Harvest of Hope

By Katie Peers

After reflecting on what I have learned from this class, I have decided to do a final short story on my great grandmother. After interviewing her, it intrigued me to develop my ideas about her life. And throughout the class, the part that I enjoyed the most was reading short stories about people's lives. History and traditions are preserved through story. I have always enjoyed writing stories, so I hope you will indulge me and let my imagination run wild with my final project, a short story.

      The snow was floating around as Effie peered through the kitchen window. Remembering the excitement the first snowfall used to bring her in her youth, but that was when life was simple. The days before war, before she lost her husband, the days before her three sons were sent off to a war, far away in a world she did not understand. Days of excitement were limited.  It was the fall of 1942, and in Aroostook County, that means one thing: potato harvest. Effie knew this year would be different from past harvests. This was the first year that Effie would harvest the 20 acre farm without her three sons. There were five other children, the oldest being twelve and the youngest only three. Effie was grateful to have a young French girl by the name of Francis to take care of the two young children during the day and help with cooking and cleaning. Effie would be in the fields all day and needed help with the house. Effie could only offer Francis room and board, but since Francis' new husband was off to World W
ar II, it was the best opportunity she had. Effie was grateful to have Francis, and Francis was grateful to have Effie. They had a strong bond like sisters, they supported each other and served as a companion during this lonely time. Francis was only eighteen, while Effie was thirty-eight, but the age difference didn't matter. 
      So the day first day of harvest had arrived and already the snow was falling. Usually there was no sight of snow until later in the harvest. The crew would be short handed this year, it included Effie, the three children that were old enough to work, a hired Native American who stayed drunk half the time, and his wife. It would have to do. Most young men had already been sent to World War II, and the able bodies that were left had to tend to their own harvests. But Effie was never one to get down on things, she had a job to do and there was no doubt in her mind that they would accomplish what they needed to do.
      Francis didn't say much to Effie as she started preparing ploys for the morning meal. An Acadian tradition that both of these French girls had been accustomed to. The children ate and prepared themselves for the first day of harvest. The children missed their older brothers just as much as Effie. Since their father had passed away so long ago, their older brothers were more like father figured to them than brothers. Although everybody was thinking about the war, people rarely mentioned it. So, days went on, and the crops were slowly being harvested. The horse drawn plows slowly dug the potatoes and the frozen fingers rapidly heaved them into the potato baskets. The monotonous routine, day after day, was back breaking and tiring. Somehow the family made it through the first harvest without the oldest sons. Harvesting took a lot longer than normal, and they had to leave around five acres unharvested in the ground. The snow fell in full force and soon it was Christmas. The two women rarely talked of the w
ar, until one night when all the children were sleeping. The two women sat by the fire and Francis broke down crying. She said she hadn't heard from her husband in almost three months. Effie listened while Francis spoke of her fears and how much she hated this war. The fact was Effie hadn't heard from her sons either. But Effie kept that to herself. The war was a mystery to her. They did not know what was going on, who was winning, or even if her sons were still alive. It brought back memories of World War I when her husband was sent away. As Francis continued to speak, her accent grew thicker and her pace increased. Effie just listened, she know nothing she would say could calm her friend. It was a natural emotion that she had to go through. 
      Winter came and was gone and soon it was spring again. The children were older and now there were four children to help with the planting. Spirits were higher than they had been in a long time. Every Sunday Effie and Francis took the children to mass. Men were scarce, but the women and children were there in force. Many women reciting their rosary beads and crying as they thought of loved ones far away. Effie looked around and felt comforted by the familiar faces, faces she had known her whole life. Neighbors, who farmed as well and were willing to lend a helping hand whenever they could. Francis was originally from St. Agatha and moved to Caswell when she married. She did not know the people as well as Effie, but she was beginning to feel like a part of the community. The community had a population of around 800 people, but that number had decreased since the war. Most people spoke French and English. It was one town away from Canada and the French people settled here. The children speak French some o
f the time and English some of the time. They even use the two in the same sentences sometimes. As mass was ending, Effie was approached by an older man by the name of Beaulieu. He said he had some interesting news that might be of interest to her. Effie invited the old farmer to dinner that night. His wife had passed away some time ago from TB, and he accepted her invitation gladly. That evening, they spoke of the war and it was nice to have a man in the house again. He filled the ladies in on how he understood the war was going. He spoke to Effie of the possibility of having extra help this upcoming harvest. Effie didnít understand what he meant and asked him to explain further. Beaulieu knew that Effieís three sons had gone off to war and was interested in helping her. He explained that the Americans had shipped over a group of German P.O.W.ís  to Aroostook County. The thought horrified the women instantly. Young men, just like the ones they longed for, were sent across an entire ocean, so far away from t
heir homes. They were being used as potato laborers in the Houlton area, and there was talk of more P.O.W.ís being sent soon. If Effie would be inclined, she could receive some extra farm hands for no cost at all.  Suddenly a war that seemed a world away was reaching their small corner of the world. Effie pondered over the thought of having extra help, and the idea delighted her. The Beaulieu man was delighted to help and the P.O.W.ís would sleep in quarters at his farm and would be trucked daily to help Effie and her family. As harvest approached, Effie grew anxious, but was also very reluctant and nervous. Over the past summer, Francis received word that her new husband was missing. Her spirit seemed to disappear as well. She stayed on with Effie because she had no where else to go, plus she had grown to love Effie and Effieís children.
            The leaves were changing and the brisk air of northern Maine smelled fresh and beautiful. The first day that the P.O.W.;s arrived, it was more emotional than Effie had imagined. The picture that Effie had conjured up in her mind did not match the picture that she saw in front of her. Staring at her, she saw young, handsome men who were far away from the world they knew, and for a moment she swore she could see the faces of her three sons staring her in the eye. She didnít really expect what she saw, she was expecting ruthless killers of some type, after all, thatís what Germans were in the eyes of all Americans. As the days passed, few words were exchanged, but the German boys were hard workers and the harvest was already exceeding past harvests. Two and a half  years had passed since Effieís sons were gone and she felt satisfied in a way to watch these boys work the fields, just like her own sons had done. As the weeks passed, the boys became friendly and expressed how happy they were to be work
ing here, far away from the war. They were picking up a few words of English here and there. The children adored the boys and they often played during the breaks they had. Effie invited the boys to the house after harvesting one night. Effie had developed a relationship with the boys, and although it was not appropriate, she invited them to her house for dinner. The boys ate and drank with pleasure and actually began to laugh and have a good time. Francis did not like the Germans and did not speak with them, but the rest of the family enjoyed the company immensely. Effie enjoyed the atmosphere, laughing, talking, family, normalcy once again. Even though she knew it wouldnít last and it made her wonder if these boys had mothers of their own worrying about them. She wondered where her own sons were. The harvest soon came to an end and the new friends who had grown to love Aroostook County and ploys , and Acadian culture would soon be leaving. Word came that all three of Effieís sons would be returning home, on
e received a purple heart, and they were all in good health. 
           Years went on, and Francis married Effieís second oldest son, the family farm grew and prospered, and life was normal once again. But every Sunday at mass she prays for her "boys" from Germany who spent a memorable potato harvest with her. And every time of the year when the air gets brisk on her face and the aroma of dirt consumes the air, she smiles when she thinks about the harvest of  í42. 

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