Amber Waves of Grain

This is my entry for Bluebell Book’s Short Story Slam #8. The picture prompt stirred a bit of patriotism in me. I feel fortunate to have been born and raised in this country, and I wonder these days what the future might hold. I pray this for our country: 

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea

 She recalled the day the picture was taken. It was late August of nineteen-fifty-nine; she was thirteen, and experiencing the transition from childhood into the rest of her life. The vast fields of grain were a part of her then, and she remembered standing there as Papa took the photo. He had just said something funny to make her smile, when a gust of wind blew a strand of her long hair across her face. Then she heard it; not for the first time.

She heard the grain tops whisper her name, “Liiizzy,” and she turned to watch the amber waves of grain bow and wave to the wind as it passed and then stand proud again. She heard Papa laugh then say, “Let’s try anudder one, sveetheart.”

But as she gazed toward the purple mountains so far in the distance they could barely be seen, the thought occurred to her that this was the perfect picture of this time in her life; an exciting time as she moved into the frightening, yet promising years that lay before her; a photo of her looking off toward the faraway majestic mountains; a young woman listening to the amber waves of grain whisper her name as they bowed toward the future; a little girl, trembling with expectations and the frightening unknowns the journey ahead would hold.

Lizzy sat at the kitchen table now, fifty-one years later. She could almost hear his voice as her father told her—on his knees, his eyes dancing with the same feelings she’d felt that long ago day when she was thirteen–they were moving to America. She recalled the way he’d whispered the word as if it were sacred, and she remembered the way his eyes had shown with excitement, fear, and hope; and how she’d looked at him and said, “Vaht is Amerdica, Papa?” It was a big word for a child of four years; one who had been taught a strange way of speaking, while also learning her native tongue. She could still remember how Papa’s tears had begun to stream down his face when she’d asked him the question.

“You cry, Papa?” she had said, reaching a tiny hand out to catch a tear as it dropped from his cheek.

“Only for happiness,” he’d said. “You vill know vye your papa cry. You vill see one day, Lizzy. You vill unnerstan. Amerdica is beautiful!”

And she had seen; she had understood. Her father had worked for other farmers for a few years then bought the farm where she’d grown up. She’d watched him work dawn to dusk in the fields, then sit well into the night at the kitchen table, head down, doing the books. She could still hear Mama calling softly to him, “Come to bed now, Papa. You cannot work all night and day, too.”

His answer was always the same, “I come soon, Mama. I am happy to work.”

Every August, Papa had taken her picture in the middle of the wheat field. The photos had hung in a row along one wall of her parent’s bedroom; all of them the same—beautiful spacious sky above, amber waves of grain below, the majestic purple mountains in the hazy distance, and Lizzy—taller each year—in the middle of it all. After that summer, there would be four more pictures then she would go off to college and the tradition would stop.

Lizzy sighed then put the photograph on the table with the others. She was sixty-four now, and those days seemed surreal as she thought back to how wonderful things had been. The smell of acrid smoke burned her eyes, jarring her from her memories and back into the horror of the present.

Rising, she moved slowly to the window and a choked sob escaped her as she looked out upon the devastation. She thanked God Mama and Papa weren’t here to see this.

The wheat fields were long gone; plowed under several years ago to make way for houses; houses now nothing but smoldering ruins—except for this old one her parents had refused to allow the developers to tear down, and a few others that had escaped the rioters’ torches.

Tears streamed down her face, and great sobs wracked her as she wondered aloud… “What has happened to America, Papa?”

72 Comments »

  1. Chimnese said

    i like this tale its one amazing story…i like the hymn be still an dknow….

  2. Morning said

    a father and a daughter, experiencing transition from childhood to rest of her life…

    profound and descriptive, love your creative thoughts.

  3. West Lake said

    bless America,

    what an unbeatable story, your entry rocks.

    • Wow! Thanks for the visit and awesome comments! I’m glad you enjoyed the story!

  4. terri0729 said

    Charles, You make me smile! God bless America and you!! Blessings, Terri

    • And God bless you, Terri! Thank you so much for the visit and comments. Making people smile makes me smile!

  5. Charles, your story drew me in and I’m still thinking about it. Very well done.

    • Thanks, Dan. The first thought I had when I saw the picture was, “amber waves of grain”. As is often the case (I actually wasn’t going to submit anything at first) the thought would not leave me, and beat about fairly mercilessly until I succumbed and let it loose. Am I weird, or what?
      Always enjoy your visits and comments. Thank you!

  6. Sherry Mashburn said

    POWERFUL . . . and beautifully told.

  7. Very thought provoking. I like how you capture the spirit of many immigrants to America and their hopefulness, as well as the more modern feeling of despair over all that we hold dear being destroyed by change.

    • Thank you for the visit and insightful comments. As you may have seen in my reply to Dan, the first thought I had when I saw the prompt was, “Amber waves of grain.” This piece demanded to be written.

  8. Mom said

    God by His Spirit causing you to go ahead and write this, it is an awesome story!

    • Waas He the one beating me up all day yesterday??? I kept saying to myself I wasn’t going to write a story for Bluebell this week, and that voice kept saying, “Oh, yes you are!”

  9. Mike said

    good thing you put it down on paper, it’s a great one!

  10. Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a very nice comment, as well as, the url to your blog. It is helpful if they are left.

    You story is so touching. It brought tears to my eyes and chills through my body. My father spoke to us in that way about his immigration to America. Although, it was not from a far distnace the changes that occur with it can be difficult. He taught us to love America and I do. I love how you honored her (America) in your story. Well done ….I must come back and re-read it. ~~~ : – )
    Adios,
    Isadora

    • You are quitee welcome for the visit and comments, Isadora. I’m glad you like that I leave a link. I just started doing that recently, and wasn’t sure how everyone would react to it. I was concerned some might consider me to be “pushy”.
      I am so glad you were touched by the story and that you can also relate to it. I know there are many like you whose parent’s came to this country for the opportunity to be free and improve their lives. My story was meant to do the one thing you mention, honor our country.
      Thank you so much for the visit and heartfelt comments.

  11. Cheri said

    that story was awesome…so glad you “listened” to God!!
    i still get amazed at how much feeling you can convey in a few words:)
    Thank you my friend…keep on writing!!!

    • Your words are music to my ears, dear one. You will never know how much I need your encouragement and support.
      Thank you so much!

  12. wallflowerinthecity said

    This gave me chills. Our poor country.

  13. This one brought tears, Charles. What HAS happened to America? Well, we know partly what it is. Maybe most. God has been banished from as much of America as the godless can manage and man without God is a weak and pathetic creature swayed by every wind of hedonistic indulgence.

    • I have to confess, Donna, I got a little choked up at times as I wrote it. When I write, I become my characters, and this was one of the tough ones to act out.
      You are correct in your evaluation of what is happening to our country, but I know God is still in charge, and no matter what, He always will be. They can take Him from anywhere they want to, but they can’t take Him from our hearts.

  14. Elizabeth said

    Charles, this story struck me on so many levels. The close relationship between father and daughter (my dad’s been gone 20 years) but the accent of Papa reminds me of my grandfathers and the neighborhood I grew up in. America is beautiful. There is much more that is beautiful than is ugly. The problem is…it’s the ugly parts that make the news. Do keep writing! You’ve been blessed with a gift.

    Elizabeth

    • You are so correct, Elizabeth. There is, indeed, much more good than bad.
      Thank you so much for the visit and wonderful comments; especially the encouragement; I really need that sometimes.

  15. This is quite a wonderful story! 🙂 Wow, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words! I have so far seen a couple pieces inspired by this pic and it is amazing to see how each story/poem is so unique. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing! Enjoyed it … and thanks too for visiting my blog. 🙂

    • Yes, Elyas, this picture has inspired some varied and wonderful writings. I have enjoyed all of them.
      Thank you for your visit and wonderful comments!

  16. Enjoyed reading your tale of love:)

  17. This is a beautiful, heart-wrenching story, Charles. The dreams that move us, the dreams that die when we’re not looking, leaving only ashes and grimy pavement behind. Lovely! Only thing I’d change is at the end, when she says “America”, because she’s talking “to” her dad, I’d have her say “Amerdika”, like they used to. I hope you don’t mind my suggestion (if it works for you, fantastic, and if it doesn’t by all means thrash it 🙂 ) — it’s only because the piece is so powerful and got me emotionally involved. Thanks for sharing, Charles!

    • Thank you so much for the visit, comments, compliments and suggestions. As I finished the story this morning, I pondered over using the dialect on America. In the end, I decided she was grown and had lost the accent over the years in America. I will look at it again, and in any case, I appreciate the suggestion. I am pleased that my story brought out these emotions and thoughts in you. Please come visit again!

  18. Neni said

    What a lovely story, Charles… I can feel the emotion of old Lizzy so strong especially when she repeat the same question to her father many years ago… ‘What has happened to America, Papa?’

  19. Dear Charles,
    I do hope I’m not too bold in using your first name.
    I just re-read your story. This time the relationship of the Father and Lizzy stand out. ( Hhheehhheee – I chuckle each time I say Lizzy. People call me Izzy.)
    Anyway, I love the relationship she has with her father. The photo he took of her each year, which may or may not have been annoying to her when he did, turned in to be the symbol of their bond. I enjoyed this even more the second. time. Love it …..
    Excellent …
    Isadora

    • I am pleased that you use my first name, Izzy. I am also pleased that you enjoyed my story, and it touched you enough to want to read it again. The bond between Papa and Lizzy was indeed aa prominant feature of the story, as well as Papa’s desire to give her and Mama the best life he possibly could. IN my mind, Lizzy loved the yearly photo, as she loved her Papa and would indullge him in his desire to preserve each wonderful year in their new home, Amerdika.
      Thank you so much for this second visit and these wonderful comments. This is my joy, to have someone enjoy my writing enough to want to talk about it, and share their feelings about it with me. It is a wonderful thing!

  20. Ina said

    Hi Charles, thank you for your nice comment on my blog.
    You wrote such a beautiful story here, very good 🙂 and sad too. The expectations of that girl in the field and what became of the land.
    I wonder where the family of Lizzy originally came from. 🙂

    • You’re very welcome for the comment on your blog, Ina.
      Thank you for the comments and compliment on my story. I appreciate them very much.
      The question is a good one; I purposefully did not say where Lizzy’s family caame from, so as to allow the reader to assume it to thier liking. I attempted to use a dialect which could be universal in nature, and I think I was succesful in so doing. Families came to America–they still do–from all over the world to seek freedom and a better life for their families, and I want those who read the story and can relate to it, to be able to say, “That’s my papa, or my grandpapa.”
      Thank you for asking the question!

  21. poetryroad said

    I read this to my 10 year old and we sat in silence for several moments upon its completion. WOW! How expressive and poignant. Such a wonderfully woven tale of hope and devastation. Great job!

    Also, thanks for stopping by my site!! And your kind words!

    • You are so very welcome for my visit and comments.
      I read your comments on my story, and I was silenced for a moment by them. First, I am pleased that you would share it with your child; second, I am blessed to know it mpacted both of you.
      Thank you so much for the visit and especially the wonderful comments.

  22. karmafire said

    Excellent writing!!! You captured sentiment, sadness, and a woman coming of age all within a tiny amount of words!! Great job and a pleasure to read.

    • Thank you for a wonderful visit, your very insightful comments and the compliment!

  23. jennifaye said

    a story beautifully told. the build-up up to the end is perfect.

  24. jennifaye said

    I like it. This reminded me of the song Big Yellow Taxi (They paved paradise and put up a parkin’ lot / With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin’ hot spot / Don’t it always seem to go …)

    • Yes! I almost put it as a shopping center, but thought the fact it was homes added impact to the story.
      I remember the song well.
      Thanks for the visits and cool comments!

  25. mish said

    Charles , you really have the gift of story-telling !
    I love that the tale spans two generations and highlights close family bonding as well as an array of themes such as hope , disappointment , patriotism … I also loved the appreciation for good , old-fashioned , hard work which is also very important , especially amongst todays children who are part of the “instant-gratification” way of life .
    All-in-all , a wonderful story ! I really enjoyed it !

    • What awesome words of encouragement and praise! They mean the world to me! So glad you enjoyed the story, and glad, too, that you took the time to write such wonderful comments.
      Thank you very much!

  26. ~L said

    How amazing and profound!!! Who would ever thought a picture I took last year would bring such imagination out! I can’t wait to share your story if I may:)

    • By all means, please share the story with anyone and everyone. That’s why I write! Could I ask, though, that you share it via a link to my blog? Amber_Waves_of_Grain

      Thank you so much!

  27. WOW! What a lovely story and pciture you ahve painted with your words. I so enjoyed reading this pice. Thank you! Young woman remembering her pappa coming to America. Learning a new launage! Yes God bless America indeed!
    Truly enjoyed this piece.
    Thank you for stopping by.
    Blessings

    • What wonderful comments, Beth. As you probably know, words of praise and depth are very special to the ears of a writer. Yours bless me this morning.
      Thank you for the visit and great comments!

  28. superb…

    keep it up.

    🙂

  29. Loved this–you have a wonderful writing style and your passion shines through the story. I must say the ending was a bit maudlin for my tastes, but the rest of the story was so powerful. 🙂

    • Thank you for the wonderful comments/compliments. Sorry you didn’t like the ending, but I’m glad you enjoyed the rest of it.

  30. Wow! Ok now Charles… You keep commenting me on how well I write but I come nowhere near your talent as shown here. You are a brilliant and wonderful storyteller and im honored that you would even read anything I’ve written. This is what I someday aspire to do…tell a complete story…and do it this well, this rich, make it this alive! I have goosebumps! Love it!

    • I am very serious when I comment on your writing, Kellie. You have a very real, down-to-earth voice, and You tell your stories well. If you haven’t written any short stories, you need to give it a try; I think you’re a natural.
      That said, thank YOU for the wonderful compliments. I don’t consider myself to be that good, and when I get comments like yours, it encourages me to keep on keeping on! Writing is a llonely art form, because unlike those who perform on the stage, we hear no applause or cheers. Comments from readers take the place of the adoring drowd. Thank you!

  31. cinnamon blues said

    Very moving and tender story 🙂

  32. andiekins82 said

    Wow…reading that took my breath away! That is an amazing piece!!

    • Thank you, Andiekins! That is a very awesome comment/compliment! I really appreciate it!

  33. hannah said

    wow. a lot of transition going on here – immigrants transitioning to a new life in a new country; a little girl transitioning to a young woman, who then transitioned to a sixty-four old. but best of all, my most favorite transition… “what has happened to America…?” very well-written.

    • Thank you for the visit and compliment, Hannah!
      Yes there is a lot going on in this very short piece. It was inspired by the picture, and though at first I saw no story in it, the thought, “Amber waves of grain”, from the song, America the Beautiful, got into my head and wouldn’t leave me alone. This story is what finally came out.

  34. have to admit..this one choked me up! Indeed, what has happened to America?

    great write and a profound, moving sentiment! 🙂

    • I’m glad it garnered those emotions.
      Thanks so much for the visit and the great comment!

  35. A beautifully stunning read. The emotions captured in words tore at the old heartstrings.

    • when my poems and stories make my wife, Sherry, cry, I tell her, “That’s my job!” Of course, I write many things to make her laugh, too!
      Thank you for the visit and awesome comments/ compliments!

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