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Book details
  • Genre:FICTION
  • SubGenre:Historical / General
  • Language:English
  • Pages:170
  • eBook ISBN:9781483520735

The Way Back

A Soldier's Journey

by S.K. Carnes

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Devastated by news that the dairy barn on her Wisconsin farm is being pulled down and sold off in pieces, Lori Moyer pleads to save it, “It is not just a barn. It is an icon—a way of life!" When a journal is found hidden in a beam of the hayloft, only Lori remembers its author, John Chapman, a soldier survivor of World War I, who Lori’s family hired to finish the new barn. John was solitary, fearful of interaction, and estranged from his own family—but to her, he was a father figure and a storyteller who saved her life and her father’s life too! Now, she wonders if she really did know this man? Struck with the notion that he may have suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, she queries the Internet and discovers a secret world John never shared with her. When Lori reads John's journal, his legacy to her, entitled "The Necklace of Words," it resounds with loss, longing, love, anger, and fear. Powerful images spark Lori's own memories of tragedy and joy spent in her long-ago beloved home. The phrase she used playfully, “My barn burned down and now I see the moon” is manifest, and out of the ashes arises the phoenix of self discovery.


Lori Moyer is devastated by an e-mail from her son in far away Wisconsin. "They are tearing down the old dairy barn on your home place and selling it off in pieces," he writes, "should I try to get something of it for you?" Realizing the barn is an icon of a way of life, Lori tries to stop the demolition, to no avail. When a journal is found built into a beam in the hayloft, her son sends it to her, explaining that,"no one here knows John Chapman who wrote this, perhaps you remember him." Yes, Lori indeed remembers John as a father figure, who thought of her as "his own little girl," who rescued her often, and told her stories that guided her life. He was hired to finish the barn and stayed on to run the dairy. Lori types in his name on a search engine and the Internet sends back two news items from 1925, telling of John's disappearance from his own farmstead, and describing how a posse found him a week later hiding in the loft of his barn. "Why that happened five years before he came to work for us," Lori reasons, "perhaps it explains why he came." Dismayed but intrigued, Lori begins to read The Necklace of Words, John's lyrical account of his life after fighting in the trenches of World War I. Beginning in 1930 when he was hired, John writes eloquently in poetry and prose, of his ongoing battle with what today we call PTSD. As she reads, Lori finds herself spellbound, as she once was as a child sitting at John's feet, but this time, hearing of his pain and longing, reliving his nightmares, and also encountering her parents through his eyes. She reads of Whinneboujou, and his Mule Sweat Lodge where John and her father went to learn the wisdom of the ancient Anishinabe Indians. Did those encounters help John heal from his loses? Did they help him to trust in the veteran's group he later joined? Lori revisits her animal companions, alive again in his words; she laughs at her father's Irish sayings, and travels with John up Jacob's Ladder, the mystical light beam through the high windows that turned the barn loft into a cathedral. "The War of the Worlds" was broadcast in 1938 and the neighbors gathered in the great dairy barn, listening to the radio there, grimly planning to make their last stand. Indeed, John, had encountered first hand the poisoned gas and the machines of war. Lori meets herself as a child, and there arises a love and respect for her heritage and herself. “Tis at the edge of the petal that love waits,” John's mother once said, and now Lori understands as she never has before. She sees her garden is filled with the English roses John had loved. Her windows shimmer with stained glass, layered to catch the light at every angle; and Lori thinks of the marbles John gave to her at special times, each one a polished bubble pierced by color shot through on wings of light—crystal spheres as pure as molten love. As Lori fingers John's journal, feeling close to him, she knows that she has crafted her life around what they had shared in the dominion of the barn, and the words she has playfully used for years has new meaning to her: "My barn burned down and now I see the moon."

About the author

Susan Carnes grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm on the south shore of Great Lake Superior, and already at age 10 could turn square corners with a tractor while cutting hay, gentle and race horses, play Rachmaninoff on the piano, and get some blue ribbons for her artwork at the fair. An avid skier and skater during the winter months, her best times were on the rivers, canoeing, fishing and swimming. She loved to read stories and direct plays. After a degree from Iowa State University, she married, taught school and earned two Master's Degrees while farming and raising three sons. Susan counseled in addiction programs, practiced art therapy and biofeedback in chronic pain centers, and later became a school counselor in Oregon. When she moved toward retirement in Washington State, Susan coordinated 4-H on 5 islands, went back to school, mastered stained glass techniques, continued hobbies of dancing and white water rafting, and then she got busy. While spending winters in Mexico, Susan joined the Mazatlan Writers Group and wrote her first book, My Champion, about a 10 year old girl who didn't appreciate what she had. She illustrated it with 21 oil paintings and used her grandchildren as models. "Writing for me is like putting together pieces of my own life and making sense of it," Susan says. The book won a Golden Moonbeam Award and  an Honorable Mention in competition at the Hollywood Book Festival. Her second book, The Way Back is about the struggles of a World War 1 vet to deal with PTSD. Susan's father and several of the men he hired to run his dairy were veterans of the "War To End All Wars." Because of her experiences growing up with them and later counseling with veterans in treatment centers, she felt compelled to write their story, wanting to provide hope, and to honor those who fight our wars. The story begins as the old dairy barn on Susan's home-place is being demolished; it ends with personal insight giving meaning to a saying Susan had used playfully: "My barn burned down and now I see the moon." Go to http://www.skcarnes.com for information on My Champion and The Way Back. The blog centers on creativity as a tool to self discovery. Susan has showcased some of her art on that website, including pictures that were used as 9 covers for the "Pacific Pearl" magazine at http:www.pacificpearl.com