WHAT IS HER CHRISTIAN PLACE?
When Dr. Bob Gray drowns, he leaves his young wife, Eleanore, and their three children with a mountain of bills. In 1902, there are few options open to a young widow, so Eleanore takes the scandalous step to relocate her young children to an abandoned farm deep in the Ozark Hills in Missouri. There, nestled in the verdant Hill country, Eleanore transforms from a delicate housewife to a self-reliant farm woman.
WILL SHE FIND REDEMPTION?
Eleanore struggles to understand the backward ways of the Hill people. Her brother-in-law, Will Gray, tries to shield her from the rough ways of her neighbors, but Eleanore is done being shielded. She makes it her Christian mission to save two girls everyone else has written off, and in doing so, finds peace with her woman’s place in the world. But when Will professes his love, Eleanore finds herself struggling not with the question of what she can do for others, but with what she should do for herself.
Trade Paperback, 297 pages
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About the Author
A native of the Ozark Mountains, Goldie M. Lucas was a published poet whose works were printed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Globe Democrat. Eleanore Gray was her first novel. The story draws heavily upon her childhood memories of growing up in Dean’s Creek. Goldie died in 1960, leaving Eleanore Gray nearly finished. Now, over fifty years later, Goldie’s final work has finally seen the light of day.
“Eleanore Gray is an enjoyable read… an inspiring tale that has a little romance, a little suspense, and a lot of authentic detail about the life of a spunky Ozarks woman.” Mary D. Amazon.com review
About the Book
Eleanore Gray is a glimpse into a long-forgotten way of life deep in the Ozark Hills of Missouri. Set in 1902, the story follows the title character, Eleanore Gray, after she is widowed. Rather than live under the suffocating gaze of Cedarville, Eleanore packs up her three children, Nancy, Paul, and baby Janey, and sets out for an abandoned farm deep in the Ozarks in Dean’s Creek. Her brother-in-law, Will Gray, owns a nearby farm and welcomes them to their new life.
Eleanore deals with her grief the only way she knows how: she throws herself into farming. The work is hard, dirty, and exhausting, but her children thrive and Eleanore manages to escape her sorrow. She also gets to know her new neighbors: the prissy Mrs. Peterson, the jovial Adams, the childless Deans, and the numerous Smalls. But most troubling to Eleanore are the Mattersons and the Lefferts. Backwards Hill people, they cling to superstitions rather than join the Dean’s Creek church. Rachel Matterson has a beautiful voice, but instead of celebrating this God-given gift, her Pa and Granny insist she marry young. Her half-sister, Sadie Leffert, is married to a dog of a man who beats her. Eleanore cannot believe the good people of Dean’s Creek turn a blind eye to these tragedies, and she takes it upon herself to save these forgotten women. In doing so, Eleanore saves herself, as well. When she no longer has to hide from her inner life, she can finally open her eyes to the new life Will Gray offers her.
Eleanore Gray was written by my grandmother, Goldie M. Lucas. She grew up in Dean’s Creek, Missouri, about ten years after the setting of this novel. Many of the places, customs, and events described in this book came straight from her earliest memories, making this book a valuable history lesson in early Missouri life. Readers can feel the glee Goldie must have felt at seeing her first steam engine or her first automobile. A published poet, Goldie’s natural talent shines throughout the book as she lovingly describes Hill Country. Goldie died in 1960 before she could finish the book, and it languished in a closet for decades. One of her sons, James N. Lucas, found the book and took steps to save it from oblivion. He asked me to help him get the book into print. Together, we finished the book, the final tribute to Goldie’s memory.
Doctor Bob Gray did not come home one night. He had been called up across the river to attend to a pneumonia case. Instead of traveling by the long bridge road, he rowed himself across a river swollen with spring rains to see his patient. On his return, a large piece of driftwood struck his frail craft, sinking it and plunging him into the tow of a sucking current. He came up once, called out, and then was hauled under again. He was found the next morning when, quite ironically, his body was caught by a piece of driftwood and flung up onto shore.
Eleanore Gray stayed up all night awaiting her husband’s return. Well after midnight, she sat by a window with a glowing lamp, scanning the streets of Cedarville for the figure of a man. She never slept. Shortly after sunrise, a cluster of men arrived on her doorstep to confirm her dread. Breaking the news to such a frail-looking and gentle woman was a fearful undertaking.
Eleanore stood still and stiff as a man explained that a body had been found on the river bank. She vaguely heard him say the name of the fisherman who found it. Her muscles and senses were frozen. All she said was, “Where is he? May I go to him?”
“Ye’d best not for a spell, Ellie. He’s at my place,” said Cousin Jim. “You stay here with the youngsters for a bit and I’ll send my wife down. Your sister-in-law is on her way.” Cousin Jim issued his gentle orders, and then gave an uneasy look to the men with him who stood, looking down at their shoes with their hats in their hands. “We’d best be going now, Ellie,” he announced. Jim and the men, with muttered expressions of sympathy, then filed away.
A moment later, Emmy Gray entered the cottage. No words were necessary between the two women. Emmy hugged Eleanore to her ample bosom and they silently rocked in a shared pain.
Although Emmy had come to help Eleanore, it was oddly Eleanore herself who set about tackling chores and coping with the three children. With her own hands, she started a morning fire, found clothing for her children, roused them, dressed them, and fed them. The responsibility of telling Nancy and Paul, aged ten and eight, and a two year-old Janey that their Daddy had gone to Heaven was solely her own.
Her home became the terrible house of mourning. The blinds were drawn, and black linsey-woolsey dresses were unpacked from cedar chests. Nancy and Paul vowed to “take care of Mama,” while weeping cousins in black alpaca and crews of aunts cooked meals in the tiny kitchen and consumed large portions of food in the dining room. Eleanore refused to eat. It sickened her. The grim silence in the house of mourning seemed, at times, only broken by washed-out utterances of sympathy and incessant chewing that filled the dining area.
A coffin was built, and Bob’s body was placed in it. It was moved into Eleanore’s parlor. She stood at the head of it, clutching Janey against her heart for strength, as she gazed at the still face of her beloved. She allowed no well-meaning relative to coax her away, to take the baby from her arms, or even to cease her vigil to “take some food for strength” because, as she repeatedly explained, “I have such a little while to be with him that I cannot spare a minute of it.”
The women shook their heads and whispered behind the closed kitchen door. “Mark my words, she’ll break when they bury him,” Cousin Sarah announced. Another declared, “She’s going to be sick and maybe die because this is hurting her worse than she knows. Anybody can see she’s not strong enough to hold up.” Cousin Carrie then whispered to Emmy Gray, “Cousin Ellie ain’t like me when Dave died. He was so sick for so long that the end weren’t no surprise. I don’t think Ellie realizes everything yet. I pity her when she does.” In a less solemn tone she concluded with, “Let’s open that jar of pickle peaches to go with the cake Sarah brought. Look at that ham! I do declare, it’s done and ready for the table. Sure wish we could get Ellie to eat something.”
While the women whispered predictions in the kitchen, men congregated in the yard to share their own observations. Someone remarked that it seemed a pity that Dr. Bob had spent his savings on starting up his practice in Cedarville. “I wonder,” asked a practical cousin, Fred, “if he didn’t have a little set aside to fall back on.”
“Well,” said Eben Strange, president of the small local bank, “she’ll have just enough to bury him and that’s all, as far as I know. People around here are pretty healthy, farm folks were always too poor to pay him, and the people out in the hills seldom called him out because they still persist in treating their own ailments with weeds and roots. It amazed me that he managed as well as he did when ye consider that a parcel of wheat or corn sufficed as payment for his aid more often than not. ’Course, I warned him to get a side business, but he wasn’t one for taking advice. This house here is already mortgaged for all it is worth. I doubt Mrs. Gray will ever be able to pay it off, but I don’t aim to be hard on her. If she were stronger, I suppose she could get a job doing laundry or cleaning, but I doubt she weighs even a hundred pounds. Emmy will probably take her into the millinery shop with her though, and that seems more fittin’ work for her sort.”
As Eben Strange concluded his appraisal of Eleanore’s financial situation, a clatter of fast horse hooves sounded on the hard-packed road leading to the yard where the men were congregated. The rider was recognized on sight, and loudly identified as Will Gray, Dr. Bob’s brother from Dean’s Creek. As Will Gray dismounted, hands went out to greet him. Will had once been a familiar member of the Cedarville community before he had given up his job as vice-president of the bank. When his wife, Jessica, died in childbirth, Will left the town to farm in Dean’s Creek. That was twelve years ago. Now he was thirty-five, tall, clean-shaven, and well established as a successful farmer. This return to Cedarville was painful. Will’s face, drawn with fatigue and grief, revealed just how badly his brother’s death had affected him.
“I just heard this morning about Bob and came as fast as I could. They haven’t buried him yet, have they?” asked Will.
“No,” replied Jim. “The funeral is set for tomorrow, Will.”
For a brief moment, Will allowed his eyes to meet Jim’s in an exchange of sympathy and understanding. “I can hardly believe this, you know,” said Will as he dropped his head and fought back the tears.
“Eleanore’s as well as can be expected, Will,” mumbled Jim, “but they can’t get her to eat anything or rest at all. I’m afraid she won’t hold up well at all.”
Will nodded acknowledgement, then left the gentlemen in the yard. He opened the cottage door and walked into the parlor. The room, though occupied by mourners, was so still that breathing seemed to pour loudly and distinctly from each black-clad body present. Aunt Martha, Clara Strange, and Cousin Sarah were on the sofa. Will, with hat in hand, nodded his head toward the women and turned his attention to the woman standing at the head of the coffin. Eleanore still stood, looking at Bob Gray. Her eyes had never moved from the sight before her. Will’s entrance and presence registered no response.
Will watched her for a long time before he finally crossed the room. Eleanore’s face, he thought, seemed as white as the lilies resting on the foot of the black-stained pine coffin. Her dark eyes were clear and vacant. She seemed smaller and far more frail than he recalled her being. He hoped this was only an illusion created by the folds of black wool that draped her. Her hands were tightly clasped before her, and she seemed to scarcely breathe at all.
Will crossed the floor to Eleanore’s side and took her hands in his. She looked up, met his eyes, and finally gave a soft cry of recognition, “Oh, Will, I am so glad you came!” For a moment she allowed her head to rest against his shoulder.
“Eleanore, I came as quickly as I could. I cannot believe our Bob is gone,” whispered Will.
“He’s not gone at all, Will. I believe that he is here now in this room with us. I have to believe that.”
“I understand, Eleanore,” said Will as his own heart drifted back to recall the death of Jessica and his child. “Please go rest for awhile now. They say you haven’t rested at all.”
“Yes, I think I can rest now that you are here,” answered Eleanore. Cousin Sarah rose from the couch and guided Eleanore like a weary child up to her room.