Click here to read a sample of the book on the Publisher's website.
York Area Writers Guild Anthology
editor's background notes
This book contains the selected works of members of the York Area Writers Guild, who range in age from teens to nearly ninety. It incudes, among other things, poems in classical rhyme and meter, award-winning cowboy poetry, short stories, humor and mind-stretching true action stories. If you like a literary smorgasbord, you'll love this book. Some of these works have been performed on the radio and read before audiences at a community playhouse.
Here is a sample short story from this book, written by Kate Burke.
Mama’s Little Jar of Sunshine: Lois, 1936
Wiping her hands on the work-faded roses of her apron, Lois hastened to meet the black, sun-dulled, Model T delivery truck as it angled into the dirt driveway. From hooks and hand-fashioned metal pocket shelves screwed to the high panels of the truck’s body, objects threatened to fling themselves into the hot summer air: iron fry pans and griddles, alloy sauce pots, tin ladles and a wide assortment of weather-impervious utensils and tools. When the old Ford’s engine finally clattered into silence and all the glass bits packed inside had stopped shivering, Lois called out her greeting again.
“Jasper Harp! How good to see you!”
The peddler hopped from the cab to the running board to the ground, where he planted his feet wide and tossed a leprechaun’s laugh up to the wind-parched leaves of the grand maple spreading over the drive. Rough roads and brutal heat made themselves visible on his person. Frayed red suspenders hitched up his dusty black pants, the legs of which rode up and exposed his thick, scuffed work boots. Grimy sweat ringed the rolled-up sleeves and limp collar of his blue-striped shirt. When he pulled off his light straw hat most of his thinning white hair was stuck to his head in a halo of dusty perspiration, but a few cottony wisps twisted wildly in the gusty wind. All the road exhaustion left his cherry-red face when he grinned, exposing a fortress of brilliant white teeth.
“I never thought you’d find me out here!” Lois exclaimed. Her natural shyness retreated before her gladness to see a friendly face. “How have you been?”
“Not so bad!” Jasper exclaimed, poking one chubby finger into his jiggling round belly. “But I always watch over my ladies, Miz Peterson, always.”
Locusts sang out from the dappled shadows overhead. The peddler pulled a voluminous white hanky from his pocket and smeared it over his face and down the open collar of his shirt.
“This heat is fierce,” Lois quickly said. A young woman strictly brought up, she hesitated before laying a tentative hand on the older man’s arm. “You come inside and set a while. John brought down some ice this noon. I squeezed some lemonade,” she said with shy pride.
Jasper Harp’s blue eyes blazed with anticipation and slid past her to the house. Despite the curtain of dust flapping constantly on the landscape, the windows sparkled. The dim interior looked clean and cool, shut away from the wind.
Outside, a scraggly white hen pecked at a chip of white paint that had flaked from the side of the small livestock barn. A large pig lay in a deep rut in the shadow of the barn, motionless except for the occasional flick of an ear against flies. An odor of baked manure swirled on the hot southern wind. Beyond the barnyard, a few bony cows had settled into the narrow shade of a stunted tree to chew cud made bitter by the meager, brown weeds that were all that was left of the pasture. Crop fields shimmered on the other side of the creek. Tiny figures toiled under the flat blue plate of the Nebraska sky, John and his brother, Dan, claiming silage from a crop of corn lost to the enervating heat.
The peddler brought his eyes back to the wide, damp ring around the base of the maple tree and the two-handled metal dishpan laying on the ground nearby. Lois had finished her washing up and carried the dirty water outside to give the tree a drink. The young housewife wore a clean cotton dress under her apron and a pair of thin, white ankle socks inside her black shoes. Her hands were red and chapped, and a new weariness imprinted around her eyes had aged her several years since their last meeting. A few strands of thick brown hair had escaped the pin at the back of her head and curled in damp ringlets at her throat.
“Thank you, child,” Jasper Harp said regretfully, “but you save that lemonade for them young fellows. Now, I’ve lots to show you today!” He produced with a flourish a set of glass salt and pepper shakers pulled into tall, elegant columns with minaret caps. “Wouldn’t these look nice on your dining table!”
Lois followed him around the old truck, heat, dust and wind forgotten as she sized up the peddler’s wares. She liked the salt and pepper shakers but resigned herself to the continued use of her functional kitchen set of enameled metal. She picked up an electric waffle iron and studied it wistfully. Then, looking across the drought-scorched landscape still unmarred by the black power lines that had begun to encroach on other parts of the county, she set the useless appliance aside. Jasper pulled out a display of delicate cups and saucers made of pink pressed glass.
“I believe you’ve begun this set, haven’t you?”
“I have,” Lois sighed, pressing her arms to her sides in resistance. “I need two more.”
“Here they are,” Jasper beamed.
Lois shook her head. “Not today, Mr. Harp, not today.”
The back of the peddler’s truck yielded a dime store variety of goods, with additional boxes of trinkets jammed into the cab next to the driver’s seat. They looked through more dishes, butter churns, galvanized buckets, leather belts, boxes of shoes, rolls of wallpaper, flower pots and watering cans, lengths of chain, hammers, tacks, gate hinges, bolts of dry goods and much more. At last, Lois handed over thirty- five cents for a packet of needles, several spools of thread, and a length of denim out of which she would sew John several new pairs of work pants.
“What, not a single pretty bit for yourself?” Jasper scolded. “I’m fond of this little vase, myself. Won’t it look nice in your front parlor!”
Lois looked longingly upon the pink bud vase that matched her glass dish set, but shook her head. “Times are hard, Mr. Harp. We’ve nothing to spare for pretty things at the moment.”
Jasper Harp raked his eyes once more across the bare farmyard broiling under a sun that turned August into hell. The young couple clearly had little enough even for the necessities. Turning a wink on her, he said, “Nothing for the little one, then?”
A blush rose in Lois’s sunbrowned cheeks. “Mr. Harp, how did you know? I’ve told no one yet, not even John!”
Grinning, the peddler reached inside the truck and pulled from it a small book Lois had not seen there before. The cardboard cover was beautifully illustrated with a sleeping infant in flowing white clothes. “Baby’s First Year” was stamped in fancy gold letters in an arc along the left side. Lois gingerly opened it, sighing as she flipped pages with titles like “My Name,” “My Christening” and “My First Smile.” Blank lines awaited filling in with all the details of a baby’s first year of life.
“Oh, Mr. Harp...I suppose it’s way too much,” Lois said regretfully.
“It’s yours,” Jasper Harp replied.
“Mr. Harp, I cannot do it!” Lois thrust the little book back at him. “I’ll not take your charity!”
He just laughed and pushed her hand back. “No, of course not! But take my gift. For the baby.”
Lois hesitated, then clasped the book to her bosom, smiling and blinking back tears. “Mama always said you had a way with you, knowing things somehow. We buried her last fall, just before me and John were married....” Lois’s voice trailed off.
“Right sorry I was to hear of it, Miz Peterson, your mama was a good woman,” Jasper said, bowing his head. Then, twinkling again, “And for you...this!”
Lois was about to protest until she saw that the peddler held up in the sunlight only an empty jelly jar. He unscrewed the lid, swished the jar through the air, and clapped the lid back on. With his black grease marking pencil he wrote a single word on the blank white label already pasted to the glass. Curious, Lois took it when he held it out to her. She burst out laughing.
“‘Sunshine!’” she read aloud. “Mr. Harp, I’ve had just about as much sunshine as I can stomach!”
“Now, don’t be hasty, Miz Peterson,” Jasper admonished her with a chuckle. “Time may come when you’ll appreciate a little spot of Nebraska sunshine. Then you’ll have it, and you’ll be glad!”
Lois gave him a sideways look of wonder. “Mr. Harp, you do know things! Mama had a little jar just like this one–well,” she amended herself with a laugh, “it was filled with Illinois sunshine. Her mama got it from a peddler back there, and brought it all the way out here to Nebraska. She gave it to my mama on her wedding day, and she kept it close to her all her life. Mama’s little jar of sunshine, we called it. She was so taken with that little jar...” Lois’s voice shook, but she finished, “we put it in the box with her.”
Jasper Harp swept his hat in a bow. “Miz Peterson, consider this my wedding gift to you.”
Lois surged forward to fling her arms around the peddler, then checked herself with a clasp of his hand. “Mr. Harp, you will set with me a while and have that glass of iced lemonade!”
Which he did, and admired the cold drink as if it were vintage French champagne.
* * * The little jar of sunshine was taken into the house and set aside, forgotten in all the excitement and worry of a new baby’s anticipation. Eventually it was carried down to the cool, dry cellar and stowed on a shelf among other empty jars. Delicate webs soon encased it, camouflaging it among its older companions. The baby was born and the name “Nancy” inscribed in the little memory book. One year passed, and two. The sun continued to beat down and the rains declined to fall. John engaged the land and the bank both in a desperate battle for survival, but little Nancy never felt want. At three years old she was plump and pink-cheeked, eager to complete the simple chores laid out for her by her mother, and dashing into the arms of her father when he returned to the house from his work outdoors.
One afternoon in the late springtime, John was in the pasture alone after noon dinner, ripping out young thistle weeds, the only plant that seemed to thrive in the heat. Lois urged sleepy Nancy to the downstairs bedroom for a nap. They halted side by side in the doorway and Lois sighed, regarding the bed covered in freshly laundered clothes taken from the line, dried in under an hour in this heat. All the wrinkles had been flapped out by the wind and she was grateful for not having to heat the iron, but the clothes still needed folding. “Upstairs, then,” Lois decided. “The heat will help you sleep.”
John always opened the east and west windows to cross-ventilate the long, half-story room under the roof. When rain threatened he closed them, but this year the windows had been open since late March. Even with the door at the bottom of the stairs left open, the bedroom was stifling.
Drawing the shades in the west windows just to the top of the screen, Lois had no thought of rain now. So many times the clouds gathered to taunt the withering hopes of farmers with their fleeting shade, never releasing their moisture upon the parched earth. Overcome by the stultifying heat, Lois lay alongside Nancy on top of the blankets. She gently stroked the child’s hot cheeks until sleep overtook them both.
Some time later, Lois woke abruptly and sat up on the bed. Next to her, Nancy sighed but did not waken. The bedroom was quite dark, with little light coming either from the unobstructed lower half of the windows or from the stairway. Lois shivered, touched by an unaccustomed chill in the room. “John?” she called out.
The house answered with an unsettling silence. Lois went to the window and snapped up the shade. Outside, the wind that had been blowing for months had utterly ceased. Barnyard, pasture and field lay in a bilious, greenish-yellow wash under a lowering sky that bulged in ugly black boils, the clouds clashing in swirls of violent color. Lois frowned at them, trying to force her sleep-fogged brain to make something of their message.
She felt, rather than saw, the light spring up in the stairway behind her. “John?” She turned. The attic bedroom glowed with light. Lois tried to understand it. Though the electricity had been run along their dirt road last fall, the Petersons could not afford to bring it into the house. Yet this light was somehow even bigger and fuller than the electric lights Lois had seen in other homes and the businesses in town. It was oddly like the soft, comforting, yellow light of the coal oil lamp, but it flowed up the stairway from below and filled the room in a way a single lamp never could.
She had no answer but an angry rattle on the window, followed by an uneven rat-a-tat up and down the wooden siding of the house.
Then an enormous burst of wind slapped the house broadside, trying to force it into an unnatural configuration. Lois pivoted, staring at the window, the breath scared from her lungs. Beyond the glass, the trees that had been so still were now bent double, and the charcoal sky almost met the ground.
Lois whirled and rapidly gathered blankets around her sleeping daughter, hauled her up and rushed to the rail at the top of the stairs. Outside, a queer sort of nighttime had fallen, smothering the land in a huge, wordless howl, while inside, the house seemed to wait in a moment of perfect illumination under the steady yellow glow. Lois flew down the steep stairs, hardly aware of touching a step. There was no light in the front room, nor from the bedroom where she and John slept–they were dark, the friendly yellow light halting at their doorways–but the kitchen was aglow. Lois hurried into it. Around and above her, the house shrieked and shivered under the wind’s assault.
Nancy woke and began to cry. Lois felt the child heaving in her arms but could not hear the sobs above the roar of the wind. She hugged her daughter tighter to her chest. Opposite the big, cob-burning stove, the cellar door seemed to have been jarred open. Lois crunched her eyes against a concentration of the yellow light within the frame of the door.
Wind smacked the house one way, then another. Lois ran to the basement stairs and hastened down. The yellow light shafted a sort of passageway through the storm-blackened cellar, leading her to the farthest wall, where all the light was suddenly focused into a small point on a shelf.
Lois had a moment to consider the little jar labeled “Sunshine” now ablaze, before the entire house, with one Promethean groan, lifted above her. At once, she dropped into a crouch in a litter of broken glass, where every jar but Mr. Harp’s jelly jar had been shaken to the concrete floor and shattered. Lois snatched the jar of sunshine to safety and shifted the blanket to cover her head and form a little tent over Nancy. The miniature sun inside the jar softened to a steady glow and emitted a pleasant warmth without burning. Nancy stopped crying and laid her head on her mother’s shoulder, one thumb stuck in her mouth and her wide blue eyes fixed on the little jar.
Later–days and days later, or mere minutes–the house stopped shaking. The horrible noises of snapping wood and tearing metal grew duller and farther away, then ceased. The howl of the monstrous wind lessened to the normal surge and retreat of a strong wind. Rain lashed mother and daughter huddled under their blanket, but the little jar of sunshine kept them warm.
Lois threw aside the blanket. “John!”
Her eyes swept without comprehension over the pit of trash and tinder in which she found herself. The cellar was open to the sky, which had lightened to a steel gray. Most of the house had been carried away, while what remained had been hurled into the cellar in unidentifiable slivers and shards. The cellar stairs were gone. John appeared above her, a ghostly face dripping rain.
“Lois! My God–Lois!” Relief poured soothing syrup into his fear-roughened voice. “The baby....”
Lois laughed, realizing Nancy was hidden beneath the blanket. “I have her, she’s with me.”
“Hand her up and I’ll pull you out of there. We’ll go to the barn until this is over. The house is the only thing touched.”
They had to shout to be heard above the storm. Lois lifted Nancy as high as she could, and John, leaning down, caught her and pulled her to the debris-strewn yard. Still clutching the jar of sunshine, Lois clambered atop a pile of rubble and stretched her arms skyward. John grasped her firmly and heaved her to safety. They fell into each other’s arms and held tightly while Nancy, sitting on the wet, muddy ground, worked up a wail.
“What’s this?” John asked at last, pulling away to uncover the lump pressing his chest. “‘Sunshine’?” he questioned. “Oh...didn’t that peddler fellow give you this?”
Lois smiled upon the little jelly jar, from which the light was slowly fading. “Jasper Harp,” she said, nodding. “He said one day I may be glad for a little Nebraska sunshine. But–oh, John!” Laying her head against her husband’s shoulder, Lois turned her face to the stormy sky, laughing and sobbing at once.