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  • Brian Peterson

We Live the High Life

The transition from Winter to Spring has been written about a billion times (give or take), yet it never fails to inspire. While working on my fifth novel (even though my fourth book is still being edited), I have probably spent more time outside than in. Writing from my porch-bound rocking chair, with occasional glances at the cloudless sky, keeps me happy—and keeps me focused on the story I am creating.

Of course, when airplanes fly overhead I’m tempted to check my flight app to tell me what kind of planes they are.

Even though I’m no longer writing Paper Doll, I still think about the World War II generation and what life was like. My great-grandmother’s brother had a large family, and their outhouse was a “three-seater,” as my now-85-year-old cousin (first cousin, twice removed) put it. If you had to go and your sister was in there, you sat next to your sister and did your business. I like life in the country, but that’s a bit much for me. I just bought a toilet for several hundred dollars. Life has changed on multiple levels in just that example.

People repaired (or asked a friend to repair) items when they quit working or jury-rigged a replacement. Yesterday I bought a new pair of gardening clippers because the old ones weren’t as effective any longer. I’m rather miserly at times, but to my family three generations ago, I would appear to be extravagant.

Paper Doll (named after my uncle’s B-24), due out in a couple of months, is about my grandfather and his two brothers coming of age during the Depression and World War II. From the brutal northern Minnesota winters to finances to health, life presented a tremendous challenge for most Americans, including my family. Before the war, hope was not in sight; yet, they all recognized war was not desirable. Nevertheless, the war changed them—all of them, whether they went overseas or not.

The history of humanity is one of war—peace is not a default position, unfortunately. We live in a free country because of war. But war is an insidious devourer of lives—and families. My father’s uncle—one of the main characters in the true story—talked very little about what he saw and experienced overseas; but he was fortunate: he came home—alive.

World War II is a fantastic war to study: it was recent enough to have provided us photos and films of various actions; most of us had family members who were involved in it; battles took place on four continents, so there are a variety of battlefronts; there were clear evils which had to be stopped; and the good side won.

While Paper Doll is not about World War II, per se, the war is a prominent element, hanging over my family’s heads like an executioner’s axe, ready to be brought down with vicious force. The story follows the lives of my widowed great-grandmother and her three sons (their two sisters are part of the story, as well) as they barely navigate the Depression and war breaks out.

While the war ended the Depression, the economy did not instantly turn around—especially for a widow living in the countryside. What money they could get their hands on went for necessities. The young men found jobs—through the private sector for one and the Civilian Conservation Corps for the other two. The latter paid $30 a month, with $5 of it going to the young man and the rest going to his parents—or, in this case, to his mother.

When you read this true story, you will see just how challenging life was in the 1930s and ‘40s. Our standard of living is incredibly higher now. And I’m happy to say I’ve never even seen a three-seater, let alone used one. Ugh.

Below is a brief excerpt from Chapter 5 of Paper Doll. No outhouses are depicted.

Until next time… remember to leave online reviews for the authors you read.

Brian W. Peterson

Somewhere on the edge of the Great Plains

Excerpt from Chapter 5 of Paper Doll:

* * *

One thing Carl knew with certainty: he had married a tough woman. Loving, sweet, and short-fused, Anne had a lot in common with her taciturn husband, minus the stubborn silence and ever-present can of beer. She did not mind that Carl drank, just that he drank too much and too often. She was not wired to be as silent as her husband, either.

Besides toughness, one of the numerous qualities they shared was bluntness. Ever to the point, Carl began to lay out his case to his wife of three years. “Anne,” he began, pausing only to be sure she was listening. “You know those letters I’ve exchanged with Uncle Hap?”

“Yeah. I’ve read them, too.”

“Well, then you know they got jobs out there in California. I’ve told Hap I’m gonna join him in the shipyards.”

“You mean move there?”

“Yeah, then send for you after I find a place.”

“Carl!” She fell silent before she could protest more. Her heart wanted something her brain knew was not reasonable.

“Dammit, Anne. I don’t want to go and leave you behind. But what am I supposed to do? Winter comes and you can’t work around here unless you got the right job for winter work. Work’s tough enough to come by as it is.”

“Carla and I can go with you,” Anne pleaded.

“And live how? In a crate behind a grocery market?”

Anne pressed her lips together, as though this would prevent her from speaking further.

“I’ll get you out to California,” he continued. “Just as soon as I can. It should work out after a couple of months.”

“Are you gonna stay with Hap?”

“We haven’t talked about it,” Carl replied. “But I’m sure that’s what we’ll probably work out.”

Tears welled up in the young woman’s eyes. “If you do this, promise me you’ll find a place quick.”

“I will.”

She grabbed both of his arms just above the elbows and applied pressure to communicate her sincerity. “Promise me!”

“I promise, Anne. What the hell you think I’d do? Sure, I’m gonna find something fast.”

“What about Bud and Connie? Are they going?”

“No. Conrad’s working on a farm and Bud’s back in the CCs,” Carl answered. “He went into the Navy and got out faster than you can say “U-boat.”

She squeezed him with her strong Danish arms, then stepped back so their faces could meet halfway, as he bent down to reach his lips with hers. After a brief kiss, he pulled her back by the shoulders. “We’ll figure this out, one way or another.”

As Anne hurriedly left the kitchen and rushed past her two-year-old, little Carla did not understand the tears meant her daddy would be leaving when winter came.

* * *

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