Heart’s Gold, a Story of Monte Cristo Ghost Town


h 01 entrance to monte
Monte Cristo in the 1890s, showing the end of the line for the Everett & Monte Cristo Railroad

In 1987, the Everett & Monte Cristo Railroad deposits Melinda Mcrea at the end of the line, a rough little mining town high in Washington’s North Cascade Mountains. Monte Cristo’s jumble of unpainted board buildings crowd a tilted triangle of land. Rugged peaks pierce the sky. From their heights echo the blasting of tunnels.

Optimistically, early prospectors named the area after the wealthy Count of Monte Cristo in a popular book by Alexander Dumas. Their town is doomed to struggle from the start by its wild, remote location, the ill-chosen route of the railroad, a poorly-timed recession, and most of all by the vagaries of weather as wild and untamed as the location.

But Monte Cristo refuses to give up. Each spring, crews repair the flood-damaged railroad and mining goes on. Hopes for a bonanza are still high in 1897, although a country-wide depression is devastating Everett, the town planned by Rockefeller and other Eastern financiers to become the center of a burgeoning West Coast empire. The ore from Monte Cristo is  part of their plans.

Melinda unwillingly postpones her dream of education in order to help support her family. She becomes involved in the life of the town while filling in as temporary schoolteacher.

Despite her vow to never marry a miner, she finds herself attracted to Cornish mine captain Quin Chenoweth, the uncle of her young friend Evan. When Evan and other boys get lost in the depths of a mine, she helps Quin search for them. Labor discord leads to an “accident” that nearly kills Quin and his crew, causing her to realize the depth of her feelings for him.

Then autumn rains bring a deluge that once more destroys the railroad. When the Eastern financiers decide to recoup their investments, upheaval for the citizens of Monte Cristo is complete. Is Monte Cristo finished? And how will Melinda solve the conflict between her dreams and her love for Quin?

Heart’s Gold is Book One of Monte Cristo Memories, the true story of Monte Cristo. Melinda, Quin and the other characters exist only in the author’s and reader’s imaginations, but they represent the real people who experienced the story.

Heart’s Gold by Joan Rawlins Husby is now available on amazon.com.

Sun Breaks

This is the post excerpt.

(Archived Sun Breaks blogposts are now included in Rain Song Diaries.)


When the sun breaks through a rip in the clouds and floods the vistas with golden light, heads go up and lungs expand. It’s like a mini-vacation, a kiss of beauty from the heavens, a note of encouragement that brighter days are coming. I hope these posts will be “Sun Breaks” for your soul.


Mom Rescues My Valentine Dress

This post first appeared in Sun Breaks several years ago. It’s one of my favorite Valentine stories.

When quality fabric was less expensive and ready-made clothing was much more costly than it is now, many women sewed for themselves and their families. My mother stitched clothing for her three daughters, two sons, our father and herself.

She taught her daughters the craft as well. Sewing didn’t come easily for me. I spent lots of time ripping out mistakes and starting over, but one mistake was so bad, I had no idea how to fix it.

I was a new teacher, and like other women teachers in those days, I wore dresses and skirts to school. My students, even the boys, seemed to appreciate my pretty clothes, most of which I’d made myself. One day I found a lovely soft piece of red corduroy printed with rows of tiny white hearts and flowers, perfect for the upcoming Valentine’s Day. I knew my fifth graders would enjoy seeing their teacher in something so appropriate.

I bought the cloth and took it to my parents’ home so I could use Mom’s new sewing machine. Carefully, I pinned the pattern pieces in place, cut them out, and began to sew. The top, with its softly draped collar, fitted perfectly. So did half of the flared skirt. I stitched the other half together. Oh, no! I had two half-skirts for the right side, none for the left. And no extra fabric.

Frustration welled. I’d wasted my hard-earned money and ruined my dress. I balled up the pieces and threw them into my mother’s rag bag.

A few days later, Mom stopped by my apartment with a gift…the Valentine dress, exactly as I’d envisioned it. Not until I inspected the reverse side of the fabric could I see how she had recut and fitted pieces together so skillfully the seams couldn’t be seen. The corduroy nap even ran in the right direction. What patience–and the designing skills of an engineer–it must have taken to accomplish that.

My students loved the dress, and so did I. Every time I wore it, I was  reminded again of my mother’s love.

Me in my Valentine’s dress, on my 1962 honeymoon.

Summer Windstorm

This year, we took granddaughter Annie to lunch in LaConner to celebrate her August 28 birthday. The weather was warm, with clouds flying overhead and bursts of wind flinging leaves across the road, but nothing  unusual for a late summer day.

Then the wind picked up. We sat at our table in the Calico Cupboard, watching passing tourists laughing and trying to keep their streaming hair out of their eyes. On the way back to Mt. Vernon, the wind buffeted the car. It yanked leaves and branches from the trees. They pelted us as we pushed through the debris. We dropped Annie at her home and left her dragging fallen branches out of her driveway. A few blocks later traffic stopped. A workman told us a tree was down, blocking the bridge that led into town. So back we went the way we’d come. We dodged many trees that had fallen, mostly deciduous maples, cottonwoods, and alders which still held their heavy canopies of leaves.

I wasn’t quick enough to catch any of the larger branches we saw falling.
A windbreak doing its job for a Skagit Valley farm

With each gust, the air darkened with flying leaves.

A broken table seemed to be our only damage from the wind.      

After our power was restored the next morning, we noticed that my favorite tree in the yard, a native American cranberry bush tree with multiple slender trunks, had spread out all around, with branches nearly touching the ground. Then we saw that the wind yanking on its heavy canopy had lifted the roots and weakened their support for the trunks. Hank cut the leaning parts off, in hopes that what’s left will stay upright.

The American cranberry bush tree in bloom, several years ago.

We were fortunate.  Throughout the Salish Sea region and further south and north, wind speeds equalled some of the stronger storms Western Washington typically receives in the late fall and winter. Gusts in the Seattle-Tacoma area reached 40-50 mph, while gusts to 60-70 mph were common in the North Sound and along the coast.

Because of the four-month drought we’d experienced, leaving trees stressed and weakened, and because trees were still fully leafed out, many that ordinarily could have weathered the storm went down, snapping utility poles and taking out power to many thousands of people. Some were without electricity for nearly a week. A number of homes were damaged by falling trees, and two deaths were reported.

For those who didn’t suffer losses, our unusual summer storm brought concerns, and also excitement such as Annie’s parents experienced. While we celebrated her birthday, they had taken the train to Vancouver, hoping to visit world-famous Stanley Park. Falling trees closed the park, and when they attempted to return the next day, Amtrak, with no electricity, had to stop frequently so crewman could man the switches by hand.

How to Have a Reunion

We have a welcome table where people sign in, get the schedule, and ask questions. Vicki made gift bags too.
We call it the Rawlins reunion because we  share a common set of Rawlins ancestors. We meet every other summer. Those of us in the oldest generation were children at the first Rawlins reunions. Now our children and their children are grown, and some of us are great-grandparents. Here are the three Rawlins sisters, Patty, Lois, and me.

Sister-in-law Mary & brother Bill Rawlins signing someone’s T-shirt.

2nd generation cousins, Rob and Delbert

Talking and listening…equally important

Megan painted faces for the younger ones.
Allen from Alberta & Neva from Illinois look after Zipper from Port Angeles

Gracie the Puppy

Cousins-in-law Hank and Bill Wislen

Be sure to get a group picture.

Make time for family history.

Food…always a big part of the get-together.

Name tags help when younger clan members don’t know everyone.

Rest if you get tired.

Catching up with cousins

More catching up.

Always important to meet the newest family members!
Heather and Don pause for a photo.

An old-fashioned hymn sing before everyone scattered to their far-flung homes.

Christmas Questions

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:  The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel. Isaiah 7:14


Child of Mary and Joseph, on your Galilee housetop,
Searching the stars on a dark Nazareth night,
Did you know of the angels who sang on your birthday
And the shepherds and wise men who longed for your light?

Did those uncounted stars, like the sands of the ocean,
Stir slumbering memories of your Father’s vast scheme?
Did they hint to your youthful mind’s wonderings, dreamings
Of the uncounted souls you would someday redeem?

Oh Emmanuel, Jesus boy, thank you for coming.
Though our hurting world struggles and crumbles apart,
You bring hope to forgiven souls, joy to the grieving,
And Christmas still lives, ever new, in our hearts.

Poem © Joan Husby

Definition of an Elder

“Old age is the most unexpected thing that can happen to a person.”

Here are some encouraging thoughts, not only for us who unexpectedly find ourselves categorized as “elders”, but also for thoughtful younger people who know they’ll someday walk in our moccasins.

An elder is a person who is still growing,
still a learner,
still with potential
 and whose life continues to have within it
 promise for,
 and connection to,
 the future.
An elder is still in pursuit of happiness, joy and pleasure,
 and his or her birthright to these remains intact.
 an Elder is a person who deserves respect and honor
and whose work it is to synthesize wisdom from long life experience
 and formulate this
 into a legacy for future generations.

The Live Oak Project

A Story for Mother’s Day

What happened when Mr. Schuller, the most respected and wealthiest man in the community, owner of one of the first automobiles in the county, offered to take a little farm girl, my mother, to the eye doctor in the big city?

Read The Leading Citizen in Sun Breaks for May 1 if you’d like to find out.

(This story was somehow left out of the posts list for followers of “Sun Breaks.”)

It’s Amazing!

Sun의 휴식에 오신 것을 환영합니다!

         Välkommen till Sun Raster!
                    Fáilte go dtí Sosanna Sun! 

Welcome to Sun Breaks, in almost any language Google supports!

I found a new gadget for blog readers yesterday. Go ahead and try it. (It’s near the top of the screen, on the left.) Scroll down to the language of your choice, click, and seconds later an unseen genie translates the entire blog into the language you chose. Marvelous!

Hello from the USA, people of the world.