House On The Hill - III
(continuing from part II)
A new wave ~
Out-of-the-ordinary happenings occurring - for one, Nancy Newsome is discovering an unsuspected ability to play the piano! But let's back up a moment. You see, Mrs Stamps offered to give her the old upright piano in the back of the Spooltown General store. No one had played it in years and Mrs. Stamps said that her husband had no interest in keeping it or trying to sell it. He figured there wasn't much market for old pianos, especially with the town so bad-off financially and down-in-the mouth in spirit since that old House on the Hill had cast an evil spell over it, - -
- - or so it seemed to him and a bunch of other townsfolk.
She’d considered giving the piano to little Justin Briggs, she told Nancy, if only to get it out of their way in that old stockroom so they could warehouse a few more staples and make room to store more of her lovely home-canned preserves and pickles to spruce up the store's shelves. But then, after she stopped to think about the way sometimes old Terrance Briggs seems so strange and “out of it”, she admitted that she hesitated to offer it to his poor little crippled grandson, even though she thought It might cheer up the lad.
She hadn't completely given up the notion of somehow having it cheer him, though. One idea she'd been toying with was what if maybe Mrs. Newsome had it, and then Justin might have access to it too, at her house. Perhaps Nancy could invite the boy in sometimes on the way taking him home from school, without it causing the grandfather any stir. After all, Nancy is a regular figure pulling up at their farmhouse when she’s giving the boy a lift, especially now that she’s driving a Model T, which gives her more mobility than the horse and carriage did. Now she can pull right up almost to the front door so Justin won't have to walk on that bum leg from where the carriages must stop further out, in order to have room to turn around.
Mrs. Stamps frowned when she thought about that. Seems like farm houses are the last to get money spent on their people comforts and homey amenities, focusing as farmers do, all their attention on barns, crops, livestock and weather. If it doesn't make the farm money, it doesn't get any investment into it. Even in good times and on wealthier farms, it's the rule of thumb.
The ladies agree, though, that old Terrance isn’t a bad sort; it's just that he’s been through so much, the trauma during the siege and all, then they lost their boy in the war. That was such a blow to them. Their only child. When Terrance lost Lou Ann only a few years after that no-good war bride just dumped their grandchild at the door and vanished, it was the crowning blow for the man. It almost seemed as though he were jinxed. Probably Justin was all that kept him sane and at least the little fellow was turning out to take after his father and not that no-account mother of his. There was no doubt that he was the brightest spot on Terrance Brigg's horizon. All he wanted to accomplish in life now was to be the best surrogate parent and to provide the best he could for the boy.
"He loves that little grandson, Nancy. But, poor man, he works all the time just to get ends to meet and has only that Mayfield neighbor girl to come in to check on Justin when he gets home from school and Terrance is still out working the fields. He works from daylight to dark. If Justin needed anything, of course he could go over to the Mayfields, but Terrance never got a telephone put in. It he fell on that bum leg of his and was hurt, he'd have no way to call for help. It’s just not really the best thing for a small boy to be alone so much. And he’s accident-prone, besides. Too bad Lou Ann didn’t live to mother him, poor little fellow. She had doted on him, too, during the few years she did live after they got him."
Nancy was nodding affirmatively during this monologue. She had always felt a strong empathy with the little fellow; she didn't exactly know why, unless it was that accident each of them had, so similar to each other's. She was thinking that, if the old piano provided an interest to fill up lonely hours and a place for Justin to be after school when he was usually by himself now - why, that would be a wonderful improvement for him.
Now, any time Justin comes into the General Store with his Grandfather, Mrs. Stamps makes it a point to come over from the house so she can give him a candy stick and sometimes even a pickle. He smiles that wry little smile of his at her whether she gives him anything or not, though, which is so endearing and disarming coming from such a wee one. It does her heart a world of good to give him a little “extra” treat. Terrance can't spare anything for extras, for sure, and truthfully, in these hard times, she can’t get too much in that habit, according to Mr. Stamps.
But she figures Justin’s somehow a cut above the ordinary kids when it comes to heart and smarts. Many kids would show signs of disappointment and then "get back" by using hard laundry soap on the windows for mean Halloween messages, if she forgot to give them candy and yet they "forget" to thank her when she does, if she happened to be in the store when they came in for staples with their dads or moms. Sometimes if there simply were no more candy sticks to give out, she tried to hide out of sight when that was the case. But to Justin, it would be just fine either way. If all she had to give him was a smile and maybe a hug, he seemed to feel like the king of the store.
So it transpired that Nancy Newsome became the proud owner of an old upright piano of some early but unknown vintage. It took poor Mark and three other hefty guys with a dolly, to get it moved and then set up where Nancy wanted it. She didn’t read music but she wanted plenty of light anyway, in case she learned to. So it had to be set close to a window, and since it also occupied quite a chunk of wall and floor space, it was not as simple a job to place as one might think.
Besides, she was already thinking, almost out loud, if it would be all right with Terrance Briggs, perhaps she and Mark could get some piano lessons for Justin! That might even help her to pick up a little music knowledge.
Music In the Air
Lo and behold, before too long, Nancy was sitting down at that piano and miraculously playing it by ear! She herself had never known of anyone who did that, either. As soon as she felt accustomed to it herself, she did ask Justin to ask his grandfather if maybe he could stop by her house on the way home and play her acquired piano. And if Justin showed interest, perhaps she and Mark might be permitted to give him a few lessons for his birthday?
Terrance thought it over and agreed to let Justin give piano a whirl. Lou Ann had been musically inclined and, though James was always too wrapt up in sports, he had a certain grace and rhythm in his movements and sang at Church. They always told him that if he couldn’t “sing good” at least to sing loud. But he sounded pretty good with a moderate-pitched voice that was always on key, more than his father could claim for his own!
His Musical Talent
Justin's Self Discovery
Little Justin found himself seated before a massive oaken box with black and white keys; and out of the box came sound when he plunked on the keys. His little legs could scarcely reach the pedals and even if they did, his twisted leg would make it difficult for him to “work” the pedal as it’s supposed to be. But he learned to compensate for this limitation just as he compensated for it and others in various situations. And he did really like this “piano game”! He’d never played before, but seemed to have a sensitive touch for such a young tyke. Most little kids seem to want to attack a keyboard. He seemed almost to caress it.
He became so enamored with playing the piano that even when he was at the farm and had no piano, lest he forget his fingering, he "played" the melodies in his head on a make-shift keyboard which Terrance helped him assemble from benches and boxes out in the barn. He even pretended to be reading music! Each time he returned to Nancy's real upright piano, she noticed he'd improved his technique and seemed to know exactly what to do. When she quizzed him, he just shrugged and said, "Oh, I practice."
At sewing circle, Mrs. Stamps was hearing an excited Nancy talking about the amazing changes in little Justin since she had given her the old upright, hoping it might help the boy somehow. She sorted through some old boxes in the back of the store and found some printed music, which she sent to Nancy for him to play around with, though no one knew how to teach him to read music.
He seemed to just "know".
He also had amazing senses of balance and rhythm which Nancy thought surprising in a kid with a limp, and she admired it. During their music sessions, she found that he could scoot around rather nicely in a semblance of dance-steps to a beat, and he especially loved to take up the rhythm in progress with any sticks lying around to drum them out or just using his hands to keep time, or even to elaborate on the basic rhythm. It seemed to Nancy rather prodigious. As for Justin, he just looked forward to these moments he spent with music and Mrs. Newsome. She seemed somehow to sort of take his Granny's place. But he didn't like to dwell on thinking about her being dead like his Dad. It didn't bring them back and a feller has to make the best of what he has. He has his grandfather and now, Mrs. Newsome. And this marvelous piano!!
The other kids never wanted him to play any sports with them. He was a liability on their teams and even if it was just one-on-one, he made them self-conscious. They felt badly about beating him so easily but couldn't just let him win because he was crippled. So they tended to shun him on the playground. But now -he had something to play that he COULD play and no one else had to be involved in it - except Mrs. Newsome and she usually just smiled and told him he was doing well, or else she'd go tend to her cooking and let him just experiment. He felt he was getting better, too! It just made him "feel better", he mentioned to his grandfather. It felt good to Terrance, too, knowing the boy had found himself something in which he could excel and also could enjoy so much.
Neither Nancy nor Justin had ever spoken to the other - (or hardly anyone else) - about their individual accidents with so many parallels on the playground, separated by almost a generation of living. She had mentioned his limp briefly which is how she learned of his “merry-go-round” accident and knew how similar his had been to hers. But neither saw fit to probe it or prolong the discussion. He seemed to take it in stride that his grown friend had a similar experience at the same scenario. She just didn't know what to say to a child about the coincidence.
Now it seemed that much more incredible that they also share an interest in music which has just coincidentally bubbled up for each of them “out of the blue”! Nothing too unusual about that as a single event, perhaps, but it adds to the collection of things the two have in common. And Justin is - what? - 7 now? And Nancy is 27! They continue finding common traits or experiences. What’s so uncommon about it, to her, is that they have no background and no exposure in common in their separate histories or lives - - do they?
As convinced as they both are that the only real resource Spooltown has is that House up there, they both realize the tremendous effort required to get it moving, too. They have to buckle down.
“Really??” Mark is surprised too. “That’s amazing how many parallels, all right. But don’t be looking too hard for explanations, darlin’. You know as well as I do that we have our work to be focusing on cut out for us. And besides, I don’t want you disappointed if all the similarities turn out to be mere coincidences, which is most likely.”
“Oh, I know it, Mark.” She laughed a meaningful little laugh, “ Maybe we need a bundle of joy of our own!” She winks at him. “Then if I notice so many similar characteristics, it will be perfectly natural!” She’s smiling.
Mark smiles back. This subject has arisen before, but he knows that while they are on this quest to help get the town on its feet, it will require both their applied diligence.
Seems that getting the townsfolk in motion is like trying to start them from suspended animation status, they’ve been like this so long. And of course, when Nancy does have a baby of her own, she’ll want to be home with it most of the time. She’s the maternal type! That’s pretty apparent! He thinks of how she is with Justin and smiles some more. All the more reason to get on with the project at hand, he muses. But he has to admit that he’d never encountered a group of people in such a terrified lethargy, if that isn’t some kind of oxymoron!
So - while Mark holds forth at the council meetings and in the barber shop, Nancy talks it up with her sewing circle. Some of the ladies seem mildly interested or convinced, but they are not the decision makers in Spooltown.
The fact is that no one of either gender seems to be a decision-maker in this matter when talk comes around to the nitty gritty of who is going up there, and when the investigation of the House and resolving its mysteries are to actually begin. It’s the very crux of this MAJOR subject for them, but which fails and falters upon the shoals of their unreasonable fear at its mere mention. Of course, getting to that nitty gritty IS the inevitable climax of any serious discussion in Spooltown. It's the town's only real hope!
That's why it's becoming almost a person-to-person campaign for the Newsomes to stir up more desire to get on with it. You can be sure that neither of them misses any chance to talk it up with folks around town, any time and anywhere.
Battling Fearful Lethargy
Mark, not being a Spooltown native, had to come to understand the deep dread and distress which even the mere mild word “House” sent across the countenances of the townsfolk. He could try to imagine how it would be, as a boy, to witness the atrocities attributed to that gang of hoodlums who attacked the town and its people and ruled it for a bloody period of time from that House. Those alive when it happened told personal tales that would curl one’s nostrils. Of course, the house, being completely deserted and decimated for all these years, was all the more forbidding, full of grime and cobwebs, missing some windowpanes, paint and wallpaper no doubt peeling off on the inside, as the finish was peeling and rotting on the exterior.
YES, Mark had an uneasy feeling deep down, a burning desire to get it resolved.
Nancy had more than imaginary experience of the raw fierce fear felt by most of the townsfolk first-hand. Yet most of the townsfolks had no other options, whereas, as she was growing up, Nancy and her mom always had recourse to go to Nathyncity to visit her grandmother, Mary Beth, where she could romp with cousins. They could escape the oppressive gloom which hung over Spooltown. On such visits to the city, they were even able to visit with old Auntie Margie during a few remaining years she lived on. Time with her was always like stepping into another world filled with graciousness and beauty. Everything about her was “pristine” and “precise”, yet she was never stuffy or forbidding. Her aura was the color of a glowing peach and an invisible fragrance of one seemed to linger around her presence.
So, as the rumblings rumbled, the Newsome's enthusiasm for the House project shines steadily through the fog of indecision and fear. Whether it's talking over the back fence or at the town meetings, they speak up clearly and robustly about getting the town put on the map as a heritage center because of the old courthouse and other buildings - and especially the “haunted” House on the Hill - which, he reminded his fellow-councilmen, is a goal only as good as the effort to get at the truth of the House's secrets and do whatever it takes to get things turned around so that this monstrosity would cease to be a bugaboo and start working in the town’s behalf!
It is Spooltown's only resource, he reminds them over and over again.
"Whatever It Takes"
Beyond all that, Nancy Reece Newsome was born and bred Spooltown, her childhood playmates and schooling had been here and it was “home”. Its wellbeing is as important to her as her own. If ever she's to raise a family here, it must be a better environment than it is now, or was when she grew up here. She frequently brings that aspect up to the ladies. Many are young mothers, Some are doting grandmothers. They ALL care about their children having it better than now.
Even without the knowledge of any earlier of her own family’s generations here, Nancy had always felt the place as though the motherland for her and felt it from the time she was a child who played on the merry-go-round and was hurt without any conscious recall of it. That unresolved incident continued to haunt her and the resonance in Justin Briggs' own young experience was an ever-present irritation of her sensitivities. She could never be totally separate from it, ever since learning of that inexplicable parallel If anything, it provides her MORE impetus to focus on this project at hand. Perhaps, she muses, the answer will be revealed as the House's other mysteries are exposed.
"Mark is better at compartmentalizing his thoughts", she thought out loud, reminding herself that such musing isn't resolving ANY mysteries, nor is is advancing the cause at hand!
But one thing she did know was that somehow the folks of Spooltown had to awaken or be awakened from their deep and fitful sleep of over half a century and realize that exposing the HOUSE to the light of day again and clearing out its ghosts was not only their only option - and that it was a good option - but that it was going to have to become a “safe” option if it were to bear fruit. If there WERE any ghosts up there, they needed to find their rightful places, clear out and leave Spooltown to its own rightful places! She tried to manage a litttle smile as she made that mental declaration, though she felt a lot of it was bravado. This project was PERSONAL to Nancy. She HAD to get to the bottom of it if she was ever going to have peace of mind again! And she felt sure that as young Justin grew, the gnawing question would also haunt him. Why? Why me?
Whatever it takes: - That shall be our Motto, she decided. She would ask Mark to ask for authorization of that motion at the next Council Meeting. Maybe the ladies would cross-stich a motto to hang up in the meeting room. It needed to become etched on all their foreheads until it was accomplished!
Little did any of them realize what it would take to accomplish that brave declaraltion. No one could ever have known. No one. . . .
. . . Least of all little crippled Justin Briggs.
House on the Hill Part IV
Copyright © Nellieanna H. Hay, 2010. All Rights Reserved. Kindly do not copy, in whole or in part, without express permission.
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