I mentioned last week that I was going to share the first chapter of my latest historical fiction middle-grade novel, The Bensons, and so, here it is! I’m about to start going through edits from my alpha readers (Shoutout to Alannah, Molly, Lily, Adele, Bella, Heaven, Aliya, and my other readers for their incredible feedback! Make sure to check out their blogs & email lists and give them a follow!) when I get home from my vacation, and I’m sure I’ll be sharing more about this project soon.
Until then, enjoy chapter one with some pretty sky and sunset photography thrown in!
For a long time after the crazy year of 1918, the Benson siblings would think back and remember all that had happened. “Everything happened because of the war and the Influenza,” George, the oldest sibling, would say sensibly. “No, it was because of my genius abilities to come up with great things to do,” Homer, the next sibling, would disagree. “It was fate that made everything happen,” Alice would add. “Whatever the reason it happened, I’m just glad it did. Well, not everything. If we could have had all the adventures and good times without the War, Influenza, and Dad leaving, that would have been great. But the fun we had made up for it.”
“I don’t think we can ever truly make up for all the pain that was in that time. But I think . . . without the pain, the things we did wouldn’t have seemed so wonderful,” Alice would say, a wistful tone to her voice. “But there were so many happy things, Alice. . . like meeting Greg, going to the river, sending the secret letters, making cookies, finding Laura, and so many other things. ” Homer would intervene. “I think that 1918 was the hardest year for all of us. But it was the best year, too.” Alice would say, softly.
And with that, the conversation would change, until someone else would bring up an adventure they went on, or something funny that happened that year.
But all of that is in the future. When this story begins, George is thirteen, Alice is twelve, Homer is eleven, and Robert is seven. They’re eating breakfast and working on composing a letter to their father, who is a doctor and away at War.
“George, please let me write first!” Robert, the youngest, pleaded.
“Well, if he writes first, the whole page will end up in scribbles. And you know we’re not supposed to waste paper,” Homer argued.
“Now now, kids, let’s not spend the whole Saturday arguing,” George intervened, “Robert, you can go first, Homer second, I’ll go third, and Alice last. Then once we finish, we have to clean the office and then we can go play ball.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot we need to clean the office,” Homer sighed. Cleaning the hideout in the barn which the siblings called “The Office” was always one of the most disliked chores. No one enjoyed having to sweep out a week’s worth of dust, hay, and other messes that gathered with four children spending hours in it.
“Well, I would have reminded you, Homer!” Ann, the children’s loving housekeeper who was more like a second mother, called from the parlor.
“C’mon, it won’t take long, Homer. Let’s just start the letter and then we can be off,” Alice directed. This was the Saturday morning ritual, to write a letter to their father. Each of them took a turn and usually, it didn’t take long. But today, it seemed as if not a single one of them was actually interested in writing. If only Homer would hurry up, Alice thought, she had much to say to her Dad.
Homer began to write, and soon enough, they had all had their turn. Then, left the house to visit the office, with the finished letter sitting on the kitchen table – next to the vase of wildflowers Alice had picked – ready to be mailed come Monday.
This was how the letter read:
How are you? How’s the hospital and things in France? Guess what? We got the biggest watermelon all of us, even mother, has ever seen from the garden this week. It weighed nearly 25 pounds and was a divine shade of green, as Alice called it. All the other things we’ve planted are doing really well, and Mother says this is the best garden we’ve had in a long time. I’m talking about watermelons and gardens because there really isn’t much more to talk about. It’s awfully boring here. Nothing has happened. We go swimming in the river nearly every day, if Ann lets us. We come home muddy and sopping, but it’s worth it to escape the heat. We even got Mother to go in and wade one really hot day. When she started sinking in the mud, she screamed – it was pretty great. Anyway, I’ve got to go clean the Office since it’s Saturday and George wants his turn.
I’ve got to second Homer, Dad, everything is so boring here. I can never find anything to do. All of us are bored beyond bored, and I think that’s how the rest of the neighborhood kids feel. We can’t find anything to do, it seems. If only we could do something that would actually make a difference for the War and the Influenza – but the Influenza hasn’t even come here yet, so I guess that’s out of the question. Do you have any ideas? I thought about raising money for a war bond, but I can barely buy a stamp each week. And no one has much extra to spare right now, so I can’t think of any way to earn money, either. What do you think? Do you have any ideas for what I can do? I think everyone else would really like to do something, too. I’m not sure yet, but I hope I can think of something. Alice has us reading the Anne of Green Gables books, but I think it’s mainly for her enjoyment. I don’t like it. But we are almost done so I guess I’ll stick it out. But anyway, Aunt Cora says we should try ‘The Railway Children’ or ‘The Call of the Wild’ next, so maybe those will be better. She says we’ll all like it. Did you know that I got assigned to Aunt Cora’s class for school? I know she will be good, but she will also be strict, especially with me. School starts in three weeks, which seems way too far away. Bad grammar, I know. Oh well, cleaning the Office and the rest of our chores await, so I better go and stop rambling. Write back soon, and hopefully, you can still read this once Robert writes his part. Poor kid. He’s only learning how to write just now.
Hi Dad. Alice is helping me write this so it’s neater and easier to read, she says. I’m going to sign my name myself, so I guess I still did help write the letter. I helped Ann bake cookies yesterday. Did you know that Homer fell into the river, with his good Sunday clothes on, even?! Ann said that he had best not do it again or he was going to have to do his own laundry. It sure did take Alice a long time to clean clothes that day. We have had the best time swimming in the river, it’s rushing so fast but it is not dangerous enough that we can’t swim in it. I’m being a very good boy, just like you said to be, Dad. I haven’t caused much trouble, other than the time I dumped a bag of flour on accident, and the time I accidentally dropped the basket of tomatoes and let them roll all the way down the hill — George was pretty upset that day, after how good the garden had been so far. Well, he got lots of others in replacement, so there wasn’t too much harm done. I’m getting tired of telling Alice what to say, so bye Dad. Keep saving people.
Humph, and my hands really are still sore, Dad. George warned Homer we were going to fall in if he tried to go that far for the ball, but ‘course Homer didn’t listen. So I was left to scrub his dirt-soaked church pants and his Sunday shirt. The boys say there isn’t enough to do and they are always complaining about how bored they are, but honestly, it seems as if there is too much to do all the time. So many chores, baking, and laundry – Ann and I can hardly keep up! Plus, I’ve been reading and then doing stuff with Megan. Did I tell you how George hung up a swing in the barn? Uncle Levi helped, we did it after church one Sunday while Aunt Mary, Uncle Levi, and Aunt Cora were over for Sunday dinner. Everything is changing so fast here, Dad. School starts in just a couple of weeks. It seems as if I was saying that school was ending in just a couple of weeks a few days ago, doesn’t it? Isn’t it funny how time goes? Some days, it feels like it’s flying by, and I just saw you yesterday. But other days, it feels like years since you left and since the War began. I have to write the last part in the letter because if I say things like this, the boys will just burst into laughter, and roll over in my sentiment, oh well. Boys will be boys, especially brothers. I just wish everything would stay the same. . . that I could go back to being eleven, and the U.S. hadn’t joined the War, and the Influenza hadn’t happened, and you hadn’t left. . . but we can’t go back. I guess this is just how it is. Things haven’t been miserable here for us, but for so many other people, they have been. Mrs. Jennis’s son, John, died, he was so much fun when we were younger. . . it feels so strange that he’s not coming home. Liza, you know the girl that everyone thought John was sweet on, hasn’t been in church since. I feel so horrible for her, too. . . anyway, there’s a lot of sad things going on. Mrs. O’Mally – from across the street – said that her nephew was injured, and now she’s worried for him. I just wish all the pain would stop, but it won’t. I know you’re doing everything you can, Dad, to save as many people as you can and to make as many people as you can better in France. I still wish you were here. We all do. We all miss you so much, Dad. I love you. Stay safe and come home, soon.
Signed by your loving children,
Alice, Homer, George, and Robert
P.S. Ann says hello and all the animals say they wish you well. At least, that’s what Robert said they said. Who really knows?
And with that, the letter was finished. George had sealed it, and Alice had written the address on it. Plus the return just in case the post office decided not to deliver it. Because with the post office, you never really knew, especially all the way across the ocean.
Up in the office, things were tidied. The crates – which were used for shelves – of books were put in order. The floor was swept and the rugs shaken out from all the summer dust. George’s desk was cleared of papers, and the old blankets and pillows that sat in the corner of the room were smelling fresh.
Only Alice was left in the barn room, which really wasn’t much of a room at all. It was up in the barn, with one wall made out of hay bales, that had three windows that looked out upon their lovely hometown. She was turning pages of the book, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and she had slipped into the world of happy things, things that weren’t about wars and pain. But with time. . . maybe Alice’s life would be like that, and more.
now, it’s your turn!
Do you enjoy middle grade or historical fiction? What do you think is going to happen to The Bensons? 👀Let’s chat in the comments!