2022 Reading Challenge

2022 Reading Challenge
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Excerpt: Winter’s Reckoning by Adele Holmes, MD

About the Book

Forty-six-year-old Madeline Fairbanks has no use for ideas like “separation of the races” or “men as the superior sex.” There are many in her dying Southern Appalachian town who are upset by her socially progressive views, but for years—partly due to her late husband’s still-powerful influence, and partly due to her skill as a healer in a remote town with no doctor of its own—folks have been willing to turn a blind eye to her “transgressions.” Even Maddie’s decision to take on a Black apprentice, Ren Morgan, goes largely unchallenged by her white neighbors, though it’s certainly grumbled about.

But when a charismatic and power-hungry new reverend blows into town in 1917 and begins to preach about the importance of racial segregation, the long-idle local KKK chapter fires back into action—and places Maddie and her friends in Jamesville’s Black community squarely in their sights. Maddie had better stop intermingling with Black folks, discontinue her herbalistic “witchcraft,” and leave town immediately, they threaten, or they’ll lynch Ren’s father, Daniel. Faced with this decision, Maddie is terrified . . . and torn. Will she bow to their demands and walk away—or will she fight to keep the home she’s built in Jamesville and protect the future of the people she loves, both Black and white?

The Excerpt

Gramma’s back disappeared down the path.

Hannah closed the door tight and pulled the box out of the closet. She could commune with the healers she read about in the box, even if the two live healers wouldn’t let her go up the mountain with them. 

The hours passed with Hannah running her index finger along every line of print. She pondered the parchment that was covered with plants she didn’t recognize. She marveled over each page replicated from the svartebok. She beamed while she reviewed the pictures of herbs she knew well. 

Near noon, she repacked the box and foraged for lunch in the kitchen, settling on a just-ripe pear and a bowlful of black walnuts. Gramma had gathered the nuts from under a huge tree out back and had already shelled them. At the last minute, Hannah added a chunk of hard cheese. Sunshine called her to the front porch where she sat, her legs dangling off the side. 

She wiped at pear juice trickling down her forearm and was thus not quick enough to defend her cheese from the intruder. Theo Henry’s brown-speckled dog took the stairs two at a time, nabbed the white chunk, and swallowed it whole. 

Only one step behind the hound, Hannah’s friend, Theo, turned a sheepish face toward her. 

“Nothing to worry about, Theo.” Hannah laughed and patted the wood plank beside her. “Come on up here. I’ll share the rest of my walnuts, if you can keep your dog off ’em.” 

“Thanks.” He tapped his tummy through tattered overalls and ran his tongue over his upper lip. “My mom’s not cooking as much these days, what with another baby about to pop out.” 

Theo crunched through a handful of the oily nuts as the two of them stared into the distance toward Carnavan’s Cave. 

“Mighty fine day for a walk to the cave?” 

“Nah, my grandmother won’t let me go.” She thought a moment, then added for good measure, “Though I would go, you know. If I could. I’m not afraid or anything.” 

“How will she know?” Theo scratched his head as he spoke. 

Hannah thought the move made him look like his father, Deputy Henry. 

“She ain’t even home,” he said.
Hannah drew back her chin. “How would you know?”

“Saw her and Miss Morgan walking down Main Street this morning.” He gave a slow nod. “North Main at that, walking along like two friends taking a stroll down a promenade. Gonna get in trouble doing that.” 

A grin played at the corners of her mouth at the picture that formed in her head. It sounded like something Gramma and Ren would do. Ridiculous to think that the sidewalks cared about the color of the person walking on them. 

“Well, you gotta go north to get to the start of the path up the mountain,” she responded, though she knew the coloreds who worked as domestics for the whites went north through the back neighborhood roads. 

“You know as well as I do that North Main is past the mercantile,” Theo said. “Coloreds aren’t supposed to go there.” 

“Stupid rule anyway,” she retorted. 

“Can’t say as I disagree, but a rule’s a rule.” Theo leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, looking down at his dog nestled on the grass a few feet below. 

Hannah found his camaraderie comfortable and let her mind drift to Gramma’s shenanigans. Hannah loved the way her grandmother ignored stuff like those rules. At the general store, she’d order at whichever counter was nearest. Like it never dawned on her there was anything amiss. 

Her mother detested when Gramma acted that way, though she’d never been able to explain why she found it inappropriate. 

Hannah stuck by Gramma on those matters. If you play along with the rules when the rules are wrong, you lose a part of yourself in the process. Hannah preferred to keep herself as intact as possible. 

“What do you think?” Theo broke the silence. “Going to the cave or not?” 

“I have important work . . .” She stopped herself, thinking his daddy the deputy might not like Gramma having a bunch of ancestors who dabbled in spells. “You go on alone.” 

“Nah, now, Hannah.” Theo jumped down off the porch so that his head was now at her knees. He looked up at her. “I’ve got some important work to do myself.” 

She figured he was chicken, too. She smiled and said goodbye, before returning to her review of the papers. But once inside, her mind continued to meander. 

She dug a thumbnail into the edges of the leather box, liberating embedded dust, as she remembered one Saturday night Ren’s younger sister, Kimmy, stayed over with her at Gramma’s. The next morning, when the Tillmans came in the wagon to pick them up for church, Gramma brought Kimmy along same as she would have if it had been Hannah’s white friend, Annie Lawrence. 

Hannah’s mother stiffened but didn’t say anything. Hannah couldn’t tell if her father even noticed there was one more of them than usual. 

When they got to church, before they ever made it up the steps, one of the deacons stopped Gramma and whispered in her ear as he looked down at Kimmy. Hannah fingered the hem of her dress and held her breath, waiting on her grandmother to enlighten the narrow-minded man. 

But Gramma didn’t even speak. She took Kimmy by the hand and walked off through the back roads, toward a shack where Kimmy’s people worshipped. She didn’t offer to take Hannah with her, probably because she knew Momma wouldn’t let her. 

Later, when Hannah asked Gramma why she hadn’t insisted on taking Kimmy into the church, Gramma said there was no reason to cause a fuss when it wouldn’t benefit anybody. Hannah thought Gramma lost a piece of herself that day. 

From Winter’s Reckoning, copyright 2022 by Adele Holmes, MD.

About the Author

ADELE HOLMES graduated from medical school in 1993. After twenty-plus years in private practice pediatrics, her unquenchable desire to wander the world, write, and give back to the community led her to retire from medicine. Her fun-loving family includes a rollicking crew of her husband Chris, two adult children and their spouses, five grandchildren of diverse ages and talents, a horse, and a Bernedoodle. Winter’s Reckoning, Adele’s debut novel, won Honorable Mention in the 2021 William Faulkner Literary Competition. She is currently at work on her second novel in her resident town of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Find her online at the following:

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