This is not just an excerpt but a complete story
 from Carolyn Howard-Johnson's Harkening,
a book of creative nonfiction stories.
Readers are invited to enjoy it and other in the book.

Creative Nonfiction and Oral Tradition
Reviews for Harkening.

Carolyn's first person essay, "Beating Time at Its Own Game." 


Harkening holds three awards including
Word Thunder's Excellence in Writing award.

Learn more about Carolyn's writing awards.
Harkening is out of print. It can still be ordered--very frugally--using
 Amazon's new and used feature.

On this page also see endorsements for Harkening,
the contents (list of stories)
and buy links for Carolyn's other books.

Return to Carolyn's Literary Works page.

An Excerpt from Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered

Permission is granted to reprint the story complete with a copyright mark
and all credits including a byline and tagline.
This story and many others are available in Harkening at

(c) copyright Carolyn Howard-Johnson 2002

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson 

The Main Street of Gunnison is Highway 89.  It is marked “Main Street” on the street signs and “Highway 89” on the map but it is no longer a main street and certainly no longer a highway.  I had to drive many miles off the Interstate to reach it and in that thirty-minute drive, no car, pickup, or human was to be seen.

I slowly traced the city streets and gravel side roads of the town in the hand-me-down car with Utah plates that I was bringing back to California for my son.  I was searching for memories and I felt comfortable.  Like a shadow.  As if I still belonged to the place and it belonged to me.  It would be fun to renew old memories, even find an old friend. I parked dead center of town and got out. 

There were no marked lines down the center of this street.  Worms of shiny black tar traced what were once fissures in the asphalt.  An Indian Head penny embedded in the obsidian webbing the surface told of how long ago the repairs had been made.  Potholes from recent winters were left unfilled.  This road defined both the inner city and outer limits of the town; it was easily wide enough to swallow six lanes of a modern freeway with room to spare. 

On the way into town I had passed The Church.  It was just as I remembered it—yellow brick with spires and a green, well-tended lawn.  It felt as if there should be more in the town that was familiar.  Maybe it wasn’t that I remembered the church so much as that it was déjà vu.  A replica of other wards I had seen in any town, anywhere.  In this year or in past decades.  Mormon wards all looked as if they had been carved with the same biscuit cutter.  If a hurricane picked one up in Santa Monica or Provo or Ogden and plunked it down right here in Gunnison, it would hardly affect the landscape.  The locals might hardly notice.   So maybe I didn’t remember it but only recognized its sameness.  It was bigger than anything in town, just as they always were, are now and perhaps would be forever more.  Flowerbeds of chrysanthemums had just started to bend their heads in the frosted nights.  It was a monolith.  Familiar.  Expected.  Serene. Simple. Clean.  No crosses or symbols of any kind.  Not a soul about.

My family once owned a farm here, too.  It was not more than a couple of blocks off the main road.  I tried to identify it but couldn’t.  Soybean fields, like wards, all looked alike and so did the barbed wire fences that hugged their way along irrigation ditches.  

Our farm was a “working farm” which, for Dad, meant that he let Mr. Hackett sow the soy that spring.  Then the summer sun watched it grow while my brother built a lean-to.  My father fetched tools for him and made lunch for all of us.  That meant that he pulled Mom’s potato salad full of little black cumin seed out of a cooler.  When he also  had set up the Cokes in shapely little green bottles and put home fried chicken on Melmac plates and had forgotten to put out the napkins, we knew it was time to eat. 

The farm was to be my father’s new hobby after his heart attack.  It was a place for him to open his easel and a little aluminum luggage rack.  He used the rack to arrange tubes of oil paint and coffee cans full of turpentine with paintbrushes sticking out of them like feathers in a headdress.   There were smears of paint color on the top of the table where he’d mixed them, eschewing a fancy artist’s easel.  He’d pull out pages from “How To Paint Still Life” and “How To Paint Landscape” along with desert scenes he liked from “Arizona Highways,” shuffle through them and then quietly paint only the clouds in the sky until my brother needed another tool.  He believed the high desert sun was so strong it urged him to paint.  I thought that it demanded that he stay alive.

            At the end of the season old Mr. Hackett harvested the soy.  We never saw him.  When we arrived one weekend early in the fall, the fields had been cut clean. Dad said Hackett would share a portion of the price the feed got at market.  We believed that he wouldn’t and that Dad knew he wouldn’t.

           Not only could I not find the farm but the town itself looked both familiar and foreign.  A vague disquiet crouched like a subliminal gnome.  There was a new park right next to a little creek with a water wheel turning behind the strength of a mere trickle that flowed out of the Wasatch.  I laid out my own lunch of peanut butter on whole wheat and Sun Chips.  There was a restaurant I had never seen next to the park.  It had been called Celebration Café and Catering but it was no longer celebrating.  In the moment, the most important aspect of that fact was that there would be no one to ask about bathroom facilities.  I thought of crawling through the front window but glass still protected the place with shards and bevels like sharks’ teeth.  I checked my car over my shoulder and decided that, with a deserted street, I didn’t have to go back and lock it. 

The next storefront was the town’s office building.  There was one door and a hallway that served the businesses there.  In the office was Nebs Inc. Agency--real estate, I think.  The computer was on, its screen saver curling pixels of steam from a cup of cappuccino.  The door was locked.  No one was there.  The next office was a small room with an old upright decorated with a doily and a vase of artificial roses.  Flat against the wall next to it was a large, very simple cross, metal against plaster.  There was no design, no softness, very little depth.  A stark cross hanging on yellowed stucco.  There were four rows of fold-down chairs in perfect rows of ten.  Some of the seats were occupied with hymnbooks as big as the Bibles in triple A motels.  A sign in the window said “1st Baptist Church.”  It would be a long, long time before a second would be needed. 

The next room was a classroom, probably for the church because there were pictures of Jesus on the wall.  A temporary table was set with neat stacks of church literature.  In the middle was a Baby Wipes canister with a slit in the lid.  The masking tape label said “Donations.”  The last door was a bathroom designated for men and women.  Very modern. Very clean.  No toilet seat protectors.  No soap. 

            I locked myself carefully in.  When I came back out into the hall and the offices it served I was prepared with apologies and excuses, but there was still no one around. I noticed that the church window also listed Kenny F. South, Pastor.  Leader of his silent, invisible flock.

As I left I noticed a darkened beauty parlor I hadn’t seen before, a business niched between the Sunday school classroom and the real estate agency.  The sign in the window was almost illegible.  It promised “fashionable hair design for all sexes.”   

 As I stepped off the curb I realized I was shaking my head and blinking hard.  Perhaps it was an adjustment to the change in the light, perhaps an adjustment to the silence, perhaps just an adjustment.  Directly across the street was the old mercantile where I had once shopped for supplies.  It was leaning a little and crumbling in places.  It reminded me of the sets at Universal Studios—sadly decrepit and unused.  A window in the second floor framed a piece of sky and a wisp of cumulus like an unexpected snapshot of nature.  The lower windows exposed fallen studs and plywood from the floor above.

Next door was The Juab County News.  The door was open.  Next to the door there was a stand full of newspapers just like the ones on the streets of LA.   I crossed without looking, something I hadn’t done since I was a child.  There was no sound of motors and wheels, only the hush of cottonwoods whispering near the creek.  The paper was 75 cents.  I plopped three quarters into the slot.  Two quarters more than the LA Times.  A thin coat of gray dust adhered to the windows blurring the interior of the newspaper office.  I hoped that I’d see a print shop that hadn’t changed since the days of hand-set type and rolling printing machines.

 Instead a fluorescent orange Mac computer monitor with scanner, printer, and a shiny mouse greeted me with clicking and buzzing sounds.  In an office beyond the reception desk was a table set with several keyboards and three screens and a tower or two. 

            “Yoo Hoo!” 

            “May I help you?” the man facing the three screens said without turning.

            “Are you the editor?”

            “I’m the publisher.”  He turned away from his set up like a man with arthritis in his neck and looked at me.  There was no smile.

             The sound from that old mystery program on TV played “oooheee, ooooheee” in my mind.  This was a character from-- not Stephen King--more Alfred Hitchcock.

            “I used to spend my summers here,” I said.   Not many summers.  No point in explaining.  His expression did not change.  I stuttered.  “I-uh, bought a paper.”

            “Did you pay for two?”

            “Well, no.”

            “You have two.”

            I looked at the papers in my hand.  “Fall Flu Vaccines Late” the headline said.  I ran my thumb along the edges.  “Oh yes, I guess I do.”  I fished three more quarters out of my Levi’s pocket. “I thought…”

            “Yeah, they’re thin next to what you’d be used to.”

            No point in denying it.  I was a little surprised that he seemed to know what I’d be used to.  Anonymous car, a little beat up, local plates.  T-shirt.  Jeans.  Worn baseball cap.  I shook my head, then jerked it toward the street.  “Where is everyone?” I said. 

            “’Bout where they always are,” he turned his back to me.  The Macs were calling him. 

            “Do you do all the writing yourself?”

            “Me ‘n my wife do.”  His voice was turned to walk away.

            “Well, it’s nice to be back.  I loved this town.”

            He was back with me.  “Just in case you don’t know.  It’s a revolving door. My six kids all left.  One’s in Michigan.  One’s in Atlanta.  Couldn’t stand it any more.  But then you Californians start coming in, y’see.”

            “Well, I’m from Utah.  I may live in California but I was born here and my ancestors were pioneers.  I’m from Utah.”

            “A revolving door,” he said and went back to his desk, sat, and showed me his plaid flannel back and an unseeded head.

            I backed out onto the street.  The noon sun was bright just as I expected it to be.  Across the street, next to the Baptist Church and Associated Tenants was a Napa Auto Parts store painted royal blue and gold.  Its door was still labeled with a hanging sign that said “CLOSED.”  No “Cerrado.”  Just “Closed.” 

Definitely a revolving door.  More go than come.  More sun and quiet than not.  I thought of my father with his colors.  I shaded my eyes against the bright of the town. I listened for warmth.   I turned to see the direction from which I had come, the highway illustrating the principle of perspective, the mountains dusty in the northern distance.  Then I turned and pulled my cap down to shield my eyes and squinted in the other direction.  The highway streamed and curled like Krinkle Ribbon to the South.  Gunnison was not what it was. The memories were not there but in my head. My father had died sometime after the lean-to was finished, sometime in the fall before Mr. Hackett was supposed to show up with the soy money.  He left a procession of canvases propped with their faces toward the cabin wall, a series sort of like Monet’s haystacks.  Clouds in all sorts of dress.  Thunder clouds.  Shreds of stratus.  Clouds licking the Wasatch peaks.  Summer clouds.  Clouds the color of aircraft carriers.

        There was more than one way to go through that revolving door. I climbed into my unlocked car, ground the old starter twice, and headed out in the opposite direction from the way I had come.  I, like my father, was only stopping there, only a tourist in a place where I didn’t belong.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson's first novel, This is the Place (buy link:  www.bit.ly/ThisIsThePlace  ), and Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered ( buy link: www.bit.ly/TrueShortStories) are both multi award-winners. Her fiction, nonfiction and poems have appeared in national magazines, anthologies, and review journals. Her chapbook of poetry, Tracings, was named to The Compulsive Readers Top 10 Best Reads and was given the Military Writers Society of American Silver Award for Excellence. She speaks on culture, tolerance, writing and promotion and has appeared on TV and hundreds of radio stations nationwide. She was an instructor for UCLA Extension's renowned Writers' Program and has shared her expertise at venues like San Diego State's Writers' Conference and Sinclair Lewis Writers' Conference. She was awarded Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment by members of the California Legislature; her home town's Character and Ethics Commission honored for her work on promoting tolerance and the Pasadena Weekly named her to their list of "San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen" for literary activism. Her nitty gritty how-to book, The Frugal Book Promoter won USA Book News' Best Professional Book and the Book Publicists of Southern California's Irwin Award and is the first in her HowToDoItFrugally series of book for writers. It is now in its second edition, holding several awards of its own.  Her Web site is https://howtodoitfrugally.com.

Tip for Readers

Carolyn readily grants permission to reprint portions of her work to book clubs and teachers. Much of it is especially useful to those teaching gender studies, tolerance, and the history of the West.

 Find at least one tip on writing, promotion, or tech on every page of this Web site. 

Short Stories in Harkening

Generations learn from one another, even from stories of syphilis and family discord.

Mama’s Depression
Young people who don't know of the depression from octogenarians miss important lessons of
how to cope, what is important.

The Message
Child’s Play

The uneasy balance of tolerance and intolerance and what a child might learn from it.

There are still rural spots in the US, but today life is different even in those places than it was even a few short decades ago.

The Music Lesson
How easily a child might be discouraged from following her heart.

What Isn’t Lavender

Milk Glass
An unconventional Christmas story that  lets others know they are not alone.

Portrait of Sisters.

Remembering Winter
How important a teacher's role, how fragile her influence. 

A peek at how journalism, and about everything else has changed.

Through a Window..

Grandma’s Slip

Ski School
Who is the teacher; who is the student?

House of Neglect

A Different Generation


“This author’s words set me free.” 
 ~  Sona Ovasapyan, student at Charles University,  Prague, Czech Republic

“You find yourself pressing forward to each new word. The characters…are real.”
Yvonne LaRose, author and editor,  InAWord.com

“Capture (s) the feel for the moment and the absurdity of humanity.”
Iain Morton, Editor-in-Chief, El Vaquero

 “…a wonderful story…so eloquently told.”
Kimberly Ripley, author of  Freelancing Later in Life

“Great character dimension.  No one-sider, cut-out characters here.”
Leslie King, Author of The Puck Stops Here

 “Be warned, you will not want to put it down."
Kathleen Walls, author of Last Step

 “Carolyn Howard-Johnson is going to be one of the greats.”
Kristie Leigh Maguire, author of Desert Heat and Emails from the Edge

“…a wonderful writer…” ~ Kay Stauble, author of If Tears Could Speak

“It's been a week … and still the characters fight for attention in my thoughts.”
Warren Stucki, author of Boy’s Pond

 “…A fine piece of writing…”
Paul Lappen, Dead Trees Review

Buy Links for Carolyn's Books

Great Fiction
HARKENING at Amazon in their new and used feature.
Both of these books are out of print. They are available only on Amazon's New and Used feature for about $1.

Great Poetry
Purchase TRACINGS (Finishing Line Press) at Amazon.
IMPERFECT ECHOES: Writing Truth and Justice with Capital Letters,
lie and oppression with Small

Give the gift of poetry with a chapbook from Magdalena Ball's
My Celebration Series

CHERISHED PULSE: Unconventional Love Poetry
IMAGINING THE FUTURE: Ruminations on Fathers and Other Masculine Apparitions
SHE WORE EMERALD THEN: Reflections on Motherhood
BLOOMING RED: Christmas Poetry for the Rational
DEEPER INTO THE POND: Celebration of Femininity
SUBLIME PLANET: Celebrating Earth and the Universe

HowToDoItFrugally Series for Writers
Second Edition

Survive and Thrive Series of HowToDoItFrugally Books for Retailers

Most of Carolyn's books are also available for the Kindle reader.
Did you know that with the Free app, Kindle can be adapted to any reader--even your PC

 "Careers that are not fed die as readily
as any living organism given no sustenance." 
Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Studio photography by Uriah Carr
3 Dimensional Book Cover Images by iFOGO
Logo by Lloyd King

To subscribe to Carolyn's FREE online newsletter send an e-mail.

Learn more about Carolyn's newsletter and blog.

Read past issues of Carolyn's Newsletter. 


Kindle E-Books Aren't
Just for Kindle Anymore

Did you know that Amazon’s Kindle e-books are a low-cost/no-cost way to access books even if you don’t have a dedicated Kindle reader? You can read Kindle's e-books on smartphones, desktop computers and any e-device in between. You can even store the books on the Amazon cloud.

~ Quote from Diana Schneidman, author and marketer


Other Links


Carolyn's Commercial Acting


Celebration Series of Poetry Chapbooks


This is the Place, a novel



Tracings, a chapbook and memoir in one

Harkening, true short stories

Carolyn's Poetry

Helps For Retailers

Helps For Writers

Full Published Works Almanac

Travel and Poetry

Published Works

Find Carolyn
on the Web

  writers retailers

Subscribe to
Carolyn Howard-Johnson's Sharing with Writers Newsletter

and get a FREE copy of
Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips for Writers

"I have been a professional writer 40 years, and am also a tenured full professor of journalism. Carolyn's Sharing with Writers newsletter is  most useful for me--and for my students. I emphasize to them that while research is 90% of writing, and the actual writing is about 10%, there's another 100% out there called promotion. Carolyn shows numerous ways to get the message to the mass media."
~Walter Brasch, author and educator

"A decade of bettering writers' careers with how-tos, tips, and publishing news."


“[In Harkening] you find yourself pressing forward to each new word. The characters . . . are real.”
Yvonne LaRose, author and editor, InAWord.com

Tip for Readers

Did the Warren Jeffs or Elizabeth Smart cases make you curious about Utah's unique culture? Or perhaps Mitt Romney's run for President? Read Carolyn Howard-Johnson's Tolerance page on this site where you'll find recommended books on that culture.

Find tips on writing, promotion or tech on every page of this Web site. 

Carolyn's Awards

Awards for Carolyn's Books, Blogs and More

The New Book Review
Named to
Master's in English.org Online Universities'

101 Essential Sites for Voracious Readers

Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites
Sharing with Writers blog.


Best Book Award for The Frugal Book Promoter (2004) and The Frugal Editor (2008) and the Second Edition of The Frugal Book Promoter (2011).


Reader Views Literary Award for The Frugal Editor

New Generation Award for Marketing and Finalist for The Frugal Editor

Book Publicists of Southern California's Irwin Award

Military Writers Award of Excellence for
Tracings, A Chapbook of Poetry.

A Retailer's Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotion wins author Military Writers Society of America's Author of the Month award for March, 2010


Gold Medal Award from Military Writers Society of America, 2010. MWSA also gave a nod to She Wore Emerald Then, a chapbook of poetry honoring mothers.

The Frugal Editor Named #! on Top Ten Editing Books list.

Finalist New Generation Book Awards 2012, The Frugal Book Promoter; Finalist 2010 The Frugal Editor;
Winner 2010 Marketing Campaign for the Frugal Editor

The Oxford Award
the alumna who exemplifies the Delta Gamma precept of service to her community and who, through the years, devotes her talents to improve the quality of life around her.

The Frugal Book Promoter is runner-up in the how-to category for the Los Angeles Book Festival 2012 awards.

Glendale City Seal
Winner Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts
Glendale California's Arts and Culture Commission and the City of Glendale Library,

And more than a dozen other awards for Carolyn's novel, short story collection and poetry. See the awards page on this site.

Published Works Almanac

Other Interests



Carolyn's Literary Works

This is the Place
Published Shorter Works

Carolyn's Poetry

Imperfect Echoes
Celebration Series

Carolyn's How to Do it Frugally Series

For Writers
For Retailers

Other Social Media

Find my favorite social media on the
social media page.

Carolyn's HowToDoIt Frugally Series for Writers

Getting Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically New!

The Frugal Book Promoter

The Frugal Editor

Great Book Proposals in 30 Minutes

Last-Minute Edits and Word Trippers


Proud to Support

World Wild Life

with Sublime Planet
book of poetry
Earth Day

Featured in
Pasadena Weekly
Arts and Entertainment Section

All Proceeds to be donated to the World Wildlife Fund

Proud to be Instrumental in Helping Other Poets

Poetry Mystique: A modern text edited by Suzanne Lummis with commentary from the editor.

Poems by selected students from Suzanne's many poetry classes.


A Selection of Carolyn's Past Speaking Engagements

National Stationery Show May 17-20, 2009 Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, New York, NY Consider this a business essential.

Presenter 2009, 2010

Presenter, 2008, 09, 10, 11

Panel moderator, 2007

National Span College
presenter 2002

Fellows presenter, 2007, 08

Co-sponsor and presenter,
2007, 08, 09, 10, 11

University of Dayton Erma Bombeck Writers' Conference, 2006, 2008

Sisters in Crime,
Pasadena, 2009

On the Los Angeles Valley College Campus 2012, Rancho Library 2013,
Valley College Spring 2014

Wisconsin Regional Writers Association
Presenter, Keynote 2010

Book 'Em, NC,
Three Panels 2013

Presenter, 2013

Seminar Speaker, 2014

Keynote, 2013; 2014

Secrets of Great
Dialogue, 2015

Digging Up Memories and Bringing the Dead Back to Life

Frugal Book Promotion.
Judith Briles' Extravaganza,
Denver, CO, 2016

Learn more about Carolyn's conferences.