Now available at www.amazon.com/author/lynneckerle
In both print form and on your Kindle
It all started the day I finished a novel and thought I can write one that’s better.
I had no idea what I was getting into and it’s a darn good thing. If I’d known, I would never have written that first sentence.
After years – seriously years – of starting and stopping, revisions and more revisions, having my story read by a retired English teacher and one of my writing buddies, then more revisions, finally the manuscript for Wild Irish Rose was finished.
From time to time, I’d submitted my novel to various literary agencies and to individual agents then waited and waited for replies. It can take MONTHS to hear back and I wasn’t getting any younger. A few asked to see from ten to thirty pages then there was more waiting. Either I never heard back or received polite rejections. This led to my re-reading Wild Irish Rose and more revisions. I decided I wasn’t going to play the waiting game any longer. It was time for this novel – this story to be told.
I started the new year off with a bang – actually by pushing submit and published my novel Wild Irish Rose on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. The whole process was both scary and exhilarating; it has been a long and amazing journey.
Please enjoy this short excerpt from my novel Wild Irish Rose.
Emily bundled up against the cold. The black twisted branches of the trees were silhouetted against the moon. They were like arms reaching toward the light. The new snow was deep blue in the dark shadows and sparkled under the streetlights. Emily walked along the bike path that followed the Red Cedar River. It would take her over the stone bridge and onto campus. From there it was a short walk to the library.
Clouds blew across the moon and darkness held her in its embrace. The unblemished snow on the path glowed ahead of her. Emily saw the stone arches of the bridge. Clinging snow softened the edges. The river was swift with shelves of ice along the banks. Dark water rushed by, laughing and whispering as it raced down stream.
The night held its breath as Emily stepped onto the cobblestone bridge. The stones had been worn smooth from years of use. She imagined a carriage dashing across, pulled by two matched bays and carrying a young man and his sweetheart. Emily glimpsed them through an open window. Their laughter hung in the air as they passed by.
She pushed away the image and leaned her arms on the stone ledge. Puffs of snow fell into the water. She watched the ducks sleeping on the thin ice. Their feet were tucked into downy underbellies and their heads were hidden under their wings. She rested her chin on her coat sleeve and watched the river rush by. Her mind wandered over the events of the past several days and settled on Professor MacCormack
“Aaron,” she murmured. His name sounded like a caress, a whispered promise, a breathless sigh.
That night Emily sat cross-legged in the middle of her bed and listened to the wind scratching around her window. The three letters lay on the quilt in front of her. They had been sent over the space of twelve years and were addressed to Benjamin Fitzpatrick, West River Bend, Michigan Territory. The oldest two letters began with the salutation: To My Dearest Friend. They were filled with news of Boston and bits of gossip. They were signed: With deepest and abiding friendship, Will and Julia.
Emily unfolded the last letter and read, Benjamin, my Dearest One. She caught sight of a movement out of the corner of her eye. For a moment, she thought an image swirled in the cheval mirror, but then it was gone. Her reflection stared back from across the room. The bedroom door was closed and yet she felt someone was in the room. She sensed their eyes upon her.
Benjamin, dear Benjamin, what were you to this mysterious Julia, Emily wondered? She looked back at the sheets of parchment in her hands. She took a deep breath and read: My heart is broken. Will sent my sweet Jeremy away. He insisted that only London could give my son the schooling appropriate for a Hawke. It was just an excuse to send him away. How will I endure the years without him? Jeremy is my heart, my morning sun, my life. I am lost and desolate. Will is a monster. I never know what will bring on one of his rages. At least Jeremy is safely away from him. Artimus has left our employ. Do you remember him? He was our cook. He refuses to stay under the same roof with Will. Tillie has remained with me. Bless her. We give each other comfort during the hard times.
Please don’t mention any of this in your letters. Will reads them all out loud at the dinner table. I fear if he knew what I had written it would bring on one of his punishments.
Here is the last portrait of Jeremy that you will receive. He will be a man grown before he returns.
I love you my friend and miss you dearly, especially now.
Emily set the letters on her nightstand. Reading them hadn’t satisfied her curiosity, it had made it grow stronger. She turned off her bedside lamp and opened her curtains. She stood before her window and looked out at the night. The new snow lay in lines of sparkling blue-violet along the top of the tree branches and the river was a black velvet ribbon.
The Ground shifted under my feet. I looked to my right and there was Brenda, bouncing up and down with a big smile on her face. I have to admit, the sensation of the earth moving beneath my feet was pretty awesome. I did some bouncing of my own.
We were in a Black Spruce Bog; part of a joint expedition of the Jackson Audubon Society and the Huron Chapter of the Michigan Botanical Club, led by Robert Ayotte – a man who really knows his dirt and trees.
The bog is located in the Waterloo Recreation Area and is the southern edge of the Boreal forest. The gentle hills and valleys in the area mark the farthest southern reach of the glaciers. The hills, or moraine, are made of gravel, clay, sand and minerals left as the glaciers melted and retreated north. This type of soil is known as till. Robert dug a hole in the ground to show us the different layers of earth.
. The footing in the bog was tricky, with fallen limbs and smaller branches hidden by a blanket of leaves and dormant grasses. I was doing my best to not trip and fall flat on my face. There was standing water in places and once or twice my boots sank a couple of inches into the muck. I felt like a little kid, out walking in the woods with my dad.
Robert located a black spruce that was about 10 inches in diameter. He turned an auger into the tree and pulled out the bore. He counted 95 rings. The tree was almost 100 years old.
He told us that the Black Spruce is a semi-serotinous tree, meaning that fire helps the cones open and distribute the winged seeds. Cones will stay on a tree for decades and the trees live up to 200 years. The Black Spruce is a multi-purpose tree in the wild. It provides cover for larger animals and food and nesting sites for birds.
and tree stumps turned into sun-dazzles sculptures.
The year was 1827, fourteen years since my birth. I stood outside the two-story log house. All the homes in my village were squat and one-story. But this building was a sight to behold. What piqued my curiosity the most was the Christmas tree in the upstairs front window. It was a dark shadow behind the glass. The light from the street lamp touched the tips of the branches giving the needles a soft glow. The outline of the glass ornaments was shining like a multitude of crescent moons. I wondered if there were presents, wrapped in colorful foil and fancy ribbons, lying at its base.
I pulled my collar up, held my hands to my face and puffed out warm air. My cheeks were crispy with the cold and felt about to crack. I could knock on the door. I could do that, yes I could. Wood smoke rose from chimney. It wound its way into the dark sky, its odor sweet. I knew the hearth fire would be bright and warm.
There was likely a pot of stew on the back of the stove, simmering and thick; full of meat and vegetables. All I had to do was knock on the door and ask for a helping. They wouldn’t turn away a hungry traveler, would they? It was bad luck to do so and would bring a pox on all who dwelled there. At least, that was what my mum had said. I stamped my feet. The thin rags, wrapped around my tattered shoes were scant defense against the cold.
I was thankful for the farmer who had given me a lift into town. He didn’t ask any questions and the hay in his cart made a warm bed for as long as the ride lasted. I only wish I could’ve spent the night huddled in the stalks but it wasn’t to be. His mercy had only extended as far as this door.
My mum scratched the address, with charcoal from the stove, on a bit of paper and pressed it into my palm before she’d handed me my satchel. With father gone and the new baby almost here it was time for me to find my own way. There wasn’t space or provision for one more and I was the oldest.
I heard footsteps and looked over my shoulder. A man, wearing a beaver hat and a great coat, walked toward me. He reached out a gloved hand. My knees locked and refused to work when I bid my legs to run. The time for escape disappeared as the man found my collar. His grip tightened until I was nigh strangling. He shook me, lifting me to my toes and said, “Speak boy, before I fetch the constable. What business brings you to the door of Mr. Burns?”
“He be my grandpa” I said.
The man snorted his disbelief but loosened his grip a smidgen. I drew air deep into my lungs, so much so that for a moment the world swirled around me.
“The Mr. and Mrs.’ only son passed from the fever and ague when he was a lad. There is no grandchild,” he said.
“My mum is his daughter. She gave me this as proof to her claim.” I held out a small locket on a tarnished chain. It was etched with a Celtic cross.
The man looked closely. “How would a boy, the likes of you, come to have such a thing?”
“I told you. My mum gave it to me. For as long as I can remember she wore it day and night. I never saw her without this locket until the day she handed it to me.”
“We shall settle this one way or the other. Mr. Burns is expecting me. We’ll see what he has to say on the matter.”
With his hand still grasping my collar, the man dropped the brass knocker against the door. After a breath or two the portal opened.
“Dr. Cornell,” the steward said. “The master awaits you in the missus’ chamber. She doesn’t fare well, sir.”
“Thank you, Jenkins. I’ll go right up.”
As the steward opened the door farther the doctor pushed me over the threshold.
“Would you see that the lad has a bite to eat?” the doctor asked.
“Of course, sir.” The steward gave me a wry look. “If I may be so bold, sir, who might the waif be?”
“That’s still to be determined. I found him lurking in front of the gate. What do they call you boy?” he asked.
“Jonathon, Jonathon Bishop,” I replied.
“Hand him over to Cook, but don’t leave him unattended. There’s no telling what mischief he’s apt to get into. Mr. Burns and I will be down shortly,” the doctor said.
“Yes, sir,” the steward replied.
I followed the man to the kitchen where, after repeating the doctor’s instructions, he left me in the care of the cook.
“Let’s have a look at you,” she said. When was the last time you had a meal?”
“I can’t rightly say. It might have been the day before yesterday or the day before that,” I said.
“Sit yourself down then. The first order of business had better be getting some warm soup into that belly of yours.” The cook put two ladles full into an earthenware bowl. She set it on the table in front of me and lay a spoon at its side.
I whispered the prayer of thanksgiving that my mum gave whenever we had the opportunity to eat then dipped a big spoonful from the steaming bowl. My hand shook and the broth dripped from the edges of the spoon. I took care as not to get any on the table. At first taste, my throat forgot how to swallow and my stomach forgot how to receive. But it wasn’t long before I scraped the bottom of the bowl. I looked up at the cook. She had one raised eyebrow and a broad smile.
“More?” she asked.
“Yes, please,” I said.
I had sopped up the last of my soup with a heel of bread when I heard the doctor speaking as he came down the stairs.
“It won’t be long now, Samuel. Poor Marianne put up a good fight but she’s getting weaker every hour. I saw the Christmas tree made her smile. It was a brilliant idea,” the doctor said.
“It’s a bit early in the season but I thought it better than to wait,” Samuel said.
“Try to keep her calm, resting and free from worry. A shock of any kind could be the end of her.”
“I will stay by her side through the night. I wish Robert had lived. Our son would be a comfort , but it wasn’t to be and now I will spend the last of my years alone. My wish is that I join my dear Marianne soon,” Mr. Burns said.
The men had reached the kitchen and I rose from my chair.
Dr. Cornell placed a hand on Mr. Burn’s arm. “It will be a long night my friend. There isn’t any more that can be done but send for me if there is a change.”
“Come lad, you’ve enjoyed enough of Mr. Burns’ kindness. It’s time to leave this household in peace,” the doctor said.
I started to clear away my dishes but the cook shooed me away.
“Off with you now,” she said.
I thanked her and hurried after the doctor into the foyer. When we were clear of the front gate the doctor turned to me and said, “Now is not the time to bring your petition, lad.”
“But sir, I was hoping for a position with Mr. Burns. I have no means for lodging or a hot meal.”
He looked on me kindly and said, “You can stay with me and Mrs. Cornell tonight. In the morning we will decide on more permanent arrangements. Ah, here’s my man now.”
A covered coach pulled up to a stop. The driver held the door open for the doctor and myself.
“Up with you, lad,” the doctor said. “You’re going to be quite a surprise for my missus.”
The doctor’s wife settled me on a pallet by the fireplace. Her dog, Molly, lay down beside me, happy to share the extra warmth. Mum hadn’t let us have a dog. There was no food to share and mum said it wouldn’t be fair to take in a pet only to have it starve.
I slid an arm over the dog’s back and shared half the blanket. I slept soundly until the smell of fresh biscuits and frying bacon awakened me in the morning. My stomach grumbled while I pulled on my breeches and slipped on my tunic.
Mrs. Cornell looked in and said, “I thought I heard you stirring. Come, breakfast is ready.”
I followed her and the delicious smells into the kitchen. Dr. Cornell sat at the table bathed in the pale winter sun of morning. I was painfully aware that I carried the aroma of the farm wagon I’d ridden into town.
I pulled out a stool and sat to the right of the doctor. Molly found a place between my feet. When Mrs. Cornell set full plates in front of us, the dog’s ears perked up and her eyes beseeched me for a morsel. I waited to eat while the doctor folded the weekly he had been reading and laid it to one side.
He picked up his fork and stabbed a sausage then looked at me. “Don’t let your food grow cold, lad,” he said.
After we had finished and pushed our empty plates away, there came a knocking at the door. The doctor and Mrs. Cornell exchanged quick glances.
“Do you want me to see who’s there?” I asked.
“No. I’ll see to it.” Dr. Cornell said.
I could hear a hurried and hushed conversation and then the doctor returned to the kitchen. Mrs. Cornell wrung her hands, concern written on her face.
“It’s Mrs. Burns, she’s taken a turn for the worse,” the doctor said. “Fetch our coats lad, you can be of some help today.” He put his hands on my shoulders. Our eyes met and he said, “Today is not the day to burden Samuel with your cause.”
“But Mr. Burns is my grandfather. My mum said to show him the locket. She said he will know me by it.”
“My now, isn’t that a pickle.” Mrs. Cornell said and looked first at the doctor and then at me. She sighed, turned back to the cook stove and brought forth a second batch of biscuits. The doctor handed one to me and took one for himself. The biscuit was hot and I tossed it from one hand to the other.
“That’s the lad’s claim, but I find it hard to fathom. I don’t see how it can be. The matter is moot for the time being. Mrs. Burns is far too sick to be troubled with such things.” The doctor turned to me and continued, “You’ll have to wait to press your case.”
“Yes, sir,” I said and wondered at what my future would hold until then.
Mr. Burns met us at the door and urged us to enter. The doctor handed me his bag and directed me to follow him up the stairs. I didn’t want to go. The memory of helping mum when little Sissy was so ill pressed heavily on me. We reached the top of the stairs and the doctor entered the missus’ sick room ahead of me. The smells; they were the same as the night Sissy died. I hesitated, not wanting to enter.
“Jonathon, be quick lad. My bag.” The doctor reached toward me. I stumbled forward and fumbled his bag. He took it from my hand and set it at the foot of Mrs. Burns’ bed.
I ventured a quick look. Her eyes were open but I wasn’t sure there was still life within her. Then she coughed a small weak cough. There was no strength in her for more.
The doctor listened to her heart and spoke with her in hushed tones. He stood then bid me to sit with her while he and Mr. Burns stepped into the hall. I settled into the bedside chair and looked at her ashen face. She gave me the faintest of smiles and took hold of my hand. I sat still as a rock, afraid if I moved she would expire right then and there. Her hand was small and light in mine. Her skin felt like dried leaves.
The doctor was correct in his assessment. I couldn’t bring the news of my parentage into this house today. The day belonged to the lady in the bed. By the looks of her, it would be her last.
Dr. Cornell chose to stay. He sent me back to let Mrs. Cornell know he would be gone all day but would most likely return by nightfall.
The doctor’s wife sadly shook her head when I gave her the message.
“I could hope you are Samuel’s grandson. Mrs. Burns has been his life. Without her he has no one. A daughter and grandchildren would be a blessing, and devil take the scandal. The gossips will have a day of it, no doubt. And a man in his position. But a family! It would be a God-send,” she said.
“It’s not my intent to bring shame to Mr. Burns,” I said. “I have nowhere else to go. There’s no food for the little ones. I was hoping he would take pity and give me a place on his staff. Then I could provide for them.”
“How many are there?” Mrs. Burns asked.
“Counting mum and the new babe, there will be six. If I can’t find work, I don’t know how mum and the little ones will get by.”
The hours passed like a wagon bogged down in the mud. Mrs. Cornell set me to some chores, more for distraction than need. She had me pound the rugs, rearrange the root cellar and bring in wood for the night. The evening approached and supper simmered on the stove.
Mrs. Cornell had asked me sit and share a cup of tea when we heard a coach pull up to the gate. She had set a lantern to burn on a shepherd’s hook by the walk. I pulled aside the drapes and saw the doctor was home. A light snow had started to fall.
The door opened. The doctor stamped his feet and shook the snow from his hat and coat. He looked first to me and then to his wife.
“Marianne is at peace. I hated to leave Samuel alone in that house, poor man, but he insisted that I come home to you. I’ll fetch the undertaker in the morning.
“I can go to him,” I said.
The doctor looked at me hard.
“You’ll not be pestering that grieving man,” he said.
“I would not, sir. You have my word.” A moment passed and then another.
“Go then. Tell Mr. Burns I sent you. Stay close by but not underfoot. Be there in case he has any need of you.”
“Yes, sir,” I said and put on my coat. The doctor stepped outside with me to give the driver his instructions.
The house was dark and quiet. Mr. Burns had left me to my own ends and chose to spend the night by his dead wife’s side. The night dragged on. I went upstairs to check on the mister and eased open the sick room door. Mrs. Burns lay on her death bed while her husband nodded in the bedside chair holding her cold lifeless hand.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, sir. But is there anything you need before I bed down?” I asked.
“Would you stoke the fire and bring in enough wood to warm us through the night?” He said.
“Of course, sir. Is there anything I can bring up to you? Some tea and a biscuit?”
“Just some tea would be most appreciated. I’m afraid a biscuit would lodge in my throat. Perhaps in the morning.”
“I’ll bring a cup up shortly, sir.” I took a step back into the hall and closed the door. I admired the old man’s love of his wife. I wished my father had loved my mum as much then he wouldn’t have left us all.
When I was once again in the kitchen, I put more wood in the stove and set a pot of water to boil. A quick search of the cupboard revealed the tea and the cups. I’d made tea many times for mum so I knew the way of it.
While the water was heating, I set out my pallet on the floor by the stove. The kitchen was warm and cozy and I’d be nearby if the fire got low. Once the water was hot I steeped enough tea for Mr. Burns and myself. I took his upstairs and set it on the small table beside his chair. He was dosing. I touched his sleeve. His eyes opened at once and for a moment it seemed he saw someone else and not me.
“Your tea, sir. It’s on the table beside you,” I said.
“Thank you, lad. You’re a kind boy to look after this old man. Go now and get your rest. Tomorrow comes at a relentless pace.”
“Good night, sir,” I said and left him to drink his tea.
I roused to the sound of Mr. Burns walking through the house in the dark. From time to time he stopped and then would continue on his wandering. It wasn’t until the first rays of dawn lighted the sky that I heard him climbing the stairs back to her room. I slept for another hour or two then started the new day adding wood to the dying embers in the stove. Soon I had a pot of water heating and poured a goodly amount into a large bowl.
Mr. Burns came upon me unawares as I washed up. I was shirtless and my hands were deep in the water and soap bubbles clouded my sight. The locket hung around my neck. I started when I felt his fingers close around it.
“How came you by this? Did you rob me during my night of grief?”
“No sir.” I said. I was taken aback and addled with fear. I wiped the soap from my eyes.
He strode to the desk in the parlor and flung up the roll top. He pulled open a small side drawer and reached inside. His face was stunned when he turned to me. A locket, identical to mine dangled on a tarnished silver chain from his fingers.
“I’ll ask you again, lad. How did you come by that locket.”
“My mum, sir. It was hers.”
“Your mother?” he asked. His cheeks burned red in his pale face. He struggled for breath and I feared for his health.
“Yes, sir. Sara Bishop be her name. I don’t know what her maiden name was or if she even had one.”
“Bishop. Her married name?”
“Yes. My father was Jack Bishop,” I said.
He stood a moment, deep in thought.
“I gave a gift of a locket such as that a long time ago,” he said.
“I’ve heard the story often, sir. It was a gift to my Granny.”
“How can that be?”
“My mum is her daughter. Granny told her all that winter night when she passed over. She and mum didn’t know I was awake behind the curtain and listening.”
We were interrupted by a pounding at the door. Gerald the steward appeared and answered the summons. Dr. Cornell stepped into the foyer.
Before he could remove his hat and coat, Mr. Burns clutched his arm and with his face inches from the doctors, demanded, “Maxwell, what do you know of this?” He held the locket high.
Dr. Cornell took a stride toward me, his anger rising. “You gave me your word,” he said.
“I didn’t break it. He recognized my locket. I couldn’t lie when he asked,” I said.
Mr. Burns stepped between us, turned to the doctor and said, “So you did know. Why did you keep it from me?” Despair was heavy in his voice.
“The lad only told me yesterday. That day was for Marianne and you were overwhelmed. It was not the right time. The lad has an extraordinary claim, Samuel. Make of it what you will and, if it’s your wish, send him on his way. We’ll never speak of it again. But if his claim is true, it may be the answer to both your prayers.”
Mr. Burns looked about as if seeking safe harbor. He eased down into a chair. After a shuddering long breath he asked, “Your mum, does she fare well?”
“We get by, sir, but it’s been hard since pa left. With the new baby almost here, it was time for me to go my own way. I plan on finding employment and sending home as much of my earnings as I can,” I said.
“How many are there?”
“There’s a passel of us. Seven, including myself.”
“Were do they abide?”
“On the north edge of Hampton village, sir. That is unless the landlord turned them out. Mum was behind in the rents. Lately it was a choice between food for the young ones or paying Mr. Langson the rent.”
“Gerald!” Mr. Burns bellowed.
The steward came from the kitchen in a rush. A napkin was tucked into the top of his shirt and sweet crumbs lingered on his chin. He stopped in front of Mr. Burn’s chair.
“Sir?” he asked as he pulled the napkin free and brushed a hand over his face.
“Have Ellie prepare a basket of food and a bushel of potatoes. Make sure there is a smoked ham or two also. I want you to go to Hampton and find Sara Bishop. She lives on the north side, last we knew. See me before you go. I will have an envelope for you to take. Place it all into only her hands, no other,” Mr. Burns said.
“Yes, sir. Sara Bishop. Hampton.”
“When you find her,” Mr. Burns stopped and cleared his throat. With a crack in his voice he said, “Ask her if I may pay her a visit. Tell her Jonathon is here.”
It was three days before Gerald returned. He told us that he had arrived in the nick of time and described the scene as he pulled into the dooryard.
“The landlord was forcibly removing the household. The poor woman held her babe in her arms while trying to block the doorway. The little ones were hiding in her skirts. Before I reached them, the eldest daughter stepped in front of her mother only to be tossed in the dirt. I grabbed the man’s arm as he was about to strike her again. He turned on me but came up short when he noticed I was a man of station. He was belligerent until he saw there was payment to be made, which he gladly accepted. I spent most of the day helping the lady put her house to rights and settling the children. They were severely shaken and afraid.”
Mr. Burns squeezed his hands into the back of a chair. His voice was calm and belied the stormy look in his eyes.
“Did you see to their safety,” he asked.
“I spoke with the constable before I left. He knew of the landlord’s temperament and he assured me he would personally see that the man kept a wide berth seeing as how the rent was paid.”
“Did you extend my request for a visit to Mrs. Bishop.”
For the first time since he’d returned, Gerald smiled.
“Yes sir. She said to tell you that it would be an honor.” Gerald turned to me and said, “Your mum is quite a woman, she is.” He laughed and added, “You should’ve seen her standing her ground against that uncouth bully.”
The storm left Mr. Burns’ face and his eyes brightened. He straightened his shoulders and said, “Mrs. Burns has been laid to rest. There is no reason to delay. We will head out in the morning. Gerald, let Ellie know if there is anything else Mrs. Bishop is in need of and we’ll take it with us. Jonathon, be ready to assist at sunrise. You will join me on this journey. I’m sure your mother will be happy to see you.”
I was filled with anticipation and anxiety during the trip home. I looked forward to seeing my mum and the children again. But I was uncertain about Mr. Burns’ feelings toward them. I didn’t know if he believed my story or if he was just being kind to a down-trodden family in dire straits. And mum could be feisty at the most inconvenient of times. Whenever we were offered charity, she would reluctantly accept for the children’s sake all the while protesting there were others much more in need than we. I didn’t know who those “others” could be. Leaving and being on my own had been necessary but it was also difficult.
The carriage dipped and swayed in the ruts, breaking into my musing. Gerald had swapped with me and taken my place, sitting up with the driver in the open air. For that I was most grateful. The cold and damp had worked their way through my coat and I was chilled to the bone. Mr. Burns saw my plight and kindly offered me a blanket. It was mid-afternoon when we pulled into the dooryard. Before the coach had stopped, mum was running to greet us. She threw her arms around me as soon as my feet touched the ground. The little ones hung back in the doorway, struggling for a better view. Valerie, my oldest sister, grasped my hands and kissed my cheek.
After her exuberant greeting, mum stepped back and humbly looked at Mr. Burns and said, “Beg pardon, sir. I missed my boy dearly. Thank you for returning him to me. Please come inside. It is because of your generosity that I have food and drink to offer you.”
After a little juggling in the doorway, we were all inside. Mr. Burns took a seat at the table and gestured for me to sit at his side. Mum and Valerie sat opposite us and the little ones settled where they may, with one bold enough to claim Mr. Burns’ lap.
“Jamie, let the man be,” mum said as she reached for my brother.
“Let the lad stay. He’s no trouble, are you son?” Mr. Burns tousled Jamie’s mop of tawny hair.
“Only until he gets to fidgeting,” mum said.
Jamie sat as still as could be, not giving any reason to be displaced from his perch.
“Johnathon showed me the locket,” Mr. Burns said.
“It was my mother’s,” mum said.
“What was her name?”
Mr. Burns took in a sharp breath.
“She told me on her deathbed that you had given it to her and that you were my father,” mum said.
Mr. Burns looked down at Jamie and lifted his face.
“The boy has her eyes,” he said.
“Yes he does.” Mum smiled at her son and gave the boy an apple.
“I didn’t know your mother was with child when I saw her last. My father forbid us to marry. He had made another arrangement and wouldn’t be denied. Your mother never sent word to me. Do you know what stilled her hand?”
“Mother said she’d not force a man to marry for without love in the binding they would live always in discord.”
“But there was love. I was foolish to bend to my father’s will,” Mr. Burns said.
Mum reached across the table and laid a hand on his arm. Mr. Burns sighed and made a grand effort to smile but he didn’t succeed.
He looked round the small room at the children and said, “You are blest to have so many little ones.”
Mum laughed and said, “That blessing has me at my wit’s end more times than not. The blessing can be yours too if you choose to accept them as your grandchildren.”
I held my breath. What would his answer be? He was a respected gentleman and we were a rag-a-muffin bunch.
Mr. Burns lifted Jamie from his lap and set the boy on his feet. Then he rose from his chair and looked us over.
“Tis a shame, my own have had to endure such hardship,” he said. He turned to my mum and took her hands in his. “I would be humbled and delighted if you would come to live with me as my kin. My house is large but empty. There is room galore for all of you.”
Mum’s hands flew to her cheeks. The children took a step closer. I swear the clock on the mantle stopped ticking.
“Yes,” she said in a breathless whisper. Then, “Yes! Oh yes”
Grandfather scooped up Sara and Beth and twirled them around until they laughed and hugged his neck. He set them both down then reached for my hand. He shook it, man to man, and slapped my back. When he reached mum, he stopped and opened his arms.
“Daughter,” he said with misty eyes when she stepped into his embrace. He held her tight and said to us all, “Glory be. To have the house full of life and laughter again. I am blessed beyond measure.”
Copyright 2018 by Lynn Eckerle
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
First printing: December 2018
The challenge of creating my newest cookbook, County Cakes, Pies and Desserts was fun and gave me a chance to use my photography skills.
I decided a picture of a Hummingbird Cake would be perfect for the cover, especially since the recipe is included in the cookbook. The cake was pretty with three layers and was delicious. The best part of being my own photographer is getting to eat the photo props. The cake was more than I could or should devour so I gave most of it to my son and his family to enjoy.
Once the cover photo was taken, I had some graphic art work to do. I used two software programs: Photoshop Elements for color adjustments – I wanted to make the colors “POP” and Affinity for resizing and adding text. It took me several attempts to get the cover just right. I printed a dozen covers along with matching sets of section pages. I used colored card stock for the sections that coordinated with the colors on the cover.
I’d managed to drag out the production of this cookbook for almost two years! The recipes for the cakes, desserts, cheese cakes and pies have all been featured in my column, The Recipe Exchange at one time or another. I went through years of columns and pulled out the recipes I wanted to use.
I alphabetized the recipes then sorted them into the different categories. There were a few duplicates that needed deleting before formatting the pages so they appeared in the right order; with page one followed by page two and not page four.
The next step was to proof each recipe and make sure all the ingredients were listed and the directions were complete. After printing out the first copy of the whole cookbook, I noticed I had two pages 28, so all the following pages had to be renumbered and reprinted. Once I had everything just as I wanted, I took the cookbook to the printer and had fifty copies made.
Once the printer was done, I took the copies home, collated the pages, inserted the section dividers and added front and back covers. I set up my binding machine on the kitchen table and set to work. It was rewarding to hold the completed first copy of County Cakes, Pies and Desserts in my hands!
Please enjoy this recipe for Hummingbird Cake. The cake turned out beautiful, wasn’t all that difficult and was YUMMY!
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups mashed ripe banana
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
1-8 oz. can unsweetened crushed pineapple, drained – save the juice
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup shortening at room temperature
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon whole milk
6 cups confectioners’ sugar
DIRECTIONS: Cake – in a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Add eggs, bananas, oil, pineapple and vanilla. Beat until combined. Stir in walnuts. Pour into 3 greased and floured 9-inch round baking pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool and leave in pans until completely cool and ready to assemble cake. Frosting – In a large mixing bowl, beat shortening, butter, lemon peel and salt until fluffy. Add milk. Add confections’ sugar alternately with pineapple juice – adding just enough to reach spreading consistency. Spread frosting between layers and over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts.
I discovered Bush Zucchini several years ago. And, even though the plants do get large, they take up less room in the garden than the vining varieties. The blooms and subsequently, the squash, originate at the center or heart of the plant. But WOW! This year the plants got enormous and the zucchini squash are coming fast, furious and big. It is all I can do to keep up with the crop.
I was a vendor at the Manitou Beach Farmers Market on Saturday, selling my cookbooks. By then, I had a full laundry basket of zucchini so I put it in the trunk of my car and took the squash along.
Being the child of a child of the depression, wasting anything – especially food – is akin to a deadly sin. Waste not, want not were words my family lived by. At the farmers market, I touted the larger zucchini as multipurpose: they were edible, of course, but could be used as free weights and also as doorstops. At least I got a laugh or two and it felt good to know the squash wouldn’t go to waste.
I’ve shredded and frozen over 32 cups of zucchini. I’ve made zucchini-tomato casserole, four loaves of bread and two different kinds of cake, given squash away to neighbors and friends, and I’ve agreed to make more bread for my church’s coffee hour. But the zucchini just keep on coming. My counter is overflowing with another picking and I’m planning on going to the garden again tomorrow. I may end up buried in zucchini.
My next option in What to do With all this Zucchini is to set up a table at the end of my driveway, stack it with squash and post a FREE sign.
I enjoyed the last piece of Chocolate Zucchini cake with a creamy Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting sitting on the patio with a cup of hazelnut coffee. It was really good! If you would like to give it a try, I’ve included the recipe below.
CHOCOLATE ZUCCHINI CAKE
1 cup flour
½ c cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ t cinnamon
1 cup sugar
¾ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ c grated zucchini
½ cup chopped walnuts
Directions: Grease and flour a 9×9 inch cake pan. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix together sugar, eggs and vegetable oil. Add to flour mixture and mix well. Fold in zucchini until well mixed then add walnuts and stir. Pour batter into baking pan and spread out evenly with a spatula. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes. Do not overcook. A toothpick inserted into the center of the cake will come out clean when cake is done. Let cake cool before frosting. Note: recipe can be doubled. Bake in a 9×13 inch pan at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes.
CHOCOLATE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup cocoa
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Directions: In a bowl, beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla with an electric mixer. Add ½ cup powdered sugar, the cocoa and cinnamon. Beat until blended. Add rest of powder sugar, ½ cup at a time. Use a little milk, sparingly, to bring mixture to spreading consistency. Recipe can be doubled. Spread on cooled cake.
I was riding down the road yesterday listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park; one of the best sound tracks ever recorded. As I sang along to America, I noticed that Paul Simon and I sing in the same key. Being from Michigan, my favorite line is: it took three days to hitchhike from Saginaw. Hitchhiking was such a cool adventure……
I am glad that my car is old enough to have a CD player. I just slide one in and instant traveling music. Sometimes it’s Guns and Roses, The Phantom of the Opera, Josh Groban or Willie and sometimes it’s Paul and Art.
The music of the late 60’s, early 70’s is poetry that either told a story or gave the gift of emotion. The folks of my generation have been around long enough to have been there – done that, but the music touches us now just as it did then.
Carol King’s So Far Away became my theme song towards the end of my wandering/wondering days. And there was a time in a smoky room, late at night, when Blind Faith’s I Can’t Find My Way Home was a wakeup call.
The symbols of the time that I remember were of peace, political turmoil and the birth of my own growing awareness. The images of the Chicago convention and Bobby Kennedy remain with me. But, my favorite lost memorabilia is a sky blue t-shirt with the Woodstock logo: a white dove of peace on a white guitar neck. I also had the Life edition with the picture of the couple standing amidst the rubble and mud. Both have been lost to time. I still have the double album and it finds its way to the turntable every now and then. But, I would LOVE to have that t-shirt back!
That era was amazing even though it wasn’t all peace and love. Violence, danger and war, were in the mix too. I am grateful that I was there: alive, young and so idealistic. I am as much a pacifist and peace monger now as I was then. I quietly stand firm for civility and civil rights. But I wish my voice was louder.
Hugh Carnes gripped the padded leather of his steering wheel. Ripe fields of wheat, burnished red in the twilight, rushed by as his tires edged over the double yellow line.
He stared through the windshield, mind churning and thought of the things that declared his success: a large corner office with a private bathroom, leather seats in his Mercedes, an expensive house in an exclusive subdivision. But, it wasn’t enough. What had become of the life he’d dreamed of? Every time he made another ruthless business deal he lost a piece of himself and now there wasn’t anything left. The man he could have been, so many years ago, was gone.
Hugh turned up the car radio to block out his thoughts. A tree whipped by and then another. His foot pressed against the gas pedal and the tires searched for a grip on the pavement. He leaned forward and held the steering wheel steady. Its ridges were embedded in both palms when he slid into the next curve.
Hugh stood under the first of the evening stars watching the steam rise from the crumpled hood of his car. The front fender hugged the trunk of an oak tree that had been growing for a hundred years.
The silence was broken by a faint hum. A single headlight shimmered then disappeared behind a rise in the road. The sound of a motorcycle grew louder until tires skidded to a stop on loose gravel at the side of the road. The rider snapped down the kick stand with the heel of his boot and swung his long leg over the seat. He took off his gloves and laid them on the handlebars. The back of his black, leather jacket bore the name Spirit Riders emblazoned in white. A rawhide shoe lace held his gray hair tied at the base of his neck.
“Hey Buddy,” the man said as he slipped down the grassy embankment. “That’s quite a dent you’ve got there. You’re lucky to be alive.”
Hugh snorted and turned back to his car.
The rider held out his hand and said, “I’m here to help you. My name is Timothy, St. Timothy, actually.”
“St. Timothy, huh?” Hugh said, neglecting the man’s hand.
Timothy shrugged and turned to show Hugh the back of his jacket. “Club name,” he said.
“So you haven’t come to save my soul?”
“I think you need a tow truck first. There’s a Waffle House down the road. I’ll give you a lift. They have a pay phone. Your cell won‘t work out here.”
“I’ve been down this road a hundred times. There’s no Waffle House.”
Timothy turned and walked back up to the road. “Sure there is. You can call for help there. Are you coming with me?”
Hugh scrambled up the ditch and slipped on the damp grass. “I haven’t seen a motorcycle like this in years,” he said.
“It’s a Kawasaki, A7 Avenger, 350 cc’s.” Timothy lifted his leg over the seat. “Takes me anywhere I need to go.” He kicked the starter and the low rumble of the engine broke the silence of the night. Hugh swung his leg over the back of the bike and settled behind the old biker. He rested his hands on his thighs.
“Hang on to the handles on the saddlebags,” Timothy said over the noise of the motor. He twisted the accelerator and Hugh felt the engine’s vibration in his legs as they pulled out onto the road. The wind whipped past his ears and his heart raced as they leaned into the curves.
The yellow letters of the Waffle House sign glowed, suspended above the road. Bright florescent light spilled out of the diner’s windows, creating a shimmering island in the dark.
“I’ll order us some coffee while you call for a tow truck. The pay phone’s in the corner. There should be a phonebook there too,” Timothy said as he sat in a booth. The orange vinyl seat was split. A piece of duct tape held the material together.
“A pay phone? It’s got to be the last one on the planet,” Hugh muttered. He pulled some change out of his pocket and went to make the call.
A waitress set two beige ceramic cups and a silver pitcher of cream on the table as Hugh walked back to the booth. He saw her wink at Timothy and pat his shoulder.
Hugh slid into the other side of the booth and tested the coffee. “This is good.”
“Best coffee around,” Timothy said.
Hugh flipped through the selection of songs for the jukebox. They were all oldies, real old oldies. He tried to slip a quarter in the slot but the coin was too large.
“You need a dime,” Timothy said.
“I didn’t know there was a jukebox left that took dimes.” Hugh slipped the coin in the slot and punched F5. Paul Revere and the Raiders started to sing Just Like Me. “I remember dancing to this song on Saturday night at the armory. I met my wife at one of those dances. She was only seventeen.” He sighed and looked out the dark window.
“So what went wrong?” Timothy asked.
“I make my living forcing other people out of business and I do it well. I never made it to any of my son’s football games. Hell, I even missed his graduation. And it’s been so long since I held my wife and told her I loved her, she would push me away if I tried it now.”
Hugh set his coffee down and nodded his head toward the back of the diner. “Does that pinball machine work?”
“It sure does.”
“How about a game before the tow truck gets here?”
Timothy scored 100,000 points plus two free balls. When he was finished with his game, Hugh put in a quarter. “Now you get to watch a master. I used to spend hours playing.” He guided the shiny, silver balls with gentle nudges to the machine. He grew engrossed with the game as the score increased and the silver balls became fewer.
“Tilt? Come on.” Hugh slapped the side of the machine.
“Try it again,” Timothy said.
Hugh slipped another quarter in the slot. The balls ran down, lining up in a row. “I wish I could try my life again. I’d just like a chance to do it better,” he said. “Do you have a family?”
Timothy shook his head. “They wouldn’t fit into my life.”
“Don’t you get lonely? You can’t be a biker forever.”
“That’s just it. I can be a biker forever. Once in a while someone like you comes along and makes it possible. What if I could give you a second chance?”
“Ya right. I’m to believe you can give me that?” Hugh pulled the spring loaded knob and sent a steel ball clanging through the game.
“Say you could do it over. What would you be willing to pay?”
“Name a price.”
“Not money. Would you give up your wife?”
“No, of course not.”
“How about part of your life?”
Hugh hesitated and leaned on the machine. “What do you mean?”
“Would you be willing to, say, give up ten years?”
“If I could do it over, sure it’d be worth it.” Hugh turned back to his game. “So what do you get out of this if I agree?”
“I receive half of the years you give up.
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Hugh said.
“You’d die at fifty-three instead of sixty-three.
“I’m sixty-three now. What makes you think I’m going to die?”
“You succeeded tonight. You died back there in the ditch,” Timothy said.
Hugh gripped the sides of the pinball machine. He hung his head and listened.
“You went through the wind shield and broke your back against the tree.”
Hugh lifted his head and looked at Timothy.
“I can give you another chance, if you agree to the price.”
“That’s the going rate.”
“Tell me what to do.”
“Walk out the door, you’ll figure out the rest.” Timothy said.
Hugh hurried across the diner and swung open the door. He stepped into the night. When he turned back the building was gone. He was standing on the side of the road, his legs encased in blue jeans with a pair of Converse sneakers on his feet. His hands were those of a young man and when he touched his face it felt lean and smooth, not the loose jowls he was used to.
A pair of headlights topped the crest of a hill and Hugh waved his arms over his head. A battered and rusted pickup pulled onto the gravel berm.
“Can you give me a lift into town?” Hugh asked.
“Sure, hop in.” A weather-beaten man in coveralls leaned across the seat and pushed open the passenger door. Hugh climbed into the cab.
“What’s a young feller like you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?”
“Heading home,” Hugh said.
I start thinking about gardening when the calendar says it’s mid-February. The days are getting longer and the temperature reaches into the forties and on the rare day into the fifties. It’s hard not to daydream about the smell of rich loam, my hands in the warm soil and seedlings lifting their heads reaching for the sun.
My dad had built a greenhouse that attached two parts of our house together. He’s the one responsible for my green thumb. We would pour over the Burpee’s seed catalog making out our list for what to grow. He would always pick one or two varieties of vegetables or flowers that we hadn’t tried in the past. Something we thought of as exotic. I remember bright flowers, odd shaped squash, different colored tomatoes and one year we grew our own popcorn. Gloves were required to shuck the ears. Those kernels were sharp.
Last week I was in our local Menard’s store. Even though it was way too early in the season I walked through the lawn and garden section and stopped at the seed rack. Browsing through the vegetables, I found a pack of bush zucchini seeds. I prefer this type because they work best in small gardens – no long vines trailing all over the place. Then I picked out three types of lettuce, along with parsley and dill. Now those seed packets are sitting on the kitchen counter waiting, waiting, waiting for May and planting time.
This year I tried wintering over a pot of oregano and one of lemon thyme. The oregano gave up during the dark days of December and the lemon thyme is just hanging on. When I walk by, I give it a gentle brush and then breathe in the lemon aroma. Ahhh. Close my eyes and its springtime.
Buying tomatoes in the winter is a form of denial and self-delusion. They look delicious; red and firm, but one bite and the illusion goes right out the window. I’m looking forward to standing in the garden, the warm sun on my back and brushing the dust off a newly picked tomato and eating it like an apple. My favorite is a good meaty Roma. I find the ‘slicers’ too watery for my taste. The cherry tomatoes ripen first and, as far as I’m concerned, should be considered garden snack food. One or two in the cheek while hoeing and weeding makes everything better.
The snow continues to fall and the nights are long and cold. But winter’s reign is coming to an end. Daybreak comes a little earlier and twilight stays a little longer. Every day the sun is warmer and soon I’ll be standing in the garden, smiling and watching the vegetables grow.
There’s nothing like a second-hand ham bone. It is a sure sign of a true friend when they know how excited I’d be to get one. Some might see skeletal remains, but I see good ole bean soup.
This particular ham bone had more than one stop on its journey to my Dutch oven. It started out as Christmas dinner and then was passed on to a brother of the hostess, who passed it on to me. I promised to share, once the soup was made.
I’m one of those cooks that uses a little of this and little of that and measures in the palm of my hand or with a pinch and sprinkle. So there isn’t a real recipe for my bean soup. The prime ingredients: ham bone along with some left-over meat, navy beans and water are a given. I like to add one large grated carrot and a scant tablespoon of sugar also.
For this batch of soup I tossed in a teaspoon (more or less) each of basil and oregano and one bay leaf. The flavors blended well and enhanced the taste of the soup. I will include them from now on. I don’t add salt because I find there’s plenty in the ham.
One of my mom’s favorite sayings was, waste not, want not. I’ve learned those are good words to live by. She could turn leftovers into a new and tasty dish with a snap of her fingers. Coupled with a loaf of her homemade bread, she fed our family of five. It was from her that I learned not to toss out the turkey carcass, bones from a roast or a ham bone. They can all be used to make delicious soup.
Here is the recipe for my latest batch of Bean Soup:
2 c navy beans
Water and more water
1 large carrot, grated
Ham bone with extra meat
1 scant tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
The night before: Place navy beans in a large bowl. Add water to more than cover the beans. In the morning, drain and rinse beans. Place in a Dutch oven or stockpot and cover with water. Heat to simmering and cook for 2 hours. Add grated carrot, ham bone with extra meat and continue to simmer for a couple more hours. Add more water if necessary. Take bone out of pot and remove all the meat. Dice all of the extra meat too. Return the meat to the pot. Add sugar, basil, oregano and bay leaf. Check water level and add more if necessary. Simmer for another hour, until beans are good and soft. Use a potato masher to mash the beans. Don’t mash all of them leave about 1/3 to 1/2 of the beans whole. Taste the soup and add more basil or oregano if desired. Add more water then simmer to desired thickness. Remove the bay leaf. Keep soup warm and add water if necessary to keep desired thickness until ready to serve. This is a hearty and tasty soup. I like to serve it with crusty French bread and sweet creamy butter.
The holiday season is a tough time when you’re single and alone. But this year, I decided to take the holidays by the horns and make them my own. No more wallowing in self-pity waiting for someone else to make the days merry and bright.
I chose to fully embrace the festivities and bring all the bright lights, hokey Christmas songs and fattening food into my life. I called, texted and emailed my late husband’s side of the family and invited them to a big Thanksgiving feast at my new house. True, we had to have dinner the weekend before Thanksgiving – you know how busy everyone is these days – but it was a good time all the same.
The odd schedule worked out for the best. After the big family dinner, I headed north with presents in the trunk to spend an overnight with my brother and sister-in-law. Between one thing and another, we hadn’t had the time to just hang out with each other in months.
After dark, the day I arrived, my grand-niece sang in a choir at Dow Gardens. It was beautiful, incredibly cold and amazing. Luminaries lighted the paths and fairy lights were in the trees. The Christmas carols and the harmony of the young voices brought the spirit of Christmas to all of us.
I’d planned a pre-Christmas dinner for my son, his wife and my precious granddaughters. But the morning of our get-together I got a phone call that he’d been called into work. “We’re not gonna make it tonight mom.” He’s a policeman and works 12 hours shifts. I told him to be glad for the overtime and stay safe. The upside was, I had great chili for supper the next few nights.
I surprised my postman and the garbage guys with a tin of cookies – my delicious and awesome chocolate chip and also some ginger cookies – along with a card and a tip wishing them Happy Holidays. I was lucky to be looking out the window when they found their gifts and it made me smile from ear to ear.
Since Christmas Eve was on a Sunday, I celebrated the fourth Sunday of Advent in the morning and then stuck around to decorate the church for the Christmas Eve services. We don’t mix our holidays in the Episcopal faith. Advent is for the waiting and expectation of Jesus’ birth. The celebrating of that birth begins on Christmas Eve and lasts through Epiphany.
I will host the family Christmas dinner and gift exchange celebration on December 30th. Once again, that day is the best fit for everyone’s schedule. I will be happy to have the whole clan here. And what’s wrong with stretching out the celebrating? A little creativity and going-with-the-flow have made this the best Christmas I’ve had in many years. It all began with the decision to make it so.