you made me cry. such a good chapter. you did a good job with the brain injury.... I know a couple people who have that and they are not the same person they were before and things are harder for them to not only grasp but remember.
Our brains are so "delicate" which is why it is a good thing we have skulls to keep them in. And why we should never shake a baby or child.
How sad for Jan. But you bring up a very good point: Sometimes after the brain has an assault, it never comes back the same. Even if the physical and mental part comes back, sometimes the personality is much different.
Thanks everyone. I have to agree and I did wonder how we could slip him some COVAC (Loving Beef & Martha's story!) but unless some of Dosadi's soldiers are escaping to northern Montana, we are out of luck for Jones. Besides, I have continuing plans for Jan and the family. And one of the things that we need to remember is that in a war there are always casualties, people dispossessed, children orphaned... people take up residence in places that don't normally fit the definition of house, populations are on the move... war is never just about the soldiers on the front line... and that front line always goes through someone's living room. I always think that the apt pictorial image is what happened at that Italian farm about 6 weeks ago - http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/25983025
Five days after the train arrived in Eureka, Sgt. Donaldson and his unit pulled out heading to the front lines in the new war. Matt and Mary were on the train as were about sixty new recruits from the Eureka area. They joined up with another train that had just come in from Idaho with more volunteers. They were headed back for the front lines in North Dakota.
The day after that Martin & Kyle arrived with the packaged meat and the processing marathon began.
“I love this kitchen” Jan sang as she danced through the space. Six pressure canners were rocking away stuffed with pint jars filled with cold packed stewing beef.
Grandma Jones laughed and several of the girls giggled while the others goggled. Jan being silly wasn’t a sight they’d seen before.
“Renting this place was a fantastic idea. I’ve canned over open fires before, but this is just so much easier,” said Jan. “I am also so glad not to be moving. If I stand still I still feel like I’m on the train.”
Big G and Jamie had gone out to check the fencing for their livestock.
Jones was still in bed. Dr. P was sitting with him. The day before he and Heather had walked down Dewey Avenue to the North Country Medical Clinic and paid a courtesy call on the doctors there. Dr. P. had left his credentials with them, advising that he was available in the event of an emergency but that he was otherwise officially retired. He also told them that he was training Heather and that she would be entering the Army as a combat medic the next year. The doctor recommended that she get her AAS in Paramedicine and the NREMT certification. While it was a two year course at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, it would give her better standing as a 68W medic with an EMT-P rating. They were also willing to bring her in after that to work with them.
Dr. P. then consulted with Drs. Thom and Flute about Jones’ case and gave them the file on young Zach. The doctors were willing to add Zach to their roster until the adoption was final. They were also able to refer them to the children’s services office in Kalispell.
The younger kids had all gone to school for an introduction day. They had piled onto the Elementary and Middle school buses with excited chatter and nervous giggles. With the eight of them gone for the day, the older ones set out to deal with the massive amount of meat the boys had brought back. Jar after jar was filled, canned, labelled and boxed. But everything came to a crashing halt when quite innocently Lydie said,
“Can you believe it’s only four days until Christmas?”
They all looked at each other. Jan and Grandma Jones came to a complete halt.
“Heather can you stay to spell Dr. P. and be here for the kids getting off the bus? We’ll take the twins with us. Call the College and ask them to have an admissions package at the front office for us to pick-up. Can you get Jamie and Big G to go find out where we can get a Christmas tree. This used to be the Christmas Tree capital of the world, so get them to find us one. Lydie can you pull me together a fast shopping list of things you need to bake for the holiday. Sama, Andrea and Gail – after you three finish the tidying the kitchen, then please find me the boxes marked ‘X-mas Decorations’ and get to work decorating. Let’s try to have it all done before the littles get off the bus. If we are not back, get the kids started on making Christmas cards. Make a list of everyone we need to send one to. Grandma and I are going Christmas shopping in Kalispell. Let’s get moving.”
Three days later, in a barrack block in [location censored], Sgt. Donaldson opened an envelope and out fell a dozen homemade Christmas cards. Reading the names, messages and the scriptures quoted, he fell to his knees and thanked God that the family had made it safely. They were a beacon to him, in the rapidly descending madness. He tucked the cards carefully into his kitbag, then hefted it over his shoulder as his unit prepared to move out again... heading out to the front lines.
In a basic training camp, Matt and Mary were able to briefly say hello as they passed in the mess hall. Both had just received mail and under their arms were letters from the only place they now considered home. A place they had spent less than a week with people they had barely known a month before. Both treasured the cards. When Mary’s effects were returned to the family, the small bundle of oft handled cards and letters, tied with a ribbon, were also returned.
In a hospital room in Willston, ND, social worker Missy James brought Officer Gid Donaldson a bag of McDonalds’ Big Macs and fries, and a pile of mail. With his shattered leg in a sling, Gid munched away on his Big Mac, while Missy opened their mail.
“Here’s one for you,” she said handing him a brightly decorated homemade Christmas card.
Dear Uncle Gid,
Merry Christmas to you. Sorry I gave you all such a hard time. These people are weird and fun and crazy and they actually do what they say. You’ll be happy to know that I am going back to school in January. There are going to be fifteen of us from this house alone going to the school. We’ll have our own gang – not in a bad way just meaning there will always be someone at your back and you at theirs. Tante Jan is worried about me. Can you believe with everything else she has to do, she has time to be worried about me? She says I need to get a trade or all I’ll ever be is cannon fodder. I had to look that one up. I told her that I had been really good at hot wiring cars (sorry about that), so she took me down to a local mechanic and asked if he would use a volunteer helper around the shop in exchange for teaching me about engines. So I started yesterday. They also have an auto class at the highschool and I am going to take that too.
Anyways just wanted to say thanks. Hope you have a good Christmas.
“Well, if that don’t beat all!” said Gid.
“I got one too,” said Missy holding up another elaborately decorated homemade card.
Dear Miss James,
A quick note at Christmas, to thank you for placing Zach with us. He and Samuel have become inseparable buddies willing to face down the terrors of the four-year old girls. He has been seen by Dr. Flute at the medical center here in Eureka and other than malnourishment, he’s fine. He has already gained 3-lbs since we arrived. We will be meeting with children’s services in Kalispell in January. His file is already in their possession. We hope that you will have a safe and blessed Christmas and that the fighting will stay at a distance. Here is a snap of the boys.
All our best,
Attached to the card was a picture of two tow haired boys with their arms wrapped around each other, wide grins on their faces. ‘Happy,’ thought Missy, ‘he’s happy. It was the right move.’
Gid looked at Missy’s shinning eyes and made a decision.
“I’m leaving the police force Missy.”
“What!?! But why? You love it.”
“My leg is never going to knit back properly to the point where I can do that type of work again. Not here. And I’m tired of the crime here – the rampant drugs, alcohol, fighting, the people who want to be arrested for a place to sleep inside… I am tired of it. They’ve offered me a desk job or an exit package. The package is the better option. Other than you, there is no reason to stay here. I’m thinking I want to start over somewhere new.”
“Any ideas?” she asked.
“Well… I do have one…” he said holding up the Christmas card.
Missy smiled at him and reached out a hand. For a while they just sat holding hands.
“It was a magical Christmas,” John told the Committee. “I’ve lived a long time and celebrated our Saviour’s birth more times than most, but that Christmas was special. There had been so much loss and disruption in all of our lives that it was the traditions not the gifts that mattered. Popcorn was strung on the tree, along with rice krispie balls, chocolate santas and paper twists of nuts. There were garlands of tinsel and fairy lights around the windows. Under the tree were two gifts for every child and a new pair of pajamas. One of the gifts was a book and the other a toy, or small Lego, or art supplies. From Grandma was a pair of mittens and a scarf. For some it was a smaller Christmas and for others it was far more, but for all this one was perfect.
We had two huge turkeys with stuffing and potatoes, corn, carrots. We all ate until we were stuffed and then the girls turned those poor turkey carcasses into a stew. Lydie had made us some gorgeous cakes and cookies and we over indulged in sugar. We sang carols and played charades and board games. The kids did a Nativity play. I played one of the Three Kings... yes, me... even then a wiseman. [He snorted with laughter]. Lego was built and dolls and balls played with. There was general mayhem and lots of noise.
“My father joined us for a while but it was obvious that he was confused by the whole thing, so he went back to bed. It was a defining moment for us. Mother went and checked on him but came back to us. She had decided that we had to be her priority. I won’t judge her for it. Our Heavenly Father has done that long ago. Jones was no longer a part of the decision making in the house. His care was always factored in but he played no role. He wasn’t able to.
“Gid Donaldson and Missy James Donaldson appeared at our door one day in May. They had rented a house in Eureka. Mother introduced Gid to Todd Stewart who having survived the Chicago PD had happily settled into the quiet life of the occasional cross border cattle rustling, drug mules, people smugglers and sadly more prevalent drunk driving, and spousal abuse. He was able to get Gid a part-time position with the force. Missy found a job as a guidance counselor at the middle school, where she was dearly loved. They had four children, two of whom are still living in Eureka.”
“I would like to say that life was easier once we were settled,” said John, “but it would be a lie. Christmas allowed us all to bond a bit more on a positive note before the winter crashed down.”
Jan felt like she spent the next month getting the kids sorted and settled into activities - scouts, hockey, Sunday School and Church Youth Groups.
First she got Martin and Heather down to Kalispell. Through one of the doctors at the clinic, she found an elderly lady who was willing to house the kids in exchange for house and yard work. It was ideal as it gave them both some structure and supervision and it allowed Mrs. Higgins to stay in her house. The kids came home on Friday nights and returned on Sunday with a box of food for the week. Heather always ensured that Mrs. Higgin’s Saturday night dinner was cooked and only need to be reheated. Martin found that he had more skills than he expected as he handled snow clearing and household repairs.
Under Dr. P’s supervision, Heather had written the exams for Medical Terminology and Basic Human Biology over the Christmas holidays and had passed with a 98% and a 96%. So the College awarded her the courses. Based on those marks they allowed her to take Math Applications for Allied Health Professionals, Transition to Paramedic Care, Introduction to Interpersonal Communication, and College Writing I as independent study courses with Dr. P. as her supervisor. So when she wrote her exams in May, she passed not only all the second term courses with no mark lower than 90% but she also passed the four additional courses with marks in the 90s. Jan was incredibly proud of her.
Heather sat down with her guidance counselor in April and explained that her deferral from the Army ended on December 31st, the counselor worked with the program administrators and they found a way for Jan to complete the entire program by the end of December. The only thing she would not be able to do was write her NREMT exam before boot camp started. When they spoke with the local recruiting officer, he noted her accomplishments in her file and sent it up the line. 86Ws with an EMT-P rating were desperately needed and Heather would write the first available exam after boot camp.
Martin was excelling as well. He had received a good grounding working for the Amish butcher in the CoKL. But now he was learning how to process on a larger scale, how to make sausages, how to smoke meats… He really enjoyed his work and his friendly personality made him popular both at the processor and with the customers. Wanting to further his studies, he took two on-line courses from Montana State University’s College of Agriculture. Their Department of Animal and Range Sciences offered two courses that he felt would stand him in good stead – Introduction to Meat Evaluation and Meat Science. Because he audited the courses he didn’t have to have the prerequisites and only had to pay $100/course.
With those two sorted out, Jan turned to look at the others. Jamie was going to help her manage the farm and take on-line courses from the College of Agriculture. At this point he would oversee the livestock operations. Helping him when they were not in school were Eggie, Kyle and Sama. Jan organized through the school and the 4-H program, that this work would be viewed as part of their required apprenticeship program. They were all taking on-line course in their areas of interest.
Eric and his younger brother Tyler were engine and machine mad. Jan went down to Frontier Repair, a company specializing in heavy equipment repair, and got them to take both boys. Both of them loved it. Jan watched as they spent hours tinkering with an old jalopy they had found. John and David would stand around and hand them tools and be thrilled at being included.
Tom took himself down to Stein’s Market in Eureka and asked to speak with the grocery manager. He talked his way into an unpaid internship. Jan marched him back down.
“Mr. Houston,” said Jan. “I need some clarification. As Tom’s guardian, I would like to hear from you what this internship entails.”
Mr. Houston withered under Jan’s glare. His dreams of unpaid stock boys vanished and to his own surprise he laid out a two afterschool sessions per week that would entail ordering, projections, client tracking and marketing. Mr. Houston also said that he wanted to arrange for Tom to work at Darigold Distribution to see the process from the other side. Jan nodded and thanked him.
With sixty cows, Sama and Andrea didn’t have a lot of extra time. But both spent time on the organic farm operation called Amalthia Organic Dairy**, which specialized in raising organic dairy goats. Andrea went because the Smith family made cheese from their 280 strong goat herd. The dairy also had whey-fed pigs and Kyle spent time there too, although it might have been the farmer’s daughter who caught his eye.
“Are you taking Allison Smith to the dance?” Jan asked him. Kyle blushed and nodded.
“Good. Now time for the dating/sex talk… Call all the others in… second though just make it the high school crowd.” Jan directed.
Kyle went and found everyone. They slowly trickled into the living room and found seats around the kitchen table. As usual, Jamie sat with his arm around Sarah.
“Okay everyone,” said Jan. “Here’s the talk we all hate but need to have. We need to have it for a couple of reasons in part because we are new to each other and new to this community. You have all told me that you have goals and future plans and to get there we need to get you through the next couple of years without two things – one a criminal record, and two an illegitimate child.”
The kids all blushed and tried to avoid each other but giggled and blushed when they caught each other’s eyes.
“So here are the basic ground rules. No dating until you are sixteen or in Grade 11. Never go on dates alone, always with another couple. I’d like to say no premarital sex but I am going to leave that to each of you and if decide you are, then condoms all the way, and I want you to tell me because I don’t want any of you guys accused of rape… which is really the reason for the no dates on your own.
“Girls, I expect you all to dress modestly. If you look like you have something for sale, someone will try and grab.
“Okay all of you, I expect you to help each other. If anyone gets targeted by bullies, I expect you to support your family. I also expect that you will tell me and the teachers.
“Are there curfews?” asked Jamie.
“Good question,” said Jan. “Let’s start out with 9pm on a weekday and midnight on a weekend. We can reassess on an individual basis and again in a couple of months. Anyone else?”
“Can we have sleep-overs?” asked Gail.
“While we are here in the restaurant, I’m going to say no,” said Jan. “We really don’t have the space and we are not well enough known in the community. If you want to go somewhere else, then we’ll discuss and I’ll talk to the parents.
“Now you all have apprenticeships and I would like you to each report to me weekly about what you are learning and any issues you are having. I will speak to your mentors about the same. We are new here and I don’t want any of you to become the whipping boys or slave labour.
“On a final note, I expect homework, school work, projects, ect. to be done. We’ll put a giant calendar on the wall and put the due dates up there. Also note your tests, events, parties. Put your stuff up there so that we can make sure everything is done. Anyone else?”
“Yeah,” said Sama. “Can we make a rule about no boys in the girls’ room and vice versa?”
“Well that is sensible,” said Jan.
“How about no cursing?” asked Lydie. “My grandparents had that rule so it shouldn’t be so hard to do.”
“This is a crock!” exploded Connor. “Why are you treating us like such babies!?!”
The other kids started to get annoyed. As far the they were concerned the rules were pretty sensible.
“Which part of the rules are you objecting to?” asked Jan, keeping her tone level.
“Curfews… dating ages… reporting our work to you…” Connor ticked them off on his hand.
“Why do you think that they are unreasonable?” asked Jan again, wanting to know what he was thinking.
“Well 9:00pm is just so early! And what if the dance goes until midnight... Why do I have to leave early?” he demanded.
“Well during the week, you are picked up by the bus at 7:30am, then in school until 3:30pm, and then you are at the auto shop four days a week until 8pm. So if you still have homework or a test, does 9:00pm not give you enough time to get home and get that done?” asked Jan.
“Yeah… well I guess that makes sense…” Connor muttered.
“And you are quite right, if the dance ends at midnight, then of course you stay to the end and then drop off your date if you have one, but then you come home,” said Jan.
“But what if there are after parties?” demanded Connor.
“What happens at after parties?” asked Jan.
“Well people sit around and…” he stopped.
“That’s when the drinking, the drugs and the trouble starts to happen, right?” said Jan.
“Yeah,” said Connor, his tone still sulky but the point obviously starting to sink in.
“At this point, the reason for the curfew is to ensure that as you settle into the community you don’t end up in the type of trouble that can have a long lasting impact. I ask about your apprenticeships for the same reason. I ask about your school work because if you are struggling in something we need to deal with it before it becomes a major issue. Connor, I promised the other kids that I would guide them through their teens and help them reach their goals. By joining us, I offer you the same. But I am not your mother…”
“Well that’s a good thing!” interjected Connor with heavy sarcasm.
“Be that as it may, what I mean is that I am here to be on your side and help you. The rules are to make sure that you don’t get sidelined on stuff that will forever take away your ability to do what you want,” said Jan. Connor just nodded that time. The other kids got up and wandered off.
Jan checked her book. She had Lydie all set-up with an apprenticeship at the Sunflower Bakery & Coffee House once a week and three afternoons a week baking with Mrs. Amos Yodder. Gail would be working in the nursery and garden center owned by the Stewart family. Erin Cody would be apprenticing with Mrs. Issac Yodder learning tailoring and sewing skills. Despite her best efforts, she had been unable to place the kids with any of the West Kootenai Amish Community.
“Being tucked away on the far side of the Koocanusa Bridge, they were just too far away,” John told the Committee. “The CoKL Colony had all settled on the east side of the Kootenai River and the feeling that they had been sold defective goods remained for some time. As the war progressed and the need for soldiers increased, the CoKL Colony used their pacifism to show their support by selling produce to the Army. The West Kootenai Colony felt that that was a violation of their principles. The one spring day the Army recruiters arrived in the West Kootenai and CoKL Colonies and asked who was on Rumspringa. All the unbaptized young men were drafted. They became known as the Wehrpflichtiger, the conscripted. It was a crisis moment for both Colonies and the later reintegration of the young men took a lot of work.
“Lydie and Erin both converted and married Wehrpflichtiger. Lydie ran a bakery and had seven children. She died in childbirth with the eighth, who did not survive. Her husband Samuel married again and he brought the children to see mother regularly. Erin was not quite so lucky. Her husband had been badly scarred by his experiences on the front lines and in the end hanged himself in their barn. Erin had found him when she went out to milk. She continued on their farm and raised their six children. She put food on the table with the skill of her needle. Her prayer caps were particularly sought after.
“Gail married Alex Stewart, son of the nursery owner, and they took the garden center into its third generation. They had two children. The nursery is now owned by a grandson and is in its fifth generation.
“Heather made the Army her career,” John said. “Once she had finished basic, she was sent to Fort Sam Houston where her skills were reviewed. From there she was assigned to a MASH unit and sent to the front lines. After the war, she applied and was accept to the Inter-service Physician Assistant Program (IPAP). She was a tough woman but very good at what she did. She left the service at the end of her 20. She had married another vet and they settled on 50 acres outside of Kalispell, where she worked in the hospital and taught at the college.
"Her husband was a retired Staff Sergeant named J.A. Ferguson from Havre, Montana. He always claimed he fell in love with her when he cleared her family’s farm for Relocation west. The story was the only thing that would make her blush. He ran their small farm and stayed home to raise their two biological children and five adopted children. Heather and Jay both lived into their nineties.
"The October after he started his apprenticeship, Martin was called up to serve Uncle Sam three days after his 18th birthday. After the nightmare that was called basic training, he was dispatched to the kitchens, here he found that his period of service was not to be on the front lines, rather it was to be feeding grunts. He chaffed at what he saw as an easy assignment and got himself reassigned to a mobile kitchen. He served through until the end of the war. He came back a hardened 26-year old. He took his pay, that he had sent home to Mom to be banked, and opened a butcher shop in Rexford.
"Uncle Sam came call for Eric too and in due course Jamie, Eggie and Kyle. As the years and the war dragged on Connor, Tom and Tyler were called in turn. For so long we were lucky. We had lost Mary but we knew she didn’t want to come back. She was on a mission of revenge and as they say, she who seeks revenge starts by digging two graves*. Tom lost a leg. He was in supply and making a run between Reno and Nevada City, CA, when his truck was hit. He was lost to us for a while but he finally came home. He spent years medicating himself with a bottle. His wife left him and she left their small three children with my mother. He did finally dry out and took his kids home. He married again and they were a good team until their deaths about twenty years ago.
“Connor came home but joined up again with a mercenary group doing the things he was trained to do. He still sent his pay home to our mother. He was gone for years with only the odd call or postcard. One day he appeared at my mother’s door with two small children in hand, and behind him stood a woman of Asian ancestry. He introduced her as his wife Pakpao and their daughter Pen-chan (age 4) and son David (age 2). Young David was named for Connor’s father. They settled in a small house in Rexford, near Martin and his family. Pakpao began to run a greenhouse nursery, which soon developed into a thriving business.
“Eggie never came home. He was listed as MIA, believed KIA, at the Battle of St. Louis. In her heart of hearts, my mother died believing that one day he would come home. His name is on the cenotaph but only after a long argument with the Legion and my mother. She felt that putting it there would be an admission that he was gone. We just wanted his commitment celebrated. The Legion just wanted direction.
“For Sama all of the war and its continued destruction was too much. She retreated more and more to the Amish community and began to walk out with Jonas Yodder. Amos and his wife were pleased with the match and my mother sat proudly in the Yodder’s drive shed on the day that Sama was baptized. The next year, Andrea married Martin Yodder, a cousin of Jonas’, and the two young couples settled down next door to each other. Andrea’s daughters and granddaughters have long since taken over the cheese making business and they too have been very successful at it.
So for the older ones, the war years were defining. I was coming up to seventeen and ready for my turn when the war ended. So for me there was no war, but I know the sacrifices that were made.
For my mother life after the war was one of increased happiness. With my father gone, she was able to lift her head and look. To her surprise someone was waiting for her.”
*Confucius “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
**Amalthia Organic Dairy – this is a real organic dairy goat operation but it is located in Bozeman. I hope that the owners will forgive my moving their operation over to Eureka. Everything I could read indicates that the Brown’s run a really first class operation. For more information: http://amaltheiadairy.com/AD2/
Glad you are all liking it! It has been interesting to research and write. Tomorrow being Saturday means a day volunteering at the ski hill - we've had 561cm (abt 18-ft 5-in) since January 1st so the kids have had a great time. So look for something tomorrow night. Take care all.
The winter passed quickly. The kids settled in with each other and the community. There were still nights of tears as each child in their own way processed the loss of parents, family, friends and homes. There were the usual school issues of dogs eating homework, lost library books, skipping class, and fights with friends. But there were also moments of sheer joy as tests were aced, ribbons won at science fairs, badges earned at Scouts and testimonies given at Church. There was also fear as the draft notices came in.
Jan found herself pulled between pillar and post, trying to be all things to all people. Missy Donaldson dropped in one day and found her exhausted and crying.
“How many hours sleep you getting?” Missy demanded.
“About five and a half,” admitted Jan in tears. “Between the babies being up and raring to go at 6am… and… and the older ones wanting to talk at midnight… I’m beat. My mother-in-law and her new husband are seniors and can’t take on more… my husband has been brain damaged and needs constant monitoring and care… my cousin has moved out to the farm and is living in an old trailer… Oh, Missy, I need help…
“I thought that I would have Jamie here to help but his draft notice came in shortly after his birthday and he was gone like a shot. He left Sarah with a tiny chip on her finger as a promise to come back and she’s been a soggy mess ever since. Eric, Eggie and Kyle have all receive their draft notices and all three pull out two days after graduation on June 17th. Sally has been having screaming nightmares about the boys being killed which wake everyone up. John is loving being at school but he is having focus issues and is so easily distracted that he comes home with all his school work still to do. I may have to go back to homeschooling him right away.
“The Yodders and their team are waiting for the frost to come out of the ground and then they’ll pour footings for the house and barn and then put them up. We need a new barn for all the dairy cattle. I can’t believe we have sixty of them, and they are going to start calving soon…”
Missy’s phone rang. She gave Jan a hug and went and took the call. Ten minutes later she sat down again with Jan.
“Okay,’ she said. “Here’s what we are going to do. I work at the school three days a week. I am going to come up here the other two days. Ginny is also going to come up here two days a week. We are going to do this until you are in the new house and are fully unpacked. I’ve spoken with John’s school, they have an aide for him who starts in a week. Now go have a nap. I’ll wake you for lunch.”
With gratitude, Jan went back to bed. The room that had originally been hers was now Jones’ and so she had moved her bed into the old cloak room. With its window and door closed, it worked perfectly. Jan snuggled between the warm flannel sheets, under her quilts, and fell asleep reassured that all was in good hands. Noon came and went and Missy let her sleep.
Jan woke shortly before 3:00pm. She reached for her list but instead found herself writing what became a series of letters. Letters that had less to do with their recipient and more to do with needing to talk to someone who knew them but wasn’t directly involved.
***** … you’d never believe that this was a kid who had never done a science project before. It was quite impressive too. He had built identical three simple engines and then showed how each worked with a different brand of motor oil. He powered them off a lawn tractor. He was absolutely beaming when the local newspaper took a picture of him. Here’s the clipping. Even better, the school sent the results to the oil company and they are so impressed that they have awarded him a $10,000 scholarship towards a mechanical engineering degree at Montana Tech. We really could not be prouder of him!
Missy has been a wonder. I think I had been operating on a management high for too long. She and Ginny gave me a couple of days to regroup and pull myself back together. I’ll be forever grateful for that. I am also learning, once again to say, I can’t do that.
We have a month until Eric, Eggie and Kyle leave for BCT at Fort Sill and everyone is trying to spoil them in some way. Eric is thrilled to be going to Fort Sill because General Sheridan was based from there and one of his scouts was Eric’ ancestor Buffalo Bill Cody. Eric is showing some rather interesting leadership skills. He got online and found out what the daily work-out were for BCT (Basic Combat Training), and he then asked the Principle to call a meeting for all the kids who had received draft notices. Those kids have been working out daily ever since. They are up at 4:30am and in the school gym by 5:00am. They have the sit-ups and push-ups down to a fine art and are running five miles a day. Eric wants to take it up to seven miles so that anything else seems like a walk in the park. There has also been talk about putting in a ropes course. They want to pull the Boy Scouts into the building of it and the school is going to give them the land.
The farm is beginning to take shape. The manure and bedding pile, together with kitchen compost, have steamed all winter and have mellowed to the point of being usable on the kitchen gardens. We’ve decided where to place the houses and barns. Fence posts and wire had been ordered and with the frost gone, building starts next week. So we should be in two weeks today.
Take care. Stay safe. Know that we pray for you. All our best, Jan
Sitting in the mess tent outside of St. Louis, Sgt. Donaldson looked at the letter and the newspaper clipping and had to smile. Looking at the young man sitting next to him, he showed him the clipping. Jamie’s eyes lit up.
“Good on him! Connor really loves those engines,” he said. “I bet if you bled him, he’d bleed gasoline and motor oil. The guys are going to be glad they did those workouts. Wish I had thought to do that. Any word from Matt, sir?”
“No. Only that his unit is down somewhere involved in the mess around Mobile,” said Donaldson. “Mary has finished training and she is behind the lines somewhere in Ontario. She’s a very dangerous and quietly angry young woman. You in touch with her?”
“No sir,” said Jamie. “I didn’t really know her before the train. She might write Eggie or Kyle. She used to go to school and work with them, but I wouldn’t count on it. She won’t do anything that might break her cover.
“On another subject Sir, my unit pulls out tomorrow. If something happens to me. Please send this to Tante Jan. It has another letter for Sara inside. I have listed you and Tante Jan as my next of kin”
“I will son,” responded Donaldson. He took the envelope and tucked it into his shirt pocket all the while praying it would never have to be delivered. They shook hands and Jamie left.
“Thankfully he never had to deliver that letter,” John told the Committee. “My mother watched the cars come up the drive for Mary and Eggie. She cried for them like her heart was torn in two. It was shortly after 8am on August 30th that they came to tell her about Eggie. He had listed her as his PNOK. For many families who watched the War unfold on their television screens, it must have been a nightmare, but we didn’t have television and there is too much going on on the farm in August to be indoors glued to a computer screen. So we didn’t hear about the Battle of St. Louis until it was over and frankly we didn’t know where any of the boys were so we were no more panicked when we did hear. Now I know that they are supposed to notify you within 24-hours but we are miles from anywhere.
“It was two army jeeps that came down our drive. Nobody wanted to be there. Not the man from the Legion, not the fresh faced theology grad who was serving as chaplain, nor the local recruiting officer who was given the grim duty, and most certainly not my mother. It was horrifically painful… made even more cruel because there could be no funeral. He was gone. Blown to kingdom come by a bomb. It would be nice to say that he died a hero’s death saving a small child or a comrade, but it was a useless waste. An eighteen year old with a dream of chicken farming was dead. He had been kind to us younger ones and we missed him. Both he and Mary had had so much to offer and they were gone… Lost to political ideology and greed.
“I can remember my mother trying to explain the war to us. She told us that in this world nothing was free except love. That Our Heavenly Father gave us skills and the abilities to use them and expected us earn a living. Some earned a lot because much value was placed on their skills. Others earned less because it was deemed to be of less value. But regardless of whether you dug ditches or baked bread or carried out complicated surgery, you earned a living. Nobody had the right to sit around and expect others to take care of them or their children because they were too lazy to get off their hind ends. The expectation that all should be provide for free could be taken too far.
“She also told us that equality happened out of earned respect. The colour of your skin, who you worshiped, your country of origin, should play no part. But if you choose to move to a nation with its own culture and faith, you should not expect the inhabitants of that nation to set aside their culture and beliefs to accommodate yours. You are not more equal than the citizens of the country you move to. That is what had happened in Canada, in many parts of Europe, in the US...”
I'm really enjoying the premise of this story (a testimony post tense) and the writing style. Always giving us something to think on, someone to mourn and someone to consider for the future. I'm already wondering if Jan's next husband has been introduced yet. I think I have a good idea, small plot tidbits like that will keep me reading this thread for the foreseeable future.
Thanks, I can't comment on all the thinking this inspires. It is something that I will dwell on for some time. I'm glad you set it as a telling of history. Helps me back off a bit. This is some pretty intense stuff to me.
At 6:00am on the 24th of May… on the Queen’s Birthday*… the two teams of barn builders broke ground for the house and barns. Added to the team were various community members who had come to know the McConnell clan. The guys from Frontier Repair had brought cranes. Amos Yodder admitted they had never worked with a crane crew before but happily admitted that things sure moved a treat faster when the logs, rafters and ridge poles were lifted in place. By 4pm on the first day the first 100 man crew had Jan’s log house and the Schmidt’s frame house raised, fitted together, sub floors in and tarped. The second 100 man team had the log cattle barn, the drive shed and garage done.
The men who worked ranged in age from Johnny Knapp, age 16, to Ernest Knapp, aged 60. The speech was mostly in Pennsylvania German with English spoken as needed. Around them ran what seemed to be another hundred boys who fetched and carried and learned from watching. John and David and the Three Amigos were in the thick of things. When they were tired of that, they headed to the field and played baseball. The young men worked with as much skill as their elders. When Jan asked Sarah Yodder about it the answer back was simple.
“Of course our young men build well. They learn as small children, participate from the age of sixteen and by the time they are twenty-one have often been part of the building of more than ten barns,” Sarah Yodder, wife of Amos, told her.
Throughout the day, Jan and the girls served an endless supply of coffee, tea, milk and water, to the over 200 men working in the two teams. Lydie and Sarah Yoder had a table full of tasty sweet breads, doughnuts, 20 large cakes (raisin cake, bundt cake, and chocolate cake), dozens of cookies, 130 pies (lemon pie with huge hats of meringue, sugar pie, pecan pie, raspberry pie, strawberry-rhubarb pie, and a single Saskatoon berry pie) and 200 tarts (raisin butter tarts, blueberry tarts and almond custard tarts). There were also huge bowls of tapioca pudding, applesauce and cornstarch pudding. Andrea had contributed some of her soft cheeses. At 12noon, the wives of other team members served an enormous lunch – pans of roast chicken, thick slices of hams and peameal bacon with slathers of Russian honey mustard, schnitzel, roast beef, sour kraut, 14 pails of potato salad,3-bean salad, bowls of leaf lettuce, sliced tomatoes, at least seven different types of pickles, and hard boiled eggs. Jan had never seen such a layout of food.
The men sat at trestle tables and ate off china dishes and used real silver ware, bought a piece at a time from a thousand yard sales. When all were seated, Bishop Miller stood and a quiet grace was said over the food. The food was put on the table and each ate according to his hunger. They ate quickly with so much to do. Small children perched on knees and ate off their parents or siblings plates. There wasn’t a lot of chatter. Within the half hour, men were rising from the table and heading back to work and the women began the enormous task of washing dishes. The food table looked like it had swarmed, but there was enough left to feed the McConnell clan that evening.
While the buildings were going up, Rachel Yodder, wife of Isaac, and a couple of other women plowed the ten acres of the home garden. They had pretty little Haflinger mares, that pulled well and were easily managed. One of Rachel’s daughters then began to spread the manure. A second daughter followed behind discing it in. Jan then brought out her cold frames and with a wall of hay bles to protect them from the north winds, the frames were faced south and filled with more manure, top soil and salad seedlings. The manure in the soil raised the temperature enough to allow for the planting of peas.
On the second day, the walls, windows and doors went into the house. The outhouses were dug, the hand pumps were connected to the drilled wells.
Shortly after 1pm, Stewart’s Nursery arrived and began to erect as 30’x10’ greenhouse on the end of her small one attached to the garage. Jan was dismayed.
“I didn’t order this!” She protested.
“Oh we aren’t giving it to you,” said Dan Stewart. “Its been paid for.”
“By whom?” Jan asked, panic rising…
“It’s from Gideon & Melissa Donaldson and Tyler Donaldson, with thanks for the care, affection and amazing turn around you’ve effected in their nephew,” Dan told her with a huge grin.
“Oh wow!” said Jan, her eyes bright.
“Surprise!” shouted Missy, giving her a hug.
Jan fanned her eyes and Connor came over and hugged her too.
“You gave me a life,” he told her. “If I’d stayed with my mom, I’d probably be dead or in jail by now. Instead I have a scholarship and a future.”
Jan hugged Connor back. “You did that yourself.”
“I told them that you dreamed of one like this,” said Connor. “Did I get it right?”
“Oh boy did you ever,” said Jan fervently.
She had one of the ladies take a photo of herself, John, Connor, Gid & Missy in front of the assembled greenhouse.
***** …Its gorgeous! It really is. I already have pepper and cucumber seedlings in there. I have used one of the interior partitions to create a cucumber house. There used to be this show on YouTube called the Victorian Kitchen Gardner with this amazing head gardener named Harry Dodds. He had the most amazing glass houses and these long glass tubes for growing straight cucumbers – apparently the natural curve of cucumber was too naughty and suggestive to be eaten by proper Victorian ladies. Anyways… I was at an auction a decade or so ago and bought a box of them. So we’ll give them a try. Lord knows the girls get giggly at anything naughty or suggestive.
The rest of the greenhouse is filling up with seedlings. We are still firing up the wood stove at night to keep it warm.
It was an incredibly generous gift. Thank you.
Stay safe, Jan.
He sat there in a tent, along the front line south of Vicksburg and ran his finger over the picture. He knew the letter off by heart. He looked at the boy laid out on the cot, his shoulder bandaged.
“Not to worry,” said the surgeon stopping by to look at the chart. “Farm boys are remarkably resilient. It was a through and through. Minimal damage. He one of yours?”
“Not in the way that you mean,” said Donaldson. “He was one of the kids whose families were relocated. Parents were killed. This woman on the train took in him and his 19 siblings and cousins. By the time they reached Eureka, Montana, she’d taken on eleven more, including my nephew.”
“That’s one hell of a woman!” exclaimed the surgeon.
“Sure is,” said Donaldson. “Not sure what any of these kids would have done without her. She also adopted a couple of old people.” He handed the surgeon the photo of Jan with all the kids.
“Pretty thing,” mused the surgeon, his brain already moving on to the next case.
“Yeah… but married,” sighed Donaldson.
“Well at least she has support. If I ever get home, I’m going to find me one like that too,” said the surgeon. The smile in the photo stayed with him as moved on down the row. ‘Yep,’ he thought. ‘Once this war is over, I’m a gonna find me one like that and we’ll settle back into the mountains and raise a family. No more fancy city girls for me…’
The boy on the cot stirred and Donaldson refocused his ttention as the kid opened his eyes and look at him with pain and confusion.
“What? Sarge?” the eyes closed in pain.
“None of that now,” said Donaldson quietly and in a firm voice. “Just tell me Matt, what the hell am I supposed to tell your Tante Jan?!?!
“You know,” John said to the Committee. “It was the first time one of us was injured, but it wouldn’t be the last. Donaldson kept an eye out for all of them as much as he could. It actually became a bit of a joke. I think it was after Kyle got hit that we heard about the joke. The kids Donaldson watched out for had become known as his Ducks.”
One of the Committee members barked with laughter. After a moment, a couple more got the joke and laughed too.
“Yeah, they became known as Donaldson’s Ducks. Later they added a patch to their uniforms… unofficial and all but it was of a bright yellow rubber duck.”
The Congressman from Colorado looked up sharply. “There was a man in my Grandfather’s unit called Duckie Ball. We used to laugh about the name.”
“Yes, that was my brother… Kyle Ball,” John told him. “He married a girl he met in the army. She was a midwife and practical nurse. They settled near her hometown of Fruita, Colorado, but eventually they came back to Rexford and bought a house across from Martin in Rexford. She hung out her shingle and worked as a midwife for the community. Kyle raised pigs on some land outside of town and sold them direct to Martin. If I recall correctly they had six children.
“They had a Ducks reunion about five years after the war ended. Men came from all over to give thanks to Donaldson. Over the course of the war he had risen to the rank of Master Sergeant. As an enlisted man, he was proud to have risen so high. He was a doer and wanted nothing more than to be able to lead men in battle. He did so and that he brought most of them home again was a testament to his leadership.”
* “The 24th of May is the Queen’s Birthday. If we don’t get holiday, we’ll all run away.” The 24th of May is a statutory holiday in Canada. The Queen referenced is Queen Victoria. One of our most popular holidays, often referred to as the “two-four”, in Southern Ontario, it is generally considered the start of the cottage season, the start of the growing season, the start of summer…
What a wonderful way to spend my afternoon! My husband and I always wanted to have 15-20 children. Life hasn't worked out that way. We are very fortunate to have our soon to be 3 biological children and the Foster children we have taken in. Thank you Lake Lili, reading this let's me pretend to be Jan for just a little bit.
The parking lot of the R&R gas station in Dryden, Virginia, had sprouted a MASH unit. It was the only building left standing in the community of just over 1,200 people. There was a constant flow of casualties coming in from the battle at Big Stone Gap. The Blues had opened the gates of the Wallens Ridge State Prison and armed the inmates as they left. Amazingly, they were surprised when the first order of business in the inmates' minds was to eliminate those who armed them. The Reds then had a series of running battles with some inmates, who would shoot at whomever they thought was trying to apprehend them. Some inmates immediately came over to the Reds - mostly those in for poaching and running things up the AT... useful as scouts but not to be trusted absolutely. While a small number tried to join the Blues. It was an unmitigated mess with no one sure who was fighting who. And as anyone will tell you battles in the mountains often have less to do with current issues and more to do with century old patterns of inter and intra-familial tribal warfare. The patterns were set in the highlands and borderlands of Scotland and brought with them to North America.
Dr. George Anderson had been treating men all day, when the first child was brought in.
“Her name is Sadie Bishop. The name is supposed to mean something but I can’t figure out what the woman is saying, and given her level of wounds we won’t find out either. Her friend Ellie Gilbert is outside waiting for the next surgeon. Both were covered in wood spliters. Most have been removed but you can see there the big ones need some more delicate work. Their house sustained a direct hit and the lumber became flying matchsticks,” said the nurse.
The surgeon looked at the large piece of lumber sticking out of the child’s back. It took them almost 35 minutes to remove it and reinflate her lung. He kept her sedated for another 24-hours to make sure that there was minimal movement. Her friend Ellie had a broken leg but was otherwise fine. The nursing staff had great fun with the girls, braiding their hair and painting their nails. For two weeks the girls were papered and made pets of by the wounded soldiers. But the issue of what to do with them was a big one. Both girls were six-years old. The woman caring for them was dead. They had each other but no one else. Surviving town residents had already hit the road. No one knew where their parents had gone.
It was Anderson who came up with the idea.
“Back at Vicksburg,” he told his CO, “there was this Staff Sergeant named Donaldson who had worked with some of the Relocated families. His unit had worked as an escort unit for a family that went to Montana. Along the way the woman took in 31 war orphans. Perhaps she can take our little ones. We’re pulling out in 2-days and we can’t leave them here or take them with us.”
“Chr--t on a bicycle… couldn’t you find someone closer!” exclaimed the CO.
“Well just about anything closer would put them back in the middle of the war. At least Montana is currently out of the conflict zone,” pointed out the Chief Nurse. Blonde, stacked and actually named Margaret, she resented any suggestion that she might be this war’s answer to Hot Lips Houlihan.
“Okay…” said the CO in a cranky tone. “Get my clerk to get it organized.”
Jan stood on the train station platform in Kalispell with ten-year old Sally Cody. It was seven months since they had arrived on the platform. Seven months of back breaking work, incredible joy and shattering pain. They had all settled into the new house. The kids had done well in school and it was decided to keep them there for the next year. With assistance John had improved to the point that Jan was willing to keep him there too.
The week before, Gid had arrived with a telegram from Dr. George Anderson, the surgeon who had fixed Matt. It asked if she could take in two more war orphans from Virginia. Jan agreed provided there was a stipend or something to help get them started.
The train pulled in and a young female Private got off with two girls in BDUs someone had cut down for them. Sadie was starting to bounce again and Ellie was getting around on crutches. Jan signed for them and then took them to McDonalds to get something to eat. Sally chatted away with them as they drove to the huge Salvation Army Thrift Store in Kalispell. The girls went wild. Jan explained that in their house, modest dress was appropriate. So the girls picked long skirts, t-shirts with sleeves and Bermuda-length shorts. They each got a sparkly purse and a raincoat. They were also able to get some sandals, runners and rubber boots. At the back, Jan was able to get two twin mattresses and some pillows.
While they were in town, the boys had built another set of bunk beds for the girls’ room. With the addition of Sadie and Ellie there were now eleven girls in the room. Agnes and Inga had just graduated from the Puppy Room, which housed all the pre-school kids and toddlers. Sadie and Ellie were given the top bunks with Agnes and Inga below. Sally, Erin, Gail and Lydie were in another set of four bunks. Sama, Andrea and Sara all had single beds. The girls had chosen a sunny yellow for the walls. The wood trim was all painted white.
On the walls, the girls had painted several quotes:
"Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity." 1 Timothy 4:12
"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7
It all looked fresh and clean and welcoming to the two small girls from Virginia.
Over the next several days, the girls led them around the farm. They met all the other who lived on the farm - Grandma and Dr. P, Big G, and Mr. Jones. They admired the rabbits and chickens, but were surprised when they asked their names and they were called either Lunch, Dinner or BBQ. They thought that was gross. So Sally pointed out that,
“This is called a farm because we eat what we grow here.”
“My daddy had a farm too but we didn’t eat anything from it!” said Sadie hotly.
“Did you have animals?” asked Sally.
“We had horses,” said Sadie.
“We have horses too.” Sally told her. “We have two teams of horses to pull the tractor and seven riding horses. Can you ride?”
Sadie hung her head. “I can. Really I can. I know I didn’t win any ribbons last year but I can ride.”
“She’s really good. She can even go over small jumps!” said Ellie with pride for her friend.
“We don’t do a lot of that type of riding. We go on trail rides and see special places in the mountains,” Sally told her. “Did you like doing competitions?”
“No,” Sadie said. “But Daddy wanted me to because then he could talk to other parents and do business. Mommy did lots of competitions. She had a whole room full of ribbons and silver trophies. If I can ride and not have to do competitions that would be good.”
“We’ll talk to Tante Jan about it. She’s in charge of the horses and nobody touches a horse without her saying it’s okay.” Sadie could see that Sally was serious. She also liked that these people had horses and a good barn, even if she didn’t think that they should be pulling tractors.
Sally then took them over and showed them the Belgian team. They were huge and Sadie backed up so fast she toppled Ellie on her crutches. They went down in a pile and Sally had to call in David to help her get the girls straightened up again. David became Ellie’s hero as the boy helped her up and got her crutches back the way they should. But both girls were hurting after the fall so Sally took them back to the house and got them some ice tea. She sat them out on the porch in the big arm chairs and the both soon fell asleep. Sally covered them with quilts and then sat and watched over them while she did mending. She really admired what Erin could do and wanted to be able to sew just like her, so Erin was teaching her to darn socks, fix rips at knees, and hem skirts and pants.
Jan stood at the front door and smiled at Sally giving her a big thumbs up. She turned and went back to her desk.
Dear Dr. Anderson,
The girls arrived safely and are settling in as well as can be expected. I gather that our farm is a bit of a letdown for Sadie who was expecting a large horse farm like her parents had. Ellie seems to be awed with everything. She is hobbling around well and we have taken her to our local medical clinic, where they have confirmed your file and that the green stick fracture is healing well. They want to give it another 6-weeks or so before the cast will come off. Given the un-level nature of the farm property and all the activity happening here, the doctors felt it better to give Ellie the support for that bit longer.
They both seem to be settling in well and are mixing well with the other girls. The boys still think frogs are more interesting than girls but Sadie may give them all a run for their money if she can leave the entitled princess attitude behind.
We heard last week from Sgt. Donaldson and our boys, whom I gather are now called his Ducks, are all well. Matt has recovered, and our thanks to you for you work on his shoulder.
My regards to you and your colleagues. Please know that we will pray not only to a rapid end to this conflict but also for your safety.
Regards, Jan McConnell
Sealing the envelope, Jan went to get dinner started with Grandma, Sara and Erin. Lydie had brought home a new dessert today from the Yodders - five gooey caramel pies. She was working perfecting her pastry crust, so the family was eating a lot of pie these days. It wasn’t that anyone objected but Jan was starting to dream of cake.
The voices shouted the Soldier’s Creed as the graduating class of Fort Sill’s BCT stood at attention on the parade ground.
I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.
“Hooah” shouted the soldiers.
Jan clapped as she watched her crew match in formation across the parade ground. Heather beamed with pride as she watched her brothers march.
At home their letters had been read and re-read with interest.
Kyle always talked about the weather… It’s hot today and always windy. The dust is something else. It blows through the ranges and barracks. You always feel like you have grit at your collar and boulders in your eyes. I am so glad that I have a ton of Visine. My combat buddy’s eyes are always streaming, which got him nicknamed Baby… short for cry-baby. Since he’s 6’4” and 250-lbs it’s kind of funny but he is letting it go which is standing him in good stead. He’s hoping to do something that will get him a better name.
Eggie was obsessed with the bathrooms… When we arrived and were at reception they called the bathrooms Latrines. The stalls are just about the only privacy you get. You sure don’t get any in the showers. It’s just one big room with a bunch of shower heads coming out of the wall. You sure don’t want to piss off the Drill Sergeant or you’ll end up on your hands and knees with a toothbrush cleaning out the grout. Once we got over to Basic, the showers had stalls.
Eric seemed to be concerned about sleep… When we started at reception at the 95th, we slept in these large rooms called bays, in bunk beds. The guy above me was enormous and we were both terrified that the bunk would collapse and squish me. We asked to switch and were told no. Thank God! When we got over to Basic we all had single beds.
We had to wake up at 5am when we were at reception, some days it seemed earlier. I am so glad that we had been doing it at home and it was a part of our routine. Some of the guys have really struggled. When we got basic, we were up at 5am with formation at 5:30am and PT at 6am. PT is such a cake walk after the routine we put ourselves through. The twelve of us from Lincoln County High School have shown ourselves well. Adam gets in trouble here too but I think he may be finally learning to keep his mouth shut. The Drill Sergeants work us heard but they deserve a ton of respect for whipping us into shape. Lights go out by 10pm and by that time we are all wiped.
They had been able to spend family day together. Eric’s combat buddy’s family were not able to come, as they were behind the blue/red lines. Max was welcomed by Jan and she took the boys out for lunch at Burgess Grill. The guys had been told the burgers were fantastic and they were right. Jan didn’t mind the cash only sign as she didn’t have a credit card.
The two days were a gift. The guys were headed out to AIT training. Eggie and Kyle were going on MOS-13B, a 5 week cannon crew course. Eric and Max were headed to MOS-13R, a 7-week FireFinder Radar Operator course. Jan suspected that Eric was going to prove extremely good at his job. She was glad that his leadership skills were being recognized. But she worried about Eggie and Kyle. They were going to be learning to operate howitzer cannons. Perhaps it was just the word canon that concerned her. She didn’t want to lose any of her boys and fodder was the word that was coming to mind. Regardless of her thoughts, she smiled and encouraged and supported them in their eagerness.
She was exhausted though as she and Heather headed back to their hotel room. Heather had taken the opportunity, while at Fort Sill to speak with the ranking medic and review her course load. She would be finished by December and head to BCT at Fort Sill in January and then on to Fort Sam Houston for her ATI.
Heather was glad of the chance to see Eric before he headed out. Her brother was suddenly growing up and the young man who had left home ten weeks prior was morphing into an adult. She wondered what he would be like when he came home again. The war was heating up again and the Mississippi was being fought for town by town.
“My mother and Heather had been home two weeks when they got an excited call from Kyle and Eggie. They were pulling out the next day.
“But you are supposed to be in training for another 3weeks!” exclaimed Jan.
“Well we’re needed now,” Eggie told her. “There is a big offensive coming up and we are headed in. Thanks again for coming to Grad! Here’s Kyle…”
Jan could hear them all laughing.
“We’re off Tante Jan!” said Kyle with a smile in his voice. “Pray for us and keep the wood stove burning.”
There was huge background laughter to this and Jan recognized the bravado.
“You boys go do your jobs and come home when you’re done it,” said Jan. “Watch your backs and each other and remember that… well remember to come home no matter what happens.
“As I told you before,” John said to the Committee, “Eggie didn’t survive that first engagement. His howitzer took a direct hit and they were gone. All the training in the world would have made no difference but my mother always felt that if he’d had the last three weeks training, he would have been sent somewhere else and perhaps survived. Kyle just said that there is a bullet out there with everyone’s name on it and some day it will be fired. If you are lucky, you’ll be tying your shoe lace or ducked into the latrine, but otherwise you just need to be ready to meet your maker.
“Mom was angry for a long time about Eggie’s loss. She felt like she had failed somehow in her duty to protect him. Finally Todd Stewart got her to talk to the shrink that the police used after a shooting. He got her straightened out. But meantime the harvest had to be brought in and with the boys gone it was a lot of hard work for us all. The steers and hogs had gone down to the Lower Valley Processing Company, although Martin had since left for BCT with an ATI in MOS-13M learning about multiple launch rocket systems as crew. Martin had pulled out in September. With Eggie’s death, he had gone to his recruiting officer and asked that he go immediately rather than wait until his 18th birthday in October. My mother cried but she did understand. She was just grateful that I was too young.”
“Word also began to filter through that had been deaths and serious injuries amongst the Wehrpflichtiger and that the communities were having difficulty coping with how to treat them. It had not been a one time grab, and the recruiting officers swept through the colonies several times a year. The community struggled with how to integrate these young men after they had been forced to break a principle ordnung and there were fracture lines showing in the West Kootenai Colony over this. Six families who had not had sons forced to serve, broke away. Upright and ridged in their purity of ideal and terrified that the Army might come for their daughters nexr. Meanwhile, the rest decided that what had been done before baptism, like all sins, would be washed away by the waters of baptism. With the souls of the Wehrpflichtiger sorted out, there remained only their physical bodies to deal with. In the spirit of community asistance, my mother went and opened the boy’s bunk house for these young men. Dr. P and Dr. Flute worked with them daily with Heather spelling them on weekends. Bishop Miller came several times a week to minister to them and their families came and went. With space to lick their wounds so to speak, the young men began to heal much more quickly.
“Over time the break-away colony began to have issues. More than once, we had young women arrive at our door in the night seeking safety from hard physical abuse and attempts at forced marriage. My mother sheltered them and helped them with the legal emancipation and then helped them find a family with the CoKL or the West Kootenai Colonies. Gradually the Wehrpflichtiger settled back into the community, marrying and building lives.”
“Keeping us all fed was my mother’s overwhelming preoccupation,” John told the Committee. “Before we had had the stipend that paid for our hard costs – taxes, gas, insurance... And for the odd bit of food we didn’t grow. She had also inherited a bit of money that allowed us the occasional treat or paid for repairs to things. But because she didn’t keep it in the bank, and always paid cash, she couldn’t show that she had much more than the stipend permitted or we would have lost it.
“When we were moved, while there was freedom gain there was a significant cash hit from taking on all of the children. The US Army was a great help in that. One of their JAGs tracked down the bank accounts of the families whose children my mother had taken on. It wasn’t a huge amount of money but it helped. The only challenge came from Agnes and Ginger Cody’s maternal grandfather.”
James Eldridge loved his job. He had always wanted to be a lawyer, but not having resources meant that he would never have got into a top school or worked for a top firm. He was thrilled then to get a scholarship to the University of Virginia and make it through their law program. While attending, he learned for the first time about the JAG Corps. Using their summer programs, he realized that that would be his ticket.
He also loved cases like this one. He admired Jan McConnell and respected her for taking on all those kids. He figured that family deserved every bit of help he could give them. He had not had any difficulty retrieving and liquidating the assets of the Schmidt and Cody families.
He dealt brutally with Sarah Nissley’s father – a man who sold his own daughters to keep his farm. He then made sure that the man’s wife and other children would be able to cope. Eldridge then took on the Colony’s Bishop Knapp, a man whose sinful arrogance had forced others to excommunicate and shun their daughters and sons for refusing the Agricultural Inspector’s demands. Finally Eldridge had the pleasure of arresting the Agricultural Inspector as he was in the midst of raping a 12-year old Mennonite girl. Tied up and forced to watch had been three more young girls. It was a relief to hand the girls over to their mother and to deal with their fathers.
With Jon Nissley’s overbearing presence removed from the home, life eased for that family. Sarah’s mother sent clothing she had made for Sara and her granddaughters and grandson. When Jan handed Sara the package and she opened it, Sara had cried. The little dresses and prayer caps for Inga and Hilda were so beautifully made and Erin spent hours looking at them.
Early on the other children had told Jan that Daniel Carter was mean and liked little girls. With their daughter death in a car accident, they had been fighting Sam Cody for custody and with Sam’s death, the Ontario Courts had given them custody. They had quickly cleared out the bank accounts and started to remodel the kitchen. There had been no effort to actually locate the girls. The day that the Eldridge appeared at their doorstep was the Carters day of reckoning. Arrested in front of their contractor, they were led away in front of neighbours.
One of the neighbour’s daughter’s had asked for the reason of his arrest. When told it was for theft, she was disappointed. As Eldridge probed, she blurted out that he had molested her. A sweep of the street turned up eight more girls of various ages who described similar events. Virginia Jordan Carter, not the most pleasant of women at the best of time was stunned. When her own daughter Marie had made the same accusations, she had told her not to lie and beaten her. One hearing that Eldridge had her charged as an accessory and as an enabler for failing to protect her daughter. The contractor finished the kitchen and the house sold for a socking profit. The contractor received his payment and the money was appropriated for the care of Agnes and Ginger.
Zach had come with a donation towards his care from the City of Williston, ND, and the two girls for Virginia had come with a donation collected from the soldiers at the MASH unit. Eldridge ensured that Connor’s mother sent a little bit each month. Jan made sure that Connor knew so that he knew he wasn’t forgotten.
The property in Ontario had been given back to the Province and Jan’s name removed from the deed. In exchange, she received free title to the property in Rexford. Because of her willingness to take in War Orphans, Jan had been given tax-free status for the duration of the war.
All of which Eldridge told her, added to a solid nest egg. Eldridge then applied for Jan to have foster parent status of the children. The social worker in Kalispell was happy to sign off as she had met and visited the home with regards to the application for Zach’s adoption. So not counting John and Zach, Jan became the official foster mother of 23 children. For each a stipend was paid monthly by the State. Jan was stunned when she looked at the amount of money. For each preschool child the state paid $515 – they had four children. For each Middle and Elementary school aged child, the state paid $475 – they had nine children, and for each high school student under the age of 18, or through the end of grade 12, the state paid $572. Jan shook her head. The state was willing to pay more than $12,000 a month… a month to look after the children... more than $144,000 per year! To Jan that was appalling.
“But we don’t need that much money,” she protested to Eldridge.
“Stop looking gift horses in the mouth,” he told her. “The kids are also eligible for Medicare and dental coerage through the age of 18.”
“No,” said Jan. “This type of money is how entitlement starts. This is at the core of what went so wrong in Ontario.”
“I do understand” said Eldridge with a smile, “but if you don’t take the money, the State will come in and settle the children with other foster parents.”
“I am seriously not happy about this,” said Jan. “Here is what we will do. Two-thirds of the money going in will be banked for the children. Each child will have an account and every month 2/3 will be split between all the children. As children come into the family an account will be set up for them, as they leave, the money will be entrusted there for their future – education or property.”
All in all Jan could not say enough about the lengths that Eldridge went to to help her family. She appreciated the money but she sure as heck didn't need that much to feed and house them. With the money banked, the kids would have options. She had already set-up accounts for the kids serving in the Army and their pay was automatically deposited there. As bank statements came in, she filed them for each child. In turn, Eldridge could not help but admire Jan. She was just the type of woman his mother had always told him to find, and he had thought his mother was wrong. Maybe it was time to stop chasing city girls and settle back into the mountains and have a family of his own.
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