This Old Town – Stephen Stratton Moore

This Old Town – Stephen Stratton Moore

This Old Town

“Jacob, I wish you could have seen it. When I was a little girl, every one of us, the grown-ups and kids alike, would put on our best and head uptown on a Saturday night. Main Street was lit up like a Christmas tree! There was so much energy in the air, you couldn’t help but get excited. Things were just happening. All the sidewalks and even the streets were alive with folks laughing and visiting and heading this way and that. Mary Jane’s Diner at the heart of town was the place where most were either going to or leaving from, but there were other places, too.

“The old men would gather on the benches in the square to chew and pass the flask while their better halves, the older ladies, congregated at the meeting hall behind the Church of Christ to gossip. All the kids just ran around in small groups absorbing all the energy that the grown-ups were giving off. None of us had much money in our pockets. Oh, Mother might slip us a quarter to go to the movies every now and then, or maybe we’d have enough spare change to share a root beer float at Mary Jane’s because we were not rich people―not money-wise, anyway. Not too many people were in those days. The depression hit hard here. We didn’t have much, but we shared what we had.

“There was a sense of community back then that’s not around anymore. Times were hard, but we helped each other. Bad things were going on in the world, but all those troubles brought us together. It was a simpler time, I guess. Folks used to sit out on their front porches to visit with their neighbors, instead of hunkering down in their backyards. What I do remember, what stays with me to this day, is that even though times were tough, it was a very happy time for me. Maybe our memories play tricks on us, blocking out the bad. Maybe I’ve romanticized it some, but not much. Things were just different back then. Maybe we were different.”

Jacob helped himself to a second slice of key lime pie, offering another to his hostess. She declined it with a wave of her hand, and he smiled, beckoning her to continue, as if he were hearing all of it for the very first time.

“You know, it was at Mary Jane’s that your mom and I became best friends. We were both waitressing there over the summers, so we talked a lot. She was and still is, to this day, the sweetest-natured human being I’ve ever met. She was also very smitten with my big brother, and that’s how you eventually came into the world. Anyway, we got very close, your momma and me, long before we were actual in-laws. I do miss her so… and your daddy, too! Oh, I’ve prattled on for far too long. You’ve probably heard these stories a thousand times!”

“A thousand and one, Aunt Rosemund, a thousand and one!” replied Jacob with a sheepish grin and a sip of his coffee.

Jacob Warren loved his weekly visits with his Aunt Rosemund. He could listen to her nostalgic stories of yesteryear all day long and well into the night. They kept him centered. These visits pretty much kept them both centered. It had been their longstanding tradition, maintained sporadically since his boyhood, but it doubled down to a weekly event after the auto accident that took both his parents away.

Every Friday, just after the noon whistle blew, he’d stop by and take care of whatever household chores needed attention. In return, she’d put a meal on the kitchen table for them to enjoy while he visited. Jacob always wondered how long it took her to make these wonderful meals, but he long ago decided it impertinent to ask. Oftentimes, the very anticipation of those meals got him through a long week. To be honest, it was the only real food he ever ate. His other days of the week were relegated to the much narrower menu options of a bachelor accustomed to little culinary creativity. His focus was on his work―so much so, that he considered food to be more of a distraction. He was indeed a busy man these days. He was on call 24/7, but he always made sure that he had at least a few hours’ time set aside for Fridays at noon.

Aunt Rosemund kept a small home on the edge of town that she had ably maintained for as long as Jacob could remember. She had a huge vegetable garden out back and a flower garden, rivaled by none, in the front. Among the many annuals and perennials, it boasted five-foot hollyhocks and a hydrangea bush the size of a Buick. Her actual Buick, a brown Skylark, had been stored in her outbuilding since ‘84.

“I never had much use for the thing but could never find it in me to get rid of it,” she’d say. “Maybe I’ll put it to good use one day and make a planter out of it. We’re both long past the state of me ever driving it anywhere.”

It could be said that her little front yard at 221 Mulberry Street, which was ablaze with color from mid-June to late October, was one of the wonders of the county, but then again, these days, there wasn’t much competition. The Owensport of Aunt Rosemund and even Jacob’s childhood memories was no more. The town had been in a constant deteriorating spiral for the last twenty years now, and things didn’t look to be turning around any time soon. As it was, the young and able were moving away to seize their day, and the old and infirm were holding on to yesterday for as long as it would have them.

There really wasn’t much left of uptown anymore, just good bones. Most of the shops of Jacob’s childhood were gone. Beck’s Grocery closed down ten years ago, replaced by the Foodland and Wal-Mart in Chester. When Jacob was a child, Mary Jane’s Diner was replaced by Ben Franklin’s Five & Dime, but even that space was now vacant.

The remaining uptown storefronts were now occupied by antique shops, a tobacco store, a carryout, the municipal death knells of a Salvation Army thrift store, and Payday Loan. The old Rite Aid was still there, the last holdout from Jacob’s day. But it was only a matter of time. The old town was on her way out, and though unspoken, it seemed as if Jacob and his Aunt Rosemund would see it to the end together.

Jacob lived over on Water Street in a modest upstairs apartment in one of the grandest houses in town. His living needs were quite Spartan, and he appreciated the minimal personal living space he occupied. It meant that he could focus more of his energy on his career, his vocation. Jacob was known around town for his soothing empathy and the comforting tone and cadence of his voice―a town fixture on whom folks depended in their most troubling hours.

They all knew that he was there to support them with his kind words and gentle humor. It was this gift that he shared with his community. Jacob was also his hometown’s gatekeeper of sorts, an unofficial tender of its very living flame. He was most suited to monitor the town’s slowing pulse rate and vital signs on a daily basis because he knew more than anyone what the real story was.

His was the only business left in town that was still booming. With his inheritance money, he put out his shingle thirteen years ago after buying out the previous owners. Since then, his business had done nothing but grown and flourished. He had been saving up for a while with the ultimate designs of starting a second location up in Chester. But for now, he was biding his time, accumulating his capital while his future plans gestated.

Jacob was also fortunate enough, for convenience’s sake, to live in the same building where he worked, the stately white mansion that rose from immaculately landscaped grounds right on the river. It was a handsome white brick building with four thick columns holding up a Greek portico. Unlike buildings uptown, it was well-maintained with great care to detail.

Out in the front yard, directly under the spreading branches of an ancient pin oak tree, was a wooden sign with elegant gold cursive letters that read, Warren’s Funeral Home Est. 1989.

***

“Good morning, Mr. Johnson. I’ll take good care of you. Linda will think you’re just napping on the couch when I’m done,” said Jacob as he cleaned the body.

Jacob had the habit of conversing with his clients, in much the same manner a doctor might with his patients. The doctor’s intent was to distract the patient from what might actually be going on in the moment, and in Jacob’s mind, this wasn’t much different. It just seemed proper.

After completing the embalming and preparation, Jacob’s assistant Doug helped him with the casketing and cosmetic application while Jacob continued, “Linda wants you in your naval uniform. It’s a bit snug, but we’ll make it work. We’ll get those brass buttons and your medal all shined and looking shipshape! Mr. Johnson, I remember you always putting up with me asking to pet your basset hound Gertrude on your evening walks. What a great dog she was! You were always grumpy about it, too, but I knew it was okay because you’d give me that wink. By the looks of those scars on your legs, you had good reason to be grumpy all the time, but you really weren’t. I always knew that. I’ve already arranged for your guard on Sunday. You’ll have full military honors, sir―taps, folded flag, and a seven-man, 21-gun salute! You’ll have a special Medal of Honor recipient marker on your stone as well; I think you’ll be very pleased with it.”

When he had completed his work, Jacob said a silent prayer. Though he wasn’t particularly religious, it was the routine he followed, whether he had known the deceased personally or not. It was his way of honoring this individual. If it was someone he had known, like Mr. Johnson, it was a longer meditation, honoring that life lived here, in this old town. Many of those lives, more often than not, had touched his own life, and in some cases, profoundly.

Over the years, Jacob had buried a few friends and many neighbors, his third-grade and ninth-grade teachers among them. Mrs. Spence had been his favorite. She always encouraged him to “THINK BIG!” She had written those words in his yearbook, which he still had on the shelf behind his desk. He had also buried Mr. Beck, the man who offered Jacob his first job delivering groceries on his bike when he was twelve. Mr. Beck was like a crazy uncle to him, but a great mentor as well. Jacob learned much from him, especially how to take care of his customers.

Jacob had let him know as much during his preparation for burial. “Mr. Beck, I don’t think that kind of customer service exists anymore. You always took the time and went the extra mile for folks, and they really appreciated it. You inspired me in that way and a lot of other ways. You know, to this day, I still show the bagboys how to properly bag my items at the Foodland. I thought you’d appreciate that. I was taught by the best!”

Like Mr. Beck, Jacob provided a service to his community and to the folks he knew and loved. His calling was in the sacred preservation and celebration of solemn human dignity. He brought it forth through the time-honored traditions and techniques that he had learned. Through his art, he was able to take the ugliness and often raw brutality of death and transform it into beauty. Each case was unique. Sometimes, only a little touchup was necessary; other times, a great deal of challenging reconstruction was in order. Occasionally, the circumstances were far beyond his abilities. Wherever they fell within the spectrum of his skills, it was his mindset, his humanity that made all the difference. He was good at what he did.

***

The noon whistle was still blowing as Jacob latched the front gate. He took three paces and hugged his aunt, who had just risen from tending to her roses.

“I don’t need much done today, Jacob, just a curtain rod that needs put up in the front room. I have a pork roast and beans stewing in the crockpot and cornbread in the oven for when you’re done.”

“I’ll get right on it, Aunt Rosemund. Do you need a ride into Chester later? I have an errand over that way myself, so I could drop you at the Foodland.”

“That might work well for me, thank you sweetheart!” she replied, patting the side of his face with a garden-gloved hand, leaving a smudge of peat moss on his cheek.

After a lunch of pork roast and white beans, served with fresh-from-the-garden sliced onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers in sweet vinegar (and some good conversation), he helped her clean the kitchen. She then grabbed her purse from the peg, and they headed out the back door. He helped her up into his Wagoneer, gently pushed the passenger door closed, and walked around to the driver’s side.

He climbed in, saying, “You ready to roll?”

To which she replied, “Just drive the car, Jeeves.” They rode in silence for a time as the Wagoneer followed the wide curve of the river for the fifteen-minute drive. “What’s your errand in Chester, Jacob?” she asked curiously.

“Business, actually,” he replied. “That is, my business; I’m looking into opening up a second funeral home over there. I want to look at some listed properties, maybe give old man Vinton a run for his money. I’d have to hire some more associates to help run it. I’ve been percolating on the idea for a while now, and I think that now’s the time to begin the building of my empire, Aunt Rosemund. THINK BIG! Right? THINK BIG OR GO HOME!”

She only crinkled her nose in response and looked out the passenger window at a passing barge on the river.

Without turning to him, she responded, “So you’re going to be some fancy corporate tycoon. Is that want you want to be?”

“Well, sure, I guess, if that’s what success makes you. Seems like the smart thing to do.”

Jacob dropped his Aunt Rosemund at the Foodland and did some preliminary drive-bys of the three properties he had in mind. The third one actually spoke to him. He got out of the car and walked around. It wasn’t much to look at from the outside, but the location was good. The building was locked, but he was able to peer into the front window enough to see that it needed a lot of work on the inside.

As he swung back around the block to collect his aunt and her groceries, Jacob noticed a poster advertising a folk music festival that was going to be held later in the summer at the county fairgrounds. That looks interesting, he thought. He’d heard something about it on the radio as well, so he made a mental note to check it out.

The drive home was a comfortable quiet with the radio low, but Jacob could sense that his Aunt Rosemund was somewhere else. When they passed the Welcome to Owensport sign and slowed to drive through town down Main Street, she finally spoke.

“Daddy would be heartbroken to see the wretched condition of this town. I hope he’s somewhere where he doesn’t know about it.”

Jacob’s grandpa had been the Mayor of Owensport for twenty-eight years, and Jacob’s dad had been the Fire Chief all through his childhood. Both had always been a deep source of pride for him.

“Yup, Grandpa would have a conniption,” he replied. “He would not be pleased with the Owensport of today.”

***

Jacob was downstairs by 7:30, just in time to greet the van as it backed into the garage entrance. He and Doug guided it into the bay. The driver then came around and opened the back doors, and they received the mortal remains of Dwayne David Stone, one of too many who had died from an opioid overdose.

“Jesus!” said Doug, “How many dead friends does it take for these people to stop doing this shit?”

“Too many,” replied Jacob.

It was indeed the single most troubling aspect of his job these days. In previous years, the greatest specters had been crack and crystal meth, which wasted their victims to skin and bones. Jacob had seen multiple bodies of young people whose physiological age was that of an octogenarian. Meth users still came in on occasion, but they were usually not overdoses; their organs just finally gave out. That was horrible enough, but it was the sheer number of opioid overdoses of young and middle-aged folks that was truly shocking. Most disturbing was the average condition of their bodies: healthy yet dead. The bulk of his clientele were still old folks, that was true, but the kids were coming up fast on the inside and gaining ground, almost tripling their normal death rate.

Later that evening, in his apartment, while winding down from his busy day, Jacob pulled the cork from a bottle of Makers Mark 46 and poured the golden liquid over ice. He briefly held the glass to the light, admiring its caramel tones, anticipating the slow warmth of the bourbon flowing down his gullet and into his belly. Perhaps it would render him the same unfeeling numbness that Dwayne had so longed for. In that moment, he completely empathized with the dead young man. He downed his first glass, immediately poured another, and walked across the room to sit.

As much as he desired it, Jacob could not drink off the dark mood. It was not a sudden thing. It had been building, culminating like the gathering of leaden storm clouds for some time now. He’d been able to keep it at bay with his natural positivity, but Dwayne’s arrival this morning had ripped off an old scab, reopening a familiar and festering doubt within him. It seemed that tonight, it all would come to the fore. Tonight, the storm that had been looming on the horizon would come rolling through his mind, and he was helpless to stop it.

At what time does a small town hit critical mass? Had that already happened? He had a good thing here, a great career. A dying town was technically good for the bottom line of a funeral home business, no question about that. The questions were more of the intangible variety, the ones that had to do with his sense of place, his personal connections to Owensport. This was his town. He dearly loved this place where he was born and where his parents were born and buried. He loved this town where he had grown into a man and become a successful adult. It was in his blood flowing through him like the river itself. It was real. But… what had this town become? What was it now, today? If he stayed here too long, would it take him down with it?

And what would happen when Aunt Rosemund passed away? He didn’t like thinking about that, but it would happen at some point… it was a real consideration. She was his only tangible connection, the very last link to the Owensport of his soul. If she were not here any longer, if (or when) she was taken out of the equation, what would life be like here? He thought about his possible project in Chester. Maybe he should move forward with it more aggressively. Maybe he should get out of town completely while he still could… someplace new… someplace warm… someplace different. THINK BIG… OR GO HOME.

“It’s been a long and shitty day, so I’m going to bed,” he said aloud, walking over to the kitchenette to pour the last of his bourbon down the sink.

As Jacob nodded off that night with his thoughts still unresolved, he settled into a deep sleep, and he dreamed. The ghosts of Mrs. Spence and all the friends and neighbors who had passed on over the years visited him in the form of a great parade up Main Street. He was a little boy sitting on the curb, bathed in the yellowed summer light of an old Polaroid photograph. They passed by him in joyful procession, waving. The parade started off with Mrs. Spence, clad in a striped clown suit, gangly, walking on stilts. She held over her head a large sign that read, “THINK BIG, JACOB WARREN!”

Behind her were several bunting-covered floats, depicting Jacob’s childhood memories in paper-mâché. The first one depicted the time he broke his arm after Marcie Dent, his best friend growing up, dared him to ride his red racer sled all the way down Owensport Hill when they were eleven. The second one commemorated the Christmas when he got a coonskin cap and leather-fringed jacket from Santa. It was officially a Davy Crocket jacket and cap, but when he played in it, he was always Daniel Boone. The third float celebrated his teenage beer can collection, which featured a great pyramid of rare 1930s brew vessels.

Following the memory floats was Mr. Johnson in his naval uniform and distinctive medal draped around his neck, walking Gertrude the basset hound, and glad-handing the adult spectators as he passed by. He wasn’t grumpy anymore.

Next in line was a small marching band of old people with tall furry hats and ill-fitting uniforms playing a Glen Miller dance tune on clarinets. There was a short gap in the parade, during which he only heard the muted crowd conversations around him.

The lull was finally broken by the shrill siren from a shiny, red and chrome fire truck. Jacob stood up, leaned forward to get a better view, and saw his mom and dad together in the front seat smiling large for him. He waved at them until his wrist hurt. His mom blew him a kiss that he caught and put on his heart, his small hand covering an orange Popsicle stain that resided on the front of his striped t-shirt.

Behind them came a smoke-belching tractor pulling a trailer of waving kids. The trailer had handmade posters with brightly colored lettering duct taped on the sides. This was followed by a large troupe of sequin-clad little girls twirling batons, shrinking in height with each line, increasingly younger and more awkward as they passed by. He learned from the colorful writing on the posters and majorette banner that they each represented the town’s drug abuse fatalities.

The crystal meth victims waving from the trailer threw handfuls of crack vials to the little tots, who ran along the periphery filling their plastic bags with delight.

The opioid victims, the twirly girls, smiled their blank, soulless smiles from little cherubic faces plastered with too much adult makeup. They wore so much mascara that it appeared to Jacob as if they had no eyes. He stared transfixed into the black voids until he heard the bling-bling of a bicycle bell.

It was Mr. Beck who shakily rode Jacob’s old Schwinn with two expertly filled grocery bags in the basket. He gave Jacob a quick two-fingered salute before regaining control of the bike.

The great procession finished with the parade’s Grand Marshall. Jacob’s grandpa was sitting up on the backseat of a 1974 burgundy Cadillac convertible with door magnets that read Clyde Orville Warren, Proud to Be Your Mayor Since 1948. He was smiling and waving to all the cheering citizens lining each side of the street. In the eternal moment when their eyes met, Jacob could plainly see the tears streaming down his grandpa’s cheeks. From the expression on his face, Jacob could not clearly tell whether they were tears of joy—or sorrow.

Little Jacob then reached down and picked up the sweating glass of bourbon that had been sitting on the curb beside him. He held it up to the sun for a moment’s examination, brought it to his nose, inhaling its potent aroma, and then poured the golden contents into the gutter. He watched the liquid slowly making its way toward the storm drain at his feet. It perversely reminded him of formaldehyde and bodily fluids swirling at the drain of his embalming table.

***

The coming of a new day did not bring relief to Jacob’s unrest. He awoke abruptly that morning to an aching lamentation and the coppery tang of despair on his tongue. Sometimes, dreams have a way of sticking, and he wore it all day like an extra layer of clothes. He finally figured the best way to deal with it was head-on. He arranged to meet with the commercial realty company to take a closer look at the Chester property he was interested in. It was across from an attractive park and situated on a street that provided a direct route to the city cemetery, located just up the hill above town.

Unlike Owensport, Chester’s economy was on the rise. Its boundaries were growing outward to the degree that the rolling country and river allowed. It boasted much of the restaurants and service amenities one would expect from a larger town. It even had a hotel and an Olive Garden! The town had a vibe, a cultural, artsy personality to it. Now, this is a destination town, he thought.

The walk-through revealed that the property had promise, but also, as he suspected, would need a great deal of work to convert it to his needs. It would be a very expensive project. Jacob now found himself at a crossroads. It was a manufactured crossroads, evolved from his own mind, but he felt the bewilderment of it, nonetheless.

There was an underlying sense of urgency in it, one that he did not completely understand. Something larger than himself was going on here. It seemed as if things were moving at an even faster pace than before and gaining momentum, creating an emotional vertigo that filled him with the urge to vomit.

***

Jacob and Rosemund sat together at the same old table that he had known since he was a boy. He was more aware than usual of the little things about the room, the precious details, the warm smells of a well-used kitchen. The very air was infused with the scents of its soul, of cinnamon and coffee, of bacon and dish detergent, somehow blending together to create the timeless aroma of comfort, of home. From the hallway, the old family clock ticked off the passage of every second of his life. It continued in its mission of gear and spring working precisely in the darkness behind old polished wood. He gazed around the room and noted the folded dishtowel by the sink, the neat stack of opened envelopes and bills by the microwave.

He noted the hummingbird feeder filled with red sugar water hanging from a grey rusting hook just outside the window, the very same hook that hung suet in the wintertime. Everything was in its place, just as it had always been for the entirety of his life. Jacob smiled at his aunt as she placed a freshly cut slice of coffee cake on his plate.

“I love you, Aunt Rosemund.”

His mind had gone around and around things for a week now and each revolution of thought ended with the same revelation. He had to remove himself from the only home he’d ever known. Where had this all come from? Why now? The suddenness of it was crazy, but it was visceral. He knew that he had to make a logical decision, and make it now… even if it hurt the person he loved the most.

“I need to leave here, Aunt Rosemund. Maybe just up to Chester, maybe farther. I don’t know yet. Maybe you can come with me… we can open up a cantina in Mexico, what do you say?”

She thoughtfully breathed in, exhaled slowly, and looked him squarely in the eyes. “Honey, I don’t want to see you go anywhere. I would miss you terribly, but you have to follow the path that seems right to you. I’m not going to be around here too much longer anyway, but the only place I’m going is where the good Lord leads me. Until that great day comes, I’m staying right here where I belong. I do know exactly how you feel, though. I understand it more than anyone else in this world.”

“That’s just it,” he replied. “The Owensport that I know and love isn’t real anymore. It doesn’t exist. It’s all just a fanciful figment of our collective imaginations now. Our memories are sweetthey’re beautiful, but they’re not tangible. They’re not real! We… I can’t live on just that. I can’t live in a dream anymore. I have to make my own reality before it’s too late. It’s time that I close the casket on this town, Aunt Rosemund, and move on with my life.”

Aunt Rosemund smiled and replied, “I think she still has a little breath left in her, but you do what you have to do, Jacob. I don’t want you just waiting for me to die before you go, either. You go now. I’ll be fine. I have my gardens to keep me busy. Just visit me from time to time, that’s all.”                          

***

Later that afternoon, as Jacob was driving down the curvy road of Owensport Hill, a thought popped into his head out of nowhere. It had been quite some time since they had been in touch with one another―over a year, maybe three? It was crazy, he thought, how effortless it had been to get so caught up in the day-to-day and lose touch with the bigger picture.

Marcie Anne Dent had been a part of his bigger picture for most of his life, but they had drifted apart in recent years as old relationships oftentimes do.

“How does that happen in such a small town?” he wondered aloud.

Jacob called Marcie, and as old relationships also have a way of doing, it was just as effortless to begin again right where they had left off. After catching up, he asked if she was interested in checking out the upcoming folk music festival and maybe grabbing a bite to eat afterward. They had dated a little back in the day, but early on, they each had resigned themselves to the fact that they made much better friends then they did lovers, and ever since then, minus the three-year hiatus, they had been close. After ending the call, Jacob smiled and thought, Life changes so much, and yet it all stays the same.

***

The morning was still cool as Jacob pulled up in front of Marcie’s house with a quick double honk.

“Mornin’, Mad Dog,” said Jacob as Marcie slid into the passenger seat next to him.

“Jake, I can honestly say I’ve not responded to that nickname since Reagan was President,” replied Marcie, shaking her head and rolling her eyes in mock exasperation.

Jacob grinned as he pulled from the curb heading for the county fairgrounds. They spent the entire sun-warmed afternoon together enjoying the festival, which was a much larger event than he had expected. Five separate stages each featured acts ranging from full bands to individual artists and smaller groups playing a wide variety of instruments and musical styles. A large vendor’s area offered food and traditional Appalachian instruments for sale. There was public camping where you could even rent your own private yurt for the weekend if you wanted to shell out the money for it.

After checking out the evening’s performance schedule and discovering that Rhonda Vincent and the Rage was the headliner, Jacob and Marcie immediately decided to grab some fair food and stay. While they waited for The Rage and sipped their beers, Jacob had the opportunity to talk at length with Marcie about what was going on with him, and she had some new ideas, some insight, and a few suggestions of her own that put things in a completely different light.

“What an awesome day! I really needed that. Thanks for your feedback. I think we might be on to something here,” said Jacob as his Wagoneer squealed to a stop in front of Marcie’s house.

“I’m excited!” she replied. “I’ll be reaching out to some people. It might take some time, baby steps, but I will get back to you as soon as I know something. Thank you for calling me. I had a wonderful time,” she said, squeezing his hand as she opened her door.

“I bid you a good evening… Madam Mayor!” said Jacob in a jovial tone.

Marcie turned back smiling before closing the door and replied with equal spirit, “And to you, good steward. And to you!”

***

(Saturday Night, Six Years Later)

Uptown was lit up like a Christmas tree. There was so much energy in the air, you couldn’t help but get excited. Things were just happening. All the sidewalks and even the streets were alive with folks laughing and visiting and heading this way and that. It was the fourth year of the Owensport River Music and Arts Festival. It had been a slow start for the first three years, but it was looking quite promising this year, slowly gaining notoriety. The Uptown Owensport Renewal Project was in progress as well, but it still had a long way to go. With the funding of some generous local investors, it had gotten a foothold, and that was all they could have ever hoped for. It was all about momentum now.

THINK BIG… AND… STAY HOME! Jacob thought, looking up and smiling at Marcie as she slid into the booth beside him.

“I just love to people-watch, don’t you?”

“Yes, Aunt Rosemund,” replied Jacob. “Yes, I do.” The trio sat in their usual spot, watching the many folks walking by the window, each enjoying their own vanilla bean, craft root beer float—the specialty of Mary Jane’s Diner.


After losing three close family members at an impressionable age, Stephen Stratton Moore attributes his influence as a writer to this experience, especially in the way that he looks at things. It gave him a richer appreciation of our connectedness as human beings and stoked an inner passion to revel in the bittersweet nuances of those bonds. Stephen is a published writer, musician, and graphic designer.

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