Meet Millie from Salt the Snow by Carrie Callaghan

Excuse me, Miss Bennett, I know you’re running to file a story with your newspaper, but do you have a minute to chat?

I get to be on the receiving end of an interview? You bet.

Thanks. Here, drinks are on me — let’s get two vodkas. Now, tell me, how long have you been in Moscow?

Swell stuff, this vodka. I showed up here at the beginning of this year. February. So it’s been six months now.

What do you make of Russia?

For starters, the winter is way too long. They were still chipping ice out of the river in June, and the building I’m living in only turns the heat on every other day. Though these white nights in summer are to die for. Not that I’m complaining. It’s hard work building a new kind of life here, and I’m glad I get to watch the rooskies try. I love their sense of humor and adventure — I think they have a lot in common with us Americans.

Miss Bennett, you’ve been married before, but aren’t attached at the moment. Is that right?

Ah, Mike Mitchell, that was my first husband. A swell guy, but we weren’t cut out for marriage. Or he wasn’t. 

But are you seeing anyone now?

Well, there is one young man. He’s an actor in the opera and he says he used to live in a palace when he was a kid (don’t tell the secret police about his class history). We do like to go on long walks around the city.

What do you want to accomplish in your time in Moscow?

Look, my friends back in San Francisco tell me that everything there is washed up. The Depression is eating them alive. I came here … for personal reasons but also because I wanted to see if the Soviets could find another way to do right by the little guy. I’m not sure they can, but I’m here to write some stories about how they’re trying. And maybe I’ll help the English-speaking workers here feel a little more at home.

There are English-speaking workers in Moscow?

Sure there are! The Bolsheviks have invited all sorts of foreigners in to help them learn the things that Russians couldn’t learn while stuck in feudalism. They’re industrializing, and it’s pretty swell to watch.

What do you do for fun?

You’d think with all the writing I do for work that I’d be sick of my typewriter, but an unanswered letter bothers me like a cherry stone under a saucer. And I do love keeping up with my friends back home, so I write a lot of letters. The lady I’m staying with is also one of the editors at the newspaper I’m working at, so she doesn’t have much time for socializing. But I think I’m meeting some new people to go to parties with. I hope.

And there’s that former palace-dweller of yours.

I’m not sure he’s mine! Though he is handsome.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking of coming to Russia?

Bring a warm coat! And an open mind. I see so many high-minded people strutting through here who have already decided what we’re about before they even see Moscow. This city’s always changing, and you never know what you’re going to find.

We’re excited to see what you find, Milly! Now go file that story, and we can’t wait to read what you do next.

Carrie Callaghan is the author of “Salt the Snow,” (Amberjack, Feb. 4, 2020), her second novel. She lives in Maryland with her family, where she drinks altogether too much tea. She’d love to hear from you on Twitteror Facebook.

A Behind The Scenes Chat With Geoffrey Hagan of Eastbound from Flagstaff by Annette Valentine

Mr. Hagan, those of here at Novel Pastimes are curious to know how a farmer in the 1920s survived the farm crisis that began in that decade and how the Great Depression later on affected your everyday life.

Well, truth is, the Depression had already hit folks like myself whose livelihood depended on crops. You see, an economic downturn happened in the rural south long before the Stock Market Crash in ’29, and it stemmed from the military’s need for high production during World War l. Those demands drove the market supply up, and that in turn caused prices to go up. But I have to say this: a lot of factors in addition to the economic depression tended to trigger rural communities to pull us together when we suffered. Take for instance the fire that broke out on my farm: neighbors came from all around to help. We connected as a community in the same way we did during the crisis that began in the 1920s. Families helped each other, and during harvest: the same thing. We’d give each other food. We helped each other with repair work. It’s the American way. I hope that will always be the case, that we pull together for each other, stand united. We have ourselves a mighty fine country, worth fighting for—dying for if it comes to that.

You have the one son, Simon, that we’re particularly interested in. He must have been a big help during those difficult times.

Ah, yes, you’re speaking of my eldest, but just for the record: I have eight sons and three daughters. I’m mighty proud of Simon, though, for following his dream as he did. Makes me smile to talk about him—flamboyant young man, tall, good looking. Yessiree, and a hard worker, too, but he wasn’t a farmer. Simon was a dreamer. He experienced an awful tragedy when he was seventeen, and circumstances turned him in a new direction. Odd as it seems, he might not otherwise have gone after his dream.

Sometimes it takes hard times to turn us around. And sometimes it takes a higher power.

That new direction must have taken Simon to Flagstaff. Tell us about the significance of his going out there. Did he have something specific to do, someplace that called him? 

Oh, indeed, he did have something that called him, but not so fast, my friend. When Simon left Elkton, he was bent on going to the big city of Detroit to find meaning for himself—struck out on his own at eighteen years old. He possessed foundational strength when he left here. Turns out, he needed it to survive.

Detroit offered a high life, alright, but life can throw us curveballs, can’t it? He started with a factory job at the Ford Motor Company and went from there to combatting the Mafia at the height of the Roaring Twenties, to falling in love with an unlikely soul. Prejudice, prohibition—all of that pretty well defines the Era of the Roaring Twenties, and it’s a far cry from the quiet life he knew here in Elkton. He experienced it all until Albuquerque, New Mexico became another chapter in his life. Not too far from there is Flagstaff, and Flagstaff held some very real dreams for Simon.

Was there someone who influenced his choice to go to Detroit?

You bet there was! Senator Maxwell. He’s a decent sort of fella—puffed a lot of hot air—but Simon sure looked up to him. I’d be safe in saying it was Senator Robert Maxwell alone who dangled the big city in front of my son’s eyes.

Simon wasn’t the only son of mine to leave Elkton, though. Alan—my spunky redhead with all the spitfire to go with it—that one sure looked up to his big brother. Alan made some bad decisions. California bound, he was, with an obsession, and obsessions have a cruel way of looking good before they suck you in. Nothing wrong with ambition as long as you don’t exchange ambitions for obsessions.

Might just add that Simon took on the world when he went up there to Detroit. If you want the whole story, you’ll see where Flagstaff and Albuquerque had very different reasons for calling two of my sons to the southwest. I gave ‘em roots, but I gave ’em the freedom to find their own way, too.

It’s been a pleasure, Mr. Hagan. Sounds like you’ve handed down quite a legacy.

 

Annette Valentine is an inspirational storyteller with a flair for the unexpected. By age eleven, she knew that writing was an integral part of her creative nature. Annette graduated with distinction from Purdue and founded an interior design firm which spanned a 34-year career in Lafayette, Indiana and Brentwood, Tennessee. Annette has used her 18-year affiliation with Toastmasters International to prepare her for her position with the Speakers’ Bureau for End Slavery Tennessee and is an advocate for victims and survivors of human trafficking and is the volunteer group leader for Brentwood, Tennessee. Annette writes through the varied lens of colorful personal experience and the absorbing reality of humanity’s search for meaning. Mother to one son and daughter, and a grandparent of six amazing kids, Annette now lives in Brentwood, a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and their 5-year-old Boxer. To learn more about Annette’s life and work, please visit https://annettehvalentine.com