Character Interview: Margo Upson’s Emma

(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Emma was written by Margo Upson.)

Emma stood in the kitchen of an aging 1840s Gothic Revival home, patiently stirring sugar into another batch of sweet tea. Hopefully this batch would be better than the last; her guest would be here soon, and her fridge was still half empty. It would be this or water.

She glanced over at the kitchen table. Blueprints, old pictures, and papers scattered the surface, the evidence of a restoration in progress. In a few months’ time, Grisamore would be beautiful again. For now, it was mostly just dusty and faded, but there was no way that she was going to have the table cleared off in time, so maybe it would be better to do this in the living room. She grabbed the tea and two glasses, dropping them off on the coffee table on her way past, and then went out onto the porch to wait.

Kelly approached the historic house and smiled at its beautiful. There were a lot of stories here, she was sure. She saw the young woman sitting on the porch, so she drew near. “Emma Roberts?” When the woman locked eyes with her, Kelly smiled. “Hi, I’m Kelly Blanchard. I believe you’re expecting me. I must say, what a lovely place you have here!” She said, taking in the house again before looking back at Emma with another smile. “I bet it has a ton of history!”

“Hi, Kelly! It’s so nice to finally meet you.” She walked down the few stairs. “Oh, yeah, Grisamore has a ton of history. This whole area does. But I guess that’s what you’d expect, given the location. There were battles all over the place down here during the Civil War.” She wiped her hands on her pants. “Excuse the dust. I spent the morning inspecting the window, and I don’ t think I’ll ever get some of the grime off. Would you like to come in?”

“Sure thing.” Kelly followed her inside and gazed around the house. She could just feel time’s stamp on this place, and she smiled at Emma. “So of all the places, why did you purchase this place? It definitely has a lot of potential, that’s for sure.”

Emma led her down the hallway and into the living room, a spacious area with a fireplace and a large bay window to one side. Mid-afternoon light shown through the windows; no curtains yet. Add another thing to Emma’s already long to-do list.

There were two couches set up near a small television, with a coffee table placed in the center. “I’d like to tell you that I just knew, from the moment I saw the first picture of the home, that it was the perfect opportunity, but a lot of it was because the price was right. Developers wanted the space to put in a restaurant. There were a lot of protests, and some of the locals put together enough to buy the place, and then started looking for someone who wanted to buy it and restore it, in exchange for a low asking price. I had just enough saved up, and when I sell it, I’ll make enough of a profit to start my own restoration business.” She shrugged, and made a face. “God, that sounds horrible. But that’s what I do, or what I want to do, at least. Fix up old homes and sell them to a family who can really enjoy it. I’m just one person; I don’t need this much space.”  Emma gestured to the couch. “Go ahead and take a seat, if you’d like. Can I get you some sweet tea?”

“Sure thing. Thanks.” Kelly sat on the couch and gazed around at the lovely setting. Really, if she had the money, she’d buy it from Emma once it was restored. But that wasn’t why she was here. Instead she smiled when Emma offered her the tea and settled in for the conversation. “So tell me how you got here. What got you interested in restoring historic places?”

“Well, it started with my grandfather,” Emma began, pouring tea into the two glasses. “If that’s not any good, you don’t have to drink it. I haven’t had much luck with it, but maybe I got lucky this time. So, don’t think you’ll be hurting my feelings.” She sat back into the second couch, returning to her response. “My parents died when I was young, so I was sent to live with my grandfather. He’d worked in construction his whole life, even had his own business. When I got there, well, he had no idea what to do with an eight-year-old girl, not one who was missing her parents anyway, so he did the only thing he could think of. He brought me to work with him. I worked out a lot of my emotions with a hammer in hand that first summer. As I grew up, I kept working with him. My favorite jobs were the ones where we got to fix up old buildings. I used to daydream about all of the lives that had passed through the rooms, who those people were and what kind of lives they lived. Neither of us were to surprised when I went to school for it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

Kelly smiled when she heard this, and she sipped on her tea. “Oh this is good. You got it this time.” She motioned to the drink but then focused on the conversation. “So, is this your first house to restore? Or have there been other houses you’ve worked on?”

Emma took a sip, and grinned. “Ooh, you’re right. Not quite as good as the stuff Brad brings around–he’s one of the rangers here at the battlefield park–but this is the closest it’s been yet.” She set her glass back down onto the coffee table. “Grisamore is my first big project, but I did some restoration work back home in Vermont. It was only ever just a side gig, though; not a lot of demand. Just enough to keep me busy on the weekend. I actually worked in real estate for a few years while saving up for buying my first property.”

Hearing this, Kelly nodded, took another drink before setting it down and sitting back into her seat. “So, what’s the story to this house? Any interesting occurrences you’ve experienced? Looks like the perfect house to have a ghost or two.”

“Oh, I don’t know about ghosts. I’ve been in a lot of old houses, and I’ve heard a lot of old stories, but creaking floorboards are usually caused by the wood settling at night. What I do have is a family or two of rodents in the walls. They make all sorts of noise, especially at night. Between that and the house settling, well, I had a bit of a scare my first night here. And I’ve had two pest control companies out since then, but they haven’t been able to find anything. The locals have a few interesting stories about this place, though. Supposedly, you can watch a legion of ghostly soldiers walk through the garden during a full moon.” She laughed. “Not sure if I believe that, though.”

“Well, that would be quite interesting.” Kelly smiled. “But do you know anything about the original owners of this house?”

“Oh, yes. Sorry. I missed the question the first time there, I think. Grisamore was built in 1842 by a man named Thomas Stratford. He made his fortune in the railroad business, and needed a home for his young wife, Clara, and, eventually, for his family. Their daughter was born a few years later, and they all lived here quite happily until he died in 1857. His wife took over the care of the home, and it was her and her daughter living here during the Battle of Stones River. The Confederates turned this place into a field hospital; you can still see blood stains on the floors of some of the rooms. I can show you, if you’re not squeamish. It’s not bad, but the stains gave me a bit of a shock at first, once I realized what they were. Anyhow, the home remained in the family until about seventy years ago. There have been a couple owners since, but this place has been empty for the last twenty years.” She leaned forward, fidgeting with her glass. “There’s a man down at the historical society trying gather up some pictures and other old documents from the home. I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with.”

“I’m sure it’ll be very interesting.” Kelly nodded. She didn’t mind looking at the blood stains, but she wanted to focus on the conversation at hand. “So, Emma, I want to know more about you. You mentioned your parents died when you were young.” She softened her voice. “What happened?”

Emma set down her glass and settled back into the couch a bit further. “There was a snowstorm,” she said in a subdued voice. “They lost control, and spun into a tree. They’d gone out to dinner. I was at home with a sitter when the police showed up. They called my grandpa, but he couldn’t get there because of the storm. I stayed with a neighbor for a couple days before the roads cleared. I don’t even really remember most of the first few days. I remember the police, and being scared, and then I remember how upset I was that I had to leave my home to go live somewhere else. I don’t think I even understood what it all meant until after grandpa and I arrived at his home for the first time.”

Kelly nodded. She understood what it was like to lose someone and not understand. “What’s your favorite memory of your parents?”

“My birthday,” Emma responded with a small smile. “The day I turned eight. They both took the day off, and kept me home from school. My mom packed a picnic lunch, and we went out hiking for the day, exploring a trail we’d never taken before. We ended up at the top of one of the smaller mountains, and ate lunch overlooking a lake. And then we had ice cream for dinner, which was the highlight of the day, at least when I was younger. That was the fall before the accident, and it was one of the last special things we did together as a family.” She glanced down at her hands, clasped in her lap. “I was so young. There’s a lot I don’t remember about them, you know? But I remember almost everything about that day.”

Kelly smiled softly, “I’m glad you remember that though. It’s hard to lose parents at such a young age, and I’m sorry you had to endure that.” She shook her head. “So then you went to live with your grandfather. What happened to your grandma?”

“Thank you.” Emma shrugged. “She died before I was born, and grandpa never talked about her much. I’m pretty sure she had a heart attack, and then just never really recovered. There were a couple pictures of them together around the house, and I thought she was really pretty, but I don’t know much about her.”

Kelly nodded and decided to shift the topic. “So…what about a boyfriend?” She raised her brows then chuckled at Emma’s expression. “Come on, you’re a intelligent, beautiful woman with a lot of ambition. Don’t tell me there’s no guy in your life.”

Emma tossed her head back and laughed. “Well, thank you, but no. There’s just me. There really wasn’t anyone in Vermont, and I don’t plan on staying in Murfreesboro long-term. This is just a temporary residence, and I don’t really know where I’m going next. It wouldn’t be fair to start a relationship right now.” There was a loud crash, and Emma jumped, turning around on the couch to see one of her books laying on the floor beneath the mantle. “Excuse me a moment,” she said, getting up to put the book back where it belonged. “The mantle must be a bit uneven. Things keep falling off.”

“Or it’s a ghost trying to get your attention, and he agrees with me.” Kelly chuckled, but she understood Emma’s reasoning. “I admire how you’re just plowing through life doing what you need to do without concern about finding love and such, but…I have to say, that isn’t normal. Usually that happens because of a heartache…or one too many heartaches.” She focused on Emma. “Did someone break your heart, or was it simply losing your parents that made you decide to not focus on love but rather find meaning in life?”

“Oh.” Emma settled back onto the couch with a soft frown. “I guess I’ve never really thought about it that way. I’ve dated, of course. Even had a semi-serious boyfriend in college, but then Grandpa died,and I went back home, and I haven’t really gone out with anyone more than once or twice since then, definitely not enough to let anything get serious. I just haven’t found anyone worth the effort.”

“Because restoring houses to their former beauty is well worth the effort, and I totally understand.” Kelly smiled, glimpsing around again. “But do you have any best friends. Anyone you could call up randomly and say, ‘Hey, I need to talk’?”

“Uhm.” Emma picked up a throw pillow, and started picking at one of the corners distractedly. “Well, I have a couple friends that I worked with back home who I could probably call, if I needed to, but we’re really not that close. And there’s Brad, the ranger. He stops in every couple of days, and we’ve talked a bit. He has a family, though, so I’d really hate to bother him.” She shrugs, and the movement is painfully insecure. “I’ve always been self-sufficient; there’s not a lot that I can’t get through on my own.”

“And there’s nothing wrong with that,” Kelly reassured Emma with a warm smile, but she noticed the clock on the wall and sighed. “Our time’s about up, but one more question before I leave.” She smiled, casting her gaze back to Emma. “Since you like history, if you could travel to any era, which would it be and why?”

“Has it already been two hours?” she asked, following Kelly’s gaze. “That was fast. Goodness.” Emma frowned a bit, but her expression brightened as she came up with her response. “Oh, that’s a hard question. How do I pick? I think it depends on where I’m standing, to be honest. Sitting here, in this house? I’d love to go back and see what it looked like back when it was new. And I’d love to meet the people who lived here. I don’t know how I’d handle the battle, though, so maybe sometime before all of that. It’s one thing to see the blood stains, something else entirely to see the blood, you know?”

“Yeah, I do. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could go back to the original owners of every house you purchase to restore just so you can have a better idea of what it looked like in its prime? That would be interesting, but yeah, you’d have to be careful if you find yourself in the middle of a battle.” Smiling, Kelly rose to her feet. “Well, Emma, I’ve got to say this was a wonderful chat. Thank you for meeting with me and putting up with all my questions. I hope you the best with all your endeavors as well–whatever they may be.”

“That would exciting! If only, right?” She laughed, and stood up, stretching a bit after sitting for so long. “Thanks for stopping by to visit! I don’t get many guests out here, and it’s always a treat to take part of the afternoon off.” Emma  started out into the hallway, opening the door for Kelly on her way out. “Come on back again any time!”

“I’ll be sure too. Thanks again!” Kelly smiled and waved as she stepped onto the porch then headed out–a smile still on her face.


Margo Upson’s novel, ‘Grisamore’, is due to be released sometime late 2016. Be sure to follow her on social media to be kept up-to-date on all her progress!




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