Maggie Vaults Over the Moon retells the story of Maggie Steele, a gritty farm girl from tiny Grain Valley, Kansas, who pours her broken heart into the daring and dangerous sport of pole-vaulting. Kirkus Reviews says the novel “…exudes sweetness; in some ways, it feels as if it takes place in another era, as it lacks the dark edge seen in other popular YA stories…”
A morsel of this story’s other-era sweetness can be tasted in a nostalgic food scene in which the stressed and grieving Steele family takes a break from a long day’s harvesting to savor a fresh, home-cooked dinner – transported from the farmhouse kitchen to a half-cut Kansas wheat field.
I chomped the buttery corn and chewed the fried chicken clean off the bone, wiping my hands on my napkin. Looking out from where we sat, I could see about a third of the wheat field had been cut.
“We still have a lot of work to do before dark, but we’ve made a good start of it,” Dad said.
Mom and Grandma took our empty plates and put the leftovers back in the basket. There was easily enough food left over for a hungry teenager, but if anybody else was thinking about Alex, they didn’t say so.
Even as full as I was, I still felt empty. But I kept the feeling to myself.
Now just before that scene, heroine Maggie Steele, for the very first time in her life, drove a fully-loaded grain truck from the wheat field to the Grain Valley Elevator, eight miles distant on the county blacktop. Driving the huge truck was a chore that her older brother, Alex, had always done, but that was before Alex and his friend Caleb had both been killed in a car crash one month before.
On the way to town, Maggie made a driving mistake and barely managed to keep the fully-loaded truck from overturning on the highway. She arrives at the elevator shaken and frightened about taking her brother’s place on the family farm, but sits down to dinner with family members who seem to believe that if they don’t acknowledge who’s missing, everything looks, tastes, and smells as if all is okay. Maggie indulges her sense but isn’t fooled. After what she experienced on the highway, she knows everything has changed. And even a heaping plateful cannot fill the empty space she feels inside.
My years spent as a newspaper reporter in Kansas wheat country provided most of the scenes in the story. And while I'd heard-tell about harvest field dinners like this, I'd never seen one. Today, even the smallest towns have a place where Maggie could pick up some hamburgers and fries on the way back to the field, and so they do. Womenfolk like Grandma who felt compelled to fix such big dinners are mostly gone. Moms like Maggie's now work in town or drive the big grain trucks themselves.
I heard from an older reader who especially liked this scene because he'd experienced field dinners just like these, with clean linen napkins, cold metal tumblers and everything. He said Maggie touched him so deeply that he cried when he finished reading it, because he didn’t want the story to end.
As for me, I felt like I needed to write this scene into the story because I wanted an eating event that went beyond the kitchen table and took on the feel of a mythic meal. I wanted you to taste the goodness, and believe that there really is a place called Grain Valley, Kansas, with a golden wheat field like this one – where your Grandma still fusses and fills your plate with fried chicken, potatoes and gravy, and Oh! fresh-baked bread, buttered with love. Where you, too, can taste the sweetness again.
Thanks for sharing your food for thought, Grant!
Former Miami Herald Sportswriter Grant Overstake is a lifelong participant in the sport of track and field who competed in the decathlon for the University of Kansas Jayhawks. A multiple award winner for excellence in journalism, Maggie Vaults Over the Moon is the author’s premiere work of sports fiction, and is now available in paperback and e-book at Amazon.com.