by Shelby Molyneaux
Based on Portrait 3 & book title: Practical Etiquette
Mr. and Mrs. Tremblay were known all throughout Springhill, although many people had very different opinions of them. To the townsfolk, the Tremblays came off as oddballs and outsiders; but to the children of Springhill, they were beloved.
Jacob Tremblay had a stern look about him, and his balding head and sharp features made him seem very serious. But he grew a rather unruly beard, which many people in town said made him look disheveled and irresponsible, but which made all the children laugh when he would twist it into funny shapes. His wife, Lillian, would often appear to scold Jacob when he started goofing off for the children, only to switch her demeanor and play along.
“Now Jacob,” she would start to reprimand, “you stop that!” Then she would walk over and straighten out his beard, only to do something even more outlandish with it. “That looks much better.”
The children of Springhill always enjoyed this gag, and it made the Tremblay’s happy seeing their smiling faces. It may not have been how they were expected to act in civilized society, but the Tremblays had never been ones to follow the beaten path, so the odd comment or glare from a neighbour never really bothered them. Especially not when their antics made the local children so happy.
The Tremblays owned the local haberdashery, and most people assumed that the exceptional tailoring was that of Lillian, and that Jacob ran the day-to-day operations. But this unconventional couple didn’t do anything in the “proper” way, and it was actually Lillian who kept the books, and Jacob whose skillful threadwork made their establishment the talk of the town.
One day, members of the town council strode into the shop and told Jacob that they had arranged for business owners to have their portraits taken for the town archives, and that he and Lillian would need to get theirs done as well. Lillian, never one to sit idly by while the men discussed business, was excited to hear the news, and wanted to know how it all worked. When the head of the town council, Dr. Evans, simply glanced at Lillian and ignored her, Jacob repeated her question.
“Apparently it takes ten or so minutes for the photograph to develop, so you must sit very still while the artist works.” Dr. Evans looked over at Lillian, whose pockets were bursting with colourful ribbons, and who had one side of her dress tucked into her sock, and cleared his throat. “And please remember to dress appropriately; these portraits will be hung in the Town Hall for everyone to see.”
“Yes,” agreed Mrs. Northam, the town busybody who fancied herself the head of the Town Council, even though that title was assigned to Dr. Evans. She looked Lillian up and down before adding, “You may want to consider a trip to the city to purchase new outfits. We must all look our best for the portraits.”
Dr. Evans told the Tremblays that their appointment with the photographer was scheduled for Thursday at 1pm, tipped his hat, and he and the other council members left the shop.
“Oh Jacob, how exciting!” began Lillian, ignoring the snide remark from Mrs. Northam and her perpetually up-turned nose. “I’ve never had my photograph taken before. We shall have to dress to match.” Jacob saw the smile on her face, and couldn’t help but smile himself.
“Yes dear, that sounds wonderful.” After a pause, he added, “I’m truly surprised the council even offered to include us, considering their low opinion of us.”
“Well, it wouldn’t really be good manners to have portraits of all the local shop owners except one,” Lillian replied. “And you know how concerned Mrs. Northam is with proper etiquette.” The two of them shared a giggle, remembering the time Mrs. Northam reprimanded Jacob for making funny faces at the local children.
Over the next few days, Jacob worked on making fashionable outfits so they would look presentable in their portrait. By the time Thursday morning came around, he had created modern, black outfits, complete with a silk tie for himself and a matching ribbon on Lillian’s dress. Lillian particularly loved the large hat Jacob had surprised her with, as it made her feel like British royalty.
Lillian had a smile on her face the entire way to the appointment, and Jacob was quiet as usual. When the pair arrived at Town Hall, Mrs. Northam, Dr. Evans, and the rest of the Town Council were standing in the entry hall, ready to greet them. Mrs. Northam looked at them from head to toe, and seemed to give a small nod of approval to their outfits before speaking.
“Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Tremblay, I’m glad to see you took my advice about your attire. Please follow me.” As the Tremblay’s exchanged a smirk, Mrs. Northam led them into the meeting room of the Town Hall. There, the photographer had set up his camera, which was facing two chairs sitting in front of a large sheet that had been hung on the wall (not at all the extravagant affair Lillian had imagined). He greeted them and began to introduce himself, but Mrs. Northam reminded him they were on a very tight schedule, and there was no time for pleasantries.
“Isn’t it proper etiquette to introduce myself?” The photographer asked. “I was able to introduce myself to the other business owners.”
“Well, generally, yes. However, we’re on a very tight schedule, as you’re all aware, so we must be practical.”
“Very well then, let’s begin.” As the council members exited the room, the photographer showed the Tremblays to their seats. “Now, I find that a straight face looks best in the final product. It can be quite difficult to maintain a smile for ten or so minutes, and the less movement there is, the better the image will develop.” So, Jacob and Lillian did their best at sitting still and remaining placid, though Jacob was doing quite a bit better than his wife. Every few minutes, local children would pop their heads in the window to get a look at what was going on, and Lillian would crack a smile or burst into laughter, completely ruining the picture.
The photographer said again, “Mrs. Tremblay, I really must ask that you refrain from laughing. The portrait will not develop properly if you can’t keep a straight face, and I’m afraid of what Mrs. Northam will do when she sees the finished product.” He gulped. “I fear that woman may be my ruin.”
“Yes, yes, I’m sorry sir. I’ll do better.” Lillian tried her hardest to think of something calming and un-funny, but she just wasn’t the type of person to not be smiling, and the children poking their heads into the surrounding windows wasn’t helping her at all. As soon as she saw little Andrew Figgins’s mess of red hair pop into the window, she let out a great laugh. At this, Mrs. Northam and the rest of the Council members burst into the room.
“Now, really,” said Mrs. Northam, “what’s all the commotion?” It was then that she noticed Lillian curled over laughing, and turned to Dr. Evans to do something about this ludicrous woman.
“Sir,” he said to Jacob in a tone that suggested he himself was afraid of a reprimanding from Mrs. Northam, “I suggest you get your wife under control.”
Jacob Tremblay simply looked at his wife and smiled, trying his hardest not to laugh with her; He so loved to hear his wife laugh.
He pursed his lips, then said “I’ll speak with her, Doctor.” The two spoke in whispered tones for a couple of minutes, snickered, then regained their composure and took their seats again. This time, Lillian decided to make an almost angry face, as she knew that was the only way to stop herself from smiling. Besides, the thought of Mrs. Northam seeing her grumpy face in the finished portrait was enough to get her to keep that face the rest of the appointment.
When the Tremblays finally finished their portrait sitting, Mrs. Northam hurried them out of the Hall so they could prepare for the next appointment, as Lillian’s laughing fits had put them nearly a half hour behind schedule.
Lillian was smiling as they headed home, but she was struck by a sudden pang of guilt. “I’m sorry dear, I just couldn’t keep a straight face with those boys jumping outside the windows like that. I hope I didn’t embarrass you.”
Jacob looked at his wife like he had never loved her more and said, “You could never embarrass me, my love. The only reason I hadn’t joined in the laughter was that I had put a small amount of glue on my lips to keep a straight face.” The two of them burst out laughing, and walked home skipping in mud puddles, not caring what anyone might think.