As the school year progressed in Temperance, Miss Imogen Phillips assigned her class a writing assignment to explore their home town and do a report on what they found. She was curious to see what Bobby Johnston would do since Miss Tilly at the mining school had told her that Bobby was “a bright, inquisitive mind, eager to learn with a thirst for knowledge,” and “a good writer.”
Imogen had given them two weeks for the assignment since she knew that their parents expected them to do their chores. Late October had produced the chromatic display of leaves which covered the ground like Christmas snow.
Perhaps leaves, like snow, are the two natural elements which grace Fall and Winter like flowers in Spring and growing crops in Summer ripening for harvest before the first frost of Fall. The children would be busy with tasks, and she remembered growing up in Temperance and all the canning that she helped her mother and Vesta do in preparation for the coming wintery season.
Two weeks later as the reports were orally given, Bobby Johnston did not disappoint. He lived up to his previous teacher’s expectations and analysis.
Here’s his report:
The House At The End Of Wooster Lane
According to Ava Hall, around 1893 a young couple named Jason and Mary Tollefsen arrived in Temperance. Jason was a skilled carpenter, and Mary was a well-trained clerk and found a job at the Ballew Savings and Loan.
Jason scouted around to find a suitable place to build their house as they lived at the Phillips Boarding House which is now the Thompson Boarding House. He chose a location outside of town named for Colonel Bartholomew Wooster.
The Colonel and Major Howard Thomas Winslow had served together in the War Between The States. Their thirst for adventure led them to the French Foreign Legion. Colonel Wooster tragically died in the Sino-French War when he shielded one of his wounded men from further injury.
By 1894 with the help of the Tarrwater, Phillips, Thompsons, Halls, Ballews, Daniels and Williams’s the house was completed. A party was given to christen the new home where there was plenty of food, dancing, singing and laughter.
In the Winter of 1895 Mary gave birth to their daughter, Eerika, named after Jason’s saintly mother who bore fourteen children. Another feast was celebrated to welcome a child into the world.
In 1897 Mary gave birth to a son. They named him Garth after Mary’s industrious father who was a cobbler, and another grand feast followed.
Jason and Mary’s parents had come to America from Norway. When their children were born they, decided to name them with American names in honor of their new country—a country, they described to their children, as “a land of plenty” and “where one could be free to pursue their own destiny.”
Of course, they warned their children of the evils of the large cities where many struggled daily for a piece of hard bread and a cup of watery soup; where disease was at every corner and cruel taskmasters stripped the innocence from newcomers. Country life and small communities like Temperance were as the balm of Gilead to weary travellers seeking to maintain their way of life and to raise a family in the light of their faith.
Wooster Lane proved to be popular as, with other skilled workers, Jason built houses for immigrants coming into Temperance. By 1898 twenty houses were built and occupied by new families seeking the American Dream.
Unfortunately in 1898 on February 15 as the USS Maine was anchored in Havana Harbor an explosion happened resulting in the death of 266 sailors. Eventually war with Spain was declared.
Jason answered the call of his country and went to Cuba to fight. He survived several skirmishes, but fell victim, like so many of his fellow soldiers, to yellow fever.
He died a few days later. The news was devastating to Temperance and to Mary and her children.
Ava Hall said that at the burial of Jason, the Nordic immigrants sang a song. She remembered this one part: “The cliffs of Norway lie hidden now behind the waters, but our longings go out to those shores, with their dim and ancient oak-forests, where the soughing of the pines and the thunder of the glaciers are music to Norway’s son… And though Destiny should bid him pitch his tent where once Bjorn and Leif pitched theirs, he will cherish always the mountains of old Mother Norway, and yearn with pious longing to see his beloved home once more.”
On the tombstone for Jason in the cemetery a simple phase is engraved on top: Ek Elska þik. Translated to English it means “I love you.”
A few months later Mary, Eerika and Garth left by train to visit her family. They never returned.
The house which Jason built for his family still stands at the end of Wooster Lane. Now it is covered or encased with vines as if to say what life there was in this place still lingers inside.
Many people that I talked with believe the house is haunted, and at times a light can be seen in the oval window on the top floor facing East. Mr. Ballew told me that each year he receives the tax payment for the property in an unmarked envelope.
This is why the house still stands. Offers to buy the place have gone unheeded since Mr. Ballew does not know where to contact Mary or her children.
The house should not be viewed as haunted. It was a house where love once reigned for two young people who made their abode in our home town last century.
So ends my report.
The class was impressed, especially Trudy Piper. For Trudy, Bobby Johnston was not as knowledgeable and charming as Bobby Owenby, but he was becoming a good friend.
Her heart was enraptured by Bobby Owenby. She did not believe any other boy could replace him there.
Imogene smiled and said, “Excellent report, Bobby. Very excellent.” The Nordic expression would be Veldig Bra!
We leave Temperance for now. As October tumbles down to its end, it might be well to remember:
As we approach Halloween, old houses which are abandoned seem like the likely places for ghosts and goblins to hover about as well as strange noises and lights. However, each old house represents a place where love once dwelled and perhaps the memories of that love still linger inside, enrobed by the vines of time and those mystic chords of melody floating from the cosmic ocean.
G. D. Williams © 2019
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Miss Imogen Phillips: A Temperance Short Story
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The Uliginous Trophy: A Temperance Short Story
The Apollo-Whitman Question: A Temperance Christmas Short Story
The Broken Windows on Christmas: A Short Story
Professor Phillips Comes For A Christmas Visit: A Short Story
The Attic’s Secret: A Christmas Short Story
Mrs. Thompson’s Missing Rhubarb Pie: A Short Story
A Knock at the Shop’s Door: A Christmas Eve Short Story
The Christmas Gift—A Short Story