My Time in Chesterville, Chapter 1: The Brand-New Kodak
Read MeTV's first original fiction story. Keep up with new chapters out every week!
Read to Me
My Time in Chesterville is a new MeTV original fiction serial told in the style of classic periodicals. Each week, a new chapter reveals more of the story created by author June Halbrook. Follow along as hilarious septugenarian Dot Haywood reconnects with her teenage grandson, Ben, through stories of her smalltown childhood. She recounts charming mishaps, village oddballs and, of course, young love, all with her trademark wit and unfiltered style. Like any good storyteller, Dot blurs the line between fact and fiction — but never fails to entertain!
Ben stared out the window. Droplets trickled down the glass. He took the cellphone from his ear and checked the screen: 5:47.
“Mom, I get it. You’re not coming.”
Ben watched an old pickup truck trundle down the road outside, wiper blades swinging furiously against the rain.
Ben ended the call. He stared at the cellphone in his hands, catching a glimpse of his face reflected in the blank screen. He looked aggravated.
Ben turned from the window and walked out of the small foyer into a cozy living room. Dot sat in a perfectly worn-in recliner, her 71-year-old body splayed out like a toddler. She snored softly as the ancient television in front of her flashed a black-and-white Western onscreen.
Ben turned off the TV. “Grandma,” he whispered.
She snorted awake. “Hey, I was watching that!”
Ben cracked a smile.
“What’d your mom say?” Dot asked.
“She’s not coming,” Ben said quietly.
“She said she could make it out tomorrow afternoon. She’s stuck at the office.”
“That’s my Janet. And your dad’s…”
“In California now, yep. Moved, like, two weeks ago.”
“Right. Well, I’m sorry, kiddo. This probably ain’t how you wanted to spend your Friday night.”
“I could drive you back tomorrow. Maybe waste an afternoon in the city,” Dot mused. “Do you need any more for that art project?” she asked.
“It’s not really an art project,” Ben replied. “It can be anything. It just has to be something new that we’ve never done before.”
“Oh, okay. And you chose art?”
“Yeah, but now I don’t know. I mean, thanks for showing me all your paints and stuff but I might try something else. We don’t present 'til the end of the semester so I got a little time.”
“Well, I’m famished,” said Dot, as she slowly stood up from the recliner. “Oh, crimony! That gets harder every time. See what you got to look forward to?”
“Can’t wait,” Ben said sarcastically.
“They say seventy is the new sixty,” Dot replied, “Like that’s a good thing. Sixty ain’t no walk in the park, either.”
Grandma Dot shuffled into the kitchen. Ben plopped on the couch, eyes fixed on the small screen in his hand.
Dot put two steaming bowls on the kitchen table. Ben meandered into the kitchen, fiddling with a black box in his hands.
“Beans and franks!” Dot proudly proclaimed. “I used to make it all the time when you were over.”
“Yeah, I remember that,” Ben said, sitting down and taking a big whiff. “Smells like childhood.”
Dot snorted. “You ain’t a child anymore?” she asked as she set two glasses on the table and sat down.
“I’m fifteen, Grandma.”
“You’re growing up too fast. Stop it. You still like cranberry juice?”
“Good, because I’m not supposed to have all that sugar.”
“Look what I found,” Ben said. He revealed an old Kodak Brownie camera.
“Where did you find that?” Dot asked. “In the office,” he replied, “My friends are gonna love this.”
Ben pulled out his phone and started taking pictures of the camera. “How old is this thing?” he wondered.
“Oh, Lord, I don’t know. Sixty-something years probably?” said Dot.
“It’s just, like, a brick. How did you even take pictures with is? Wait… it is a camera, right?” Ben quipped.
Dot laughed. “Yes, it’s a camera and it was pretty cutting edge at the time.”
“Is this one of those ones that prints out a picture?”
“No, that’s a Polaroid. This one you had to take the film somewhere to get developed and that could take weeks.”
“You had to wait weeks just to see your pictures?”
“What if they were all messed up?”
“Then they were all messed up. Nothing you could do.”
“Actually, I remember a funny story about that.”
Dot began forking beans and franks into her mouth, savoring each bite.
“So, what’s the story about the camera?” Ben prodded.
“Story? Oh, yeah. A lotta stories actually. But this one happened right after we got it. I was really young. Four or five probably. Five, I musta been. Because Vickie was turning eight.”
Dot took a swig of water then began to reminisce.
“I grew up in a little town, way west of here — Chesterville. I loved it, at least when I was young. As I got older, I remember feeling stuck. Now, of course, I’d give anything to be back there… walk those streets again… get a soda at Brauman’s, visit Mayes Park. It had the most splendid picnic areas you could ever want and a beautiful pond full of frogs and turtles and dragonflies. That pond ends up playing a big part in this story.”
“It was late May, 19– …oh, '54, I guess. I was five. My older sister, Vickie, was about to turn eight. Her birthdays were always nice because the weather was warm and we usually did something outside. She was just lucky like that. She announced three days before her birthday that, because she was about to turn eight, she would only be answering to her full name, Victoria, from now on. Everyone agreed except me. To this day I’m the only one who calls her Vickie."
“My parents had just gotten a brand-new Kodak camera. That one, the one you found. Now, I can’t say for sure it was because of Vickie’s birthday but I think that was a big factor. They knew Vickie would want the event preserved for all eternity. Plus, between you and me, I think she was always the favorite.”
Ben chuckled, his mouth full of beans and franks. Dot gave him a wink and continued.
“Anyhow, the big day comes. Everyone is dressed up in their birthday finery. I think that was one of the last times my oldest sister, Susan, wore a dress, come to think of it. She always hated them. She woulda been about twelve at this point.”
“It was a beautiful day. Spring in Chesterville was something to see. The sun was out, the birds were chirping, summer was right around the corner and everyone could feel it.”
“My parents decided to have Vickie’s birthday in Mayes Park. So, we all went to the park in our best clothes. Birthdays were a dressy affair in those days. Vickie had just gotten a new dress, which my parents adored. I got a new dress, too. Well, new to me. Vickie wore it for years before I got it, and probably Susan before her.”
“My poor parents. Now, after raising your mom and Rudy, I can sympathize with them. It was just them and twenty second-graders let loose in the park. Plus, me, a five-year-old, and my baby brother, Benny. He couldn’t have been more than six months old then. That’s who you get your name from. God, I miss him...”
Dot trailed off, lost in thought. Ben cleared his throat.
“Where was I? Oh, yeah, the park. I found the camera unattended on one of the tables. I had seen my parents using the camera the last couple of days. They explained to me you could take pictures with it and have those moments to keep forever. I was dying to try it out myself. I got close a couple times the day before but my parents always took it away from me, afraid I would break it. But that day at the park, I grabbed it without anyone noticing.”
“I knew immediately where I wanted to go. Through the trees and down a little hill was the pond. The water shimmering in the sun as I got closer. I knew I had to take as many pictures of this amazing place as I could. I started snapping away.”
“Suddenly, I saw it — the biggest, most gorgeous turtle you’ve ever seen in your life. I swear this thing was the size of a sea turtle, and in a little pond like the one in Mayes Park, it looked even bigger.”
Ben raised an eyebrow.
“I knew I had to get a picture of it. I tiptoed as close as I could. The turtle was floating near the reeds; head just above the water, its magnificent shell sparkling like an emerald. I crept closer, as quietly as a five-year-old can. But I slipped and made a noise. The turtle vanished under the surface. Without thinking, I stepped into the water.”
“I held the camera to my face and clicked away. I caught little glimpses of the turtle swimming toward the middle of the pond. I kept snapping photos, following my subject. I fell over again and again, tripping on rocks, getting stuck in the mud. Someone must have heard the splashing because after a little while, Susan and my mom came sprinting down the hill, my mom yelling ‘Dorothy Matilda! Get out of there!’”
“Mom jumped in to get me without hesitation. She was furious. Not only was I completely soaked and covered in mud, now so was she!”
“All of Vickie’s friends saw us walking back to the picnic tables dripping wet and just about died laughing. My dad laughed along with them until he saw the look on my mom’s face. Once we dried off and got cleaned up as best we could, we were all laughing about it. Except my parents weren’t too happy about me using up an entire roll of film.”
“But what about the turtle? Did you get a picture of it?” Ben asked eagerly.
“That’s the funny thing,” Dot replied. “Remember you weren’t sure how this camera worked?” Dot picked up the Kodak. “Well, I didn’t know how it worked either,” she said. “To be fair, I was only five.”
“But I thought you used up all the film,” Ben said.
“I sure did,” said Dot, “I just had the camera facing the wrong way. When my parents got the pictures back they found a bunch of beautiful, blurry photos of the inside of my nostril.”
Ben almost spit out his cranberry juice. He managed to gulp it down in between bursts of uncontrollable laughter. “That’s pretty funny, Grandma. Good story. But there wasn’t really a giant turtle in the Chesterville pond, was there?” he asked.
“I stand by every word,” Dot replied, matter-of-factly. “That’s not the only time something happened in Chesterville that was a little… unexplainable.”