Authors: Amy Harmon
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Christian, #Fiction
Text copyright c. 2012 by Amy Sutorius Harmon
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior consent of the author and the publisher.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Harmon, Amy Sutorius, 1974-
Running Barefoot: a novel / by Amy Harmon. – 1
Summary: When awkward musical prodigy Josie Jensen meets Samuel Yates, a Navajo boy new to her small town, a unique friendship is born. Years later, Samuel returns to find Josie in need of the same lessons in life and love she once taught him.
ISBN 13: 978-14750 43747 ISBN 10: 1475043740
eBook ISBN: 978-1-62112-583-9
The first to read and love my book
And because she loves Levan
I’ve lived all my life in a small town in Utah called Levan. Levan is located right in the center of the state, and people from the town like to joke about how Levan is ‘navel’ spelled backwards - “We’re the belly button of Utah,” they say. Not very distinguished I know, but it seems to help people remember the name. Generations of my family have lived in Levan - all the way back to the first settlers in the late 1860’s, when the settlement had the nickname ‘Little Denmark.’ Those first few families that settled the town were Mormons, trying to find a place to finally call home and be left alone, to raise their families and worship in peace.
Most of the people in the town were descendants of the fair-haired Danes. My Jensen ancestors were among those early settlers from Denmark, and my hair is still a pale blonde all these many generations later. My mom, with her rich brown hair, was the only non-blonde in the family, and she had no chance against a very stubborn Danish gene. My dad, my three brothers, and I all share the same fair hair and sky blue eyes as my great, great, Grandfather Jensen who crossed the plains as a very young man, settled in early Levan, built a house, and built a life.
Many years ago, Levan was a thriving little town, or so my dad said. Along Main Street there was Shepherd’s Mercantile Store and an ice cream parlor where the ice cream was homemade from the blocks of ice cut and stored during the summer months in a big ice pit covered with earth, salt and straw. There was a healthy elementary school and a town hall. Then the new freeway was built, and it bypassed Levan by a few miles. The town had never been built to draw attention to itself, but it began a slow death as the trickle of new blood slowed to a stop. The ice cream parlor was long gone by the time I was born, and then the mercantile had to close its doors.
The grade school fell into disrepair, shrinking to a one room schoolhouse as the younger generation grew up and left without anyone to fill the desks they vacated. The older kids rode a bus for a half hour north to a neighboring town called Nephi for junior and senior high school, and by the time I was old enough for elementary school there was one teacher for the kindergarten through 2nd grades and another for third through sixth grades. Some people moved away, but most of the families that had been there for generations hung on and stayed.
All that remained along Main Street was a small general store where the townsfolk could purchase anything from milk to fertilizer. It boasted the name ‘Country Mall.’ I have no idea why – it was the furthest thing from a mall there ever was. Long ago, the owner added a room on each end of the store and rented out the space for some locals to set up shop.
On one end it had a few tables and a little kitchen that served as a diner where the old men sat and drank their coffee in the morning. “Sweaty Betty” Johnson (we called her Mrs. Johnson to her face) ran the diner and has for longer than I can remember. She’s a one woman operation - she cooks, waitresses, and manages it all on her own. She makes fluffy homemade donuts and the best greasy french fries on the planet. Everything she makes is deep-fried, and her face has a permanent sheen from the grease and the heat – which is how she got the nickname Sweaty Betty. Even cleaned up for church on Sundays her face glows and sadly, it isn’t from the Holy Spirit.
On the other end my Aunt Louise, my mom’s sister, provided cuts, color, and good company for most of the women in Levan. Her last name is spelled Ballow, but it’s pronounced Ba LOO with the accent on Loo - so she called her shop ‘Ballow’s ‘Do’, but most people just called it Louise’s.
Out in front of the ‘mall’ there were a couple of gas pumps, and when I was younger, a snow cone shack called Skinny’s that Louise’s kids (my cousins) ran in the summer time. Louise’s husband Bob was a truck driver and was gone a lot, and Louise had five kids she needed to keep busy while she cut hair. Louise decided it was time for a family business. Skinny’s Snow Cone Shack was born. Bob built a simple wooden shop that ended up looking a little like a tall skinny outhouse, hence the name Skinny’s. The general store sold blocks of ice so they had a convenient source for ‘snow.’ Louise bought an ice shaver and some syrup from the Cola distributor in Nephi, along with some straws, napkins, and some styrofoam cups in 2 sizes. It was a pretty simple business model with a very low overhead. Louise paid the kid on duty $5 a day, plus as many snow cones as they wanted. My cousin Tara, who is the same age as me, ate so many snow cones that summer she made herself sick. She can’t stand them to this day; even the smell of snowcones makes her retch.
There was a tiny brick post office down the street and a bar called Pete’s right next to the church - interesting location, I know. And that was Levan. Everybody knew which skills each person possessed, and we had blacksmiths, bakers, even candlestick makers. My dad could shoe a horse better than anyone; Jens Stephenson was a great mechanic, Paul Aagard, a handy carpenter, and so on. We had talented seamstresses, cooks, and decorators. Elena Rosquist was a mid-wife and had delivered several babies who had come without much warning, leaving no time to make the drive to the hospital in Nephi. We made due by trading on our skills, whether we had an actual sign out front or not.
Eventually, a few new families moved in to Levan, deciding it wasn’t all that far to commute to the bigger cities. It was a good place to settle in and a good place to have and create roots. In very small towns the whole town helps raise the kids. Everybody knows who everybody is, and if something or someone is up to no good, it gets back to the parents before a kid can get home to tell his side of it. The town wasn’t much bigger than a square mile, not counting the outer lying farms, but as a child it was my whole world.
Perhaps the smallness of that world made my early loss more bearable, simply because I was looked after and loved by so many. It made my later loss harder to recover from, however, because it was a collective loss, a very young life snuffed out on the brink, a shock to the sleepy community. No one expected me to move on. Like a shoe that has lost its mate is never worn again, I had lost my matching part and didn’t know how to run barefoot.
The early loss I refer to was the death of my mother. I was just shy of nine years when Janelle Jensen, wife and mother, succumbed to breast cancer. I remember clearly how terrified I was when her beautiful hair had fallen out, and she wore a little pink stocking cap on her baby smooth head. She laughed and said she would get a blonde wig to finally match the rest of the family. She never did; she was gone too soon. She had been diagnosed with cancer just after Christmas. The cancer had already spread to her lungs and was inoperable. By the 4th of July she’d already been dead for two weeks. I remember hearing the first sounds of celebration commemorating our country’s independence, hating the independence that had been suddenly forced upon me. The jarring crack, boom, and wizz of neighborhood fireworks had my dad’s lips tightening and his hands clenching.
He’d looked at us, his four somber tow-heads, and tried to smile.
“Whaddaya say, J-Crew?” His voice had cracked on my mother’s favorite family nickname. “You wanna drive into Nephi and see the big fireworks?”
My dad’s name is Jim, and my mother thought their names starting with the same letter was just further proof that they belonged together. So she named each of her babies a ‘J’ name to fit the mold. She wasn’t terribly original, because in Levan you’ll find families with all ‘K’ names, all ‘B’ names, all ‘Q’ names. You name the letter, and we’ve got it. People even have ‘themes’ for their children’s names - giving them monikers like Brodeo and Justa Cowgirl. I’m not kidding.
So in my family we were all J’s - Jim, Janelle, Jacob, Jared, Johnny, and Josie Jo Jensen-the “J Crew.” The only problem with that was that whenever my mom needed one of us she had to run through the litany of ‘J’ names before she stumbled on the right one. I don’t know why I remember this, small as it was, but in the days and weeks before my mom died, I don’t ever remember her tripping over any of our names. Perhaps the distracting details of daily life that had once made her tongue tied dissolved in their insignificance, and she gave her rapt attention to our every word, our every expression, our every move.
We didn’t make it in to see the big fireworks that year. My brothers and I wandered out to watch the neighbors set off bottle rockets and spinners, and my dad spent the night in the barn trying to escape the mocking sounds of revelry. Hard work became my dad’s anecdote to depression; he worked endlessly and let alcohol blur the cracks in between.
We had a small farm with chickens and cows and horses, but farming didn’t pay well, and my dad worked at the power plant in Nephi to make a living. With three brothers who were much older than I, my duties on our little farm were minimal. My dad did need a housekeeper and a cook though, and I expected myself to fill my mother’s shoes. Jacob, Jared, and Johnny were 7, 6, and 5 years older than I was; My mom always said I was a beautiful surprise and, when she was alive, I had relished the fact that I was the baby girl, doted upon by the whole family. But with Mom gone everything changed, and nobody wanted a baby anymore.
Initially, we had more help than we knew what to do with. Levan is the only town I know where no assignments are ever made to feed a family after a funeral. Traditionally, we have our viewings the day before the funeral and then again for an hour right before the service. After the funeral and the burial the family and friends come back to the church for a huge meal served up by the good women of the town. No one ever says “I’ll bring a cake,” or “I’ll supply the potatoes.” The food just arrives - a plethora of meats, salads, and side dishes, cakes, pastries and pies. The women of Levan can make a spread unlike anything you’ve ever seen. I remember walking along the tables laden with food after my mother’s funeral, looking at the beautiful assortment, and not having any desire to eat a single bite. I was too young to understand the concept of comfort food.
The bounty continued for days on end after the funeral. Someone different brought dinner every night for three weeks. Nettie Yates, an older woman from down the road, came over almost every other evening and organized the food, putting most of it in containers and freezing it for later. No family could possibly eat the amount of food we received, even a family with three teenage boys. But eventually the food trickled to a stop, and the people of Levan moved on to other tragedies.
My dad wasn’t very accomplished in the kitchen, and after months of peanut butter sandwiches and cereal, I asked my Aunt Louise to show me how to make a couple of things. She came over on a Saturday and showed me the basics. I made her outline in minute detail how to boil water (Keep the lid on ’til it boils, pull it off once it does!) how to fry eggs (You gotta keep the burner on low to cook eggs!) how to fry hamburger (Keep turnin’ it ’til there’s no more pink). I wrote everything down very carefully, making Louise describe each step. I wrote out recipes for pancakes (turn them over when they get big moon craters in them), spaghetti (a touch of brown sugar in the sauce was Louise’s secret), and chocolate chip cookies (it’s the shortening that makes them soft and puffy). Louise was frazzled at the end of the day, but I had lists and lists of very detailed instructions, written in my childish hand, taped to the fridge.