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Most every small Maine town comes with one – a person no one in town seems to like. Your bigger cities like Portland, of course, have more of these people than they know what to do with. But every town, whatever the size, will have at least one person that - for many good reasons - no one cares for.
In our town that person was Sylvester Sprague. Ves had been born and raised in town, so he couldn’t be accused of being from away. Folks say he was not only one of the most unlikable people you’d be likely to meet, he was also one of those people who was just born to make trouble.
Some say he was personally responsible for the invention of nasty tricks like, the one where you put a paper bag of doggie-doo on someone’s porch, light it on fire and then ring the doorbell. The homeowner opens the door, sees the burning bag and stomp on it with his slippered foot.
Come Halloween, no window in town was safe from his soaping sprees and no outhouse was secure from his unique tipping technique.
Ves would go through Boy Scout handbooks, looking for advise on good deeds so he could then do the opposite. He’d refuse to help old ladies across the street, he’d look for opportunities to take candy from babies.
It wasn’t just that Ves routinely pulled such nasty tricks. It was more than that. Ves, of course, never observed the most common niceties of saying things like “please” and “thank you,” and in fact went out of his way to say or do things that were particularly annoying. He would say them all the time, no matter what, no matter who or where. You know the type.
If he were still with today, he’d have no problem getting in the “14 items or less” express lane with 15 even 16 grocery items and not even feel guilty about it.
That’s the kind of man he was.
A troublemaker from his first day at school he eventually quit the world of academe at 15. His seafaring family managed to get him a job aboard a vessel out of Searsport. Folks in town weren’t the least bit interested in hearing about Ves Sprague’s antics at sea. They merely assumed he carried on in other ports as he had carried on here at home.
Eventually Ves returned to town and retired, still the same unlikable person he was when he left. Some say he was a tad more unlikable, although most agreed – given his local reputation – that was unlikely.
I can’t remember now how long it was, but I’d say five or 10 years after he returned home Ves Sprague took his last breath and died. Ves was a man who attended to details so long before the end he made sure his affairs were in order and all the arrangements for his funeral were made. As expected, Ves’ funeral was not a standing-room-only event. The few who were there put the number at about half a dozen.
The preacher, who barely knew Ves, conducted the service in a dignified fashion but, when it came time for the eulogy he was speechless – he had absolutely nothing nice to say. Calling on the small assembly he said, “Rather than hog the whole service and give the eulogy too, I thought I’d ask if anyone here would like to come forward to say a few kind words about our deceased brother, Ves.”
After a long, embarrassing pause an old-timer finally stood and hobbled unsteadily to the pulpit. He looked out on the meager congregation and said:
“His brother was even worse.”
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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