes, please! I was wondering when we could have our talk."

After a few minutes of catching up on the details of each other's lives, Laurel said, "Papa, do you have any idea how important you are to this community? I was watching and listening Sunday when everyone was here. You have taught most of the people in this area under forty. They all feel welcome here and cared for. They also know you will tell them, without being asked — but kindly — if they are wrong. You expect certain behaviors at forty because you knew their abilities at twelve."

She paused, raised her chin, and asked, "Am I right, Professor?" He sat looking at her, amused. "So you still have the gift of impassioned speech. Good!"

"You are a constant, Papa. People depend on you. You are authority and wisdom and love to these people. This house serves as a haven, a church, a courthouse, a school, a hospital, and, above all, a home." She moved around as she spoke, touching his schoolbooks, his Justice of the Peace license, his Bible — the tools of his trade. Then she stopped, too full to continue.

He stood, held out his arms, and she went into them. "Papa, I love you," she said, her eyes brimming.

"And I love you, sweetheart." He held her close for a moment. Then he fished for his handkerchief and handed it to her. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Laurel, you've paid me high tribute. If I'm only a fraction of all those things you said, I will have fulfilled my purpose." He smiled. "You are your mother's daughter. You never knew her, but you are very like her. Your mother had the most profound love of life I've ever known in anyone. She had a great capacity not only to live, but to love." He spoke softly. "I couldn't believe that she loved me — a dry, bookish school teacher. But she did - and I adored her." She laid her hand on his.

"When she died, I wanted to die, too. I couldn't even think of you girls and your loss; my own was too great. My grief almost consumed me. Then, one day, my mind took over again. I could not change my loss, but with God's help, I could change my attitude. I promised her I would not retreat to my introverted academic world, but would live with people." He paused and put his hand over his eyes. Laurel sat without moving.

He continued almost in a whisper. "Then I let her go, Laurel. I made a choice that day to live my life as fully as possible for myself, for you girls, and for her. All you say I have done is mostly because she opened up a richer life to me. Your mother must have some of the credit."

They sat in silence for a while. Then Laurel said, "And Mama — Madeleine ... You've been happy together."

"Yes. Madeleine's a good woman. She keeps my feet planted on solid earth."

"And you love her."

"Yes, I love her. We have a good life. I've been blessed."

Madeleine came into the room with Adam in her arms and Sarah in tow. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Hunter, but a young couple is waiting to talk to you about getting married."

Laurel took the children, giving Papa her "I told you so" look as she left the room.

The rest of the visit passed quickly. Her mind was divided; she enjoyed being with her family, but she felt a growing apprehension and resentment toward Justin for making this decision while she was away. As she watched her children enjoy her family, she wished she and Justin lived closer. She realized she enjoyed the status she still had here as her father's daughter. She was also regarded as a successful teacher in her own right, having taught four years with her Papa before marrying. This made her feel slightly disloyal to Justin, though they both were becoming well known and respected in Deerbrook. The superintendent and parents as well as students valued her teaching. She also felt she had finally turned their house into a home that reflected who she and Justin were.

But several times lately she had felt restless, as if something important were missing from her life — as if she should be doing more.

Sunday morning, she said her goodbyes and boarded the train with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Knowing instinctively what she was feeling, Papa held her close and said, "Let us know as soon as possible about this logging job."

The rhythm of the train lulled the children to sleep after the bountiful lunch Madeleine had packed. Laurel leaned back and watched the varying landscapes glide past her window. After relaxing a few minutes and absorbing the beauty, her thoughts turned to the speech she was scheduled to make on women's suffrage in Deerbrook as soon as Congress ratified the Nineteenth Amendment. Last October, Laurel had given her first serious public speech since moving to Deerbrook, sharing with about one hundred and twenty-five women the reasons for Prohibition and how they could help Wildwood County "go dry."

Now she had been invited to be the principal speaker for the Women's Suffrage Rally by Mrs. Henry Sargent, president of the Women's Temperance Union and a formidable civic-minded crusader. They had become an unlikely team, balancing each other as they led the fight for Prohibition in Wildwood County.

Justin was surprised and elated to be picked as supervisor of the new logging job for Beck Lumber Company. Their large boundary of timber in Pisgah Forest should take a few years to log. The section was remote, about four hours south of Asheville by horse and wagon. Since the depletion of timber reserves in the northeast, large timber companies were moving into western North Carolina. The mountains offered, besides their incredible beauty, a climate that encouraged the growth of the most extensive virgin hardwood forests to be found in the entire country.

When Justin found out about the job interviews, he knew that several men had already applied. However, he was excited to think he could be working in the forests again – work he had enjoyed as a young man in a logging camp. He also figured he could continue his photography. When he sat down to talk, he realized quickly that Hiram Beck, in charge of Beck Lumber Company, was a man in a hurry. For about half-an-hour, Justin answered his rapid-fire questions. Then Mr. Beck took his well-chewed cigar out of his mouth and placed it in a large ashtray. "Can you go to work for me on Monday?"

Surprised, Justin sat forward, "Just like that?"

"Yes." His eyes glinted briefly. "You're an educated man, Worth. You don't have to do this kind of work. But you are your own man, making your own choices. That means you're likely to be a leader of men."

When Justin left the office about an hour later, he knew he needed to get home and think. The job offer had happened so fast there had been no time to contact Laurel. The word that he had the job would travel fast, and he didn't want to talk to anyone until he had made his plans.

He quickly unhitched Tattoo, his chestnut bay, from the shady side of the street, mounted and rode out of town. He wished Laurel were home. She had a way of helping him simplify things. He knew that his photography alone was not going to support them, and Laurel needed to stay home with the children. On his way, he stopped and sent her the telegram.

As he and Tattoo approached their white bungalow set back from the road, his glance swung over the picket fence, the two oak trees, Sarah's swing, and the ruffled curtains at the windows. He had his first qualms about Laurel's reaction to this move. She was happy here in Deerbrook. Stopping, he leaned over and rubbed Tattoo's neck. "I hope I've done the right thing for all of us, Tattoo."


Excerpted from "Laurel's Choices"
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Copyright © 2016 Exie Wilde Henson.
Excerpted by permission of Outskirts Press, Inc..
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