An Excerpt of Harbored Secrets by Marie F Martin

In selecting a short sample of my book Harbored Secrets, I mulled it over and over. I finally decided to share my character Didier Platt’s poem. He is striving to build a life for himself and his family by homesteading in the north eastern Montana prairies. My character is driven by loss and hardness. He writes this in his loneliness after the death of his wife and son.

The pictures are of the old Montana homestead along the Milk River my grandpa Yeats had. He used to write poetry that was published in the Havre newspaper. The pictures were taken on his place.

The man that was me wrote the unbidden,
The rhythm wouldn’t, couldn’t stay hidden.
Words flowed from exhaustion buried in he,
Earned by him doing what never should be.

His daughters sent away on rails of iron,
As he watched, hidden behind the grain tower,
Choking back bile in a throat way tight,
‘til the last of the train was lost to sight.

Unending grief, and he cursed at his trials
as his wagon rolled the childless miles,
moved by a team simply given their head
by a man with a spirit totally dead.

Finally, his fields, the ones of his own,
appeared in the dusk looking darker of tone.
Hues of caramel touched his over ripe grain.
He needed to harvest ‘ere the next rain.

But now he had time, he would hurry no more.
He’d gather the crop to calm his heart sore.
A house he’d rebuild, and find a new wife,
to sire sons and put an end to the strife.

He guided the team past his house all burned,
And away from the charred chimney he turned.
But magnet of sorrow it drew him once more,
And forced him to write of a lad and a war.

Mortar shells blew holes in houses of stone.
He ran and he ran, terrified and alone.
He fell near rubble, the church o’ his youth?
He saw the lone cross, a symbol of truth.

Oh God let this be your heavenly sign,
spare my family, they’re all that is mine.
Finally he reached the house he called home.
Part of the roof blown down on the loam.

Inside his mother and sister lay entwine
hugging in death as if they were fine.
The pool of blood that ran below them
was darker, far darker than ink from his pen.

Parts of his father scattered the ground.

The lad that was still wanders around
inside the heart of the man, that was me.

Harbored Secrets will be free on Kindle downloads on April 1 2020.

http://www.mariefmartin.com

 

 

 

PS a note from the author in today’s Covid 19 world: Here is an email I wrote to my buddies after I got home today from the grocery store.

Needed groceries. Left off my hearing aides and glasses so I’d have enough room behind my ears for my cute little homemade mask and for my cute little 1920s style Cloche hat. I wore a slick coat. Felt pure criminal.  I put on my plastic gloves, entered the grocery store and selected all kinds of stuff. The deeper into the store I got, the hotter that hat and coat were and I couldn’t breath through the damned cute mask. I finally got to the check out line and the pesky card reading machine kept asking me to reenter my code numbers for my debit card. Then it shut my card off.  ???  The young clerk, terrified to raise her voice above a whisper, kept repeating redo and I kept saying huh? Had to be the gloves. I don’t carry another credit card, its safe in my drawer at home. I also never write checks so my check book was safe in my desk. Well f-blank oh dear. Yep, I had to go home and get my check blanks and went back to the gracious store and paid for my groceries that will certainly not taste as good as they should.

EVELYN AND LLOYD: A LOVE STORY

Karen's author photo apr 2019

 

By Karen Wills

 

Reading the letters, I came to understand just how difficult the long hardships and separations caused by WWII really were. Dad, a teacher, became a gunnery officer on a ship in the South Pacific. Mom stayed on the Big West Oilfield with her parents in their little house. My grandparents had one bedroom, while Mom and my two-year-old brother and eventually, I, shared the other.

The letters reveal little running jokes, stories about new and old friends, and earnest concerns of a young couple managing ration books and occasional train trips to be together on a shoestring budget. Their longing and loneliness come through. Here’s Dad:

Dearest One,

       I “writ” you one letter today. What am I doing writing again? Could it be love?

Mom wrote of how brokenhearted she felt after seeing him off at the Shelby Depot after his too-brief leave. She held up until, at the café, someone put the song “Together” on the jukebox.

They weathered the war and their years apart. All of it became part of our family lore. Their letters, though, were their story alone. Here’s a piece of Dad’s last letter before coming home:

     “Well, Honey, we have written a lot of letters, haven’t we? Your letters helped out immeasurably. You have been grand throughout this whole business, Sweetheart, and I can hardly wait to get back with you, and I hope to God that we won’t have to be separated again.”

karens letters blog

 

  They never were.
Originally published February 14, 2014

Sister’s 80th Birthday

Norma

My Sister Norma

My Sister’s Eightieth Birthday Party

by Marie F Martin

I received a call from my younger sister, Doris, that we should throw our oldest sister, Norma, a birthday party because we gave Mom one when she was eighty. Sounded reasonable to me. Then my younger brother came up with the idea of doing a video for her about things she pulled as our oldest sister when we were kids. The following story is one of my favorite memories.

By the time we were in the fourth and sixth grades Norma was a complete through and through tomboy and the controller of our small Montana country neighborhood.              Norma-nator should have been her name. I was always meek and shy which drove her out of her mind.

We didn’t lack for playmates. Next door in a long green stucco house lived the Grilley boys, across the highway were the Nelsons. They were old, but their granddaughter played with us when she visited. The three Horner girls lived on the other side and on top of Saurey Hill lived the Saureys. This bunch of kids were who we played with or fought with depending on Norma’s mood for the day.

I loved to swim and fish. Luckily, a creek was only a half mile away. We would follow a country road north until we came to a spot where the creek passed under the road, made a bend and went back under the road. This area was ours. We fished and swam, built forts and ate picnic lunches there.

Shy Brookies lived in that stream. We caught them on worms and Schnell hooks, size number six. We crept, hush-hush, along the bank, not making a sound and making sure our shadows didn’t reflect on the water, as we cast our baited hooks into the water. The current carried the wiggling worms downstream under overhanging bushes where fish hid.

Norma caught her share as we all did, but woe be to any of us who made noise.

One day, walking ahead of me, Norma shrieked and high-stepped quickly in the opposite direction.

“What’s the matter?” I asked in a loud whisper. “You’re scaring the fish.”

“I almost stepped on a damn snake,” she answered.

“Not afraid of a little snake, are you?” I asked, surprised at her forbidden word.

“Of course not! I just don’t like them.”

Norma is afraid of the small green water snakes, my mind said. This was an enormous discovery! I now had an equalizer! I bided my time. Sure enough a few days later I had finally found the perfect spot to cast my line into the water.

She said. “Move that’s my spot.”

“No, it’s my spot.”

She balled a fist and ordered, “Go.”

Mumbling to myself, I trudged downstream and plopped on the bank. Movement caught my eye. I reached into the weeds and pulled out a wiggling, hissing snake. It was only a small water snake, but when I held it by the back of the neck, it dangled down a good foot. Wiggling. Mouth open and forked tongue sticking out. Perfect. I quietly circled around behind Norma and stood at her squatting back, holding the snake above her, the wiggling tail almost touching the top of her head.

She glanced up and saw what I held. “Yukkkk,” she screamed. “Get away!”

I held it closer.

She kicked and screamed like death was nearby. “Wait till I tell Mom what you did!” She ran for home.

A little guilt should have nagged at my mind, but fishing was good that day.

Darkness As A Blessing

Photo.cropped

 

 

by M.F. Erler

Well, it’s finally here.  Halloween.  Samhain to the ancient Celts.  It marks the midpoint between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.  A dark time in the northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere.   No wonder the Celts of Ireland and Scotland, and the Norse of Scandinavia, marked it as a time when the dead were said to walk the earth for a night.  I’m glad the Medieval Church set it aside as the Eve of All Saints’ Day, a time to remember those who have gone before us, and to reflect on their legacy to us.  So that’s what I’m doing. 

As I look into my family tree, I’m remembering all the things my ancestors have left to me.  And I’m looking for ways to pass this legacy on to my children, the next generation. Reading about all the trials and problems my ancestors went through in their lives reminds me how much we take for granted now. Things like central heating and electric lights. Hot and cold running water. That’s just a few.  

As the days shorten and the darkness seems to close around (especially in this northern latitude) it’s good to know that this old earth is still turning in its appointed course around the sun.  Even though winter follows autumn, spring will come in its time, too. Some of my friends like to be snowbirds, but I enjoy the changing seasons. Maybe I’m strange, but I think I would get bored living in a place where it’s always summer. 

Almost Pioneers

karen in her hat small

Contributed by Karen Wills

My mother, Evelyn Wills, wrote the following true account of her family’s move from their farm in North Dakota to Montana during the Great Depression. I’m so glad she left this memory, and I’m so proud of my grandparents. They exemplified Hemingway’s definition of  courage as “grace under pressure.”  

This first appeared in The Montana Journal January-February 1997.

Almost Pioneers 

Our western North Dakota farm family was hard hit by the Great Depression. Dad could repair any kind of machinery, but neighbors who needed him couldn’t pay. When my ten-year-old sister fell ill with appendicitis, my parents sold the kitchen table and chairs to pay doctor bills.

Then, in 1928 when I was nine, my oldest uncle left Tolley, North Dakota, in desperation. Miraculously, he found work with the Big West Oil Company on the high plains near Shelby, Montana. He sent word of the oil boom, and my parents decided to follow him west.

Dad cut down the sides of our Model T so the front seat could be folded back into a bed for the four of us on the 400-mile journey. He had $11.00. Of course, this was long before credit cards, and our bank had closed its doors.

My mother suffered from a fierce migraine during every mile on the dusty, rutted road to the unknown West. But my sister and I, dressed in knickers sewn by a neighboring farm woman as a good-bye gift, loved the adventure.montana here we come  We had crayons and paper and considered signs fair game for additional coloring. At night we camped with other displaced travelers, cooking suppers over little fires whose colors matched the blazing sunsets reflected in the broad Missouri River.

Unfortunately, when the time came to sleep, the curtains lowered over the Model T’s windows did a poor job of keeping away thirsty mosquitoes.

Our faithful auto did succeed at a tortoise-and-hare act as we were passed several times on the trip by a man in a shiny new touring car. He’d race ahead, stop for unknown reasons, then hurry on, passing us again. When we arrived in time to share the same campground for the third night in a row, the frustrated driver finally walked over, kicked our tire and sputtered, “What the hell kind of car is this?”

At the Big West Camp, a line of buildings on the vast prairie, the Company provided our own place—a former cook house. I remember the big stove. 

By the time blooming cactus and other wild flowers softened the fields next spring, we had moved to a normal house, but drilling for oil was so close that my mother didn’t hang out the wash for fear it would be splattered from a gusher. kitties in a basket

On hot days, we took needlework outside to the shade of the company coal house, where a cool breeze always seemed to rise from the foundation.

The Company promoted Dad, and the strain of poverty vanished. Pictures of Mama taken then show a sort of time reversal. She appears younger in each new photograph.

By having the faith and courage to pack their children into a Model T and venture west from one sort of country to another during the drought-ridden depression, my parents achieved a secure living. However, for the rest of his life, Dad kept his savings under the mattress.