A chapter that never made it into the book
I once imagined that writing a book was a linear matter. You started at the beginning and carried on to the end in a fore-ordained pattern. Maybe that has been true for some authors.
But for me the process proved quite different. Characters had to be added or removed, chapters needed re-writing over and over again. Sometimes a whole chapter has to be deleted.
So, sometimes, I hang onto those discarded chapters. This is one of those. It did not end up fitting into Prairie Grass, my historical novel published earlier this year, but it might be of interest to some readers out there in the wide reaches of cyberspace. If you read Prairie Grass, and liked it, or liked the character Eric, you probably will enjoy this. If you haven't read it but wonder what the book is like, this will give you a taste.
Here it is. The story that did not fit.
One of the Chapters of Prairie Grass that did not make it into the book:
“It doesn’t even look like dancing,” Eric complained as he stirred cream into his morning coffee.
Katherine, buttering his toast at the kitchen counter, smiled sympathetically. Eric shook his head, recalling the events of the previous evening. When he’d left Johanna and Kathy at their record hop before going to his Co-op board meeting in town, he’d been clear that he would pick them up at ten, sharp. That would give them almost two hours of dancing. But there he’d stood in the doorway of the Legion Hall, the cool summer night sweeping in behind him, confronted by the thumping beat of drums and guitars emanating from portable speakers, and teenagers spinning and stomping in a crazy swirl of saddle oxfords and ponytails and crinolines. Instead of walking in, collecting his daughters and heading home, he had been forced to wait half an hour for a break in the music. The teenage boys clustered nearby, all sons of people he knew, seemed to exude insolence with their upturned collars and greasy ducktail haircuts.
And the girls were not much better. Although the skirt length was mid-calf, when the seven-yard hemlines swung upward, little was left to the imagination. For the first time, Eric felt alarmed about the younger generation in general and his daughters in particular.
“Well, I suppose your parents felt the same way about us.” Katherine’s voice was placid, undisturbed. “Even after we were married, your Mother looked upset when she heard we’d been to a school-house dance.”
Katherine sat down at the table and sipped her black coffee, nibbled on her dry toast.
“That was different. Mother disapproved of dancing on principle. Your parents felt the same way. But those schoolhouse dances we went to were just neighbourly parties. With real music - fiddle and piano and guitar - not like that racket they call music today!”
“I guess it’s the same for every generation,” Katherine mused. “We try to bring up our kids to live in the world we know. But it’s not the one they will live in, so they end up having to find their own way.”
Eric frowned. “I hope you didn’t put that thought into the thing you wrote for Mother and Dad’s golden anniversary party.”
“Of course not!”
The unspoken thought passed between them in a quick glance, half wink, half smile. After all, Mother’s way is, in her mind, the only right way.
Perhaps it was that conversation that was in Eric’s mind when he drove to Saskatoon the next week with his teenage daughter. Johanna would attend a week of Young Co-operators Camp, an honour offered annually to a child of one of the local Co-op members. Glancing at her, silently gazing out the window as the fields flashed by, it occurred to Eric that he had no idea what his kids would do with their life. What would their futures hold? Johanna, sitting there so quietly - did she have private dreams, unspoken goals? He really had no idea. By necessity, his attention was always on the farm, its day to day needs and demands.
That’s the way it had to be, he thought. Katherine took care of our home and the kids. I had to look after the farm, prepare for all the things that can go wrong. Machinery breakdowns, grasshoppers or cutworm infestations, a hike in interest rates, a good crop in Russia or a trade war with the States changing the markets … there was no crystal ball to help plan next season. You just had to go ahead and do the best you could.
But he had always managed to provide for his family. Seeing that his children were fed, clothed, schooled, taught to be decent human beings, wasn’t that enough? Dealing with their personal idiosyncrasies was Katherine’s domain.
But now they’re growing up, might be leaving home soon. When will I ever get to know them?
After miles of silence except for road noise, his voice seemed unnaturally loud.
“What do you think,” he said, “about life?”
Johanna turned startled eyes to him.
“What do you mean?” she stuttered.
“Well. What about life after death? Do you believe in eternal life?”
“Yes, I guess so,” she replied. Then, seeming to feel that an inadequate response to such an open-ended question, she added, “but I don’t know if I believe everything about heaven and hell they teach in church. I think all that must be a lot bigger and more complicated. More than I can imagine now.”
Silence, as Eric digested that.
“What do you think, Daddy?”
Eric shifted his hold on the steering wheel but kept his eyes on the road as he struggled to find the right words.
“I guess that a lot of things are bigger than we imagine. When I think back to when I was a boy, the world has changed so much since then. But some things don’t change. Truth, honesty, personal integrity - those will always be important. You can count on that not changing. Just try to be true to what you believe, okay?”
“Okay,” she murmured.
The pause this time was so long that it seemed the conversation was over. When he spoke again, he chose his words carefully.
“I think that if our lives count for anything they will continue on, somehow. Maybe it will just be that our atoms will go into the soil, the grass and trees. Changing every year, but always there. Part of the land. That would be enough for me.”
“Part of the land?” Johanna echoed his words.
Then she turned towards her Dad and smiled.
“I think that would be enough for me, too.”