If I shut my eyes, I can transport myself back to my grandmother’s kitchen. I can smell the sweet sachet powder she liked to wear, inhale the aroma of strong coffee kept warm on the back of the huge gas stove, and catch a whiff of the Mule Team Borax powder she used to wash dishes. I can imagine her in one of her favorite housedresses, maybe the yellow and brown plaid or perhaps one with a paisley print, with a clean apron tied around her waist. She always wore an apron unless she went out of the house and to town. Although she lived in an urban neighborhood, she always called her trips to the store or downtown ‘going to town’.
Granny handled my care while my parents both worked and so, by some curious sort of almost magic, I grew up with my head in the 1930’s, my physical body in the 1960’s. My grandparents ‘kept me’, as Granny called it, from the age of two months until shortly before I began school so their influence on me proved significant. Although I went home each evening and slept, most of the time, in my own bed in my parents’ house, my grandparents raised me the same way they raised their own children, back in the 1930’s and 1940’s. I ended up with a different view than many of my own generation and listening to tales about the Depression years were something I absorbed along with my Little Golden Books.
My latest release, out September 17 from Rebel Ink Press, is set in the 1930’s era. Dust Bowl Dreams is a love story but it’s also a portrait of the times. It’s set in Oklahoma and it owes a little homage to Charley Floyd, my favorite outlaw. Here’s the blurb and an excerpt:
Life’s never easy for a good-hearted man who decides crime is the answer to his troubles.
No rain in the summer of 1933 is bad news for Oklahoma farmer Henry Mink. The local banker wants the mortgage on the farm paid and unless Henry comes up with the dough, his widowed mother and four young siblings won’t have a home. Jobs are scarce so he decides to rob a bank. His sweetheart, school teacher Mamie Logan, doesn’t like the idea and neither does Henry’s kid brother Eddie but Henry’s out of options.
He leaves home and robs a bank at nearby Ponca City. When he returns home, he pays off the mortgage but new troubles show up. Mamie is his greatest joy and they become engaged but by fall, Henry has no options left but to rob another bank. If he can pull off one another big job, he figures he’ll be set until the hard times are over but few things in life go as planned. His desperate efforts will either secure his future or destroy it forever.
If Henry’s family survives and Mamie’s love endures, he’ll need a miracle.
With any luck he’d hit the farm just after dinner time. There’d be plenty of time for hugs and greetings, a chance for Mama to make over the groceries, and time to take the whole bunch to town for a hamburger out and maybe the picture show. Henry would head over to Mamie’s and invite her along. He spun daydreams about the moment he’d see his girl again and imagined what everyone would do and say when he showed up with full pockets. It’d be like the prodigal son, he figured, but in reverse – they wouldn’t kill a fatted calf for him, but by God, he’d provide something similar.
Sunday morning he’d be proud to escort his family to church and sit in a pew with Mamie at his side. Come Monday he’d be at the bank when it opened and pay the remaining sum on the mortgage. Imagining Richardson’s face when he delivered the cash gave him pleasure and he chuckled out loud. Henry couldn’t recall when he’d been so happy, probably not since before his daddy died, the rain quit, and the economy went to hell in a hand basket.
As he drove, he admired the wide blue sky sweeping from one horizon to the other like a giant bowl and the way the prairies stretched out in every direction. He did his best to ignore the foreclosure signs tacked up on some farms, the dry clouds of dust wafting across the empty fields when the wind blew, and the sad eyed children hanging around broken gates at some farms.
Until Henry rolled down the lane to his home, he’d forgotten how stark the farm looked. What paint once covered the boards of the farmhouse vanished long ago under the relentless assault of Oklahoma weather and he noticed the barn seemed to lean left as if it might collapse into a heap. Dobbin stood in the makeshift corral, head down as if he hadn’t been fed or wanted water. He expected the kids to run outside when they heard the car, but no one came and when he parked in the bare yard, he heard nothing but the whir of the windmill, the grinding of the worn blades.
Henry stepped out and called out, but no answer came. He reached into the car and honked the horn several times, sharp and loud. Although he waited, Mama didn’t emerge from the back door drying her hands on her worn apron, Eddie didn’t bolt out of the barn, and the gals didn’t come from the shade at the far edges of the yard. Unease crept into his pleasant mood and he wondered where his family might have gone. Henry couldn’t figure out how they left either, not with the horse present and the car in his possession.
He carried the wooden boxes of groceries into the house and left them on the kitchen table. Henry removed his bandanas from the inside of his overall legs and reached up for the old Eight O’Clock coffee can Mama kept on a high shelf. When there was money in the house, she stashed it there so he put some money into it. The remainder he carried into the bedroom and stuck beneath the worn mattress. He made sure his wallet had plenty and went outside.
“Hello?” he shouted again.
Even if they were down at the river, they should’ve heard the car horn. He smoked a tailor made cigarette, the tobacco smooth and rich against his tongue. He’d been certain something must be wrong, but he refused to believe it. They’d gone off to visit Uncle Ed or something, he decided. There’d be a reason and it wouldn’t be anything bad. When he finished the smoke, he decided he’d head over to the Logan farm. Maybe Mamie would know where his folks were and he wanted to see her anyway.
Before he could bring the Ford to a full stop, Mamie flew out of the house and ran toward him, black curls flying. Her beauty smote him until he forgot everything else but Mamie. Henry stopped and got out to meet her. He swept her into his arms, marveling at the sweet line of her pink lips, the way her small snub nose wrinkled with joy, and how her eyes sparkled like morning dew.
“Henry, you came home, you’re back,” Mamie cried as she hugged him tight.
He inhaled the sweet fragrance of some simple sachet powder she wore. Her body against his evoked both a tenderness and a sensual interest so strong he couldn’t even put it into words. All Henry knew was how much he desired her. Her starched blue calico dress rustled against him, the full skirt sweeping against his legs and manhood. He couldn’t have resisted if he tried, so he kissed her, tempted to pull the pins from her hair to set it free.
Her mouth tasted sweet and full, more intoxicating than Muscat wine. Sensation flooded his senses, a physical delight making every nerve ending in his body light up with electricity and emotional connection. The heady mix flared up until he all but lost his head, kissing his girl until they both gasped for air. When they broke apart, Mamie hugged him again and he put an arm around her shoulders as they strolled toward the house. Maybe she’d have some fresh lemonade, Henry hoped, or maybe a tasty little biscuit or something. He didn’t bother stopping for lunch and now his stomach ached with hunger.
He’d meant to eat something at home because he figured Mama would have something around to eat even if it wasn’t any more than cold cornbread. But he didn’t get to eat because no one’d been home and reminded, he turned to Mamie.
“Say, honey, you wouldn’t happen to know where my folks went, would you?” he asked.
Her brilliant smile wilted and some of the sparkle faded out of her eyes. Anxiety replaced joy and Henry held his breath. His first impression nailed it – something must be wrong, some awful thing must’ve happened.
“I forgot you wouldn’t know,” Mamie said, her voice dropping lower the way people did when they delivered bad news. He remembered the tone too well from when his daddy died back three years ago.
“What is it?” he demanded. “What happened? Just tell me.”
She looked down, eyelashes brushing her cheek. “It’s Eddie.”
Dust Bowl Dreams can be purchased at the following e-book retail outlets: Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, BookStrand.com and AllRomanceebooks.com
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Blog: Rebel Writer: Lee Ann Sontheimer MurphyAmazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Lee-Ann-Sontheimer-Murphy/e/B004JPBM6I