A while ago, I wrote a little piece on my return trip to Berger, Missouri, where I spent the first ten years of my life. It had been twenty years since I really stopped to take a look at how the town had changed.
I set out on a walk down Market (Hwy. B), with my camera in hand. And I was quickly reminded of how much time had passed when a man standing near the old Woodshed stopped and shouted across the street: Where are you from?
It was in that moment that I realized: Either he or I that had changed. Because in a town of 200 people, that's just not a question that gets asked much.
My response, of course, was: Here.
The visit was bittersweet. A lot had changed. But then again, a lot had stayed the same, too.
And many of you shared some wonderful stories in the comments to that piece. The stories spanned decades and generations, but in the end, each person shared one common interest: home.
That being said, those same comments reminded me that I still have a few photos of Berger that I've been meaning to share. These photos are from a book my dad purchased when it was published, back in the 1970s. The book was a project done by a group of journalists from my alma mater, the University of Missouri-Columbia. As the book states inside its front cover, exactly twenty-six photojournalism students descended onto Berger during the 1976 Labor Day weekend. Their task was to document a way of life in the river town. What they created was a beautiful, and now historic, depiction of life in Berger during that time.
And I love these photos because it's easy to forget the life this small town still quietly holds. When taking a stroll down its sidewalks today, it's easy to forget that there are whispers and secrets and laughter from generations constantly bouncing off its walls and streets and river bottom dirt. But I think, most of all, these photos remind me of just how much the little town where I grew up and that old saying have in common: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Regardless of your generation, when you close your eyes, is this how you see home?
Read my previous piece on Berger here.
The population hasn’t changed much in the last two decades, but it seems as though everything else might have. It’s been twenty years since I ventured back to this place. And twenty years ago, people were still shoveling away inches of river silt and washing away flood lines from all the walls left over from a long, hard flood.
But those stained walls and silt-covered, gray fields and highways aren't really how I remember the place I spent the first ten years of my life. For that, you probably have to go back more like twenty-five years. And to be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect when I passed that city limits sign a couple days ago. But as I did, I realized quickly that I was in a town that felt warmly familiar and yet so strangely foreign, all at the same time. In fact, some places looked just the same as when I had left them--small, simple, well-kept. For instance, the ball fields had just been cut and the water tower shined in its usual silver. And the trains--they still roared down the tracks every so often. And the big grain trucks still kicked up dust on dirty, gravel roads in the river bottoms.
But then again, other places were eerily different--as if just skeletons of the things they used to be. For example, the same school swings that I swang on twenty-five years ago still dangled in the summer breeze. The only difference was, there were no kids in their worn seats, and it looked as if there hadn't been for quite some time now. And where there was once sand for little feet, tall weeds grew up and fought the chains for room under the metal crossbars.
And as for the Wood Shed in the middle of town, where I remember old men on squeaky bar stools, now there is no one. Even the woman behind the bar who would always take a dollar in exchange for a big bag of ice has vanished.
And although the four walls of the tiny gas station still stand at the corner of town, gone now are the 3Musketeers and PayDays that used to line a little shelf in front of a counter that was no longer than a TV dinner table. And gone, too, is the lanky man who always sat behind it.
And where there were once 4-H kids laughing over cheeseburgers and fries and Ketchup, they are gone, too, now. There are no tables. No wooden chairs. No Mac's Cafe.
And just two miles outside of town, there isn't so much as a piece of concrete left of the little sidewalk that led to the little white farm house that kept dry the purple bedroom and the pencil marks that climbed the walls as three little girls grew.
And gone, too, is that little white farm house. ...And the matching playhouse. ...And the big gray barn. ...And the tin shed where a little girl kept her treasured rock tumbler. In their places now stand rows and rows of tall, brown corn waiting to be taken up into big green combines.
It was almost as if time had carved out this little place's soul and left only the swings and the tracks and some of the walls of what used to be. And yet, as I drove out of town, I could see kids playing hopscotch in front of that red-brick school. And I saw old men laughing on squeaky bar stools in that tiny bar. And as for that little white farm house, I saw that, too, standing tall amid all that brown corn. And best of all, I saw myself looking at those purple walls lined with books and teddy bears right before I closed my eyes and turned out the light.
And as I glanced in my rearview mirror, I couldn’t help but see the ghosts of the people and the places that had long ago woven themselves into my story. And it was just then, in my rearview mirror, that everything looked the same again—just exactly as I had left it twenty-five years ago, still the same painting that I had always...and would always call...home.
The Two-Year Anniversary Giveaway has come to a close! The entries are all in, and the winner is...
Entry #88. Staci P.
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Staci, you'll be receiving a $25 Amazon gift card, signed copies of Butterfly Weeds, My Butterfly and For All You Have Left, commemorative bookmarks, Butterfly Weeds and My Butterfly guitar picks and a Butterfly Weeds magnet! Thank you so much for participating! And Thank you so much to all of you that participated! I loved hearing about your favorite love stories! And the ones I have not read, I've added to my to-read list! Thank you!
And if you haven't yet, see what's coming this fall:
By Way of Accident Trailer
Check back for cover reveal and preview!
I'm so excited to announce that Butterfly Weeds, My Butterfly and For All You Have Left are now available at the MU Bookstore in Columbia, Mo. –right in between The Host and Noah! So, if you're looking for a paperback copy of either Will and Julia's story or Logan and Jorgen's and you're in the Columbia area, stop by the store on Rollins Road!
I was just reading some of the reviews for For All You Have Left. This is always an anxious process for me. I usually read each word with one, squinted eye, secretly preparing myself for the worst. But really, just now, I'm completely overwhelmed. Those who have taken the time to post reviews on Amazon.com or on Goodreads or on other sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, continue to blow me away--in a good way! I will never get over the kind words people take the time to write, knowing that they don't have to! They could very easily be doing something else! But instead, they take a few precious moments out of their day to share their thoughts or to pass along a kind or constructive word! And for that, I (and I think I speak for all authors) am extremely touched and will be forever grateful!
Oh, Data Match Day, I mean, Valentine’s Day...the day that might or might not be encircled with a big red heart on my calendar! Okay, if you know me, you already know I’m totally guilty. I know it’s probably a huge cliché, but I have always loved Valentine’s Day. Even the years my sister was my only Valentine, I still couldn’t help but love the silly, little day! It just makes me so giddy to think of those tiny, little perforated cartoon character cards (see photo to the left) and those big, cheesy heart balloons. I just can’t help it!
And I just can’t help but love all the silly, little traditions that go along with the day either! I’m not sure what life in second grade would have been like without things like mailbox decorating. I mean, who doesn’t love snatching up every foam and paper lace heart in the Valentine’s aisle and sticking them to an old, stinky shoe box?! Who cares what goes in it or from whom?! If you had a mailbox with a working heart-covered flag, you were the queen of the red and pink shoe boxes for a day!
And maybe your school didn’t partake in this next lovely tradition, but my 180-student-body high school in small-town Missouri surely did! Does the photo below look at all familiar?!
The Data Match!
I guess we had to find ways to entertain ourselves. This was, of course, before the days of Match.com! But seriously, every year, each person would fill out a short questioner with questions on it like: What is your idea of a perfect Friday night? or something like that. Then, on Valentine’s Day, you would go to a little table in the hall, sift through the 180 envelopes until you found the one with your name on it. Then, you'd eagerly snatch it up. At this point, you’re so excited that you turn around to your best friend with the look of a thousand lifetimes of smiles on your face before you go to rip open the envelope. But suddenly, you stop, and a horrifying sense of dread washes over you. You've just remembered that the guy at the top of your list last year was your cousin and that the guys that followed him weren't much better. In fact, you had known all of them long enough to remember that one wet his bed his entire fourth year of life, one sat next to you in Sunday school and picked his nose the whole time and the other gave you a box of chocolates with a frog in it in fifth grade.
It’s not until this point that you think maybe it’s best you never see the names. You stuff the envelope into the back pocket of your jeans and keep moving, until your best friend catches up to you and forces you to retrieve and open said envelope. You do it only because of peer pressure because there's nothing worse than peer pressure when you're sixteen. And suddenly, the seal is broken, the names are exposed, and sure enough, Cousin makes the top of the list yet again!
Oh, Data Match Day!
But you didn’t expect me to end this story without a happily ever after, did you?! Never! Well, I'm proud to say that on February 14, 2001, my high school sweetheart and I finally outmatched the Data Matcher! With just a little cheating (Okay, every one of our answers might have been the same), I held my breath that day, opened my envelope, peeked at the results through one squinted eye...and sure enough, found HIS name at the top of my list! Talk to the hand, Data Matcher! (Unfortunately, we said things like that in the 00s—the decade we couldn't quite figure out what to call!) But really, life didn't get any better than that! And it still amazes me how something like beating the Data Matcher—even if there was a tiny bit of cheating involved—seemed to right the world again at seventeen!
But anyway, all this rambling is really just to say, Have a Happy Valentine’s Day! It's always nice to have that one day a year where putting little hearts everywhere doesn't make you look totally crazy! ♥♥♥
And if you so happen to find yourself in the reading mood on this “most romantic” day of the year, you can also check out my newly released contemporary romance, For All You Have Left! I promise you’ll find a love story there...and maybe even a happily ever after too!
THANK YOU SO MUCH to all those who helped to make the release of For All You Have Left so special! Thank you, readers, for all your 1-clicks! Thank you, bloggers, for taking the time to read and write amazing reviews or host giveaways and interviews. And thank you also to all those who dropped kind words of support along the way! You guys are amazing!
And if you haven't had a chance yet, check out For All You Have Left on Amazon.com and online at Barnes and Noble. And also, feel free to leave a review on the site where you purchased Logan and Jorgen's story to let others know what you thought!
For All You Have Left is now available in e-book and paperback!
Logan Cross met her first love on the playground when she was nine. She married him at eighteen. But life had different plans for Logan. And now at twenty-two, she is in the midst of starting over when Jorgen Ryker moves in next door. Jorgen suspects that Logan might be hiding a few secrets, but neither he nor Logan are ready when she reveals her biggest secret from her past—a secret that neither of them realizes they share.
What People Are Saying
"This is certainly one of my favorite love stories ever."
~ A Novel Review Blog
"Laura Miller has captured small-town life perfectly."
~Romantic Reading Escapes
“If you like Nicholas Sparks, you're sure to love Laura Miller. Her books always leave me in emotional warfare. For All You Have Left was no different."
~Erica of Gutter Girls Book Reviews
Watch the Trailer!
Read the Prologue!
Only two things about that afternoon stick out to me—two things that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. One of those things is the smell the tires made after they had laid a jagged line of black rubber across the faded highway and into the ditch. There were tall wild flowers growing up every which way around me, but all I could think about was that bitter smell of burnt rubber. I remember a breath and then a moment where I think my mind was trying to catch up with my body. Then, there were muffled sounds and blurry images and panicked movements. But that smell was so distinct. Even now, just the thought of rubber pressed deep into a surface makes my stomach turn.
That’s one thing I remember about my last ride—about the day that changed my story forever. It’s the dark thing—the memory I wish I had lost, along with most of the others.
The other thing I remember, though, is my light—my little piece of hope when all hope seemed lost. I remember the way it felt in my hand. It was hard, and its edges were just sharp enough that I could almost feel pain again when I squeezed my fingers around it. I wanted that so badly—pain. I wanted to feel pain on my skin and in my bones, anywhere that wasn’t my heart. I was starting to feel numb, and it was almost more terrifying than the thought of a tomorrow—a new day where I would be living someone else’s life.
No one had told me at the time, but I already knew. I already knew my life was going to be different. I knew my life had changed. I remember squeezing my bloody fingers around the metal edges of that shiny figure, pressing the sharpest edge into my thumb—until I felt something. I knew I was leaving my life out there along that quiet highway, among the swaying wild flowers and that bitter smell of burnt rubber. And as the doors shut and the ambulance pulled away, my eyes fell heavy on the hope in my hand. And I remember thinking: If I could still feel, maybe I wouldn’t just wither away—maybe there was still hope for me.
Listen to the soundtrack that plays in the background of For All You Have Left. Songs like Marry Me by Train and Over You by Miranda Lambert help tell Logan Cross's story! But I'm sure there are others out there! Feel free to add your own songs in the comments! And be sure to look for For All You Have Left on Amazon!
The For All You Have Left Soundtrack
1. I Want Crazy – Hunter Hayes
2. Marry Me – Train
3. I Really Miss You – Miranda Lambert
4. Bruises – Train featuring Ashley Monroe
5. Let Her Go – Passenger
6. Falling Slowly – Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
7. Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not – Thompson Square
8. (Kissed You) Good Night – Gloriana
9. Fishin' In The Dark – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
10. Red – Taylor Swift
11. Say – John Mayer
12. Over You – Miranda Lambert
13. A Little Bit Stronger – Sara Evans
14. See You Again – Carrie Underwood
I write about rain on tin roofs, gravel roads, old trucks with holes in the floorboards and small-town summer nights. I grew up on a farm in a little Midwestern town. Now, I live in Kansas City, Mo., with my weatherman husband.
Laura Miller's first contemporary romance novel, Butterfly Weeds, hit the Amazon Best-Seller's List and Top 100 in October 2012. The sequel to Butterfly Weeds, My Butterfly, released in June 2013. For All You Have Left, By Way of Accident, When Cicadas Cry and A Bird on a Windowsill followed. Look for The Life We Almost Had, Laura's latest small-town romance, at book retailers now. And check out her children's book, Pay It Forward!