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Authors: Melody Carlson

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BOOK: Hidden History
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Finally, she wiped down the painted shelves and removed the last of the cobwebs and stood back to admire
her work. The room really did look rather nice in an old-fashioned way.

“Want any lunch, Alice?” called Jane from the kitchen door.

“Sounds good.” Alice pushed a stray strand of hair from her eyes as she set the broom back into the broom closet.

“Whoa, Alice!” cried Jane as she stepped onto the porch and looked into the small space. “What have you done?”

“Oh, I hope it’s okay. Louise said—”

“It’s not okay, Alice.” Jane gave her a funny look. “It’s fantastic.” Jane studied the room. “Maybe I’ll paint those shelves a nice sage green.” She fingered the old curtains. “And I think these could stand to be replaced.”

Alice glanced around. “You know it could be rather sweet out here with the right touches.”

“It’s going to look great. I can see it now.” Jane nodded with enthusiasm. “But, honestly, Alice, I never would’ve felt inspired to fix it up if you hadn’t cleared it out first.”

“Then we’re a good team. Now what’s this I hear about lunch?”

“Nothing special, just a turkey and apple salad and some potato rolls….”

“That sounds special to me. Just let me wash up.”

“What’s that?” asked Jane as she pointed to the hatbox.

 “It’s something Fred found in the rectory. We were so busy at the time that I just stuck it back here and forgot all about it. I took a peek just now and it looks like some papers of Father’s. I didn’t want to throw them out. I thought I might go through them more carefully later.”

Alice picked up the box. “Who knows, they might even contain some of those old family secrets you were warning us about.”

Jane laughed. “Yes, I’m sure it’s just full of them. Maybe Father even wrote his own account of that silly incident with that old Phoebe Paulson. Now, there’s a story I’d like to read in his own words.”

Chapter Three

I
t was not until later that evening that Alice had time to open the box of her father’s old papers. The day had been extremely busy with the arrival of three couples and one single. Louise had even managed to fill the room left empty by the cancellation. A couple who had e-mailed earlier that week about staying at the inn to celebrate their thirtieth anniversary was thrilled to learn of the cancellation. Jane had made a special chocolate torte for the occasion, and the couple, several of the other guests and the three sisters had gathered in the parlor to enjoy an impromptu celebration that evening. Alice thought it was sweet when the husband, Dirk Winston, made a little speech about the summer he and his wife had become engaged.

“It was toward the end of the Vietnam era, but the war machinery was still going strong. I’d just been drafted into the army,” he said. “I was only nineteen and feeling pretty scared at the time. Of course, I don’t think I admitted this to anyone back then. Guys just didn’t talk like that in those days. It wasn’t macho. Still, I felt it was my duty to go.” He
turned and smiled at his wife. “Anyway, all through high school I’d had a secret crush on this cute redheaded girl, but I was such a shy guy that I could never ask her out. Then one day I was working at the counter at my dad’s appliance store, and Marsha walked in and came straight up to the counter. When I asked if I could help her, she asked if it was true that I had been drafted. I told her yes.”

Marsha laughed now. “So I looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘Dirk Winston, you cannot possibly go off to that horrible war without taking me out on a date first.’”

He smiled. “Of course, I agreed, but I told her that I only had three weeks before I had to leave for boot camp in the Midwest.”

“Well, we made the most of those three weeks,” she continued for him. “Dirk actually got up the nerve to propose to me the night before he left.”

He grinned shyly as he took her hand in his. “And, well, the rest is history.”

They all visited some more. Alice felt certain that the Winstons were enjoying their anniversary, but she also sensed they were ready for some alone time. She helped to wind down the party by excusing herself to go to bed. The others followed suit. Still weary from her cleaning spree, Alice slipped upstairs and took a quick shower, then put on her pink-and-white-striped cotton pajamas before she flopped
down on her bed and stared at the hatbox that was waiting on her night table. Wendell made himself comfortable next to her and purred loudly as she gently scratched his belly.

It was late, but she was eager to see the contents of the box. Gently nudging Wendell aside, she reached for it and set it in the center of her bed, then removed the lid. She began carefully to examine the contents piece by piece. She sorted through a pile of college papers and a stack of old sermons. Although other people might think these papers worthless, Alice did not. They were windows to her father’s early life. When she reached the bottom of the box, she breathed in sharply. There lay a very old looking journal with an old black silk tie wrapped around it. She reverently removed it from the box, undid the tie and examined the burgundy cover. The heavy cardboard was tattered and bent around the edges. Written across the cover in neat penmanship that she recognized as a youthful version of her father’s was the title,
The Private Journal of Daniel Joseph Howard, 1925–1927.
Alice figured that her father must have been about fifteen at the beginning of the journal, and around seventeen by the time he finished it—three precious years of his adolescent life. She could not imagine what her father might have been like as a boy. He had seldom spoken of his youth. To her, he had always been a fully grown man, dignified and mannerly, but quick to smile or
laugh at a joke. Mostly she had simply thought of him as her father, as well as the respected pastor of Grace Chapel.

Excited, she put on her reading glasses and opened the slightly musty journal. Flipping through it, she saw that both sides of the pages were filled with even lines of both pen and pencil writing. There were even a few drawings—nature sketches and some sort of mechanical diagrams here and there.

She turned to the first page and started to read.

Growing up in Englishtown, Pennsylvania, could influence a young man to do one of two things. It could make him want to settle down and make his home here for good, or it could make him want to turn his back and simply walk away. As for me, I plan to leave this place and never look back—

Alice was startled by a quiet knock on her door. Setting the book aside she got up to answer it and found Jane standing out in the hallway in her long nightgown.

“Are you okay?” asked Jane.

“Yes, I’m fine. Why?” asked Alice.

“You just looked weird, like you’d seen a ghost or something.”

Alice put her hand on her chest and gave a little laugh. “Well, maybe I have. I found Father’s boyhood journal in
that box from the laundry room, and I was just reading it. Your knock startled me, but I’m perfectly fine.”

“I’m sorry. I saw your light on and wondered if I could borrow a nail file. I just snapped a nail off and I can’t find my file anywhere.”

“Of course. Come in.”

Jane followed Alice into the room, leaving the door open behind her. Then Alice began looking through her top bureau drawer for her small, leather manicure kit.

“Is this Father’s journal?” asked Jane as she picked up the worn old book.

Louise poked her head in the door. “Sorry to interrupt, but did Jane say something about Father’s journal?”

“That’s right,” said Alice as she handed Jane the manicure kit.

“I didn’t know Father had a journal.” Louise’s expression looked as if she had been banned from some special party.

Alice motioned for her older sister to come in. “I rescued this box from the laundry room today, and I was just going through it now to see if it held anything of interest.”

“Have you read it yet?” asked Jane.

“I barely started the first entry.” She frowned slightly.  

“What’s wrong?” asked Jane.

“Oh, I don’t know. I guess the beginning caught me a bit off guard.”

“Why?” asked Louise with interest. “What did it say?”

Alice looked at her two sisters, obviously ready for bed themselves. Louise had on her pale blue robe. Streaks of cold cream still showed on her cheeks. “Well, I could read it to you, if you like. Although it is getting late ….”

“Not too late for me,” said Jane. “I was going to start a new mystery tonight, but now you’ve got me curious about this mystery.”

“I am not ready to go to sleep either,” said Louise.

Alice motioned to her bed and easy chair. “Go ahead and get comfortable.”

Her two sisters sat down, Louise in the chair and Jane Indian-style on the bed. Alice put on her reading glasses and began to reread the opening paragraph aloud. When she came to the statement about leaving Englishtown for good, she paused. “Doesn’t that sound a bit odd?” She glanced at her sisters from over the top of her reading glasses and waited for them to respond.

Louise nodded. “Yes, it does not sound like Father. It sounds as if he wanted to run away from something.”

“He was only fifteen at the time,” Jane pointed out. “Perhaps he’d gotten into some sort of scrape.”

“Maybe,” said Alice doubtfully. “It’s hard to imagine Father doing anything that would get him into any kind of serious trouble.”

“Well, read on,” insisted Louise. “Do not just leave us hanging here.”

So Alice continued.

Now some folks might think that sounds a bit harsh or ungrateful, but many people in my town are quick to judge me by my family, or by my name, or even by my appearance. This is a heavy burden for a young man to bear.

“Goodness,” said Louise. “That sounds very sad. I had no idea that Father had sorrow like that in his life.”

“Do you really know anything about his life?” asked Alice. “I mean prior to his going to college and seminary and marrying Mother?”

Louise frowned. “I do not. Father never talked much about his family. Oh, I knew he grew up in Englishtown and that his parents had died young. But other than that …”

“Go on, Alice,” urged Jane. “This is interesting. Please, read some more.”

My ninth grade English teacher, Mr. Dolton, has encouraged me to keep a journai as a way of understanding some of the hardships life has dealt me. I am not sure that it will help much or change anything, but I respect Mr. Dolton and am willing to try.

“I do remember Father’s mentioning Mr. Dolton,” said Louise suddenly.

“Yes,” said Alice. “Father always spoke highly of him. I think they remained friends right up until the time Mr. Dolton passed on.”

Alice adjusted her reading glasses.

I have also come to believe that I may have a true affinity for words, and Mr. Dolton heartily agrees with me on this. I like the way words appear on a clean white sheet of paper and I love the way they sound when spoken by someone with correct pronunciation. I have a dictionary, given to me by Mr. Dolton, and I enjoy looking up and practicing new words. Unfortunately, this irritates my father. He has little respect for words or for education for that matter. He firmly believes that eight years of school should be “plenty good ’nough for any Howard boy.”

“Oh my,” Louise said, “I never knew that Grandfather Howard was like that. Father never said a word—”

“Maybe that’s why,” Jane interjected. “Maybe his father embarrassed him.”

My father never finished the fourth grade himself and is quite proud of it. Of course, he does not see any correlation
(my new word for the day) between his lack of educational and his financial, not to mention social, standing within our community. In fact, his response to a disparaging comment or reproachful glance is to simply insult whoever dispenses it. It is not that our community is so terribly mean-spirited or disapproving. My father invites much of the harsh criticism he receives by letting his small farm get more and more run-down and by not seeing to the most basic needs of his family. I am also sure it is of little help that he remains quite friendly with the local ne’er-do-wells and imbibes bootlegged libations upon occasion, although I am not certain that this latter habit is common knowledge throughout our small community—

“My goodness!” said Louise, slapping her hand over her mouth.

“This is rich,” said Jane, suppressing laughter. “Our grandfather hung out with bootleggers.”

“No,” corrected Louise, “it only says that he imbibed bootlegged libations occasionally.”

“Well, isn’t
that
something?”

“Indeed.” Louise sadly shook her head.

“Oh,” said Alice, closing the journal, “perhaps we shouldn’t be reading this.”

“I don’t see why not,” Jane said. “It is part of our family history. If Father wanted it kept top secret, he would’ve destroyed the journal long ago.”

“Perhaps.” Alice considered this.

“I do not know….” Louise frowned. “I am not sure what I think about this.”

BOOK: Hidden History
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