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Homeschooling Can Be Murder


Army wife and homeschooling mom, Jeanine Talbott has a busy week scheduled, so when her husband’s transfer orders come through, she decides to let him pick out the new house and move their goods while she and the kids slowly wrap up the life they’ve grown to love. As she pulls up to...


Army wife and homeschooling mom, Jeanine Talbott has a busy week scheduled, so when her husband’s transfer orders come through, she decides to let him pick out the new house and move their goods while she and the kids slowly wrap up the life they’ve grown to love.

As she pulls up to their new residence, she discovers her darling bought a charming fixer-upper complete with rather unexpected neighbors—a graveyard full of Civil War veterans.

As the family, gets settled in Gentle Springs, Jeanine hears strange noises coming from next door. Then, James goes TDY and while he's gone, their dog escapes the yard and finds a fresh body in the cemetery. Suddenly, the Talbotts have two mysteries on their hands: who killed the treasure hunter the dog unearths, and what secret was he trying to uncover at the tomb of town hero, Captain Cooperton?




I blame it on soccer. (If I didn’t blame it on soccer, I’d have to blame it on me, and I’m not ready to go there yet.) So, you must understand that if it weren’t for soccer, James wouldn’t have picked out the house on his own. If it weren’t for soccer, he wouldn’t have needed my proxy at closing, and I could have avoided moving into our current abode. If it weren’t for soccer, I wouldn’t have found a fresh corpse in the middle of an ancient graveyard. And if it weren’t for soccer, I would not currently be crawling around in the mud with my kids looking for clues to a murder.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you the whole story.

First, you need to understand that I’m an Army wife. James has made the service a career, and I’m proud of him and what he does. But that means every two to four years, we move. To give our kids some stability and to pass on our beliefs, we decided to homeschool.

We are all J’s. When James and I met, he thought it was cute that both our names started with the letter J; so after we married, he decided that should be a trademark for our family. And it is, down to the dog. My name is Jeanine, my ten-year-old son is Justin, and his eight-year-old sister is Josie. Our dog? He’s a slobbering but loyal bulldog we named Jelly.

I knew last year, as it was James’s fourth year at our current post, we’d move soon. Four years is a long time in one spot if you live the Army life. Often, we’d moved away from other areas I enjoyed after only two years. Still, I wouldn’t admit aloud that the move date was approaching.

My kids had a life here and friends. Justin was in a soccer league he loved and on a winning team. Josie had a precious best friend who lived next door. The two precocious readers traded Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books back and forth. Her friend, Mary, even had a couple of the computer games. But after Mary lost several times straight to my darling Josie, they stopped playing the mystery computer games and simply played pretend detective instead. My sweet girl has a semi-photographic memory. Since she remembered all the clues in the game, she always won.

We also had a great church with lots of people who loved us and prayed for us there, along with a dynamic pastor who knew all of us by name. Both kids sang in the choir and went to AWANA. They’d grown up a lot in the last four years. All Josie could remember of our previous post she’d left at a tender four years of age were disconnected pictures and faces without names. That one seemed like a dream to her. To my kids and me, this post, this state, was home.

So when James came home with orders to leave Georgia, I found all sorts of excuses to ignore the upcoming move. Finally, when he said the house hunting had to be done the next week or else, he went on leave alone. Justin had a soccer game against his team’s archrival. Their homeschool group was going on the coolest field trip to a potato chip factory. And my ladies’ Bible study was having their annual tea. It was a week we couldn’t possibly miss. Especially Justin, though. As the star player, his team would never have forgiven him for missing such a crucial game just to look for a new house in another state.

James called after two days with more than his usual “I’m fine, how are the kids” update. “I’ve found our home, Jeanine. It’s perfect.”

I guess I could have been more supportive and enthusiastic. The least I could have done would have been to ask the right questions. “Mmm-hmm? You did?”—was my rather eloquent response.

“Sweetheart, you’d never believe it. It’s in a quiet neighborhood. I’d only have to drive five minutes to get to post. The house is big. Full basement, eat-in kitchen, three bedrooms, and two full bathrooms, one on each level. Even has a playroom for the kids and an enclosed porch that could become that sewing room you always wanted.”

I nodded as though he could hear that through the phone.

“Are you listening?”

“Of course I am. I can’t help wondering how something so great will fit in our budget.”

“Well…” He hedged.

Here it comes, I thought.

“It does need a little work.”


“Not that much. The sellers have even agreed to put on a new roof at no additional charge. Mostly cosmetic stuff like new paint and fixtures. Even I could do it. It’s a beautiful old house.”

Warning gongs should have been going off in my head when he said the sellers were so cooperative before he had even made an offer. And the word “old” might have set an alarm to ringing. But I was too stuck in my I-don’t-want-to-move mindset to notice.

“How much?”

He gave me a figure several thousand less than what the realtor said our current home would go for.

“See Neenie,” he sweet-talked using his pet name for me, “we’d even make a profit that we could put in the kids’ bank accounts for college.”

That hit my weak spot, and he knew it. “Well, maybe…” Extra money plus a possible sewing room, and I became putty in his hands. Putty made me think of someone else I knew and loved, though. “But what about Jelly?”

“It has a large, fenced-in backyard.” He was waiting for me to ask and was ready. After nearly fifteen years of marriage, he knew me all too well.

“OK, then,” I said, sealing my fate. “Put an offer in on the house.”

The two months until the move flew by faster than any months in my life. James continued to take care of all of the details while I ran the kids between their activities. In May, they received their AWANA awards and took their end-of-the-year testing for school. In June, James went to closing with my proxy because Justin’s team had made it to the semi-finals. Josie wanted to join a swim team with Mary, but James put his foot down.

“We need to be wrapping up that life, Jeanine, not starting something new.”

He was right, but I still hated to say no to her.

Justin has always loved preserving a bit of his life from various stages. I guess that’s why he got interested in taxidermy in the first place. But now that school was over and soccer his only other focus, he began to find and stuff all sorts of creatures from our neighborhood. (I avoided the garage like the plague if I knew he was out there with a latest find.) He also reread his comfort book on the life of Theodore Roosevelt for like the twentieth time. We each have our ways of coping with change, I guess. I only wish my son’s didn’t involve so many furry corpses. But T.R., who enjoyed the same hobbies as a child, would have been proud of Justin.

My friends from the Army wives’ club kept me somewhat on task by coming over periodically and helping me box up some of my mother’s china and such—anything they wouldn’t have trusted the movers with themselves. Karen, whose husband was nearing the twenty-year retirement mark, spelled it out for me.

“You may not like it, Jeanine, but that doesn’t stop it from happening.”

“But why couldn’t we stay here? Here is home. The kids have grown up here. All they know and remember is here.”

“And it’s close enough to your dad to visit on the weekends. I know. I’ve been there, too. But you are married to a soldier, so this is not home. Home is where he’s stationed.” Karen’s husband was overseas now, and I understood her double meaning. She could not be home in the truest sense until he was. I was a spoiled child pouting that I couldn’t have my way when my own beloved husband was heading with me, with us, to another stateside assignment. I was blessed.

So why did I feel so miserable?

July came too soon and with it, the movers. I hovered over them as they boxed our non-essential clothes, dishes, and the furniture. A week later, James left with Josie and Jelly to meet the movers on the other end.

“I wish you were coming with me, Neenie,” he said as he kissed me.

I nearly caved. James’s kisses never failed to weaken my knees, and they often penetrated my resolve, too. But then I thought about where I was and the people here. I wanted to be with James, but I didn’t want to leave Georgia yet. It was so close to everything I grew up with. “I know you do. And I will miss you.” He gave me a doubting glance. “Really, I will. Think of this as a parental temporary duty station. I’m on TDY here until Justin’s team is done with the championship games.”

He frowned. Normally James is cheerful and upbeat, so the frown threw me for a bit of a loop. “They knew he was going to need to move. I talked to the coach. They won’t hold anything against him if he missed out on the final games. I know he wants to play, but I think this is just as much about you, Jeanine.”

I shook my head and walked around to his back so I could do two things. Rub his shoulders, and not look him in the eye. He relished the back rub. I could count on it distracting him for a while. “How many times in his life will he be on the top team? I just don’t want to deny him the experience,” I insisted as I kneaded James’s tight muscles.

“I don’t buy it,” he said. He reached behind and took my hands off his shoulders then turned around to restore eye contact. He put a hand gently on either side of my face and pulled me to him. “I’m praying that Justin’s team wins in record time and that you get over this mood and I see my best girl walking up the steps of our home in Gentle Springs next week.”

Next week seemed entirely too soon to leave this town, this family that I loved. “That would be nice, honey, but I’m guessing two weeks. After all, I plan to stop and check in on Dad on the drive.”

He grumbled. He grumbled quite a bit. But I made sure to do everything he liked best other than cook his favorite meal (all the pans were on a truck or in a warehouse waiting to be delivered when James and Josie arrived at the new house). We went to his favorite restaurant. His friends from the church men’s group stopped in, just passing by supposedly, and gave him hearty handshakes and prayed over him. I fluffed his pillow and sleeping bag and gave him a kiss to remember me by before he pulled out in the van with Josie, eagerly barking Jelly, and most of our earthly possessions.

Justin and I waved for a long time. Then we went in, rolled up our sleeping bags, packed our clothes, his soccer gear, and Twinkle—a squirrel which had become Justin’s first taxidermy project. The creature was a little worse for wear because Justin rubbed his fur whenever he got nervous or upset. He was rubbing it a lot lately.

“Why can’t we stay here, Mom? I know all our stuff is gone, but I don’t want to stay at Miss Karen’s.”

I hugged his shoulder as hard as I dared. He was a touchy kid about physical affection. Sometimes, he craved it and would still come and sit on my lap. Other times, I wondered if I had some invisible cootie that made him cringe. Today, I read him right, and he leaned into me. “The house isn’t really ours anymore, sweetie. Now that Dad’s off to settle into the new house, this one is under Army control until they sell or rent this one. In fact, I have to go on post to turn in the keys before we go to Miss Karen’s, so you better make sure everything is out.”

We walked through looking behind non-existent cobwebs in a home that was now Army clean—better than I ever kept it in the four years we lived there, but absolutely required by regulations. We knew nothing was there, but we looked all the same. Then, I locked the door on good years and headed into denial.

Discussion Questions

Q1 Have you ever been forced to relocate like Jeanine? What kinds of emotions did you go through as you adjusted?
A1 The human experience often means unwanted change. How we deal with it and respond to it depends on whether we rely on God or ourselves. When we rely on ourselves, as Jeanine did in the beginning, we can go into denial, try to avoid it, and end up frustrated.
Q2 Have you ever served in the military or are you closely related to someone in the military? How well do you think most people understand the lifestyle and frequent moves? Do you believe most Americans think of the daily type of sacrifice service people go through, or only the general, big picture sacrifices?
A2 During the six years my husband and I were in the military or preparing for it, we moved once every eleven months on average. Living in the D.C. area, we know and have many friends in the military community who still cope with routine upheaval in their lives. Often the worst of it is simply not knowing where you will be this time next year.
Q3 Do you homeschool? If so, why did you choose it? If not, what do you know about the homeschooling movement?
A3 Why do Parents Homeschool?
According to a survey done by Trinity University, the following are the reasons why parents homeschool their children:

48.9 percent believe that they can provide a better education for their children at home
38.4 percent cite religious reasons for home schooling
25.6 percent believe that there is a poor learning environment at traditional schools
16.8 percent cite family reasons
15.1 percent homeschool to develop morals and character in their children
12.1 percent object to what is taught in traditional schools
11.6 percent believe traditional schools don't challenge their child
11.5 percent cite they don't like the available schools
9.0 percent cite behavior problems
8.2 percent have a child with special needs

Q4 Justin's soccer ball is found by the corpse. Why do you think it was there? What uses could there be for a soccer ball other than playing the game soccer?
A4 A recent internet search showed that a group of students developed a soccer ball that stored the energy from the kicks and transformed it into usable electricity. In science experiments, soccer balls can be used to test air pressure, motion and gravity--to name a few. Brainstorm as a group what else might a soccer ball used to test.
Q5 No other war touched our country as personally as the Civil War. What kinds of actions or information might a family keep secret over one hundred and fifty years?
A5 A few scenarios include: sharing secret information that impacted a battle or skirmish, giving aid to an enemy soldier, having a close family member that fought on the opposite side. What else can you think of?
Q6 Ann had given up on church because of her family history and ties to one of the largest local churches. What she thought was truth embarrassed her. What other emotions or justifications have you heard for avoiding the family of God?
A6 Fear, personal dislike of one or more people, imperfection are some examples I've heard. You probably have heard many more!
Q7 Servanthood and slavery have existed throughout history. The Bible itself lists many examples and the nation of Israel were Egyptian slaves. Does ongoing existence of a state or condition mean it's right? Why or why not? Would you condone the actions of Ann's ancestors or disapprove? Explain.
A7 Turn to the book of Philemon. In it, Paul does not tell Philemon to free his returning slave, Onesimus, but to receive him as a brother in Christ. Does this mean we should accept slavery? I don't think so. But if the state exists, we should treat all people, regardless the status label attached to them as human beings of equal worth in God's eyes.
Q8 In the story, the treasure found is simply a collection of paper. Why would old papers be valuable and what would you estimate as their value?
A8 As a tidbit, here's information from Scripps about possible values of letters signed by Robert E. Lee.
"For example, a letter written by Lee just before Appomattox, musing about his upcoming meeting with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, could be significantly valuable -- both financially and historically. But just about any letter signed by Lee is worth $8,000 or more, and a Civil War example with good content can fetch in excess of $35,000."

Q9 Since the deputy thought he had committed the murder, his actions decayed and he was willing to more things against his view of right and wrong. Why do you think that happened? Does our perception of reality change the way we act? Why?
A9 Think of the dieter who eats one brownie, assumes failure and thus eats three more. Or the person who says he or she has never sinned and thus doesn't need God. Either person has deceived themselves and acted in accordance with that deception. If Deputy Craig had thought clearly, he would have checked Rick Folger's pulse before leaving the scene.
Q10 Mr. and Mrs. Folger wouldn't have sold the house to James and Jeanine if they had told each other the truth about their emotions and what was happening. But yet, it seems the Talbotts were meant to have the house. Bionically, list some other examples where God used human error to his own purposes.
A10 Rahab lying to protect the Israelites and Tamar seducing her father-in-law Judah are two instances that pop into mind.

Reviews (2)

by PBG Marketing Dept (Tuesday, 17 July 2012) Rating: 5 Unputdownable is the best way to describe this wonderful novel from Susan Lyttek. Learning about history has never been so deadly or so interesting, when an army transfer moves the Talbott family to a home next to Gentle Springs cemetery. Resisting the move, the scary goings on at the ‘neighbours’ doesn’t make the place any more homely for Jeanine.rnCan’t recommend this book enough. Funny, scary, and with charming kids determined to put what they’ve read in books to good use, this book is definitely a keeper.

by Sandy Joy Nadeau

I recommend this book for all ages. Loved the family's dog too. What a hoot.