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The GraciePress Newsletter - How Nate and Gracie Found Refuge in the Garden (Chapters 1 to 4)

The GraciePress Newsletter - How Nate and Gracie Found Refuge in the Garden (Chapters 1 to 4)
Happy weekend, everyone! Here in coastal Virginia we have a taste of much cooler autumn weather, and the chickens are loving it. Last weekend we shared a few chapters of our current project. We did receive some helpful suggestions for improvement and have incorporated them into this week’s newsletter.
Several fans felt that the second chapter would actually make a better first chapter and that the shift between them was too great. So here is a rewrite with the first chapter removed. I have to agree. The chapter titled “Nate” makes a much better beginning chapter which only goes to prove what I’ve said before: We truly depend on and appreciate our fans!
Everyone seemed to enjoy reading from the point of view of the songbirds in the garden. I also enjoyed writing those chapters because they made me look at the story in a different way.
In what I’ve shared below, Chapter 3 is the only one told from Nate’s point of view. Chapter 4 pairs with Chapter 3 except it is told from the point of view of the songbirds in the garden who what Nate chooses not to reveal. I hope this helps to create a better view of the main character.

“Nate’s Bedroom” Illustration by Emily and her clever use of construction paper
“Nate’s Bedroom” Illustration by Emily and her clever use of construction paper
It is so tempting to work on illustrations for this story, but I know I need to get all of the story down before I begin to even consider illustrations. Just like I need to do all of the writing at one time, I also need to do all of the illustrations at one time so that the style is consistent.
It probably goes without saying, but any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Any resemblance to actual chickens who call the author’s backyard their home is entirely purposeful.
On the day The Boy first came to the garden, The Mother and The Man With The Shadow Face pulled into the driveway. We, the songbirds who love the garden, heard the car scrape the curb. We saw The Boy’s head jerk from the abrupt stomp on the parking brake.
“Here, he’s yours,” The Mother said, dropping the cardboard suitcase and shoving papers into The Grandfather’s hand. 
We thought she might cry. But instead her face turned red with anger and then fear.
“I don’t care what you do with him. There is something wrong with him, and he will never be good enough. Everyone can see it. He’s not going to ruin my life.”
The Boy held Teddy more tightly.
The Grandmother pulled him closer, bent down, whispered into his ear, “We aren’t going to do anything but love you.” Her apron smelled like cornbread and honey.
“How old are you now, son?” The Grandfather asked.
“And what’s your name, sweetie?” The Grandmother asked.
The Mother slammed the car door as it lurched backwards and scraped against the pavement. The Boy blinked hard at the sound as if he had been struck rather than the curbing. 
The Man With The Shadow Face flipped on the car radio, revved the engine, and then they were gone.
The boy’s soft brown eyes looked way up into The Grandfather’s eyes. “Three,” he said. Then into The Grandmother’s eyes. “Nathaniel,” he said.
From atop the pink camellia, a mockingbird called out, “Na-than-i-el. Na-than-i-el. Nate. Nate. Nate.”
“Well, Nate,” said The Grandfather, “This is your home now. For as long as you want it to be.” 
“And here you can do anything your hearts dreams,” said the Grandmother.
Wickedly red with occasional contortions and hanging abundantly through the first frost, The Grandfather’s sweet peppers were just one of many treasures found in the garden. They brightened The Grandmother’s hearty winter dishes and melded with okra in a chicken gumbo that could bring tears to his eyes—not from their heat, but from their deep-down goodness. 
The Grandfather and the Grandmother were the second owners of the house built on what had been farmland by the river. The lot stretched from one street to another where The Virginia Railroad Line cut through their neighborhood. The slow rumble and clanking of the empty freight cars returning to Port Norfolk made a lonesome rhythm that prompted sleep at day’s end. Nate had waited for the noonday lunch whistle to blow and for The Grandfather to come across those tracks for lunch. Then he waited again in the evening for The Grandfather to return for dinner.
On summer evenings, they would push the clamshell metal chairs aside, stack up their favorite records, and dance slowly together in the garden while the fireflies rose up from the ivy. 
Too soon, the Grandson was left with only memories like contorted shadows on the weather-worn garden posts, frail and formless like ghosts. 
Like The Mother, he had grown up in that small, almost-square house, but unlike The Mother, he had always loved the garden. He knew it held more mysteries than he would ever be able to solve. 
The Mother had been singularly beautiful with pale blonde-white hair as delicate as corn silk. She had gone to school each day dressed in the fanciest and frilliest dresses as beautiful as the peonies lining the front of the garden. Her skin was as soft, smooth, and unblemished as those petals. The Grandmother had sewn all of those dresses and painstakingly hidden that they were not store-bought. The look of homemade and the hands of a gardener would have ruined everything for her. She hated pulling weeds. The only thing she despised more than getting dirt under her fingernails was wearing garden gloves that hid her perfectly tapered fingers. 
But Nate was different. The songbirds knew immediately he belonged in the garden just as much as they did. Nate understood how this backyard garden had become a magical place. It was because of his grandparents. They had given him their love just as they had given the garden their love. 
Any place with love is a magical place. He knew this from when he was young and his grandparents would dance with him in the backyard garden. He would stand barefoot on their shoes as they guided his feet. 
But they had left him and the garden. First The Grandfather. Then The Grandmother.
They were gone all too soon like the golden-yellow fragile blossoms of summer squash, leaving only memories of what had been and thoughts of what would never be. And so he bought some newly-hatched baby chicks.
Dancing helps make a place magical, especially with someone you love. This is one of the secrets we songbirds know but which people often overlook. Perhaps one day, he would dance like that with someone he loved. That is what we all hoped. That is what we, the songbirds of The Living Library, all wanted for him.
“Are you sure you want that one? The one with the lopsided feathers?” asked the sales clerk. 
I looked more closely at the two baby chicks she was holding in her hands. I could see what she meant.
“If you ask me, there’s something wrong with that one,” she said. 
“It doesn’t look good enough to me. I’d never take it home and call it mine.”
Then the one she was talking about looked up into my eyes and simply said, “PeeP!”
I wondered if she realized the sales clerk was talking about her.
“I’m sure,” I said. “They look like they belong together.”
I took the two little balls of fluff from her and carefully placed them into a shoebox with fresh straw.
“Suit yourself,” she said and shrugged her shoulders.
On the way to the cash register, I whispered into the small shoebox, “You are so much more than good enough.” When I held my ear to the shoebox, I could hear their happy replies peeped just for me.
“You seem awfully dressed up to be buying chickens,” the sales clerk said as she took my money. “And it’s not even Sunday. Are you some kind of preacher’s kid or something?”
The itching of my wool pants returned as soon as she spoke. I tugged at the knot of the necktie my uncle had tied for me and managed to say, “My grandmother’s funeral.”
That spring day, I made two trips to The Feed and Seed Store. On the first trip the main sales clerk let me choose the baby chicks to take home. Few things are any cuter, and so I went back for two more who were simply scooped up by the assistant sales clerk. 
“Odd buying baby chicks on the day of your grandma’s funeral,” she said. “Here’s your change. Do you need a starter bag of feed?”
“I already have that, but thank you.” 
Her questioning made me wish I had thought to change clothes once the first group was safely settled into their new home, but I was accustomed to not wearing the right thing at the right time and not doing the right thing at the right time.
The world of people has always seemed as if it is governed by rules that everyone else understands except me. When a person can’t make out the rules, they can only hope things will work out in their own way and in the way they are meant to be.
If I had not left early during the reception after my grandmother’s ashes were placed in the church garden, I wouldn’t have seen the sign that said “Live Chicks Just In” at The Feed and Seed Store while walking home. If I hadn’t seem the sign, I wouldn’t have bought that first little flock of baby chicks. If they hadn’t been so cute, I wouldn’t have gone back for two more, and there wouldn’t have been Gracie and Bessie.
After the reception, I would have simply gone home to an empty house that held only the echoes of my grandparents while wondering what to do next.
While Nate sat on the floor watching the fourteen baby chicks getting acquainted with each other and their new home, he heard pounding on the back door. 
When he opened the door, The Uncle came inside. His voice filled the small sunroom. “What is wrong with you, boy?” 
He heard the frantic peeping and wing-flapping of the baby chicks who had been frightened by the sudden noise. Then he spotted the brooder box in the middle of the sunroom, and Nate instinctively pulled it to himself to protect the little lives inside.
“It looks like you left the reception for your grandmother’s funeral to go off and buy some baby chicks. You are sixteen years old now. What sixteen-year-old person in their right mind does something like that?” he asked, not expecting an answer. 
“Now you listen. Your Aunt Grace is on her way in here, and you’d better make this right. She was worried sick when we couldn’t find you. We thought you had gotten yourself depressed. She thought you might have run away—or worse. But instead of hurting yourself, you chose to hurt everyone who loved your grandmother. I’m only going to say this one more time. You had better make this right.”
Just then, his Aunt Grace came in with some early daffodils from The Grandmother’s favorite spot in the garden. They always bloomed with her favorite lavender crocuses.
“I hope you don’t mind that I picked these,” she said. “I thought you might like something to bring some cheer into the house.” Then she noticed the peeping of the baby chicks. “Well, I see you’ve brought some cheer into the house already. Good for you. Do you mind if I sit and watch them with you?”
She pulled a chair over to the brooder box and leaned over. “They are adorable,” she said, clapping her hands together with delight. That’s the brooder box your grandfather kept in the garage isn’t it?”
He nodded. “Grandmother said I could get some this spring to raise for myself and my friends.”
“After your grandparents were married and bought this house, they raised chickens for a while before putting in the garden. Have you named any of them yet?”
“Only two, and they are my favorites. They seem to belong together. Gracie and Bessie.” He reached into the brooder box and picked them up and handed them to Aunt Grace who already had her hands out to receive them. 
Nate hunched his shoulders as if he could feel The Uncle’s scowl behind him.
“Gracie like me, and Bessie like your grandmother Bess. You know we were the closest two sisters in our whole big family of girls. I’ve often felt sorry for your Uncle Eddie being the only boy in the bunch—and the youngest at that.”
She gave them each a kiss on their downy heads and held them close to her cheek. “There is nothing more full of love and promise than a baby chick,” she said. 
Nate nodded his head in silent agreement.
“We will still see you on Sunday after church for lunch and a review your lessons, won’t we?” she asked, handing Gracie and Bessie back. “They are going to love their new home. More than that, they are going to love you.”
“Thank you, Aunt Grace.”
“And I expect to see you tomorrow afternoon at The Shop,” said The Uncle. “No excuses.”
“You will. Uncle Buddy, Thank you both.”
Until Next Time…
We hope you’ve enjoyed this read through our current project. I appreciate any and all feedback because I want to make the best story possible for our readers and for my chickens!
Thanks so much for reading!
John, Gracie, Bessie, Blanche, Pearl, Emily, and Amelia
Did you enjoy this issue?
J.R. Spiers (with help from Gracie)

The GraciePress Newsletter brings you the latest news, stories, illustrations, special offers, and free gifts from Gracie, Bessie, Blanche, Pearl, Emily, and Amelia. They are the inspiration behind all of the books published under The GraciePress imprint.

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From A Small Backyard Garden and A Most Wondrous Place in Portsmouth, Virginia