"Hello. Jason speaking."
"It's me, Mom. How are you son?"
"Fine, and you?"
"I'm great. I have some news for you. Your great-aunt Nellie passed away a week ago. I went to her funeral yesterday and the burial was in Springfield."
"I remember her. She was old. I'm not surprised she died."
"I know. She did live a long life. Anyway, I met with her attorney this morning. She deeded me the house on Canal Street, but I think she wanted you to have it. She set things up so if I refuse it, it automatically comes to you. She was just going through the motions because I have looked after her some. She never cared for cousin Burt so he is out of it. The place looks in terrible shape. I don't know where I'd find the money to fix it up. I don't even know if the taxes are paid on it or not. You wouldn't want to take it off my hands would you?"
"I don't know Mom. I'll have to look at it. I am moving back to town in a couple of weeks. The house is that spooky old Federal with the pale green door isn't it?"
"Yes. You went there with me once years ago when you were about twelve."
"I remember. I expected to see a ghost come floating down the stairs all the while I was there. Aunt Nellie always dressed in black and she looked like a witch."
"I know son, but that is because her husband ran off some sixty years ago and she said she might as well have died, it hurt her so. After seven years she had him declared dead and he might well have been. Since that time she has worn widow's weeds."
"What are widow's weeds?" The expression struck me funny and I started to laugh.
"You know, what she had on."
"I guess, but she still looked like a witch to me."
"You'd better be careful, you're the one that is going to clean out her house including the witches and ghosts that live there."
"Okay, Mom. I am interested. I'll come up a week early and I will go through the house with you."
I did remember my great-aunt. I had only been in the house once ten or twelve years ago, and I was pulling my mother's leg a little. Aunt Nellie was ancient, but I often saw her on the street moving along slowly with a cane. I always spoke and addressed her as Aunt. This seemed to please the old lady and that may have been the reason Mom ended up with the property. My cousin Burt had never been back to town that I could remember. Mom sent him a Christmas card every year and she sometimes received one in return, but that is about the only connection we had with him.
I was coming back to town hoping to work as an appraiser for different mortgage companies and some of the banks in the area. I also did house inspections and title searches for clients who were buying property. The job, although it entailed a lot of paperwork, would let me out of the office and I would not be stuck at a desk all the time. I could set my own schedule and planned to get in a little fishing, which was my passion.
I needed a distraction too. I had been dating a woman, Katie, who was a couple of years older than me, and I finally found the courage to ask her to marry me. What I thought would be a quick answer to my proposal took the better part of a week and then it was a negative. Hurt some, but after I did some crying on her best friend's shoulder and being consoled by her, I decided it was Katie's loss, and not mine. Then I decided to not even start a relationship with Prissy, Katie's friend, so I was coming home free and unattached.
My father had passed away several years ago. I had a much older brother and sister that had families of their own and who lived within a hundred miles. I had been a "mistake" on my parents part, and I was born as my siblings were leaving the nest. My mother replaced the love she had for them and transferred it all to me. My father and I had never really bonded as such, but he did let me go along on his fishing excursions. He hardly ever spoke, but I knew he loved me. He was just amazed that the woman he loved had produced another child when he thought he was all done raising kids.
When Father passed on, Mom surrounded herself with a gaggle of other widows and divorced friends who kept her from being lonely. She and I talked at least once a week, every week, and when I came home I was treated like a king. Money had never been a problem for Mom, as Dad had been the owner of his own hardware store and had left her well situated financially.
I had my van loaded with all of my possessions. Katie and I had been living together up until the time she turned me down. When this happened she moved in with her parents. We had bought some furniture together and I promised to call so she could see what I was leaving. It was mostly second-hand store stuff. I called Katie and asked her to come over to say good-bye. She knocked on the door while I was finishing the last of the beer in the fridge before I turned it off.
"Hi Katie, come on in. I'm leaving in a few minutes. Mom promised me supper and I want to get there to help her prepare it. How are you doing?"
"Pretty good, Jase. Jason, I'm sorry it didn't work out for us. I'm just not ready to settle down."
"Yeah, I know. When you turned me down, I was hurt, but when I thought it over, it was a relief. I guess I'm not ready for marriage either. We have had some great times though. I'm sure I said as much to Prissy."
"I know, she told me. She's hoping you will call her though."
"Tell her not to expect me to. I told her I wouldn't. You know if you want to move back in here, I didn't take any of the furniture and there are two more weeks paid on the rent. I didn't take the bedding, and I left half the towels and stuff like that."
"Jason, you are a really nice person. I almost regret my decision."
"Well, it's a little late for us now. I've made my decision to move back to Vermont to be near my mother. I haven't made any plans to have you with me."
"Okay, that makes it easy. You will kiss me, though, won't you?"
"I was hoping you'd let me." It took us almost the rest of the night to end the eighteen-month relationship.
I arrived in Vermont in time for breakfast. "Took longer to say good-bye than you thought?"
"Yeah, most of the night in fact. I closed the door on that part of my life, but I did it gently."
"That's the way Jason. You'll still have her as a friend. Friends count in this life."
As we enjoyed our breakfast, Mom handed me the papers from the attorney to read. I glanced at Mom almost as soon as I read the first line. "This says I'm the sole owner."
"I had the option to refuse it and then it came automatically to you. There is more and the main reason why I refused it. There is some property located in Chester off Popple Dungeon Road. Forty acres, the deed says. The lawyer thinks the title is clouded, so there has to be some work done to clear it up. I don't want to be bothered and you know about stuff like this."
"Thanks a bunch, Mom. Well that will be my first job then. Does all this stuff have to go through probate?"
"The property does and there is some money. The contents, you own outright. I gave Aunt Nellie a thousand dollars in your name for the contents about six months ago. I'm sure her stuff is worth much more than that. The attorney has the bill of sale on file. You know everything comes to you by being nice and by speaking to her when you met her on the street. The other kids and a lot of adults used to run from her or call her an old witch."
I smiled, for in my mind I did too, but she was related to me and if she was a witch, what would that make me?
"There is a dance at the country club tonight. Will you be going?"
"Do I get to dance with my favorite girl?"
"This old lady you mean. Yes any time, but I have to ask you to dance with some of my friends. They expect it, especially as you always flirt with them."
"You and your friends may be over sixty, but you are all wonderful dancers. Besides, it's fun giving them a thrill."
"I think you get quite a thrill out of it too. Anna told me how she teases you and what happens when she does."
"Anna, the one who is in her late seventies? Yes she does and she isn't the only one either. Maybe if I don't find a girl pretty soon, I'll have to check them out."
"Well if you do, be discreet about it."
"Mom, you sound like they could still make love."
"Don't kid yourself son. You'd be surprised what they could do."
"Mom, do you ever--you know, fool around like they do?"
"That's none of your business, Jase. How did we get on this subject anyway?"
"You brought it up. I think you are sorry I lost my girl and are trying to help me out."
"That's enough. Now gather up those papers and we will go over to Canal Street."
I was anxious to see what my inheritance amounted to. At first glance, the property looked run down. There had been two flower beds, one on each side of the walk leading to the front door, but you couldn't tell what had been planted in them. The lawn was just weeds, and none of it had been mowed this year and it was now July. There were two steps up to a wooden porch about ten feet wide with a short railing around it.
The front entrance was a large door centered between narrow windows. At one time there was an ornate heading over it all. The whole entrance was about seven feet wide and eight feet tall. The porch roof was more of a cornice which mated with those over the windows on the front of the house. The drip edge of the roof had the same treatment. I thought when I had everything repainted to restore the dwelling to its original color, it would look pretty luxurious.
On entering, and knowing more about buildings now than when I was here as a youngster, I was impressed. The front door entered into a huge center hall with a curved staircase on the right. This was the one I remembered where I expected a ghost to come floating down it. It was compounded by the fact that it was open to the top of the second story where it was capped by a domed ceiling. It was dark in here for the hall was only lighted by the windows on either side of the door and a window that was high up on the second story level. I flicked the lights on, but the electricity had been turned off.
Mom and I did a walk through. The rooms were all dusty and there weren't that many rooms in the main house, but all were large. When you reached the top of the curved staircase, there were a pair of doors opening inward to a ballroom. One half of the second level was taken up by this. I knew there must be a huge attic above, but I didn't see any entrance. There was a long narrow room which I assumed was used for wraps if the ballroom was in use. There were also two large bedrooms, both looking out over a flat-roofed ell which held the kitchen and probably some servants' quarters.
On returning to the first level we looked in on a parlor, a bedroom and a living room. The dining room was beyond the living room in the ell. The kitchen was massive by today's standard as was the whole building actually. I spoke pretty much the first time since we entered. "Where are the bathrooms? There must be more than one. You look down here and I'll go back upstairs."
I found one through a door off the cloak room which could be reached from the two bedrooms. Mom found one off the living room that could be accessed from the downstairs bedroom. There was another utilitarian one near two small rooms we surmised were servants' quarters in the back end of the ell. Next we went around and looked at the furnishings. All of these things were of a period seventy-five to a hundred years ago. There were only a few pieces that showed wear, but all needed professional cleaning. "Quite a purchase for a thousand bucks, wouldn't you say?" Mom asked referring to the contents.
"You got that right."
What to do first? I didn't want to move in and Mom wanted me to stay with her. Electricity, that was first, as I needed to know what the heating plant was. "Mom, I think I will go and talk to the lawyer and have him tell me a little about Aunt Nellie. He must know how she survived all of these years. How old was she, anyway?"
"The paper said she was eighty-nine. She was shocked when I asked about her age one time. That wasn't a question you asked of her in her opinion."
The attorney was in his sixties and said he had represented Helen Leblanc since he first began his practice. "She was your father's aunt, you know, not your mother's. She had her likes and dislikes and she didn't think too much of Jacob, your father. She didn't dislike him really, he just didn't resemble what a Thibadeau should look like. Now you--tall, dark and handsome--that's a Thibadeau. Where that came from, I have no idea. I can remember when she had much the same features as you do. Of course she shrunk a lot as she aged.
"I have a letter here for you. I was to give it to you on your twenty-first birthday if she died before you reached that age. She lived longer than she expected. You are what, twenty-four, now?"
"Nellie said there was something in the letter that would shock you and she was pleased that you got more age on you before I had to give it to you. Those were almost her last words to me. Do you want to open it now?"
"No, I'll wait until I'm with my Mom."
"Just a couple of things that I know about her. She never had much family, yours, of course, and she had a cousin Burt, but he skinned out. She talked a lot about her ancestors. One in particular and you are his namesake, Jason Thibadeau. He died sometime in the early eighteen hundreds. I have two keys to give to you. I have no idea what locks they fit, but as you explore the house I'm sure you'll find what they open."
I took the letter home and threw it and the keys on the sideboard. Mom had gone out and I was tired so I went in my room and went to sleep. I had come up from Boston and as Mom noted, I had a long good-bye with Katie. It had been nice living a spell with her, but I knew there was someone out there I could care more deeply about.
Dinner was at seven at the country club and Mom and I were a few minutes late. There were smiles all around when I escorted Mom to our seats. I really did enjoy being with these older women. Mom, who was the youngest, had been without a mate the least amount of time. It was a convivial dinner with everyone excited about me being back in town and pleased I was going to be staying at home with my mother.
Mom leaned and whispered that it looked as if she was going to have a steady stream of company from now on for they would be coming around to see me. I laughed at her, saying at least she wouldn't be lonely. When the band started playing I danced with my mother first. This had been a practice ever since Dad had passed on. From what she said I was a much better dancer than him which was why she so looked forward to these outings. Most of Mom's friends tried to be a little subtle in letting me know how much they enjoyed dancing with me, but Sheila came right out and asked if I wouldn't like to go home with her.
"Sheila, no. Not because I know I would enjoy a night with you, but what would that do to all of your friends? It would split you up and all of you have been friends too long. I wouldn't want to be the cause of such dissension among you."
She pulled back and looked up into my face. "You're right, of course, so just excuse this lonely old lady. Do dance a little closer to me and let me fantasize that the night is going to end differently than it is." I figured I had to find me a girlfriend--and soon.
The last dance of the evening was with my mother, and she asked me if I had a good time. "You know I did. I wish there were more men of your age around to dance with you ladies. It doesn't seem fair."
"You mean because we are lonely?"
"Don't let it bother you. We talk about it a lot and all of us have our memories. I think I am the luckiest one of all, though. It's a shame how some of the women have families and they pay no attention to their Moms like you do. I am lucky as it could have happened to me. You are here in town and are staying with me. I rarely see your sister and brother as they have their own families and life, but I have you, so I'm fine."
Saturday Mom and I slept in, and I was the one to make coffee. "When we finish breakfast, I have a letter from Aunt Nellie to read that she wrote years ago. The attorney warned me that Nellie said it would be a shock to me, so this morning, I'm a wee bit curious. How come she was called Nellie when her name was Helen?"
"I have no idea. Just a nickname, I guess."
I slit the letter open and spread it out on the kitchen table.
I'm assuming this is Jason Thibadeau reading this. If it isn't then you are reading a personal letter from me to him. Jason, I have a confession to make and I have left you to deal with it. I killed your uncle in 1949. His remains are in the attic in a box that I constructed after he was killed. To reach the attic, you must go into the cellar and behind a panel just to the left of the entrance, you will find a door. This leads to a stairwell that goes up to another door on the third level of the house. This is the only access to the attic, as I have had all others blocked up. It would be suggested that you have some authorities with you when you go into the attic. My confession and the weapon are near the box where his body lies. I am sorry to have to place this burden on you. You are the only man of the Thibadeau family that I have the confidence in to carry out this chore. You may think this was terrible of me, and I'm sorry for that, but I have no regrets in ending his life.
Love, your great-aunt Nellie
A shiver went through me. I had a vision of meeting my aunt on the street at different times. Everyone would have run from her if this letter was true and they had known about it. I passed the letter to Mom. She blanched and then looked at me. "I wonder what your uncle did that was so bad to bring on his death. It had to be another woman. Of course she was the one that gave out that he ran off with one. He probably did and then returned. I wonder if we will ever know what really happened."
While Mother was thinking and talking, I looked at another smaller sheet of paper. Again the missive was addressed to me:
Jason, Jane brought you to visit me today. She said you are twelve years old. Someday I am going to ask you to carry on what I call the family Thibadeau. There are burdens associated with this, some pleasant and some not so. I have in my possession three boxes of journals and diaries which are located under my bed and I will pass them on to you someday. The information contained in these papers was all kept by the women of the family. These tell of their lives since the original Jason Thibadeau settled in the town of Chester. If you are as intelligent as I hope you to be, would you read these journals and publish the story of how the family first began and what has happened down through the last two hundred and more years? It may not hold much interest to anyone but you and yours. Although when you get to read this there will be another note with it to put the name of Thibadeau in the news. I see you on the street and you always speak, which pleases me no end. If I had a child I would want him to be just like you. To pique your interest, the original Jason Thibadeau was a privateer (pirate) during the war with England and did quite well with his conquests. You will find this information in the journals.
Your ancestor, Nellie Leblanc
"Mom, it looks as if I am going to earn every bit of what the house is worth. Shall we go find great-uncle or shall I do as she suggests?"
"You have more papers there. What are they?"
I looked at what was in my hand. There were two deeds and what looked to be a registered agreement giving one person the exclusive right to use such land as long he paid the taxes on it or until this agreement was rescinded and the title owner resumed the use of said land. One deed described a 40.2 acre lot where the original Thibadeau tavern stood and the other was a deed to the mineral rights on the same plot. This deed described a talc mine that was located in the southwest corner of the property, but also included any mineral found anywhere on the property.
"What do you think? Shall I go to the authorities this morning? It's a weekend and this shouldn't cause too much of a stir."
"That is up to you, but it is going to cause a stir whenever you do it. You may want an attorney with you, too, when you go to the police."
"Okay, then I can't do it now. How about riding up to Chester with me this afternoon? I want to see if I can discover where this land I have inherited lies."
"No, you go by yourself. You probably won't find it without looking up some records and you can't do that this weekend either."
"It will be a nice ride and I'd like someone to talk to."
Mom, with a smirk said, "You can always ask one of my friends. How about Sheila?"
Without thinking I said, "Horny Sheila with the big tits?"
Mom was openly laughing now. "Yes, that Sheila."
It was nice that Mom and I could banter like this. I knew my mother was lonely and I wished that she could find a companion. She was only sixty and Dad had been dead ten years. She needed someone to love. "Mom, why don't you try one of those dating services on the Internet? There are still older men around that are just as lonely as you. There must be one for you somewhere. I don't want you to get to be like Sheila."
"I know, Jase. I've thought about it. It is such a big step though."
"Maybe I could help. At the very least, I could weed out the losers for you."
"We'll talk about it. Thank you for thinking of your old mother."