Neva Shilling has a heavy load of responsibility while her husband travels to neighboring communities and sells items from his wagon. In his absence, she faithfully runs the Shilling Mercantile, working to keep their business strong as the Depression takes its toll, and caring for their twins.
When a wagon pulls up after supper, Neva and her children rush out—and into the presence of the deputy driving a wagon carrying three young children. The deputy shocks her with the news that Warren and his wife have died, insisting it was their last request that the three children go live with “Aunt Neva.”
Neva’s heart is shattered as she realizes that Warren’s month-long travels were excuses for visits with his secret family. She wants nothing more than to forget Warren, but can she abandon these innocent children to an orphanage? Yet if she takes them in, will she ever be able to see them as more than evidence of her husband’s betrayal and love them the way God does?
“If Bud doesn’t change his ways, Sheriff Caudel intends to take Charley, Cassie, and Adeline to an orphan’s home.”
“So let him take them. We can’t afford to keep them here.” Bud yanked free and waved his arm toward the closed door behind him. “I saw the crates in the hallway. There’s not enough to last a whole month. And you know November’s a busier month because of Thanksgiving. We need more stock, not less.”
“Folks are gonna start going across town to the big grocer instead of coming to us if we don’t keep our shelves stocked. We can’t keep our shelves stocked unless we have money to buy goods. And the more children you have to feed and clothe, the less money you’ll have.” He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his lanky neck. “Let ’em go, Ma.”
“B-because they-” A hand seemed to close around Neva’s throat, stealing her ability to breathe. If she told the twins the truth about the children, would Bud finally come to accept their presence? “Because they’re your . . . your brother and sisters.”
Both Bud and Belle stared at Neva in confusion. Belle asked, “How can that be?”
Neva’s dry throat resisted speech, but she forced the words out. “They were born to your father and a woman named Violet. When your father left in his wagon, he wasn’t selling goods to people in the county. He was driving to Beloit to spend a month with his other family. Charley, Cassie, and Adeline are your half brother and sisters.”
Belle stared in mute horror, her face white.
Bold red crept from Bud’s neck and filled his cheeks. “That’s not true. Pop didn’t- He wouldn’t-” He gritted his teeth and growled. […] “This is all a dirty lie. […] You’re making all this up so you can keep those blasted kids. Well, fine.” He threw the hat onto the floor, then wrenched the door open and stumbled out of the storeroom, yanking the cobbler apron over his head as he went. “You want them? Keep them. But I’m not sticking around and listening to you tell lies about my father.” He wheeled around the counter and stumbled for the door.
Belle’s frantic cry shattered Neva’s heart. She pulled her daughter into her arms and rocked her as she sobbed.
Belle’s slender frame shuddered within Neva’s embrace. She rasped, “Pray, Momma. Please, pray.”
Neva automatically closed her eyes. “Dear Lord…” But no other words came. She didn’t know what to pray. She clutched Belle close and hoped God would understand the wordless groaning of her heart. She was empty.
This was a quietly compelling story. It falls into what I call the ‘human interest’ genre – for want of a better term. It’s not a romance, nor a suspense, nor a thriller; it simply tells an emotionally engaging story about a person (or group of people) and their struggles and achievements. And this was an emotionally engaging story. From the very first chapter I was committed to sharing Neva’s journey, and it was a journey worth taking.
When a stranger arrives at Shilling Mercantile to inform Neva Shilling that her brother and his wife have succumbed to botulism, she’s confused. The orphanage told her she was an only child. Could she have a brother she isn’t aware of? But a completely different picture begins to emerge when the stranger refers to her brother as ‘Warren Shilling’. That is a name she has known very well for the past fifteen years – but it belongs to her husband. Before she has time to begin absorbing this information, the stranger drops another bombshell: He’s brought Warren’s three children with him to be given into her care.
How do you move forward when you suddenly discover that the man you have loved for fifteen years, the father of your two children, has been leading a double life? When his dying request is that you take care of the three children he had with another woman? And what on earth do you tell your own two children? Or the rest of the town, for that matter?
An orphan herself, Neva cannot bring herself to send Warren’s children away despite the betrayal she feels, but neither can she share the truth about the children’s relationship to Warren. She simply lets it be known that Warren had wanted the children to come to them, and she will honour his wishes. Of course, raising five children and running the Shilling Mercantile is a tall ask. Feeding, clothing, and housing the children is one thing, but will she ever be able to give these children a mother’s love? And how long will it be before people begin asking difficult questions?
Part of what made this story so well-rounded was that this was not simply Neva’s story. Neva’s fourteen-year-old twins, Belle and Bud both have vastly different reactions to the arrival of three young additions to their household. Belle quietly takes on the majority of the responsibilities of caring for and supervising the children, while Bud goes out of his way to make sure Charley, in particular, knows how very unwelcome he is in the Shilling household.
Arthur Randall is Neva’s neighbour and owner of Randall’s Emporium – the only furniture provider in the entire Buffalo Creek township. He’s had his eye on the Shilling Mercantile as a means of expanding his own business for over a decade, and although Warren Shilling has always rebuffed his offers to buy the Mercantile, he is certain Neva will want to do so now that she is a widow. But she certainly disabuses him of that notion! Perhaps it’s time to take a different approach…
And in the midst of all this, the newly appointed Sheriff, Jesse Caudel – the man who delivered the children to Neva in the first place – has some unanswered questions of his own where Warren Shilling is concerned. If his suspicions are correct, Neva may have some more surprises in store courtesy of her deceased husband. Little does he realise how he will ultimately be blessed by his association with this thrown-together family.
This was a heartfelt story of the way in which hardship can be a blessing in disguise, not only for the person walking through it, but also for those who witness their example. Neva was not perfect, nor was her path an easy one, but she was open to God’s correction and leading, and was blessed as a result.
I received a complimentary copy of this novel through Blogging for Books in return for my honest review.
Release date: 16 February 2016
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
Author’s website: http://www.kimvogelsawyer.com/