EXCERPT: On Bur Oak Ridge

Dogs.


I can't speak for anybody but myself, but dogs are my favorite of all animals. There's a natural, innate joy that seems to exist in every single one, whether mutt or pedigreed Malamute, and it simply blows my mind. Dogs are so in love with life and they can bring such comfort and satisfaction as companions.


In the past month, as I've been recovering from my surgery, my dog Jak has figured it all out. He's usually a Daddy's boy, but as soon as we returned from the hospital, he took one sniff of my bandaged foot and ever since, he's been my company. And whew--if somebody comes to the door? Watch OUT! He feels as though he's also my bodyguard! Jak has barely left my side, and his dedication and obvious love has been cherished.


This week, I'm rather partial to the excerpt I have to share from Jenny Knipfer's book, On Bur Oak Ridge. Banter is an art we authors try really hard to perfect. There needs to be a careless freedom in a book's dialogue that reflects a relaxed mood--if that's what's going on. In this lovely scene, a young man named Samuel has his eye on a girl named Molly, and she's playing fetch with her very stinky dog.


Dogs make me smile, but so did this excerpt. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!



Excerpt

Samuel by Jenny Knipfer



Molly chucks an old piece of wood, and it sails far out into the harvested cornfield.


“Fetch, King!” she shouts.


King chases after the wood. Watching him, I can see there’s a happiness in his run that I find myself jealous of.


I step closer to Molly, and we are almost face to face. Perhaps too close, but I tell her, “Best beware; King’ll likely play fetch until he falls over, or your arm falls off.”


The warm vapor of breath from her lungs steams out and blends with mine in the chill October air, before it dissipates. But another cloud of our combined breath replaces it quickly.


She appears to cling to the moment as much as I do; we are a foot away from each other, starched in place and reluctant to move. Our eyes meet, and King is forgotten. We hold each other’s appraisal a few more seconds, before Molly jerks her head to the side and slightly turns her body from me at an angle.


What will it take for her to be comfortable in my presence?


I hold back the sigh I sense rising in my chest and look out in the direction King ran. He’s trotting back to us with something other than the wood Molly threw.


“Wonder what he’s got there?” I think aloud.


Molly raises her arm to shade her eyes from the early afternoon sun. Her crocheted cap has no brim to do the job. “Can’t quite tell, but it looks like he’s dragging it.”


She grates out her last few words and coughs, covering her mouth with her gloved hand. I wish I had a drink of water to offer her.


“Come on, boy,” Molly calls and slaps her thighs to urge King on.

The smell meets us first.


“Land o’ Goshen,” I proclaim when King reaches us, and I see what he has dragged our way—a dead skunk.


Molly waves her hand in front of her nose, a sour, pinched expression on her face. “Oh my. Ooof...the stink.”


She backs up, bending over coughing.


Pointing at King, I command, “Drop, boy!”


But his teeth are clamped tight around the critter’s neck. I don’t know how the dog can stand the smell. Granted, the reek is not as bad as an all-out spray from a live skunk, but close enough. Then I have an idea. I pick up a forgotten cob of dried corn, half eaten up by some critter, and throw it. Thankfully, King drops the skunk to chase the cob. A game of fetch trumps dead skunks, it seems.


Now, what to do with the skunk carcass?


“Any ideas how to keep him from running back to this...?” I ask Molly, pointing to the pile of pungent, bloody fur at our feet.


She puckers her lips then says, “Well, he loves to fetch so much. We could follow him and keep throwing things for him. Maybe we can distract him enough to circle back to the house, then I can take him and see what Mabel would like to do with him to get the stink out. While I’m dealing with King, you can come back and bury the skunk.” She looks up at me. “What do you say?”


I can’t believe she got through the explanation without coughing.


Smiling, I risk a wink. “Good plan. Although, I do wonder which one of us is getting the worst end of the stick.”


We both laugh at my pun.


She smiles back, her scarred side still turned away from me. “That remains to be seen.”


I gather up a few sticks, chunks of cornstalk stumps, and dried cobs and shove them in my coat pocket. “Let’s get a move on.” I point in the direction King went and offer my elbow, which she takes after a second or two of hesitation. We walk at the fastest pace we can manage over the bumpy, cornstalk- riddled ground. “This way, we’ll have more time to talk.”


I wait for her affirmation.


“Yes. I suppose.”


I can’t help but utter a brief laugh. “Not something you’re necessarily looking forward to?”


“I didn’t say that, Samuel.”


Her words are relatively smooth. I like the way my name sounds on her tongue, thick, slow, and meaningful. I peek at her out the corner of my eye.


“Good. I’ll try not to be too poor company,” I tell her, and we walk steadily on.


She points at King. “Better get another ready.”


He makes good time coming back to us, looking carefree and not like an animal bearing a cloud of acrid stench.


I pull a cob out of my pocket and wing it before he gets too close. “Yup. Here ya go, boy.”


King drops the slobbered cob in his mouth, turns, and heads out after the new fetch toy.


Molly gazes after him. “How simple and happy the life of a dog is. Rather makes me jealous at times.”


A wistfulness plays in her words, the way she holds onto the ending of her statements, clearly longing for something more.


“I know exactly what you mean,” I agree.


We continue to step over crinkly, dry corn stalks and rocks, our steps out of alignment on the rough ground.


“Have you not been happy?” she asks, barring no barriers.


We seem to ask the most revealing questions of one another. I think back to happy days on the farm with my folks before Dad got ill.


“I was happy for a good many years...but life has a way of turning that state of mind on its head.” I peer more intently at her. She gives nothing away. “Wouldn’t you agree?” I ask, hoping for details, a hunger working up in me to hear her story.


Accompanied by a slight inclination of her head, she says, “I do, but I’ve also come to realize that there are different kinds of happiness.”


“Hmm. Never thought about it like that. Can’t say as I have experienced such a thing.”


But I dwell on the notion as we walk in peace with one another for a few moments. I’m happy now—here with Molly. It’s not the easy sense of life rolling along unencumbered, but how I feel at this moment goes deeper than that. I hit on what might be the reason: understanding.


“What do you think produces this other happiness?” I ask her, my mind delving into philosophical depths I’ve not fully explored.


I sense my mind and heart are safe with her.


Molly doesn’t get the chance to answer, for King bounds back, tail wagging and ready for what’s next.


Why can’t I be as eager for life’s changes?


I throw a cornstalk-root ball this time, only half as far as the previous, dried, shucked cob. King doesn’t care, yaps, and bounds away to retrieve the mass.


Molly gazes over at me with the play of a smile about her lips. “I’m still determining that, but perhaps we can decide together. I am fast realizing that you may be a man of wisdom.”


I give a brief laugh. “I’d hardly proclaim to be wise. I’m more like the kid in school who needs the teacher to thump the textbooks over his head in order to remember the lessons.” We approach the end of the cornfield and the beginning of the yard.


“Maybe you should throw something for King one more time, then I’ll tie a rope around his collar and lead him toward the house. I’ll tie him by the clothesline,” Molly tells me.


Nodding, I agree. “All right. Here goes nothin’.” I toss another dry cob far into the yard, and just like every time before, King takes off. “Quick, I know where there’s a length of rope in the barn.” I grab Molly’s hand in mine and urge her into a half-run. She doesn’t protest but keeps up. We arrive barely winded. Running with her by my side, even for a short way, sits well with me. I fling open the barn door and grab the small coil of rope hanging on a hook inside. “Here we are.”


I hand it to her. She looks at it as if it were a snake, but she swallows and picks it up.


Molly’s bottom lip droops. “I hate to bring King’s happiness to an end. He surely isn’t going to like being washed with cold water and soap in this chilly air. Oh well.” She sighs and shrugs. “Makes me sympathize with God, Him watching us wallow in our stench.” She flicks her good eye up at me and half smiles. “Help me catch him?” she asks, looking me full in the face.


A twinge in my gut pricks as I glance over the uneven, waxy, red scars on the right side of her face. How I wish I could have spared her the pain.


“Of course.” I offer a sincere smile. “Let’s separate and get on either side of him when he comes back. After we get him tied to the clothesline post, you should ask Mabel for some tomato juice. I’ve heard it does wonders with alleviating a skunk odor.


With a wave of her hand, Molly shouts, “Here he comes! Get ready.”


She widens her stance and reaches forward, the rope in her hands twisted into a loop. King trots toward us and stops between us. I lower my hands and catch him, while Molly slips the rope loop over his head.


“Phew,” she utters with relief in her tone. “That was easier than I expected.”


But she’s spoken too soon. Despite the rope around his neck and Molly’s hold on his lead, King takes off, like a rodent running from the blades of the hay mower.


I stupidly take in the fact that Molly still holds to the rope. She flounders along behind him for a few steps, before stumbling, falling, and subsequently getting dragged across the grass. After all, King’s a big dog, and she’s a small woman.


Finally, I come to my senses and holler, “Let go of the rope!”


She does, and King hurries away to the base of a maple tree by the house, barking furiously. Some rancorous chittering answers him. I run to help Molly, looking up and studying the tree boughs for the instigator of this latest fiasco; a red squirrel perches on the end of a branch, chittering nastily. I forget about the animals and turn to Molly.


She’s rolled over onto her back, shaking. A giggle escapes her lips and becomes an outright chortle, accompanied by an unladylike snort. I bend down on one knee next to her. The backs of her hands cover her eyes.


My heart thumps extra hard, thinking she might be in danger. “Are you all right? You’re not hurt, are you?”


In answer, she wipes at her eyes with her gloved fingers. “No. Good thing I had my wool coat on.”


She lowers her hands and brushes off sticks, leaves, and dirt from the front of her coat. Our eyes meet. We both crack a smile and echo each other’s mirth, as we break into laughter. I allow myself to fall back on the grass next to her, this silly moment bringing me more happiness than anything has in a long time.


When was the last time I laughed? Really laughed. I can’t recall.


“Oh, that feels good,” she says, turning her head toward me, her cheeks rosy and a deep smile lifting one side of her face.


I don’t notice the scars; it’s the joy I see reflected in her eyes that draws me.


I turn on my side, propping myself up on my elbow. A portion of her hair has fallen out of its entrapment of pins and curls around her neck. Reaching out a tentative finger, I brush the thick lock of hair. It’s soft to the touch, and a faint fragrance of apple and chamomile arises when I stroke the curling strand. She sucks in a quick breath when my finger brushes her chin. I stop, gauging whether to proceed or not, but Molly doesn’t protest. I see a surprised welcome in her eyes. The backs of my fingers stroke up her jawline to her cheek, on the soft, smooth side of her face.


All the sounds around us still; the birds quiet, King’s yapping fades, and the breeze no longer whistles in my ear. All I can hear is the drum of my own heart. Her eyes widen, and she appears to be holding her breath, as I do mine. Of their own accord, my eyes focus on her lips, a perfect pair of petals in the midst of a half-ravaged flower. I dare to move closer; my lips hover inches above hers, the petals quiver, and our breath mingles once more.


“Dinner!”


A yell and a sharp clang of the bell from the back porch reverberates in the chilly air, and we jerk back from each other, the invisible net which gathered us together broken.


I suck in a deep breath, my lungs hungry for the air I’ve been holding. I sit back, and she rises to a sitting position and uses her hands to tuck her hair up under her hat.


I was so close.


Shaking off the disappointment, I rise to my feet and extend a hand to her.


“Shall we?” I ask in an unaffected voice, as if we hadn’t almost kissed.


All About the Book


The plot has its twists and turns to keep readers intrigued…to the very end. A great comfort read that will soothe the spirit with renewed hope and faith.” ~ReadersFavorite five-star review~


A HISTORICAL NOVEL OF FINDING HEALING AND A SECOND CHANCE AT LOVE


In the early 1900s, quiet and reserved Molly Lund finds refuge from her past at the Nelsons’ farm in Minnesota. In an attempt to turn a new page in her life, Molly works at making peace with her losses and coming to terms with the disfiguring burns on her face.


Samuel Woodson, the Nelsons’ hired hand, carries his own cares. Split from his family and bearing a burden of misplaced guilt for an act that haunts him, Samuel–seeing past Molly’s scars–draws her out of her self-protective shell.


Molly and Samuel form a friendship, but just as their hearts lead them deeper, an unexpected guest comes calling, demanding what’s his.


Will Molly and Samuel find a way to be together or will they be separated, due to impediments beyond their control? Can they trust in God’s plan and travel a path that heals the hurts of the past?


Readers of historical fiction, Christian historical fiction, and Christian historical romance will delight in this beautifully wrought story of the healing power of love.


A heartwarming story of healing from external and internal scars. Through some of lifes harder lessons the characters learn to trust, forgive, and find second chances out of the ashes of pain and loss.”

~Anne Perreault, author of eighteen inspirational novels, including the Yellowstone series~


All About Jenny


Jenny lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Ken, and their pet Yorkie, Ruby. She is also a mom and loves being a grandma. She enjoys many creative pursuits but finds writing the most fulfilling.


Spending many years as a librarian in a local public library, Jenny recently switched to using her skills as a floral designer in a retail flower shop. She is now retired from work due to disability. Her education background stems from psychology, music, and cultural missions.


All of Jenny’s books have earned five-star reviews from Readers’ Favorite, a book review and award contest company. She holds membership in the: Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, Wisconsin Writers Association, Christian Indie Publishing Association, and Independent Book Publishers Association.


Jenny’s favorite place to relax is by the western shore of Lake Superior, where her novel series, By The Light of the Moon, is set.


She deems a cup of tea and a good book an essential part of every day. When not writing, Jenny can be found reading, tending to her many houseplants, or piecing quilt blocks at her sewing machine.


Her new historical fiction, four-part series entitled, Sheltering Trees, is set in the area Jenny grew up in, where she currently lives, and places along Minnesota’s Northern Shore, where she loves to visit. She is currently writing a four-part novella series entitled: Botanical Seasons and a three-part fantasy series entitled: Retold Fairy Tales.



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