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  • Brian Peterson

COVID… and Getting Close

As I was nearing the finishing stages of my fourth novel, I hit a bump in the road—a big bump. My wife and I came down with COVID mid-November, and I have just one piece of advice: don’t get it.


For those of you who have tried to contact me by phone, I apologize, but I have been too fatigued to talk on the phone.


I’ve heard story after story about children and teenagers feeling like they had a cold, then they’re over it. I’m sure others have gotten milder strains. Just my luck, we got a booger of a case. We wore masks and avoided other people for the most part, yet we contracted the virus. We still don’t know from whom or where we picked it up.


One of the most common symptoms of COVID is fatigue—extreme fatigue—so I have done very little writing and editing of my next book. I do believe that I’m still on track to get it to the professional editor by January, but we shall see.


My fourth novel is the story of three brothers coming of age during the Great Depression and World War II. It is the true story of my grandfather—who could not get into the military because of bad knees—and his two brothers. One brother went to the Pacific Theater; one went to the European Theater. One brother came home but one did not. It’s the story of family, strife, and the changing times brought on by world war.


For the second consecutive novel, I will be self-publishing. I am currently looking into alternatives to Amazon for reasons I’ll go into at a later date.


Unlike my first three novels, this story is neither sci-fi nor thriller. I will write more in those genres in the future, but this family story is an important one to me. There are several fascinating facets to the story which, with my family, is not surprising at all. While it’s a true story, it’s one of those stories that is “stranger than fiction,” as the saying goes.


That’s all for now—COVID fatigue is not my friend.


An excerpt from Paper Doll is below.


Thank you for purchasing and reading my prior novels; THINK CHRISTMAS GIFTS! There’s just enough time!


Have a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a great New Year. May 2020 just go the heck away!


Until next time,


Brian W. Peterson

Somewhere on the edge of the Great Plains


An excerpt from Chapter 2 of Paper Doll:

* * *

Carl stared at a framed photograph of his father, which had maintained a home on the table nearest the main room’s window for the better part of nine years. In the background of the photo, standing on a porch, Hulda held the infant Thelma. Taken in 1914, a year before Carl was born, William stood at the fore, surrounded by extended family. Carl thought he remembered being told his Uncle Gil stood next to his father—his arm partially visible—but he could not be certain. Cancer consumed Gilbert Peterson in 1922, and Carl’s memories of the man were only disjointed stories and incidents, woven together like a tattered blanket.

William’s mild resemblance to Abraham Lincoln amplified in photographs, as he raised his chin and stood erect for the camera, projecting prominence. With similar build and facial structure as Lincoln, his suit added to his stately appearance. His deep-set eyes stared outward, beyond the camera, as though intently looking into the future. His gaunt face gave him the look of a man etched from stone. His long neck held back a white tie and shirt, and his broad shoulders hinted of his physical strength. His mental strength was never questioned.

The dark jacket, with only one button fastened, portrayed the look of a relaxed man, hands behind his back, yet his forlorn expression belied his casual dress. His light-brown hair swept backward and upward, while his thin build contributed to giving him a taller appearance.

He had worked hard all his life and was a strong, stern man, set on raising a good family, when cancer got the best of the 46-year-old. As one of Carl’s uncles put it, “Nineteen-Twenty-Nine wasn’t a good year for nobody.”

In the same photo, holding her first child, Hulda possessed a bright young face with eyes which leaped toward the camera, as though the battle to hide her past as a playful prankster played out in plain sight. Despite her bizarre ability to foresee certain events, at the moment of the photograph in 1914, the destiny of her husband remained unknown to her. While she seemed to be on the verge of a smile, none was forthcoming. Her fat-cheeked daughter was oblivious to the camera and the commotion which always preceded use of the fascinating yet still uncommon invention.

Carl could not ignore that his mother’s face in the photo exuded a happiness and vivaciousness which he could no longer see in her. The thick brown hair grew a little thicker. Her fiery eyes flashed brighter, despite the photo’s low quality.

Hulda Josephine Peterson was now the anchor of her burgeoning family, the backbone which allowed the family to move forward. That 1914 photo captured her steely fortitude yet kind heart. Most people did not know she was destined to marry William and raise her brood in a way different than most people—at least in the United States—experienced. Right after her birth, her parents promised her to William by way of William’s parents. That she would marry William—her elder by 11 years—was never in question. It was predetermined, out of her control.

When her husband died, she vowed not to remarry, remembering her own step-father, an abusive traveling salesman. She did not want to take a chance her children would experience the same fate as she and her siblings did. She had the opportunity to marry, but for a time she maintained a platonic relationship with a man to whom she gave shelter in an out-building on the farm.

Hulda’s mother had left her husband for a salesman, and that act of infidelity stuck in Hulda’s mind, never to be forgotten. She feared even the possibility of subjecting her children to such cruelty.

Carl continued to stare at the photo of his parents, his sister Thelma, and two of his cousins, until his mother entered the room.

“How long are you staying?” Hulda inquired. They both knew the reason for her question.

“Oh! That reminds me.” He reached into his wallet and pulled out three twenty-dollar-bills. “This is for you.”

Hulda’s eyes moistened. She was in the habit of turning down charity, but she raised her son to understand his duties to family. Carl was fourteen when his father died; she had an extra void to fill for five children, so it became his duty to be the male role model for his brothers—when he was around. When that “other man” started coming around the next year, fifteen-year-old Carl struck out on his own, first heading to his uncle Adolph’s house; later finding work wherever he could, be it in boxing rings in Chicago or forests in Wisconsin.

“I’m gonna stay for a while. I’m gonna marry Ann.” His firm statement convinced Hulda that his wish would be fulfilled. “I’m sure I can’t live with Uncle Hap again,” he added, referring to Hulda’s brother, Adolph Gustafson. Nicknamed “Happy,” the choice not only fit the man, but given the current state of geopolitics, “Adolph” undoubtedly was not the best Christian name at the moment.

“Okay. Are you going to be able to afford yourself and a wife?”

“I’ll manage.”

Hulda knew better than to be sad that a portion of his income would now go elsewhere. She, too, would “manage,” just as she had for so long on a $20-a-month pension, plus odd jobs and Conservation Corps payments.

“I’m about to lose this place,” she said, a quiet falling over her.

Carl came alive with energy: anger, frustration, and a sense something had to be done this instant. Before he could speak, his mother gave great effort to calm him.

“Carl. Nothing can be done. I’ve sold so many of our possessions just trying to make ends meet, but it hasn’t stopped the bleeding.”

“But how can you lose the place?” Carl demanded. “You own this place!”

“You already know the answer to that,” she scolded. “Taxes. Because I haven’t been able to pay the taxes, we’re gonna lose it. The bank and the government can figure it out between them.” She was not made aware for years that she lost the farm over $40.22 in unpaid taxes.

Anger gave way to emotional exhaustion. Carl had supplied his mother with as much money as possible. When he kept for himself what little he earned, he felt guilty. Working in the Conservation Corps camps made it easier not to spend; the government gave the young man five dollars a month and sent the remaining twenty-five home, to Hulda.

All to no avail.

“When?”

“Any day I’ll get a notice about it.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’ve made arrangements for me and the boys to live in the old train depot,” she said, referring to the shuttered Puposky train station.

Carl shook his head.

“As soon as we can, we’re gonna rent a house in Bemidji. I’ll have room for a garden, so that will save us money.”

“Okay.”

“Carl,” Hulda tried to soften her steady tone. “It’ll be best if you find somewhere to stay while you’re here.”

Carl nodded, his head hanging slightly. “I understand.”

Hulda turned and left the room—left Carl to his thoughts and emotions, the latter of which remained hidden away, somewhere deep inside him. Carl turned to the photo again, of a father who was alive and a mother who was young. Times were tough then, too. It just felt worse now—maybe because people labeled it a “depression.” Maybe because he was experiencing it himself rather than hearing about it. Either way, Life was cutting a hole into the Peterson clan, and Carl resented it.

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