I am a member of The Random Scribblers creative writing group and we use a variety of source material to inspire us and last year we chose this picture with the rather sad inscription written on the back, “Aunt Velma. She never married.”
I researched Bucksport, Maine and found it had an odd history as well as being the inspiration for the town of Collinsport in the cult American TV show, Dark Shadows (later remade into a film starring Johnny Depp).
Having read a lot of books by American writers and watched far too many American films, I felt I could write a story set in Maine, circa 1840.
My name is Velma Prouty and Bucksport, Maine is where I’ve lived all my life and, God willing, I’ll be laid to rest here too. My granddaddy, Jed Prouty, ran the first tavern in town, which grew like Topsy to become the biggest hotel this side of Bangor. I visited Bangor once when I was young but didn’t take to the busyness of folks dashing to and fro and so many horses you risked your life just crossing the street!
Ma and Pa died of influenza when I was but six years old and my brother, Zeke, only four, so Granny Sarah raised us, Granddaddy Jed having passed away when I was a tiny baby. I was the first girl born into the family for as long as anyone could remember and the strong features that made our men handsome didn’t sit so well on me. I could use a mirror well enough to know I was a homely child, my dark, frizzy hair setting me apart from the other girls with their blonde ringlets. I learned to look after myself at an early age and was winning fights against boys who threw stones and insults in equal measure by the time I was in third grade.
Granny Sarah ran the hotel with my Pa’s two brothers and their wives. The hours were long and you never had a moment to yourself but it provided us with a decent living. Zeke and I were expected to help out once we’d finished our schoolwork and we especially liked waiting on guests in the dining room where you could earn yourself a good tip if you were polite and smiled a lot.
When I left school, I simply worked more in the hotel as it never occurred to me that I’d do anything else. Every day was different with folk coming and going, rooms to clean and drunks to see safely out the door. We had our regulars, travelling salesmen and such like, and we let two rooms on a permanent basis to a brother and sister getting on in years who liked their linen changed daily and meals cooked for them and were willing to pay for the privilege. I was happy enough with my lot but I’d sometimes shed a tear when I dwelt too long on the fact that I would never wed or have a family of my own.
The years slipped by until, in the summer of my twenty fourth year, the circus came to town. There was a great hubbub as a travelling show had never visited Bucksport before and that first night the big top opened, it seemed like the whole town was there. Zeke was beside himself about seeing the show but I can’t say he had to twist my arm to get me to go with him. We bought corn dogs and salted popcorn and took our seats near the front. First off were the clowns, followed by a pretty girl doing all kinds of acrobatics on a white horse, galloping round and round, then the lion tamer who put his head right in a lion’s mouth!
A hush came over the big top and Charlie walked slowly into the ring, placing each foot carefully onto the sawdust. He was the most magnificent sight I’d ever beheld and made the huge tent seem very small indeed. After the capering and excitement of the previous acts, his was a calm presence, and he performed so elegantly that I fell in love with him then and there.
When the routine finished and Charlie took his bow, I realised I’d been holding my breath. I cheered so loudly that other folks looked at me askance but they could go hang; all I cared about was meeting Charlie.
I made my way out of the tent, not giving one jot that I was missing the trapeze artists in their sparkly outfits, and hurried to find Charlie. There he was! I was too excited to be nervous and simply walked up to him and stroked his beautiful face. His eyes were the deepest chocolate brown and when his trunk reached up and touched my face so tenderly, my heart almost burst with love.