Until this year, nothing notable had happened in the town of Madison since the year of its founding.
This year was the year of the big 100th anniversary celebrations. This was to be the year of parades and parties lasting long into the late nights, ending with huge fireworks. After all, 100 years was a long time for such a small western town. Like its namesake, Madison, Wisconsin, the small town of Madison had been named after the 4th president of the USA, James Madison. Or that’s what the historians thought. But that’s where the resemblance ends.
Nothing exciting ever happened in Madison. Except for the usual traffic accidents, occasional murder or other incidents, the town could almost be described as boring.
Until 2007 and the arrival of Jason James. As a reporter and history enthusiast, Jason was sure the small town of Madison would have an interesting story to tell. His first stop was the local library, where he looked through the logs and ledgers, trying to find something worth noting. He had already surfed the internet, looking for some hint of a story waiting to be told. Was it really possible, that nothing notable had ever happened there?
After spending hours in the library, Jason decided to walk the streets and talk to some of the people. He found the residents quite open and friendly, but no one thought it strange that the town had no particular tales to tell and they couldn’t offer anything. Then he met Maggie.
Maggie sat in a rocking chair on her front porch, enjoying the last afternoon rays of sunshine. It was hard to determine her age, but Jason judged she was perhaps somewhere in her 80’s. He knocked on the picket fence to attract her attention. She looked up from her cup of tea and signaled for him to come and join her and soon they were conversing away like old friends. Jason took notes, but for him it was more fascinating to just listen to Maggie. It seemed like Maggie had been hungering to talk for some time, but no one had wanted to listen, no one had ever shown interest in her stories, until now.
Jason was amazed to find out that Maggie was also 100 years old, as old as the founding of her home town. This fact alone was notable, but no one knew it until now. Indeed, her parents had been one of the first to settle there, long before the town was actually a town. Her parents had owned the very first general store and post office.
In the days that followed, Jason and Maggie continued their little talks. Jason brought along a tape recorder so he could record the tales first hand. Maggie glowed while talking and soon more and more details of her growing up years came to light. She told about the little one-room school house, about all the men leaving for WWI, then later for WWII, some never to return, including her first fiancé and true love. Her eyes suddenly took on a sad expression as she talked for the first time in decades about Jeremy and the plans they had made for their wedding, which never came to pass.
Soon after Jeremy had gone off to war, his young bride left to visit relatives, coming back a changed person. No one seemed to think it strange that she no longer socialized, that she showed no interest in a new relationship, considering her loss. She had many young men coming to call on her, but she turned them all away. The only time she left her home was to teach at the local school and do her shopping. Yet she seemed content. Soon no one paid any more attention to her. Until Jason arrived, and he sensed that there was something else, something she hadn’t shared yet.
The biggest celebrations in Madison were planned for the following weekend. Jason already had quite a selection of stories to present to his publisher. In fact, he was considering putting them together into a series or even a book. Again he went to visit Maggie, and as soon as he appeared, instead of sitting on the porch, she asked him inside her home for the first time. He followed her and, upon crossing the threshold, it was like entering another world. The furniture and wall hangings were from previous decades, her home almost like a museum. “What an interesting tourist attraction this would make”, Jason thought. He soon discarded the thought since it was Maggie’s home and shouldn’t be invaded by strangers. She led him over to an old chest which stood in the curved window seat.
“Young man” she asked, “would you do me a favor and open the chest? The lock has been unused for so long, I can no longer open it.”
“Of course”, he replied, reaching for the big rusty key.
“Now, before you lift the lid, I must tell you one more thing,” she continued, as he halted in his efforts with the lock. “You see, no one has ever been interested in me before you arrived. Not only that, I feel a kinship to you that I haven’t felt since my Jeremy left me for the war, never to return. In this chest you will find mementoes and documents from my past. My time here is running out, and I know you will know what to do with them.”
“I will not misuse your trust”, he replied, and opened the heavy chest. As Maggie had hinted, the chest was full of items from her past, including official documents. He removed the papers to the nearby table and continued studying each item still in the chest. There were a few photos, but not many. One was of a young couple, smiling happily into the camera lens, holding hands yet sitting “proper”. Jason turned to ask Maggie about the photo and found she had gone back outside to the porch. Carrying the photo with him, he went out to ask her if that was a photo of her and Jeremy.
“Take a good look at the photo,“ she said. Jason did as she said, then noticed what she meant. It was indeed a picture of the young Maggie. In all the years, she had lost none of her natural beauty. Then he looked at the young man in the picture, Jeremy. Jason’s eyes grew bigger as he stared at the picture. He almost felt like he was looking in a mirror!
“Now you see why I trust you with my mementoes,“ she replied. “Soon after Jeremy left for the war, I discovered I was pregnant. Now, back in those days there was just no way I could care for a child! So I left to visit my aunt who lived in Madison, Wisconsin. There I gave birth to the cutest little baby girl, Madeline. I had so wanted a son so that I could name him Jeremy. Madeline is almost like Madison, you know? She was brought up by my aunt until my aunt died, and then placed in a home or orphanage. I never did find out where she was and lost all contact.” Again her eyes appeared sad as she stared out in the distance.
“You never did ask me about my last name,” she said, as she turned to look to him again. “The town was named after my family and not after the president as they claim. My real name was Maggie Madison. But no one remembers that. My daddy took on the name after leaving there on his trek to the west. That picture was actually my wedding picture, to Jeremy. We had one night together before he left. Most people didn’t even realize we had actually gotten married and thought I had just taken on his name in remembrance of him. You’ll find the wedding certificate among the papers you found. But if you’ll excuse me now, I must lay down. You may take the papers with you if you wish.”
With the information at hand, Jason returned to the library where he began some extra research, using the internet as well as the town’s archives. Soon the whole truth about the history of Maggie Madison came to light. Jason sat staring at the information he uncovered, stunned. He grabbed up the papers and rushed over to Maggie’s home. She sat, as usual, in her rocking chair. She seemed more pale then normal, and much quieter.
“No need to tell me what I already know, young man,” she replied, smiling.
The news spread like wildfire, changing the course of the celebrations. Maggie Madison died that day and was buried at the old cemetery, next to the graves of her parents. And Jason was welcomed as the long lost son, which in fact he was. The feeling of familiarity Maggie had felt was easy to explain, since he was the great grandson of Maggie’s daughter Madeline.
This story I first wrote on Oktober 2007 for a writing competition in Journalspace. We were given the word „Madison“ to write about….. and this was my solution.