BY: HEIDI SPROUSE
On a blustery winter’s afternoon, Casey Henry discovers her father-in-law’s journal concealed in a cedar chest and shares it with her husband, Emmett. They sit together on their bedroom floor, mesmerized. Jackson Henry might have been a man of few words when it came to speech, but his devotion is faithfully committed to paper, echoed by the love letters of his wife. The young couple unearth the kind of love every girl dreams of while wearing her pillowcase veil and singing, “Someday my prince will come.” From the day Emmett’s parents fell in love until the startling conclusion, the young Henrys hold their breath and dab their eyes…
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In A Man of Few Words by Heidi Sprouse, Casey Henry finds her father-in-law’s journal hidden in a cedar chest in the attic and shares it with her husband Emmett. As the couple reads the journal together, they learn the story of Jackson and Beth Henry, Emmett’s parents, and the strength of their love in the face of horrific trials and tribulations. We get both the story of the elder Henrys and that of Casey and Emmett as the two stories are interwoven throughout the book.
Sprouse’s character development is superb and you can’t help but fall in love with her characters, laughing and crying with them through the good times and bad, as a great love story unfolds. A compelling and heartwarming read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: A Man of Few Words by Heidi Sprouse is the story of Jackson and Beth Henry as told by Jackson in his journal, which is found in the attic by his daughter-in-law, Casey. Casey shows the journal to her husband, Emmett. Together Emmett and Casey read the journal, treating us to the heart-breaking and heartwarming story of Jackson’s love for his wife Beth, and his steadfast determination to protect her and provide a good life for her and their children. But Jackson’s task is made more difficult by an injury to his back that leaves him all but crippled. This injury is all the more devastating because Jackson is a horse farmer/trainer by trade, and his injury makes it difficult for him to make a living. As Emmett and Casey read the journal, the author also treats us to flashes of their current lives and some of the obstacles facing them.
Sprouse has a fresh and unique voice that pulls you in and captures you in its spell. Her characters are fabulous, her plot solid and well thought out, with plenty of twists and turns that will catch you by surprise. Whether you are looking for a little romance, or just a compelling story of strong determined people facing almost insurmountable obstacles, you’re going to love A Man of Few Words.
To say that winter did not agree with her was an understatement. Cooped up in the house with too much time off, and Doctor Casey Henry was going out of her mind. She could easily self-diagnose her problem: a severe case of cabin fever. The remedy: physical activity and plenty of it. Restless for no reason and unable to sit still, she began a cleaning frenzy. After a year of marriage, the Henry House still held a fair share of secrets. Poking in all of the nooks and crannies would be an adventure.
Casey ran out of steam in the last room, their bedroom. Her rope of long, dark hair was heavy against her neck and clinging to her skin, irritating her as everything tended to do of late. She pinned the whole mess up on top of her head and sat down on the edge of the bed, blowing her bangs from her face and rubbing at the small of her aching back. Her mind became clouded with the image of her husband’s strong, capable hands taking over the massage for her before moving on to some other choice areas.
As a horse farmer with a lifetime of experience gentling those large animals, Emmett had magic in his fingertips. Closing her eyes, she pictured the many times his touch had soothed her body. Her pillow beckoned, urging her to go to sleep and finish the fantasy. Perhaps Em would make her dream become a reality later that night.
Cracking an eyelid, Casey considered grabbing the quilt at the foot of the large, four poster bed when the cedar chest underneath caught her eye. Intriguing as Pandora’s box, it was the one thing in this room she had never opened. She stood and reached her arms over her head in an ambitious stretch to shake out the kinks and knelt down on the floor, something that wasn’t as easy as it used to be. The latch popped easily and the sweet scent of cedar rose to greet her as she lifted the lid.
Carefully emptying the contents one item at a time, the box revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Blankets, baby clothes, and photo albums mounded in a heap. Casey thought she hit bottom until her hand struck a loose board. Curious, she lifted up one end and found a gorgeous quilt, folded in a neat square, bound by a ribbon, with a sachet placed under the bow. Someone had packed away this blanket with care.
Setting aside the piece of wood, Casey lifted the quilt with hands that trembled, as if they knew the history of the heirloom. The needlework had been done with great attention to detail, a colorful assortment of small patches pieced together to create the famous wedding ring pattern that graced countless homes in America. Resting it carefully in her lap, she flipped one corner. Jackson and Elizabeth Henry, September 4, 1957 was sewn in neat, small script.
Emmett’s mother must have had a part in the masterpiece. Itching to see the full glory of her mother-in-law’s handiwork, she stood up and undid the tie. A journal bound in leather, soft, lined and broken-in with wear, tumbled to the floor, along with a locket, letters, and a few pictures.
“Emmett! Em, come here right now!” she called out, breathless with excitement.
Footsteps pounded up the stairs, coming in a rush. Casey had never heard him move so fast before. “What, what’s wrong?” He hesitated for only an instant to scan the room, yet still he managed to draw her eye, could draw every eye in a crowded room, completely at home in his own skin. Those GQ models couldn’t hold a candle to him. Dressed in his typical wear–jeans, flannel shirt with a white T-shirt poking out, comfortable in his stocking feet, Emmett Henry was a marvel.
Dark hair streaked by the sun, regardless of the time of year, tumbled into amber eyes that gleamed like a jar of golden honey held to the light. They touched on her and glowed softly, flooded with relief that she was all right. He knelt beside her, his hand pressing on the nape of her neck, his touch tender. These days, he treated her like she was made of spun glass. “What is it?”
“I’m fine, but look what I found.” Her gesture encompassed the small collection of keepsakes strewn in front of her.
He settled on the floor at her side and situated himself cross-legged, fingering the material of the quilt, his face going soft with wonder. “I haven’t seen this since I was little. Mama,” Emmett swallowed hard, eyes suddenly bright, “my mother used to gather it around Wyatt and me on rainy days or stormy nights. She’d stay and cuddle with us for hours.”
Casey picked up the necklace and set it in his hand.
His fingers closed around hers, the chain entangled in between their palms as they warmed the golden locket. “She let me play with this. I used to make the heart spin in the sunlight, watch the sparkles on the wall.” He cleared his throat and flicked the clasp with his thumb, revealing his parents on their wedding day.
“They’re beautiful, Em.” Casey wrapped an arm around his waist, giving him comfort or support, whichever he needed. Rigid at first, he went loose at her touch. Taking in the other treasures, she picked up the sachet and inhaled deeply. “Mmm. Roses…and rosehip, maybe?”
Emmett fingered the organdy packet and savored the scent. He rested it on his cheek and closed his eyes. “Mama loved roses. She used to make these all of the time from the bushes growing out in front of the house. My father must have saved this one. Funny, all this time and you can still smell it.”
He set the sachet and the locket on the floor and sifted through the pictures, picking up one of a young couple standing with a horse in between, both looping one arm around the beauty’s neck. They wore smiles from ear to ear. Jackson Henry dressed almost the same as his son, minus the heavy shirt, while Elizabeth wore a party dress. Emmett shook his head with a small smile. “I never saw my father when he was this young. Just look at them.” He laughed softly and flipped the photograph over. Someone with sparing, tidy handwriting had written, At my Beth’s 18th Birthday Party, July 12, 1956.
Casey traced the picture. “You really look like him, you and Wyatt, so handsome. Your mother, she was a real beauty.” Emmett could only nod, his thumb stroking the old photograph. “What about this?” She set the journal in his lap, pulling him away from the undertow of his memories.
“I’ve never seen this before.” He opened the book, found his father’s name and the date inside the cover, Jackson Henry, July 1956. Flipping through the pages, hundreds, filled from front to back, he let out a low whistle. “No wonder my father didn’t talk a lot. He put all of his words in here.” His fingers stilled a few pages in. “Dad even pasted in letters from Mama.”
Casey rested her hand on his and gave it a gentle squeeze. “You want to read it to me?”
After a year spent in blindness, reading was one thing Emmett Henry would never take for granted again. Something that gave his wife pleasure to no end was to hear his sweet voice as his eyes roamed over any kind of print. Indulging her, because he always did, Em gathered her between his legs, leaned back against the bed, and his rich, low voice rolled out softly in a river of words, his father’s words.
“‘I’m a man of few words–always have been, all my twenty years…as if that’s so long. Get to the point, I say, don’t waste your breath. Not much need for talk around the horses I’ve worked with all of my life. They’re sensitive to moods and body language.’”
Emmett shook his head. “That’s funny. It’s like he’s standing next to me or talking in my head. You don’t know how many times he said that.” Clearing his throat, he continued,
“‘That’s the way it should be, but I met the girl I’m going to marry today and I’ve got to get her down, get her right. Funny thing is, I’ve known her most all of her life, but I didn’t really see her until today. Her name is Elizabeth Mason and she’s got hair like the sunrise and eyes that shine as clear as a blue sky without any clouds to get in the way. Her eyes crinkle in the corners when she laughs and how she laughs…a lot.
“‘She’s a pretty little slip of a thing. Her nose could touch my breastbone, right in the center of my chest…perfect for tucking in under my chin. She’s not too skinny. Elizabeth is soft around the edges. Looks like she’d be nice to hold on to. She enjoys eating, got right down to it at the barbecue, something I like to see. I can’t stand a girl who picks at her food. What kind of cook would that kind of woman be?’”
Emmett stopped to nudge Casey in the ribs and give her a little pinch. “Sounds about right. Dad and I have the same taste in women.”
Her nose scrunched up and she stuck out her tongue. “Enough from the Peanut Gallery. Keep reading.”
“You’re perfect.” Emmett shifted slightly, gathering her in closer, and kissed the top of Casey’s head before picking up where he had left off. “‘She reminds me of my horses, shy one moment, ducking her head, turning all pink and frisky the next, her tongue wagging. Shoot, that girl can talk. Hmmm, that’s not enough to put her on the page. There’s so much more. Guess I’ve got to start at the beginning.’”
As Emmett became absorbed in the words in the journal, they both became lost in the past…
© 2017 by Heidi Sprouse