This week I’m welcoming back my friend, and fellow member of the Oak Lawn Writer’s Group, author, Cleo Lampos.
Cleo Lampos is a retired school teacher with a love for history. After researching the Dust Bowl era for several years, she wrote the historical fiction, Dust Between the Stitches. An avid quilter and member of a quilting club in her hometown of Oak Lawn, Illinois, the history of quilt patterns is interwoven in this book. Lampos enjoys writing magazine articles as well as the six novels to her credit. Using her Master’s Degree in Special Education from St. Xavier University and 26 years of teaching, three of these novels are part of a series, The Teachers of Diamond Project School. Lampos is part of a community garden in her area, and helps her husband with an urban homestead on the South Side of Chicago. With great enjoyment, Lampos shares her knowledge of history with adult education classes at local community colleges and book clubs.
Cleo’s latest novel is, Dust Between the Stitches
Vibrant Addy Meyer wants nothing more than to teach children in the one-room school near her grandpa’s beet farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. But the 1930’s swirl with complications for this first-year teacher in rural Colorado. Between the Black Blizzards, the Board of Education, and the bank president, she is overwhelmed.
Addy falls in love with the orphans her grandfather adopted, and with her own students, but vows to guard her heart against the handsome drag line operator, Jess, with his suspicious past. Using her late grandmother’s patterns, Addy creates a quilt made from remnants and acquired swatches of feed sacks.
As the economy and impending foreclosure combine to destroy Addy and her grandfather’s futures, how can these scrapped lives ever be stitched into something coherent? From hurting and gritty people, Addy finds help and justice for her family.
Despair, dust and drought weave together with community to create the fabric of the Dust Bowl in muted earth tones punctuated by vivid threads of hope.
Here is an excerpt:
Addy glanced down at the crumpled paper in her hand and pressed it crinkly smooth against the gray wind-blown boards of the porch railing. Squinting her eyes against the blazing sun, she slid her moccasins through the fine dirt, raising tiny dust clouds around her ankles. She followed the scraggly path leading to the garden where she spotted Grandpa hoeing weeds between the rows of green beans. A wiry, thin gent with a shock of gray hair under his straw hat, Grandpa still maintained muscle mass in his biceps. His grip on the hoe remained firm and his attack on the weeds was sure.
Passing a scarecrow created from frayed garments, Addy chuckled to herself. A remnant from Kansas. Grandma always had a scarecrow, even here in Colorado. At the thought of her grandma, a pain stabbed her middle just like the way it did on the day she heard of grandma’s swift heart attack and death. One more loss, in a long chain of losses linked together. But she’d stop this one. She shook the paper as she gripped it tighter in her fist.
“Hey, there, Addy. I spotted you comin’. Mighty warm for September, ain’t it?” Grandpa straightened. “What’s that in your hand?”
“I think you have an idea. It’s from the bank in town.” She breathed in the air laced with fine rock residue, air that dehydrated one’s body and withered one’s soul.
He reached for the letter. “Probably addressed to me. Yep. Says George right here in the heading, not Addy. You takin’ over my mail now?” Smiling, he leaned on his hoe, but the tone in his voice conveyed a serious edge.
“Okay, chew me out for opening it. That letter says you have to come up with the back taxes for the bank will foreclose on you. Two thousand dollars. That’s a lot of money.” Addy waved the paper in front of his eyes. “Look.”
“I know what it says. They’s been sending those to a bunch of us farmers and ranchers around here. Don’t mean too much. They can’t take all of our homesteads, now, can they?”
Addy winced. “You know they can. They took my parents’ house and nearly the whole block we lived on back in Topeka. Yes, the bank will buy up every bit of the land you worked on all these years. It’s 1938 and the banks have just about foreclosed on the whole United States.”
“Why, I’ve known the bank president since Martha and me settled here ten years ago. He’s my friend.” Grandpa pulled off his straw hat and wiped his brow with a handkerchief.
“Don’t matter a bit, Grandpa. Banks have no hearts. But, I won’t let them take this land from you. I’ll find a way. Wait and see.” She pointed to a number at the bottom of the paper. “Two thousand dollars arrears. How could you get so far behind?” Addy paused to draw in her breath. “No more losses. I can’t lose one more thing. Not this farm.” Gritting her teeth in irritation, she seethed. She’d only been here for a week and now all this difficulty to face. Plus a new job.
“Just one dust storm after another. Dried up every crop I put in. Thinned out the herd so we hardly have enough cattle to sell to keep current. Jess Dettmann got me plantin’ sugar beets for a cash crop. He dug the irrigation ditches with his dragline as his room and board.” Grandpa cupped his hand over his eyes and gazed at acres of straight rows of beets that stretched out across the sandy soil. “We’ll see how much the crop is worth this fall.” He plopped the straw hat back over his thick gray hair.
“Yes. I just met this Jess person. Funny, you never talked about him. Gold digger, if you ask me.”
Grandpa paused, staring at her. “Didn’t ask you.” With that, he picked up his hoe and sliced the stem off a prickly weed.
Addy pressed her lips together so she wouldn’t say something she regretted. Shuffling back to the weathered house, she decided to water the raised bed garden. She pumped water into a galvanized watering can. Grandpa’s homestead was unusual for the area in the fact that he had a well in addition to a creek running on his property. In this decade of drought, it made all the difference between making it or losing everything. Every drop of liquid meant life. Addy carried the precious water to the thirsty plants until her arms ached and the agitation drained from her body.