Old Time Stories Now in Print

Join business girl Minty Wilcox and detective Daniel Price in old Kansas City as they sleuth, get to know each other, and fall in love in six stories that occur before, between or after JANUARY JINX, FATAL FEBRUARY, and MISCHIEF IN MARCH, the first three novels in the Calendar Mystery series. Included are “Detectives’ Honeymoon” which starts exactly where Book 3 ends and “The Shackleton Ghost,” published here for the very first time. OLD TIME STORIES also includes eleven nonfiction pieces about the real people and places that inspired Juliet Kincaid to tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond in Kansas City, a place that could downright deadly a hundred years or so ago.

Five-Star Review of “The Barn Door”
“This short prequel story to the first book, JANUARY JINX, is fun and introduces us to the two main characters, Daniel and Minty, before they actually meet. I especially like the descriptions of Kansas City in the 1900’s as well as the vivid descriptions of the characters. Read ‘The Barn Door’ and you will not be disappointed.” Amazon Reviewer.

Five-Star Review of “Lost Dog”
“What a delight to find myself in ‘old’ Kansas City again with such wonderfully drawn characters. I feel I know them and would love to follow them along the street while looking for the lost dog’s owner and I could just push that old neighbor back into the bushes after rescuing the poor dog from her vicious beating. Oh, this author brings them so alive and that is what keeps me reading her stories.” Amazon Reviewer

 

 

OLD TIME STORIES is now available as an EBOOK at www.amazon.com/dp/B07F4JL8D5 and a TRADE PAPERBACK exclusively from Amazon.

A Special Memory for Throwback Thursday

One afternoon back in my mid-teen years, I was home alone in the apartment when I heard a car honking outside. When I rushed to the window and looked out, I saw a Chevy like this one pulled up to the curb. Right away my mom and dad got out.

I didn’t realize it then, but this car, the first I remember my family owning, brought enormous changes to our lives, all good. (How many material objects can you say that about?) Here are some of them.

1) My mom no longer had to grocery shop on her own at Kroger’s downtown and wrangle grocery bags home on the bus. This could be an ordeal in the summer especially.

2) We could and did move to nicer apartments in nicer parts of town outside the bus lines.

3) On the typical Sunday afternoon, we’d take a drive instead of staying at home with Mom pouting because Dad and I went to church and she cooked pot roast.

Here’s a really special memory . . . When I was in 10th Grade, Dad drove Mom, our beloved dog Dottie, and me through the countryside on several weekends with frequent stops, so we could get out and collect leaves for my Botany project. I still have it and I still love trees.

4) My family began to take car trips at least twice a year. In the winter break, Dad might drive us up to New Jersey to visit Mom’s folks. In the summer Dad might drive me and my girlfriends up to Camp Luther.

Or we might drive to a reunion on his side of the family like the one described in Old Time Stories, available now through Labor Day for only $0.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F4JL8D5

 

What car have you owned that was really special?

“Write Stuff Down”

An Indie Author Reflects on Senior Moments

Three of us dedicated senior hoofers have gathered near the back of the exercise center after class. We’re all 60+. (Well, to be honest, in my case, it’s 60++.) We’re all normal weight and short but not stooped over from osteoporosis. We all take at least three classes a week, so we’re far more active than the USA norm.

But still the issue of senior moments comes up. “Why . . . ,” says J. “My husband told me something yesterday and a half hour later I couldn’t remember what he said, so I had to ask him again.”

I almost parrot something I heard on NPR or read in the AARP Bulletin about the nerve endings or whatever in our brains not holding onto information like they used to. But frankly I don’t recall enough of it to talk about it, so I keep my mouth shut.

Friend D says, “I write stuff down. That helps me remember. I write stuff on calendars, things like that.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I don’t say since that would be rude. I do say, “Jess and I keep a calendar on the kitchen wall.”  My daughter and I put our appointments, classes and meetings on the kitchen calendar, a sort of plan for the household. But I also put my appointments, meetings, and classes on the engagement calendar Jess gives me every year. I put my daily to-do lists on that calendar, too.

The mention of calendars sends my friend J off into a lovely riff about the calendars her daughter gives her every year with pictures of the grand kids at Christmas, at Easter, probably summer vacations too though if she says it I don’t hear it because I’ve drifted off into a memory accompanied by considerable self-flagellation on the subject of writing things down. (I do that a lot.) Besides jotting down my daily to-do lists on my engagement calendar and print-outs of monthly calendars, I often put to-do lists in the journals I’ve kept since January 1986. Recently I created a checklist to use to track my social media activities.

And then I keep special lists, sort of like flow charts, of steps in the processes of doing new things in my journal or the backs of printouts of my work. For example, recently my daughter helped me with the cover for the paperback version of my most recent work, Old Time Stories. Specifically she told me how to work with some basic Photoshop tools. Before she started, though, I said, “Wait! Wait! Let me write that down.”

So, I wrote down her instructions in my journal, or at least I thought I did. The next day when I tried to work on that cover without her help, I couldn’t find those instructions. What I did find in my journal were many to-do lists, mostly of the same six things over and over again. (You know, some times you can go too far with writing stuff down or following any good advice, for that matter.)

So, I thought that maybe I wrote it on one of the pieces of paper littering my desk. No luck there either because I had a little throwaway party the other day to clear my computer desk. I must have had a mental lapse (aka a brain fart) and put the notes in the recycle bag.

Regardless, I had to take up my daughter’s time for her to repeat the instructions. This time I did write clear notes in my journal. What’s more, I made a frigging tab with a sticky note so I wouldn’t lose those notes. I also transcribed the notes into my typewritten log to help me remember those instructions the next time I need them.

So what’s the big deal?

It’s like this. Senior moments like these strike terror in my heart that I’ve begun that long slide into oblivion. But maybe I haven’t . . . When I was weeping about forgetting the instructions my daughter gave me, Jess said, “That’s not a senior moment, Mom. It’s a technical moment. Anybody can have them.” Thank you, sweetheart.

Here’s the cover for the trade paperback version of my new book (currently in process).  It’s the first one I’ve done more or less on my own. You can pre-order the eBook version from now until its publication on August 29, 2018, for only $0.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F4JL8D5

 

New Story Collection

From fireworks on the 4th of July through a surprising streetcar ride and a troublesome gang to an unusual honeymoon and a haunted house, the six tales in Old Time Stories delight and entertain. This collection also includes a dozen nonfiction pieces about the real people and places that inspired Juliet Kincaid to write her historical Calendar Mystery series that tells the story of business girl Minty Wilcox and detective Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago.

Here’s a review of “Lost Dog,” a prequel story to the Calendar Mystery series that features business girl Minty Wilcox. “What a delight to find myself in ‘old’ Kansas City again with such wonderfully drawn characters. I feel I know them and would love to follow them along the street while looking for the lost dog’s owner and I could just push that old neighbor back into the bushes after rescuing the poor dog from her vicious beating. Oh, this author brings them so alive and that is what keeps me reading her stories.”

Old Time Stories, a collection of fiction and nonfiction by Juliet Kincaid, is available  as an eBook for the reduced price of only $0.99 between August 29 through Labor Day, September 3, 2018 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F4JL8D5  (And it’s always free from Kindle Unlimited.)

 

 

 

Summer Camp

My daughter and I still have a home phone in addition to our cells, but Jess has fully employed the “Caller Blocked” function. Besides that, we keep the sound off unless we’re expecting a call from the plumber, for instance. So we rarely hear the phone ring. Occasionally, a man starts talking to us out of the blue from the phone, but we know it’s the machine from the pharmacy telling our machine a prescription is ready “for Juliet” or “for Jessica.”

But a few weeks ago, a woman’s voice started talking from the phone, a rarity in itself. So I scampered to the phone, snatched it out of the cradle, and said, “Hello. Hello. I’m here.” The caller turned out to be a woman I’d probably last seen maybe around sixty-five years ago at Marshall University. But I’d known her longer than that because when we were around thirteen, we were in the same confirmation class at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Huntington, WV. We also later became somewhat related, when my brother Dale married Gloria’s cousin Carole. But after college we lost touch with each other. In time, Gloria Moeser became Gloria Noll and Jet Willman became Juliet Kincaid. Here’s Gloria in her college yearbook. And here I am in mine a year later.

For several summers in the fifties Gloria, I and a bunch of other kids from St. Paul’s went to summer camp together. After my dad and mom got the first car I remember them having, a cute little blue and white, Chevy two-door, Daddy drove us. The rest of the time the place was Camp Caesar, a 4H camp, but during two weeks every June, Lutheran youth from all over the state converged on this place way up in the mountains in Webster County and it became Camp Luther.

Going through some old photos, Gloria came upon a cache of snapshots that she’d taken a couple of those years we went to camp. She also had carefully recorded the names of those pictured and where the pictures were taken. Gloria remembered how much fun my dad was and how he let us sing on the way there and back. She even remembered one of our camp songs and sang it to me on the phone all the way through. Amazing. The best I can do is get part of the way through “Kumbaya.”

I do remember dancing like Anna and the King of Siam around and around the gym in the arms of a guy whose name I’ve forgotten now as we sang, “Shall we dance? Ta tum ta tum.” (Just watched the clip from The King and I with Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr. OMG! Be still my heart.) One year I did have a boyfriend, sort of. We walked around camp hand in hand or sat side by side in rocking chairs on the porch of the main building. We never kissed though. His name was Hank and he was a sweetie.

Now where was I? Oh yes, the pictures Gloria later mailed me. Here are some of them.

The one on the left is from 1956. I’m on the left with the cute cat’s eyes glasses and longish hair. I’m holding one of those lanyards we made at camp back then. The girl in the middle is Carol Richards and on the right is Nancy Heinsohn, who also was in our confirmation class.

The shot on the right, from 1957, shows Nancy and me acting up with a couple of girls I don’t recall at all. Same glasses, but that year I got my hair cut just after the recital, so it would grow out by the next year and I could put it up in a proper bun as my dance teacher Mrs. Nestor required.

Here’s another picture of Nancy and me. The camp site had lots of rocks and a fairly rugged terrain. I still have the scar on my right shin from when I tried to climb a boulder half the size of a house. At camp we also went swimming, played soft ball, studied the Bible of course, and sang “Kumbaya” and other songs around the camp fire.

Good times. Good times. What sorts of fun things did you do in the summers of your youth or right now for that matter?

 

 

FREE MYSTERY SHORT

Two Birthdays

An Old Kansas City Story

The office door opening that afternoon startled Minty Wilcox and she almost looked up to see who it was. But then she thought, I’d better keep my head down and look busy. It won’t do for Mr. Mathison to catch me reading a mystery novel when I’m supposed to be hard at work. Indeed, George Mathison, the manager of the Kansas City branch of the Price Investigations Agency, was quite strict about the office staff keeping busy, especially Minty, the newest member of the staff.

Not that there was much work to do at the moment, no one there to take dictation from, no operative reports to type, no papers to file.

Still, Minty closed the black book, a favorite of hers that she liked to reread that time of year, and hid it in her top desk drawer. After that, she began typing furiously at her ancient blind-strike Remington typewriting machine. As a precaution earlier, she’d loaded a blank piece of paper in the typewriter. A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, she typed. A quick . . .

“Where’s Mrs. B?” a man asked.

After Minty lifted her hands from the keyboard and looked up, her heart started going pitty pat.

For instead of George Mathison, Daniel Price, one of the agency operatives, stood in the open door. A young man of medium height, he wore a straw boater, a white shirt with a black straight tie knotted under its stiff collar, a white vest, and white trousers.

“Oh, Dan . . .” Minty caught herself in time. Mr. Mathison was ever so strict about employees maintaining proper decorum. He had also forbidden employees to fraternize with each other during business hours—or at any time, for that matter. It certainly wouldn’t do for the agency’s most newly hired employee to err in that respect.

“Why, Mr. Price,” Minty said. “Mrs. Bradford took the afternoon off. She said she had an important errand to run.”

Daniel Price took off his hat and ran his hand over his reddish brown hair, parted in the middle. His neatly trimmed beard and mustache were also reddish brown. “Golly,” he said. “I really need someone to help me.” He closed the door behind himself and hung his boater on the coat tree next to Minty’s parasol.

“I’m sorry that Mrs. Bradford isn’t here,” Minty said. “Is it something I might help you with?” Minty stood up, went around her desk, and took a couple of steps toward the door.

“Perhaps.” He brushed his beard. “You see. I have an appointment with Mr. Ferd Heim, Jr. at the brewery across town.” Daniel fumbled with the gold chain that crossed his vest and pulled out his pocket watch along with a couple of keys.

Minty looked down at her pendant watch at the end of a light chain and pinned to the front of her shirtwaist, white with garnet red pin stripes. She flipped her watch over and read the time. “Why, it’s already half past four.”

“And my appointment with Mr. Heim is for five o’clock. Well, you will have to do, Miss Minty.”

 

And so Daniel Price lures Minty Wilcox off on a case that starts to sound strangely familiar as he tells her about it and she wonders what he really is up to.

Click here to get “Two Birthdays” for FREE from June 20 through June 24: www.amazon.com/dp/B076JS3D2Y

My Father’s Gardens

While working on a prequel story for my calendar mystery series called “The Barn Door” that takes place on the 4th of July weekend in 1898, I decided to give one of the characters a vegetable garden. And that led me to think about my dad and his gardens.

My father, Homer Dale Willman, Sr., used to say, “When the Corps hired me, they took a great farmer and made him into a half-assed engineer.”

Still, though he worked over twenty years for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, my father always had a garden if only three strips around the patio. Until his last summer, he grew at least a little something, maybe vibrant begonias, a geranium in a big pot, a climbing rose, possibly hollyhocks, usually mint so he could watch the telecast of the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May with an icy julep in hand. And always, always, he had a tomato plant or two.

Back in the fifties and sixties, the prime years of his backyard gardens, he put lots of effort into his tomatoes. We lived in the tri-state region of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia where winters were mild (though Dad always hoped for some snow to put nitrogen into the dirt). After the ground warmed and softened along about Easter, Dad took his shovel out to his garden patch to prepare the soil.

My mom used to kid my dad about “digging to China” because to him preparation meant digging a pit eighteen inches across and three feet deep for each tomato plant. He partially refilled each hole with compost, manure and other nourishing substances mixed with loose dirt.

The newly planted tomato plants–named Big Boy, Better Boy, Early Boy and Rutgers–looked scrawny so far apart, their sparse leaves insufficient to fuel growth. They did grow though. Usually by the Fourth of July, Dad would push aside those leaves, releasing the acrid odor that set our stomachs to growling, and with a gentle tug, pick the first tomato of the season. Mom, Dad, my brother Dale, and I fought over that first tomato, so ripe the skin peeled off clean and biting the tongue with its acidity. By late summer, the plants, lovingly tied to their stakes with strips of old sheet, stood eight feet high and loaded with tomatoes Mom canned, made juice with or begged neighbors to haul away.

Maybe the secret of Dad’s tomatoes lay in his compost pile that he researched, built and maintained like a true engineer. The compost pile I remember best was a four-foot cube of vegetable peels and melon rinds, musty grass clippings, twigs, lime, and goat manure he got as partial payment for a ship model he built for a friend who owned a herd of goats.

Dad made a hole in the center of the compost pile so air got inside and furthered the controlled decay. Once, out of curiosity, he tied some string to a thermometer and lowered it into the hole. In less than a minute, the thermometer broke. Later, with Mom’s candy thermometer, Dad discovered that the compost pile had reached 135 degrees.

Usually, Dad scaled his gardens small, but back in the late forties when we lived in the aptly named Garden Court, he almost filled the back yard with his vegetable plot. Forty by sixty feet, it ran from the house back almost to the tree-lined creek. Pieces of string stretched between sticks defined the plot so meticulously it looked like Dad had laid the garden out with a surveyor’s transit.

Dad bragged about that garden having fifty different varieties of plants. They included tomatoes of course, potatoes, corn, green peppers, red peppers, scallions, onions, cucumbers, and Black-seeded Simpson leaf lettuce. Instead of cantaloupe, that Dad said didn’t prosper in our climate, he grew muskmelons. Radishes started the growing season and beets finished it. Many of the vegetables I’ve forgotten now, but I still love to recite exotic names like zucchini, kohlrabi, and cocazelle.

We all got involved in Dad’s gardens. One year we had so much cabbage that Mom canned it. Dad paid Dale a penny a hundred head to pick bugs and beetles out of the garden. Dad never let me forget that those pretty yellow hollyhocks I picked one year were actually squash blossoms. Once, we tried to shell tough-hulled soybeans by putting them through Mom’s washer wringer. The beans popped out the other side and Dale and I chased them as they bounced around the kitchen floor.

My father’s gardens . . . Whenever I think of them, I see a picture of him in my mind.

Small-boned, with a mustache, my father wears a billed cap to keep his scalp from burning, a tan shirt dark with sweat under the arms, tan pants cut off and neatly hemmed above his knobby knees, and muddy shoes too worn to wear to work anymore. He leans against a shovel stuck into a pile of dirt. And dreaming of fresh tomatoes by the Fourth of July, he grins.

Happy Father’s Day 2018, Daddy

I don’t have a picture of my dad in his gardening togs, but here’s one of him, taken around 1973 when he was 70, that shows his wonderful grin.

January Jinx, Fatal February, and Mischief in March, the first three calendar mysteries set in Kansas City a hundred years or so ago, are available as eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon.com. Look for “The Barn Door,” a calendar mystery prequel short story, now available as a Kindle eBook. You’ll find all of these  plus more on my Amazon Author Central page: www.Amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG

 

 

Suitable Jobs for Women in 1900

Some times we historical fiction writers get so locked into the old days we write about, we forget that our contemporaries might not have the foggiest notion of what we’re talking about.

For instance, I’ve written a new short story called “Detectives’ Honeymoon.” And I’ve been promoting it with this blurb: “After resolving the mysteries of Mischief In March, Book 3 of the Calendar Mystery series, the newly wedded Daniel and Minty Price set off on their honeymoon. But due to a number of unforeseen circumstances, a Harvey Girl, and a would-be Sherlock Holmes, they come to fear they won’t have a honeymoon at all.” The “would-be Sherlock Holmes” still flies, but one of my Facebook friends asked me what a Harvey Girl was. So here’s a bit of history on suitable jobs for women in 1900 that ends with a description of a Harvey Girl.

Back in March 1900 when Mischief in March and “Detectives’ Honeymoon” take place, women still didn’t have many options for respectable employment  outside the home. But still women did work. In Kansas City, with a population of 50,000 in 1900, for instance, 5,000 women worked outside the home. Here are some respectable jobs for women back then.

1) Quite a few worked in Kansas City’s burgeoning garment industry, which I used as the major setting for Fatal February, Book 2 of my Calendar Mystery series.

2) Many were educators, working as “schoolmarms” in one-room school houses in the area, though Mary Louise Barstow and Ada Brann founded their own school for girls in the Quality Hill area of Kansas City around 1884. (Their school has moved several times, but it still exists as a co-ed institution.)

3) Some women went into nursing. A few became doctors.

4) Many women worked outside the home as business girls in assorted capacities, part of typing pools for insurance companies, for instance. Trained stenographers like my heroine Minty Wilcox and my own great aunt Melicent Perkins who inspired her could demand top dollar free-lancing their skills.

5) Women worked in assorted retail establishments around Kansas City like Emery, Bird, Thayer Dry Goods where Minty took her younger siblings to shop for shoes in January Jinx, Book 1 of my Calendar Mystery series.

6) Some women even owned their own businesses, a millinery shop or dressmaker’s, for two instances. Miss Ellen Schooley helped run the family stationer’s shop where Minty Wilcox goes for office supplies.

7) By 1900, most telephone operators in Kansas City and everywhere else in the world for that matter were women, young men having been found too rude and impatient for the work. Mrs. Flora Snodgrass, who lives at the Wilcox home as a boarder along with her husband Lemuel, is a telephone operator.

8) Although Kate Warne worked undercover in the South for Allen Pinkerton during the Civil War, by 1900 very few women worked in law enforcement. Mr. George Mathison, the manager of Price Investigations and Minty Wilcox’s boss, is firmly against female operatives in all three books of my Calendar Mystery series so far.

9) But by 1900 being a Harvey Girl had become a most suitable job for a woman, mostly because of the very high standards Fred Harvey held for his employees including the waitresses who served meals in the restaurants he established along the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe Railroad. Before 1878, when Harvey took over a lunchroom above the train station in Topeka, Kansas, a traveler on railroads beyond Kansas City faced a vast food desert hundreds of miles long. If you didn’t bring your own food for the trip to Denver, for instance, or you did, but you ran out because the train was delayed, you would be very hungry by the time you reached your destination. Or you could risk food poisoning at a whistle stop along the way. By 1900, though, you would find a Harvey House, a top-grade eating establishment every hundred miles along the line. At a Harvey House you could count on getting a fine meal including anything you’d expect in the best New York City establishment served by young, efficient, intelligent, absolutely clean and tidy Harvey Girls of impeccable character. And you got good value for your seventy-five cents dinner, for Harvey Houses were known for slicing their pies into four pieces instead of the usual six.

If you’d like to learn more about the Harvey Girls, read Lesley Poling-Kempes’ lively book The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West. You might also enjoy The Harvey Girls film with Judy Garland. And by all means, please get your very own copy of “Detectives’ Honeymoon,” the latest installment in my Calendar Mystery series, now available for only $0.99 at wwww.amazon.com/dp/B07D89JXN.

You can find other books and stories in my Calendar Mystery series at www.amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG

New Calendar Mystery Story!

TWO BIRTHDAYS

An Old Kansas City Story

June 22, 1899

Price Investigations Office

Kansas City, Missouri

The office door opening that afternoon startled Minty Wilcox and she almost looked up to see who it was. But then she thought, I’d better keep my head down and look busy. It won’t do for Mr. Mathison to catch me reading a mystery novel when I’m supposed to be hard at work. Indeed, George Mathison, the manager of the Kansas City branch of the Price Investigations Agency, was quite strict about the office staff keeping busy, especially Minty, the newest member of the staff.

Not that there was much work to do at the moment, no one there to take dictation from, no operative reports to type, no papers to file.

Still, Minty closed the black book, a favorite of hers that she liked to reread that time of year, and hid it in her top desk drawer. After that, she began typing furiously at her ancient blind-strike Remington typewriting machine. As a precaution earlier, she’d loaded a blank piece of paper in the typewriter. A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, she typed. A quick . . .

“Where’s Mrs. B?” a man asked.

After Minty lifted her hands from the keyboard and looked up, her heart started going pitty pat.

<> <> <>

Two Birthdays, an old Kansas City story

After Minty Wilcox has worked for six months or so at Price Investigations as a stenographer/typist, the dashing detective Daniel Price appears in the office and carries her off to take notes on a new case the agency has been hired for. But once he starts filling Minty in on the details of the case, some of the information sounds strangely familiar. And she begins to wonder what he’s really up to on her twentieth birthday, June 22, 1899.

Praise for January Jinx, Book 1 in the Calendar Mystery series

The delightful, creative, and charming January Jinx introduces a terrific character in Minty Wilcox, a good old-fashioned cozy mystery persona who will surely be able to carry the planned-for series. It’s Minty who drives the readable narrative, and author Juliet Kincaid keeps the pace steady and fast at the same time for quite a readable experience. The writing is appropriate for the historical setting without ever being gimmicky or archaic . . . The unique setting of 1899 Kansas City is full of flavor that never overwhelms the story and the characters. With a terrific, original, but still comfortable series concept, there are certainly big things afoot for Juliet Kincaid and Minty Wilcox’s Calendar Mysteries.

“Two Birthdays,” a Calendar Mystery short story featuring Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price getting to know each other, is now available for your Kindle for $0.99 (and always free from KindleUnlimited)* at www.amazon.com/dp/B076JS3D2Y

*This fun story will be available for free to all on October 20 through 22, and October 26 and 27.

 

 

Watermelon on the Fourth of July

A Reminiscence

Writing “The Barn Door” and “Lost Dog,” prequel stories set on July 4 and July 5, 1898, to my calendar mystery series, reminded me of a trip Mom, Dad, Dotty, our short-legged beagle mix, and I made one summer not long after they bought the first car I can remember our having: a used, white and light blue ’54 Chevy two-door.

Later Dad discovered a short cut to our destination, the farm in Clarion County, PA, where my grandmother Willman grew up. But the first time we visited there for that Independence Day back in the fifties—before there even were interstates—we came in through Lamartine, a town of maybe forty households, a general store, a school and the Methodist church. (You won’t find it on any map because the name was later changed to Salem.) The tiny town stretched along a country crossroads, north and south, then east past Daddy’s aunt Maude and his cousin Walter Kurtz’s houses, and on down the hill between sloping fields planted in wheat.

At the bottom of the hill, Daddy turned right onto a rough dusty road. As we drove between what Dad called the water meadow and the family’s wood lot, I sat up straight for the first view of the house across the pond. Built in 1877, white with black shutters, it had two windows upstairs and two down, balanced on either side of the front door, up a few steps from the yard.

I loved the house when I first saw it and fretted restlessly in the back seat to get inside it even as the car bumped up the lane past the pond, past the house, past the garden and stopped by a decrepit corn crib. The substantial barn, built by my great grandfather Shirey in the Centennial year of 1876, stood farther up the hill on the right.

By the time we went to family reunions at the farm, milkweed and slender scrub oaks, seven or eight feet tall, had over-grown the yard in front of the barn at the lowest level. But my uncle George Hickman kept the lane mowed up and around the barn to the big doors on the other side. Beams a square foot spanned the big space up there. Dad said they’d come from the property itself.

No doubt the logs for the cabin where the family lived at first came from there, too. The year after the barn went up, my great grandfather Shirey, undoubtedly with the help of his neighbors, built the house around the cabin, then tore the cabin down, leaving a V-shaped house.

After Daddy parked the car, Mom opened the passenger side door, and Dotty slid out, trotted around the car and squatted over some spot of grass indistinguishable from the rest except for her contribution. Mom, Dad, and I gathered our suitcases from the trunk and wrangled them toward the house beyond a line of big, dark pines in the side yard. A stocky man of medium height with thin, dark hair and black-rimmed glasses, my uncle George, came out, saying, “Here, here, let me help with those bags.”

We entered the house by way of the huge, square country kitchen ruled over by the white-haired dowager of the family, my grandmother Willman. She had as her minions  my aunt Mary Hickman and her daughters, all more reserved with our part of the family than Uncle George, largely due to a feud over money the decade before. By the fifties, the situation had reached détente, mostly I think, because Mom wasn’t about to let old grudges deny her more or less free accommodations like those in the old house with half a dozen bedrooms, large and small.

Later, I slept in a narrow bedroom just around from the stairs. Back when Dad was a kid, a maiden aunt had this room. She must have been a poor relation because the room was very spare, furnished with bed barely larger than a cot, an orange crate on end for a nightstand, and a chest of drawers. The room had two windows. One next to the orange crate that served as a nightstand overlooked the side yard and the privy. The other window on the far side of the bed looked out at the steep hill behind the house. On hot nights, the wind breathed in one window and out the other, making the little room pleasantly breezy and cool. I found some ancient novels from the 1920’s on the lower shelf of the orange crate, and inveterate reader that I already was, I tried them. They seemed quaint and a little dull.

The house didn’t have an indoor bathroom until quite a while later, after Uncle George retired, and he and Aunt Mary moved to the farm permanently. They built a bathroom, laundry room, and galley kitchen onto what had been the porch that spanned both legs of the V in the back of the house. They left the outhouse, though, and Dad visited it occasionally for old times’ sake. It was quite a ways from the house, on a narrow rill that ran down to the spring house. (The Shireys brought the drinking water into the house to the hand pump in the kitchen sink from the horse spring above the house, a good thing, considering the possibility of insufficient rock between the privy and the spring house to filter contaminants out of the ground water. My dad, the civil engineer, said it took fifty feet.)

During that first summer visit to the farm, Daddy and I went for several walks. One day in particular stands out. Dad and I climbed the long, steep hill behind the house all the way to the top. There we found several graves overgrown by prickly bushes. Field stones marked the graves, by then, shallow depressions in the earth. The graves with stones only two or three feet apart made us sad as we knew babies and children were buried there. Dad said that these graves were  probably from around the time his grandparents first settled in this part of Pennsylvania, back around 1875 or so, not all that long after the Civil War.

As it turned out, the highlight of our first visit to the family farm, at least for me, was a watermelon my dad picked up. The afternoon we arrived, we went out again in the car right after lunch, this time with Uncle George, so he could direct us to an open-air market nearby. On that hot July afternoon, Dad wore khaki wash pants and a short-sleeved shirt with the deep oval of his white undershirt showing at the neck, and rings of sweat darkening the underarms. A straw hat hid his thin, dark hair.

As we stood in front of the stacked melons, my dad said, “You don’t need to cut a piece out of it to tell if it’s ripe.” He leaned over and flicked a big melon with the middle fingers of his right hand. “See?”

“Uh huh,” I said, though I didn’t really know what that thump of his fingers against the striped green watermelon meant.

The clerk weighed the melon and Dad paid for it, twenty cents to the pound. There were lots of pounds. He hefted it up to his left shoulder and carried it over to the car. Though Dad was a short guy, only about five foot five, he’d trained himself when he surveyed the mountains of West Virginia for the CCC to stride exactly a yard every time his right foot hit the dirt.

Back at the farm, Dad got the melon out of the trunk. Instead of taking it inside to the refrigerator, already jammed with food for the forthcoming Independence Day picnic, he carried it downhill to the spring house, a low stone building built into the slope. I followed Dad into the dim, cool building. “Watch out for the well,” Dad said as he pointed to a dark square of water in the floor on the right. “My sister Esther went head over heels in there one time. Like to scare the daylights out of her. It’s deep and really cold.”

I skirted the well and followed Dad through a narrow doorway on the left and down a couple of steps. Two shallow troughs of water stretched on either side of the paved floor. I could imagine bottles of fresh milk and cream plus bowls of berries from the garden floating in those trough water. That day they held only water until Dad lowered the melon off his shoulder and down into one of them. I hunkered down and dipped my fingers in the water. It was icy cold. “We’ll come out and turn it every once in a while,” Dad said. “By the fourth it’ll be perfect.”

And so it was. On Independence Day we dined like hogs on Grandmother Willman’s Parker House rolls along with fried chicken, ham, meatloaf, deviled eggs, those weird gelatin salads that many of the women tried made back then, baked and green beans, the latter picked early that morning and cooked just with butter in a big pot. “These beans are delicious,” my mother said once she’d tried them. And that was really something since she gave few compliments, especially to Daddy’s women folk.

After the ladies commenced to slice the pies and cakes, Dad went down to the spring house and fetched the melon up to the barn on his shoulder. Cold water slid around his wrist and dappled his shirt as he carried it to the picnic table outside the barn, its doors flung open wide to let light and air in to the other tables. Dad laid the melon down on the oilcloth, cut the melon in half lengthwise with a long-bladed knife. The two halves split open to reveal the pink meat and black, slippery seeds. Daddy cut the halves into quarters, then the quarters into wedges and slices. I spat the seeds out into the grass as I ate watermelon, sweet and ripe to the center, and so cold it made my teeth ache.

In the evening, we snacked a little more, though not on the watermelon, long since devoured, its seeds scattered in the grass, its rind collected by my grown-women cousins in bowls and basins to pickle for next year’s picnic. Then we waddled to the cars and drove up the lane and out the country road, back to Lamartine to hear a fife and drum corps, just like they had back in the days of the American Revolution when western Pennsylvania was the frontier. After dark we watched fireworks out over the dewy hill, so close I smelled the gunpowder. Long after dark we drove through a countryside resounding with crickets and cicada, back to the farmhouse sheltered by the hillside.

I fell asleep in the narrow bed in the narrow bedroom, not knowing how special in my memory of that day, my folks, and that melon would become, long after it was devoured and yes, the watermelon rind pickles too.

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Juliet Kincaid writes the calendar historical mysteries and the Cinderella, P. I. mysteries for grown-ups. Stories and novels of both series are available as eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon.