Authors: David Emprimo
Tags: #texas, #short stories, #small towns, #anthologies, #collections
WELCOME TO NEWTONBERG
by David Emprimo
Copyright 2012 by David Emprimo
Cover design by David Emprimo, based
original photograph from Special Fork Blog
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment
only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people.
If you would like to share this book with another person, please
purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading
this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your
use only, then please return to Smaswords.com and purchase your own
copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This book would not have been finished
without the efforts of the following people:
Patricia Donahoe, Wendy Emprimo, Michelle
Shipman and Jennifer Emprimo
(or as I call them, my mother and
for their encouragement, proofreading and critique of
the original stories over the years;
Cheri Pate, the best friend in the world, for
more of the same;
Terry Shipman, the best brother-in-law in the
Barbara Crossman for being a great boss and
an even better friend;
Joanne Fluke, Stephen King, Roddy Doyle and
Mick Foley, for teaching me how to write;
Sandy and Dave Hu at Special Fork
(http://www.specialfork.com) for the beautiful photo and the
permission to use it;
My nephews, David Wingard and Trey Shipman,
for inspiring me.
This book is dedicated to the memory of David
F. Emprimo, D.W. and Billie Donahoe, and Harold Small.
Thank you all.
Newtonberg is a small town, buried deep in
the Piney Woods of East Texas. There it has stood, relatively
unchanged, for over a hundred years; and it will probably stand,
relatively unchanged, for a hundred more.
Roughly nine hundred and seventy people call
the town home, representing the hundred and ninety families or so
(with minor additions and subtractions) that have lived there for
time out of mind. Here they live out their daily lives – working,
shopping, gossiping, and worshiping at one of the three local
They're nice to strangers, whether you're
just passing through, or if you decide to settle down. Sure, some
of the “older families” might treat you with some suspicion:
initially as outcasts, then as step-members of the family; but
eventually, you are treated as equals. It is said in Newtonberg
that once your name appears in the
, our newspaper, then the people of the town have
accepted you. The
being what it is, it doesn’t take
much to get your name in there.
Many people grow up in Newtonberg and can’t
wait to get away to the “big city.” After several years away, they
are able to observe their hometown and its inhabitants with a
certain degree of detachment and perspective. They’re able to see
the humor, the love, and the tradition that lies beneath the
surface of this community. For that reason, they love it all the
more, and it is for that reason that many return, this time to
I hope you enjoy these glimpses at a year in
the life of the citizens of Newtonberg, and that you will come to
appreciate and love this little town for what it is: one of the
last true examples of “small town life” in America.
On February 20th, Newtonberg celebrated its
150th anniversary. We had our usual Founder's Day picnic on the
square, but the sesquicentennial celebration added a bit of
excitement to the festivities, and for some of the older families,
a bit of poignancy as they remembered their ancestors.
The history of the people who founded our
little town is almost as fascinating as some of the people who
still live here. General James M. Newton, while serving in the
Republic of Texas Army, was sent once from Washington-on-the-Brazos
to Natchitoches, Louisiana on an errand. While passing through East
Texas, he spotted a lovely piece of land just east of the Neches
River and decided that once the war was over, he was going to come
back and claim it for his own.
So, once the war was over and Texas had won
its independence from Mexico, he returned to East Texas to get his
land. Unfortunately, time does a lot to wild countryside, and he
couldn't find the right spot. He fought his way through the Piney
Woods looking for it for almost eight months. Finally, in
desperation, he gave up and just claimed the land where he was.
That was the beginning of Newtonberg.
Of course, it wasn't called Newtonberg then.
It wasn't even a town. He cleared out the land around him --
probably about eighty acres in all. He built a large barn, a
two-story house for himself and his wife, a bunkhouse for hired
workers, tilled about five acres of land for a garden, and fenced
in an area for cattle.
He kissed his wife goodbye and said he was
going to go west, back toward Washington-on-the Brazos, and see if
he couldn't find some men in need of work. He hadn't gotten ten
miles down the road (such as it was) when he hit upon a group of
wagons, men and women who looked travel-weary and in dire need of a
place to stay. He told them about his land and his need for
workers. The men agreed to work on the farm, but being that some of
them had families of their own, they asked if those men might each
have some land of their own on which to build a home. Newton
agreed. The single men moved into the bunkhouse, and the men with
families each took an acre or two of land surrounding Newton's.
Within six or eight months, a thriving little community had risen
up in those woods. One of the men was a preacher, and they built a
little chapel for church services.
The following spring, Newton sent a young man
by the name of John Garrison west with a few other men to buy seeds
for planting. Garrison made it as far as the Neches River, found a
lovely little spot, claimed it for his own and built a lumber mill
on the river, sending word to Newton that he wasn't coming
Newton just about kicked himself, assuming
that Garrison had found
spot, and then sent
Henry Albert Johnson (forefather-in-law of our own Widow Missus
Harriet Johnson) east to Louisiana, lest Johnson lose his way as
well. He did make it back with the seeds, and the harvest that fall
was fruitful. The families all gathered at Newton's house for a
feast to rival the Pilgrim's original Thanksgiving dinner.
It went on that way for many years. Newton,
who had been in his mid- to late-thirties when he had claimed the
land and established his homestead, got older and grayer.
Eventually, he took ill with a bout of influenza and died. The
other families, to honor his memory, petitioned to have the town
incorporated and called it Newtonberg.
At this year's Founder's Day, Mayor Al
Thompson arranged to have local historian and city librarian
Michael C. Baldridge give a short history of the town and share a
few anecdotes about the colorful characters from the past. Everyone
agreed this was an excellent idea, except Mike, for two
First of all, Mike’s not actually from
Newtonberg originally. He moved here about ten years ago after
college. His mother and father had both passed on, and he had no
brothers or sisters. He started out helping in the library, doing
research on local history, and eventually took over as Library
Director after Madge Corbett retired about five years ago. Goodness
only knows how he found Newtonberg, but the people here sure are
glad that he did. Even if he doesn’t consider this as his hometown,
the townsfolk have completely accepted him as one of their own.
The other thing is that Mike is the nervous
type. He doesn't like speaking in public -- put him in front of
more than five people and he is downright terrified. Brother Jim
Campbell tells that once they tried to get him to give the prayer
in church before the offering, and he just stood there, mouth
moving, nothing coming out. Finally, he managed to whisper "Amen."
They never asked him again after that.
So all week before Founder's Day, people
would come up to him on the street, or come into the library, and
try to give him advice. "Now, don't you worry about it, dear," the
Widow Missus told him when she stopped by the library to pick up
the check for the library's newspaper subscription. "You know all
of us. There's no reason to be scared of speaking to friends."
"Just imagine everyone in their underwear,"
Mayor Al told him. "That's what they always taught us. Works most
of the time."
"Drink," was the advice of Cliff Magnuson,
who ran the local watering hole. "Not a lot, but keep a small glass
with you and sip from it occasionally. That'll calm your
"What should I drink?" Mike asked him.
"Whiskey. But remember:
Don't drink it all in one go."
Walking around with all this advice in his
head, he plotted how he'd handle the day. He wasn't much of a
drinker, so that would be his last resort. He came up with a three
1. Try it cold turkey, as the Widow Missus
2. If that didn't work, he'd follow the
mayor's suggestion and imagine the crowd in their underwear.
3. If all else failed, he'd have the
He spent the week doing his research, writing
his speech, and trying to keep the actual act of giving the speech
out of his mind. It seemed to be going well. He covered the story
of the town as quickly as he could so he could get right into the
anecdotes, since that was what entertained the crowd the most. Cold
facts and dates were too much like being in school.
Founder's Day arrived and he joined everyone
else on the square. It was a hot day, one of the hottest of the
year. People were drinking the water and iced tea one after the
There were vast tables of food. The women of
Newtonberg love to cook, and the men of Newtonberg love to eat.
It's a fair arrangement.
All morning people would stop and say to him,
"looking forward to the speech." He would smile and try to act
He was scheduled to give the speech about
11:30 a.m., after the Mayor gave his welcome. About 11:00, Cliff
Magnuson came up to him and handed him a cup containing a brown
liquid. It looked like watered-down ice tea. "Just in case," he
"Thanks," Mike replied. "I hope I won't need
At 11:20 he made his way to the bandstand.
The Mayor was there, making his preparations. Mike stepped over to
the podium and placed his speech under it, weighing it down with
the cup of whiskey.
He took his seat and waited. People were
piling into the pavilion, and he began to get nervous.
, he reminded himself.
No reason to get nervous
. He scanned the crowd, picking out familiar
faces, reassuring himself that he was among friends. There was the
Widow Missus, who'd been almost like a second mother to him when he
first came to town. Cliff Magnuson. Oliver and Orville Nelson.
Bubba Lowry. Cap Blakeney. Brother Jim. Father Louis. Reverend
Stanley. Janet Carmichael.
. Maybe he shouldn't
have done that. Janet Carmichael was the kindergarten teacher at
Newtonberg Primary School. Beautiful, sweet, and single. He'd had
his eye on her for years; a silly schoolboy-type crush. He couldn't
even bring himself to talk to her. Giving this speech would be a
hundred times easier than even saying "hello" to her. His stomach
tightened and he looked away. He made a mental note not to look at
her during the speech.
Mayor Al looked at him. "You feeling okay,
Mike? You look pale."
Mike gave him a sickly half-smile. "I'm fine.
"Imagine everyone in their skivvies, like I
said. Makes 'em look ridiculous, and it puts you at ease."
"I might have to try that."
"Well, here we go. Can't wait around
forever." With that, Mayor Al approached the podium and turned on