House On The Hill - Part II
(continued from first part)
Flash-Forward 40 years
Spooltown has boomed. It has become Spooltown USA, among the biggest of its kind of Amusement Park, with dazzling acts, incredible rides, big-name-performer attractions on the Strand, all of it rivaling the biggest and best shows on earth. Some recreation towns thrive on adult entertainment but Spooltown USA has found a way to offer something appealing to all ages. No need now for National Heritage Status. It’s made its own shrine name.
One may wonder how it’s possible. Many a young entrepreneur envies old Mr. Justin Briggs for his enterprise in making it what it’s become and is still becoming. No one seems to really know what impetus started the ball rolling for this clean-cut middle aged man who always keeps his thoughts close to his chest nowadays. Few people really know him or that much about him. They know only that it is because of him they have good jobs and a great place to live.
What a difference some days made
Justin’s own peers fled the town to escape its poverty grip as soon as they got out of high school and they seldom looked back. Wherever they are, they may regret the tauntings they gave him as a crippled little kid in grade school and all up through tlll graduation.
In all the years, though, Spooltown High School has never been known to host a “School Reunion” in fact. But times, they tell, were tough then. The town had lost most of its commerce and even the barest essentials were scarce. Also, it’s said that it was in much more dire straights than anywhere else in the country at the time. For some reason, Spooltown was struck down in the midst of “good times” elsewhere.
Then there were all kinds of eerie spook stories about the old House which was now the center of the Spooltown USA attractions and dominated the skyline over all the rest of the show. It sat there in majestic splendor the year around. Oh, sure, at Halloween it might be gussied up to LOOK spooky, so the ladies could give special treats out to the children who came trudging up the hill in costumes carrying “treat” bags with their moms peering at the procession from the sidelines. But generally it was just a regal monarch with some interesting museum objects out of the past along its hallways and in its quaint old rooms, which were roped off with velvet cords to prevent any damage to any thing. Hushed tones usually accompanied the visitors as they gazed at old manuscripts in glass cases and at faded paintings on the walls. It was mysterious, without a doubt but seemed far too pleasant and luxurious to be REALLY haunted, everyone agreed.
Now the town is always jumping with fun and good times! It's as much a kids' paradise as it is for the grownups. All kinds of rides and side-shows. Sometimes live circus acts. Always something. It's someplace folks love to come to and come back to time and again.
The refreshments are to write home about, too. Spoolette Burgers are always popular and Spoolydogs even more so!
Sometimes special ceremonies, such as weddings rent Spooltown House for its ambience and elegant charm. The PR has been quite successful.
But - Lest We Forget!
People forget it was not always so. . . This town was the scene of great and horrible tragedy.
They say there was some sort of ruckus around 1896. Had to do with that pretty old house up on yonder hill, the one that people come from all over the country just to see.
Only a few of the people living here now even remember anything about that - before. It was 'way before Mr. Justin Briggs' time. And they tell me that even then, there was little really known . . . The place is changed, but no one knows what really happened to it or how it was made right as we see it here and now. . .
The fact is, we don't know enough about ANY of it it TO forget! We must back up some years to try to fill in some crucial blanks. . . . For one thing, what ever became of that nice Mrs. Newsome people talk about being kind to Mr. Justin when he was a little kid? Wasn't he crippled or something? And she gave him rides home from school and lots of other nice things? Didn't she disappear rather suddenly and mysteriously? Wasn't there someone else, too, about that same time. . . .
Let's look back . . .
Step Into The Past
Flash Backward A Century or So
Justin Briggs was not yet born. His father was not even yet born a hundred-something years earlier.
Justin’s grandfather, Terrance Briggs, was a young teenager and so was Terrance’s sister, Mary Beth, only a year younger than Terry. They were inseparable as children, investigating the woods around the farmland, making up children’s games and tricks to play on each other, laughing, singing, writing little plays and performing them in the living room, using the curtain in the archway between the living and dining rooms as the “stage curtain”. Sometimes they might “sell” tickets to their performances to the rest of the family. Mary might be a princess in distress and Terry would be the knight on a shining horse to rescue her in their tale. Or might be a starving artist and she would be his sponsor. Whatever roles they wrote themselves, they were always supportive of each other.
When out playing, If he wanted to play cowboys and Indians, she would happily be the Indian squaw and cook the meals on her little play-like wood cookstove. He sometimes preferred to go ride horses alone and she sometimes wanted to embroidery, but they always came together to report their activities and praise each other’ accomplishments.
If any other kid tormented Mary at school, Terry would be at her defense in a wink. He was a well-built kid from working on the farm so not too many kids wanted to tangle with him. So he was her hero brother and she was his charge. They grew to love each other very much - almost too much, thought the parents.
The more Mary Beth “filled out” and as Timothy began to grow a little stubble on his chin, the more anxiety in the hearts of these simple country folks. They wanted to “do right by” their family, and they didn’t want to raise any bad feelings in their children, but they were honestly concerned, so they decided to physically separate the teenagers.
Ir was decided that Mary Beth would be sent off to live with a maiden aunt of her mother’s, who was “rattling around in a big house” all alone and in need of a companion and someone on which to lavish her love and attention. She lived over-yonder in Nathyncity, which in those days was almost a full day’s round trip by carriage from Spooltown, if one were to make sure to get back home in time for the family meal.
Old Mr. Briggs bragged that he’d never eaten away from his own dinner table and had never eaten anyone’s cooking but his wife’s - nor did he ever intend to! So to plan that trip was a hardship on all concerned. They didn’t get to visit often and they actually had not intended to, for the sake of the young folks.
Auntie Margie was a beautiful and an elegant lady. It was a privilege for Mary Beth to get to live with her now.
She would miss home, but there was much good to look forward to in this arrangement. She didn't really expect to be here forever, anyway.
Mary Beth was learning to be a lady by osmosis, it seemed. Being near Auntie was like touching a star cluster. Mary followed her around, observing what she did and how she did it. She made it a point to not be a bother, and Auntie praised her progress.
Soon enough, not surprisingly, the two teenagers were separated almost completely. They had tried to write and keep up a correspondence, but distance and mail service being what they were in the late 1800s, this plan was nigh-on to impossible.
Besides, they were teenagers and the rest of their young lives were blossoming all around them and catching them up in the spells of those magic years. Terrance excelled at sports and considered his duties helping his dad on the farm just good conditioning for each sports season as it arrived. He didn't get to work out in the gym too much, but his physique was rock-hard and "toned".
So each of them pursued the interests enjoyed separately all along, and each tucked those other sweet ones away with childhood, into the memory kit for safekeeping. But he never found another girl he thought would have taken the squaw part to please him and she never found a boy who would have taken a role in a living room play to please her. Those memories were too unique. Sweet - but passing into memory now.They were rapidly growing beyond those times anyway and lacking newer more up-to-date ones together, the old ones together even began to fade back.
Even the sweet, bitter-sweet brother and sister’s love connection had growm too fragile with the years until it had become little more than a poignant sense of having once been young and unconcerned about propriety, being innocent and enjoying life as it unfolded, as far as either Mary Beth or Terrance could remember it. At times it was so misty, it must have made them wonder if it had ever happened, if thought of at all
Eventually each of them married.
Mary Beth had left college a year early to marry and her first child, Sue, came along quickly. Soon her full attention was absorbed in tending her growing family. Just as Mary had been, Sue was the apple of old Auntie’s eye and it was taken for granted that Sue would have a “coming out” in Nathyncity, at her expense, which could have been Mary’ Beth’s if she had waited a little while and not have been in such a rush to marry Edwin Foster and raise a passel of cute kids. It was assumed that her firstborn, the beautiful Sue, would probably marry “well” and take her place in the society of the small city. Meanwhile any connection with the relatives in Spooltown was so dim as to be lost to view from Mary Beth and certainly none of her progeny had never heard of those relatives.
Mary Beth had virtually grown up with her auntie, in the elegant Victorian house with china service, crystal goblets and “real” silverware. There was not a cracked plate, bowl or platter to be found within its walls. It had become her background and she didn’t dare look back. It would be too painful, so she blocked her mind and never spoke of it.
Her brother had grown up ploughing fields and tending to the farm with his Dad. They ate most meals off at least one cracked service piece. Sometimes the main course was served right in the pot in which it had been cooked over open fire in the grate. It was rare to get a knife, fork and spoon out of which at least one didn’t have its wooden handle scorched from being thrust in too close to the flames. The base metal “working parts” were impervious to flame or anything except being used as emergency carpentering tools, which sometimes happended. Many a bent fork tyne had to be straightened with a vice and a wrench! Terrance’s education beyond the basics and the practical was mostly reading by lamplight at night when he had both the chance and something to read. He had a sharp inquisitive mind and always wanted to find out “why” and “what”. The dredge and constancy of their life, however, allowed little time for “nonessentials”
So it was that Terrance Briggs had been a young man - an eye-witness - when the seige of Spooltown occurred and it may have been because of that horrible incident that he was a bit slower to marry that his sister. Seeing so much one thought was “secure” and dependable torn and destroyed dropped on his consciousness like a steel girder.
When he did marry, he chose Miss Lou Ann Nation from a dairy farm down near Sparkville. It may have been that he didn’t want to be reminded by seeing the vacant stares so many of the young folks in his own town of Spooltown always seemed surreptitiously to have been glancing over toward the House where the horrors had occurred. The townsfolk claimed to have gotten over the horror of it but there was a pallor over the town which seemed as thick as cheese. He couldn’t escape it, but he could try to mitigate it. Lou Ann had merely read about it in the paper, so that it was not so real to her. That soothed him knowing it.
They liked each other, too. Lou Ann was a happy sort of girl, not unlike Mary Beth had always been. He was glad Mary hadn't been around to witness what he had.
For several years Terry and Lou Ann “tried” to have a child and when finally their only child, James, blessed their modest home, they felt fulfilled. James’ short life was one of honor. They loved him dearly and he was a source of pride for them. He was an honor student and althlete and when he went to the front in WWI, he distinguished himself brilliantly, but, sadly, he did not return alive.
James had married a girl at the USO on the run - as many young enlistees did, on his way to the front, He wrote to her every day, all about his hopes and aspirations for them when he returned. She never answered his letters, so unknown to him, the brief marriage produced a son, Justin, about whom James never even knew.
After the news of his death, his wife of one night, who was not a native of the Spooltown area and, in fact, had no family ties anywhere simply presented Justin to Terrance and Lou Ann with a stack of diapers and one cold baby bottle with some suspicious looking milk in it, and took off down the road.
She was like a stray feather or a tumbleweed, having no real roots. She refused their offer to give both Justin and her a home, shrugging it off nonchalantaly as she disappeared out the door, leaving the baby for them to raise. She was never again heard of or seen in these parts, they say.
Of course, they were delighted to have the baby Justin. It was like a replacement for their beloved James; but they sorely regretted that their pleas with the mother to stay with them, too, were futile. As tumultuous as Terrance's life had been, he could not imagine a young woman choosing to drift and be blown about by any wind that picked her up like that. It seemed totally self-defeating.
'But then', he thought sadly, not voicing it to Lou Ann to spare her, -'look at our own poor dear boy. A promising life -snap! - gone. Never really had the chance to live his own full life for which his whole young life till then had been preparing him. Such a waste!' So,now - how grateful they both were to have Justin come to them. He looked at the boy with transparent tenderness.
In essence, the couple, now again childless, were being given another chance at parenting. And the three of them were truly a family. Justin called them Mother and Father and they showered him with all their humble home had to be shared and with all their love. He was a happy youngster and they were his proud - grand - parents!
However this idyll was not destined to last, either. After about a year, Terrance was faced with the unnerving prospect of rearing Justin alone, as best he could, after his beloved Loulu died of scarlet fever. Little Justin was exposed to it, also, but didn’t come down with it. He was always a pretty wirey kid, and a good little kid, as well, - not much trouble, though he was accident prone, his grandfather guessed, judging from the frequency with which he got into various accidents, but none ever as bad as that one which crippled him. It worried Terrance that he had to spend so much time tilling his fields, so it left him too little time for the boy. But he had faith and did the best he could by him.
Sometimes Terrance cogitated about that accident. Nothing about it had ever "set right" with him. Witnesses reported that they saw no one around, and no signs of any fracas or evidence of any major tumble or fall. They just found Justin lying on the ground next to the merry-go-round and it rotating, though in a decelerating manner. But Justin had no memory of being on it - indeed, he didn't remember even being near it. As he recalled it, he was playing tag with the kids one minute and then next he was coming "to" after someone had carried him to a bench over across the way from the merry-go-round. He didn't remember who carried him. It was all a blank.
Terrance was working in the fields when one of the bigger kids came and fetched him. They had to round up a wagon to take him to the doc, so precious time was lost. With all the moving around and finally jostling in the wagon, by the time the doctor saw him, his leg was badly twisted and in bad condition. They were told it was lucky he didn't lose the leg! They managed to get it splinted and bandaged in spite of his screaming but the excruciating pain didn't let up. They finally had to loosen it and substitute a softer type splint and bandage, with the result that the leg healed in a misshapen position, - enough to erase any hope of normal walking.
But Justin was as brave as a 5 year old could be expected to be and he gradually got used to limping or using crutches or dragging his "bad leg" along. He didn't complain and feel sorry for himself. He didn't figure that would buy him much relief and it would definitely be a burden to his grandfather. He cared about his grandfather, but he always seemed to be "away" somewhere else.
Meanwhile, over in Nathyncity, Mary Beth’s brood had flourished. Her Sue had indeed been “presented” to society and had tried to live up to Auntie’s expectations, but the old love bug got to her and she fell for a young man from Spooltown, who did have an education, but this was not the “good” marriage Auntie had foreseen for her Sue.
Auntie’s advantages had put her at a disadvantage in the marriage game, it seemed. “Poor little rich girl” was a phrase which haunted her over the years. The one she loved was too poor - or thought himself too poor - for her. Her folks were only too happy for him to think so. Auntie’s heart never healed but it was open to helping others.
So Auntie knew from her own tragic experience with affairs of the heart that what mattered most was that the young woman had a found a decent guy and was happy, - which no one could deny, after seeing them together!
So young Sue followed her heart without interference and married Bryan Reece and left the city where she had been born and reared, and moved with him to Spooltown. There, they produced one offspring, a little girl they named Nancy, who became none other than Nancy Reece Newsome who met and befriended young Justin Briggs and shared a keen pull of unnamed kinship where our story originally found them.
Nancy and Mark
Nancy graduated magna cum laude at Nathyncity College, where she had met Mark Newsome in Philosophy classes, and after a year of working in Nathyncity, Mark and Nancy decided to get married and, of all things, to move to Spooltown. After Mark had become aware of things in such decline there and so desperately in need of a boost, it was no effort to persuade Nancy that her natal home needed them. They found themselves genuinely wanting to contribute to helping upgrade and restore the town in acceptable ways without injuring the pride of the staunch survivors.
Nancy had no bad experiences in Spooltown as many had, and certainly she had not the slightest inkling of any unknown kinfolks living within its narrow confines! In fact, all of her Dad’s folks had moved away and, of course, Auntie never mentioned anything about her other kin on her grandmother’s side. Mary Beth had slipped away in her sleep not long after Nancy's wedding. Possibly that set a mood of introspection for Nancy and prompted her even more to the commitment to help this poor helpless town. She sometimes wondered about her mother's family birth family. No one on that side came to the funeral and Auntie’s soft elegant demeanor didn’t really seem to encourage questions about such personal matters, but sometimes Nancy thought perhaps there were skeletons in the closet that wouldn’t welcome being stirred up! Seemed there were plenty of community skeletons rattling around in this town, anyway!
n any case, in relocating to Spooltown, each of their guiding desires was ignited and fueted by a certain kind of missionary spirit toward the town, not in the usual sense, but in a fierce desire to help get it out of its terrible doldrums and dispel its fear. At the same time, of course, they could be safe, knowing in the backs of their minds that they could escape at any moment, really - if they wanted to. The others around them were “stuck”, or so it seemed, while they were there by choice. A vast difference. They had business connections already established in Nathyncity which Mark could manage remotely as a home business, which only had to supplement her income from some investments her Auntie had given her as a teenager to manage and learn to grow into her own nest egg. It wasn’t riches, but she had learned the value of saving and investing, so they were better off than many other Spooltown residents. And they were prepared to earn a living in any other town, should they find it impossible for them here. Even though Spooltown was in decline, most of the country was booming - prior to the big bust to come.
They were ever fully aware that the townspeople were proud and would never accept anything that even hinted of charitable help. Help for them had to come in the form of encouraging of their own creativity and initiative - guts, in other words.
And as far as the two of them could see, there was only one option which fit that bill.
Would they, - could they - have persisted in this pursuit, had they suspected for an instant what this would mean, what it could or would cost them?
House On the Hill Part III by Nellieanna
Copyright © Nellieanna H. Hay, 2010. All Rights Reserved. Kindly do not copy, in whole or in part, without express permission.
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