Read Then Came Heaven Online

Authors: LaVyrle Spencer

Then Came Heaven



First time in paperback


Dear Reader,

I’ve been officially retired since completing this book in the spring of 1997. It’s been a fabulous year. My husband, Dan, and I have traveled, spent lots of time with our grandchildren, and really enjoyed our own backyard. Retirement is what I’d hoped it would be, filled with time entertaining friends, poking around in the gardens, touring other people’s gardens, and enjoying life to the fullest.

Many of you have written to express your sadness about my retiring, and your feelings about my books. I thank you all for your warm praise, and for sharing stories of how my books have changed your life. I’m grateful, also, that so many of you have said you hope I’ll write again, but I’m having so much fun I simply don’t see that happening.

Thank you for all your years of support, but especially for your letters during the past year.

My heart is full. My life is happy. My health is top-notch.

I hope each of you can say the same.


LaVyrle Spencer

“One of her best... she is at the top of her form.”
—Omaha Sunday World-Herald

Can love survive a shattering loss?

Browerville, Minnesota, 1950: Life is just about perfect for Eddie Olczak. A man of unshakable faith, he derives intense pleasure from the life he’s built. He cherishes his wife, Krystyna, their daughters, Anne and Lucy, and his job as handyman for St. Joseph’s, the Catholic church that is the cornerstone of Browerville life. But when a tragic accident cuts Krystyna’s life short, Eddie is sure his heart is broken forever. The love she lavished on her family, the way she combed the girls’ hair, the way she greeted Eddie at the end of the day—all the precious gifts she gave are gone.

The town rallies to provide support, but there is one member of the community who is unable to express what Krystyna’s loss has meant to her. Sister Regina, the girls’ teacher at St. Joseph’s, has always felt a special affinity for the Olczaks. But her vows prevent her from becoming too close—even in their time of need.

Sister Regina has always tried to reaffirm her commitment when the strict rules of the sisterhood chafe at her. But with time, as she and Eddie grow to know each other better—and find a connection that goes beyond their shared love of Krystyna and the girls—she faces a difficult challenge. And both of them must summon the courage to look within their own hearts and make their own choices ...

“By the middle of the book, you are running out of tissues... There are so many wonderful characters... I couldn’t read this book fast enough.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer

“The down-home feel of a Midwestern farm community and accurate period detail add to the appeal of Spencer’s romance.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Like Spencer’s other novels,' 
Then Came Heaven
 focuses on real people—flawed, but blessed with a basic goodness that shines through in their everyday lives.”
—San Antonio Express News


Also by LaVyrle Spencer
























LaVyrle Spencer



If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”


A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author

G. P. Putnam’s Sons edition / December 1997 Published simultaneously in Canada Jove edition / April 1999

All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1997 by LaVyrle Spencer.

Cover design and illustration copyright © 1997 by Wendell Minor. Photo of the author copyright © 1995 by John Earle.

This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission.

For information address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

The Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address is

ISBN: 0-515-12462-1


Jove Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

JOVE and the “J” design are trademarks belonging to Jove Publications, Inc.


10 987654321


Thank you to all the people who helped me during the writing of this book:

Virginia & Bill McDonald

Sister Marl Gapinski, my third- / fourth-grade teacher

Al Case, retired Northern Pacific engineer

Mary Gaida Brown, family friend and keeper of memoirs

Joan Gaida Schmitz, family friend

Jim Lucas, son of St. Joseph’s janitor, Eli Lucas

Jean Poplinski, my dear aunt who passed away before this book could be published

Fred Poplinski, my cousin who remembered so much

Mike Poplinski, my cousin who didn 't remember much but got me stood in the corner one time for running in the halls

Sister Ruth at St. Benedict’s Archives

Sister Mary Kraft at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet Archives

In loving memory of my mother and father, Jennie & Louie Kulick






Thursday, September

Cyril Case was making the daily run from St. Cloud to Cass Lake, sitting up high on his box seat in engine number two-eighty-two. Beside him, his fireman, Merle Ficker, rode with one arm out the window, his striped denim cap pushed clean back so the bill pointed skyward. It was a beautiful morning, sunny, the heavens deep blue, farmers out in their fields taking in the last of their crops, most harvesting with tractors, though down around Sauk Center they’d seen one working with a team. They’d passed a country school a couple miles back where the kids, out for recess, waved from the playground, and their teacher—a slim young thing in a yellow dress—had stopped gathering wildflowers, shaded her eyes with an arm and fanned her handful of black-eyed Susans over her head as she watched them pass. It was days like this that made driving a train the best job in the world—green woods, gold fields and the smell of fresh-cut alfalfa blowing straight through the cab. And beneath the men the shuug-a-shuug-a of the steam engine hauling smooth down the tracks.

Cy and Merle were having another one of their friendly disagreements about politics.

“Well, sure,” Merle was saying, “I voted for Truman, but I didn’t think he’d send our boys to Korea!”

“What else you gonna do?” Cy replied. “Those Communists go in and start bombing Seoul. Can’t let ’em get by with that, can we?”

“Well, maybe not, but you ain’t got a nineteen-year-old son and I do! Now Truman goes and extends the draft till next year. Hell, I don’t want Rodney to get called up. I just don’t like how things are going.” Merle pointed. “Whistlepost up ahead.”

“I see it. And don’t worry, MacArthur’ll probably clean ’em up before Rodney gets any draft notice.”

Up ahead on the right, the arm of the white marker shone clear against the pure blue sky. Cy reached up and pulled the rope above his left shoulder. The steam whistle battered their ears in a long wail: two longs, a short and a long—the warning for a public crossing.

The whistlepost flashed past and the long wail ended, leaving them in comparative quiet.

“So,” Cy continued, “I suppose your boy’s gonna go to work for the railroad if he doesn’t get...” He stiffened and stared up the track. “Sweet Jesus, he ain’t gonna make it!” A car had turned off of Highway 71 and came shooting from the left, trailing a dust cloud, trying to beat the train to the crossing.

For one heartbeat the men stared, then Cy shouted, “Car on the crossing! Plug it!”

Merle jumped and hit the air brakes.

Cy grabbed the Johnson bar and squeezed for dear life. With his other hand he hauled on the steam whistle. Machinery ground into reverse and the brakes grabbed. From the engine through the entire train line, everything locked in a deafening screech. Steam hissed as if the door of hell had opened. The smell of hot, oily metal wafted forth like Satan’s own perfume. The couplers, in progression, drummed like heavy artillery from the engine clear back to the caboose while the two old 
 with fifty-three years’ experience between them, felt it in the seat of their pants: forward propulsion combined with a hundred tons of drag, something a railroad man hopes he’ll never feel.

“Hold on, Merle, we’re gonna hit ’em!” Cy bellowed above the din.

“Jesus, Mary, Joseph,” Merle chanted under his breath as the train skated and shrieked, and the puny car raced toward its destiny.

At thirty yards they knew for sure.

At twenty they braced.

At ten they saw the driver.

Dear God, it’s a woman,
 Cy said. Or thought. Or prayed.

Then they collided.

Sound exploded and glass flew. Metal crunched as the gray forty-nine Ford wrapped around the cowcatcher. Together they cannonballed down the tracks, the ruptured car folded over the metal grid, chunks of it dragging along halfsevered, tearing up earth, bruising railroad ties, strewing wreckage for hundreds of yards. Pieces of the car eventually broke free and bounced along the flinty ballast of the rail bed with a sound like a brass band before tumbling to rest in the weeds. Throughout it all some compressed piece of the automobile played the tracks in an unending shriek—metal on metal—like a hundred violins out of tune. Dust! They’d never seen so much dust. It billowed up on impact, a brown, stinky cloud of it, momentarily blinding Cy and Merle as they rode along haplessly above the discordant serenade. The smell of petroleum oozed up, and sparks sizzled off the steel tracks, setting small fires in gasoline drips that flared briefly, then blew out as the train passed over them.

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