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The Long Road Home is a personal story of the lives of James Johnston and Miranda Madderra, the characters you met in "The Great Southern Circus". This time you will follow their emotional journey through the dark years of the American Civil War.
It is a story of hope, despair, joy, heartache, bitter division and reconciliation on a personal level for friends divided by war.
It is the story of old friends that met during the long circus tour described in "The Great Southern Circus". These four people were seperated by fate during the War. Two men, one white and one black, took up arms for the Union, one for the South, and one young woman who tried with all her courage to hold her family together while the war raged around her.
This book is based on recollections of the War as they were passed on to the author by his grandmother.
Below is a sample from this book:
July 1, 1863
James had the dream again last night. He was back on the road with the Great Southern Circus. Randi was riding bareback on the running white horse, her legs flexing smoothly as she balanced gracefully with her arms wide spread atop the speeding animal.
The heavy beat of the circus band matched the pounding of the horses hooves. Together they seemed to drum against his chest as he watched her speed around the ring. Her beauty took his breath away, same as always. A sense of dread crept into his dream. Something was wrong.
Waking with a cry, and drenched with sweat, he suddenly sat straight up in the little tent. It took him several seconds to transition from dream to reality. The jarring boom of cannon shook the earth and the flash of hundreds lit the sky around him.
The circus was over. Randi was home on Sand Mountain. His old friends Miles and Duffee were fighting for the Union. He was wearing the gray uniform of a lieutenant in the Confederate Army and sleeping here on the cold hard ground near a little Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg.
While trying to remember if he finished his prayers, he rose painfully to his feet, pulled on his boots and limped down to the creek where he sat down on a large rock and splashed cold water into his face. As he rubbed his eyes and rinsed out his mouth with the cold spring water, Sergeant Smith walked up leading their horses.
James thought back to the dream and his old friends from Wisconsin. "I wonder what outfit that is up yonder?"
Smitty beat his hat against his leg and spat. "Damned if I know. From what I can see it's a bunch of blue bellies thick as ants at a church picnic. I'm a feared General Lee has done shit and stepped back in it this time Lieutenant. If we ever get our asses back to Virginia hit will be a miracle!"
James sighed and pulled on his hat. "Well Smitty, I recon we are soon gonna find out." Together they swung onto their horses and rode slowly toward the sound of the cannon.
July 1, 1863
Times were hard on the little Alabama farm. The Union blockade had all but stopped the availability of dry goods from England. She and her family had so many patches sewn into their clothes that her Momma joked that they all looked like Joseph's coat of many colors from the Bible. Food was scarce and it seemed they were always hungry.
Their few family heirlooms had been packed into the old circus trunk and hoisted with great difficulty into the fork of a huge oak where it was disguised with branches and leaves to keep it safe from Yankee raiders. She hadn't heard from James in over a year. Each trip to town was filled with apprehension that she would find his name there, posted on the window of the general store, where all the war casualties were listed as they became known. She had become so afraid to look that her sister had volunteered to make the weekly trip.
Today Randi sat rocking on the front porch of the old house, mending clothes and occasionally glancing down the road toward town for the first glimpse of her returning sister. Catching a sob in her throat, Randi thought "She ought to be back by now."
Taking two deep breaths to hold back the tears, she stepped down from the porch onto the hard packed clay and began to walk slowly toward town. She would meet her sister on the road. She couldn't wait any longer. She had to know.
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The Great Southern Circus
In the early summer of 1859, an Alabama farm boy named James Johnston had no idea that his life was about to change forever. The clouds of civil war were gathering when he met Miranda "Randi" Madderra, a beautiful young bareback rider with a small traveling circus.
In The Great Southern Circus, a riveting first novel by Nick West, you will ride with the performers as they traverse the southeastern United States during these uncertain times.
In a little over two years, the circus traveled miles equal to a journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back through frontier country where there were no paved roads, few bridges, and poor directions between towns.
They braved bad weather, illness, outlaws, accidents, and fire with every day presenting a new challenge. Despite these difficulties, from 1859-1861, Orton and Older's Great Southern Circus completed an extended tour that began in Portage, Wisconsin, and traveled south through eighteen states, crossing state lines thirty-seven times in one hundred and twenty-three weeks.
In horse-drawn wagons, they would traverse the Great Smoky, Appalachian, and Blue Ridge Mountains twice. The Great Southern Circus tells the true story of one circus family who made that tour.
All the characters in this book were real people, and every incident mentioned in this narrative actually happened during that long journey. At the heart of this tale is a love story of a girl who performed with the circus and the young man who joined the circus just to be near her.
The Great Southern Circus also tells the story of a young black man who joined the circus to search for his sister, who was a slave somewhere in the South. This is the true story of lifetime friendships formed during that tour; friendships that would bond men and women from the North and South, either black or white, in a love for each other that transcended the horror of War.
Below is a sample from this book:
Albertville, Alabama September 12, 1902
The granddaughter's had been into the old trunk again. James had come up to the attic to bring down the blankets for Randi. The first frost of the winter had come to the valley this morning and it was time, she said, to get out the winter covers. The familiar ache in his joints was another reminder that winter was near. Too many nights sleeping on the cold ground. Too many nights squatting around campfires. Too many campaigns. A soft tremor shook his shoulders as the years flew flickering through his memories. Where in the world did the time go?
The girls had been playing "dress up", and as usual, had left the clothes from the trunk scattered across the attic floor like colorful leaves driven by a gust of fall wind. James stooped carefully to pick up the faded old garments, fold and return them to the battered trunk, before his wife found that the girls had been "prowling" again.
One of the objects on the floor caught his eye. A sunbeam reflecting off a rose colored sequin sparkled like a tiny diamond through the dust. He picked up the pink costume, and holding it out at arms length, turned it gently so the reflections from the glittering sequins danced among the dots of floating dust like tiny fire flies across his cheeks. Verna, his youngest granddaughter who was nearly seven, had once told Randi that the costume was "The most beautiful thing she had ever seen". It was hard for him to argue.
He brought the fabric to his face and inhaled gently. Maybe he was just somehow imagining....maybe pulling a memory from somewhere long ago....but he could swear the hint of her perfume lingered on the fabric. In his mind he could still hear the pounding music of the band. Still smell the sawdust and the chuck wagon. Some melancholy sweetness deep within him stirred the passion in his chest.
His Randi, down in the kitchen, humming a hymn while she worked. Was she really there? Could it all have been just a dream? His knees still grew weak just thinking about holding her. The warmth of her lying there with her head on the pillow beside him every night still seemed surreal. Some nights, he would just lay there watching her sleep. Oh God how he loved her.
Like a portal through time, the costume in his hands pulled his thoughts back through the years like swirling, receding clouds, to the first time he ever saw her. To the day that began so normally, to the moment his great adventure began.
* Background music by Dixie Broadway