You would never guess it from the plush furnishings and the opulent décor, but I live in a prison where a few dollars will buy you more than a pound of flesh. It will purchase a piece of my torn-apart soul.
Is there anything special about your name? Why do you think you were given that name?
Madam Knight erased the name my parents had given me and replaced it with Bluebell. We all have flower names because we’re all her precious flowers. Most of the girls call me Bell. I think she just has a rotation of names that she works through – Daisy, Rose, Lily, Poppy, Clover, Jasmine – Bluebell is just part of the rotation. It means nothing to her. Or to me.
Do you have an occupation? What do you like or dislike about your work?
I live and work in Storyville. Do I have an occupation? Sure. I’m what they call a soiled dove. What you don’t know is that a soiled dove is just a pigeon. A plain old pigeon. Do I like it? Of course not. Who would choose this life? I was sold into this slavery when I was a child, but I’ve become numb. I just count the days until I’m used up and cast out.
Who are the special people in your life?
My best friend, Astrid. She’s also my roommate. She talks about her faith in God, and while I don’t get it, her hope gives me hope.
What is your heart’s deepest desire?
To get as far away from the brothel and Storyville as possible.
What are you most afraid of?
Nothing. I’ve lost it all already.
Do you have a cherished possession?
Only the memories of my parents before the fire. Before I was handed over to my greedy uncle who sold me for two dollars to Madam Victoria Knight. Those memories are all I have left.
What do you expect the future will hold for you?
I have no idea. Part of me wants to fight and run, but the other part of me is tired to the bone and weary.
What have you learned about yourself in the course of your story?
There’s this guy who came in the other day. A religious type, spouting on and on about Jesus loving us. But he doesn’t do it to condemn us, he does it to give us – me – hope. I don’t know, I actually felt like he saw me. The real me. Not only did my heart give a little flutter, which it’s never done, but it also felt hopeful.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?
People think we chose to do this. Live like this. This is a last resort for some who had no other way of staying alive or caring for their children. Or some like me who were sold to a hardened madam who went through this herself. We don’t choose or love this. We don’t relish in it. We don’t enjoy being leered at, let alone being abused. We want a better life. And I will fight tooth and nail to give that to these girls, even if it means I don’t get it.
Allison Wells is a wife, mother, and sweet tea addict. Allison writes in two genres – Christian Women’s FIction and Sweet Romance. She writes what she calls “gritty Christian fiction,” books that show the hard truths of life but ultimately are stories of redemption in the end. Her sweet romances are clean and fun with a dose of laughter (the best medicine). She loves to bring a word of hope to readers worldwide. Her motto is, “Life is short, eat the Oreos.” Visit her website at www.whatallisonwrote.com.
Welcome to Novel PASTimes! Today we are talking to Jacci Reed, an actress on the Kingston Floating Palace. Thank you for stopping by today, Jacci, to tell us about your life on a river showboat. That has to be amazing.
Thank you for inviting me here. I love to talk about my showboat life, but I do have to say that oftentimes people think my life is more glamorous than it really is.
Really? In what ways? It seems being on stage almost every night would be a dream come true for most actresses.
Oh, I do love putting on the shows. I fell in love with the stage when I was five years old. But doing a show every night no matter how tired or sometimes sick you might be can be taxing. Then we have to work hard in rehearsals to get the shows right. Costumes and stage props have to be made. Plus, at times the crowd can be rowdy and ready to do catcalls no matter how well we think the show is going. I’m afraid not every person who comes to our shows is a lover of the arts. So it’s not all song and dance although those are definitely the parts I love best–those songs and dances with my grandfather and with Gabe.
I guess we don’t always think about the behind the scenes work that goes into a show or how hard it is to please everyone in the audience.
Most of our crowds are wonderful and love the shows. The people run to the river to see the showboat tie up as soon as they hear the calliope playing. Have you ever heard one? Yes? Then you know that they make a unique kind of music using steam valves and pipes. Some call them a steam piano. Marelda Kingston, she and her husband, Captain Dan own the Kingston Floating Palace. Anyway, Marelda is the best on the river at playing the calliope. The music carries for miles and is wonderful advertisement for our showboat. Since we usually tie up early in the afternoon, people out in the country have time to finish their work and make their way down to the river for our evening show.
Can you tell us more about this Gabe you mentioned a moment ago?
Oh yes. Gabe Kingston is the best friend a girl could ever have. He is Marelda and Captain Dan’s son and was actually born on a showboat. Their showboat has always been a family affair. Duke, my grandfather, has been with them so long that he seems part of their family now. In 1881, when I was five years old and came aboard to live with him due to some tragic happenings, I became part of their showboat family too. Gabe was thirteen then, but he seemed so old to me at the time. He watched over me like a big brother, but now he’s always telling me he is not my brother. But he is definitely a friend I treasure. I can’t imagine my life without him. On the showboat, he directs the plays and is master of ceremonies. He can get the crowd laughing with his jokes and that makes the show even better. People do love to laugh.
Can you tell us about those tragic happenings when you were five, or would you rather not talk about it?
So many years have passed. Fifteen. Much about what happened then lurks in the shadows of my memories. Some of it I remember too well and some I’ve never understood. I do know my mother was trying to protect me from a man who was trying to steal me from her. In the confrontation, she was wounded. She did love me so much. I do know that much. She said it was a miracle from the Lord that the steamship she was working on as a maid was tied up next to the very showboat where my grandfather was part of the cast. We were able to escape from the man and find safety on that early Kingston Floating Palace. The showboat we are on now is much larger and has been beautifully updated.
Your showboat does look impressive. I can’t wait to go aboard for your show. But let’s go back to what happened when you were five. Do you know why someone was trying to kidnap you?
More truth that hides in the shadows. My grandfather never wanted to talk about it. He avoided answering my questions while I was growing up and continually told me I should concentrate on the present rather than worry about the past. I suppose he is right, but sometimes what you don’t know about your past can come back to haunt you in the present and bring fresh troubles.
But enough about that. Can we talk about something more pleasant?
Certainly, although there does seem to be more we need to know.
And more I need to know as well, but as my grandfather says, it’s better to think on the here and now. Besides, I can’t tell you what I don’t know. I do feel I will pull the truth out of those shadows someday. But don’t you want to know more about the show tonight?
Yes, of course. Can you tell me about some of the cast members or the specialty acts?
I would love to. I play a character named Penelope and the leading male character, Cameron Drake, plays Penelope’s love interest, Sterling. Cameron is an excellent actor and very handsome, but he’s not very happy on the showboat. He thinks his talents are being wasted. He thinks mine are too, but I love putting on the dramas on the Kingston Floating Palace.
Then we also have some great variety acts. Perry Wilson is a very accomplished ventriloquist. The Loranda family does all sorts of acrobatic tricks including a tightrope walk. Captain Dan and Marelda do a magic act. Duke does a dramatic monologue and then there are those dances and duets I have with Gabe. We do aim to entertain.
What do you love most about being on the river?
The river feels like my home. I love to feel the water rolling along under my feet, taking me somewhere new each day. I love watching for birds and animals along the river. The sunlight has a way of glancing off the water and brightening the air. I even love the damp smell of the water, especially after a rain. But I suppose most of all I love being part of the showboat family of actors.
Can I ask one more question about the unknown of your past you mentioned earlier?
Certainly. Ask whatever you want.
All right. How do you think your own personal life story is going to end? Aren’t you nervous that all those shadows you spoke about earlier might swallow you?
You make it sound so dramatic and a bit dangerous just like one of our plays. I suppose things could happen to make it so, but real life is different than shows. One can’t always know how things might end, but you can always whisper a prayer that you will get through the shadows and find happiness and joy. I want to believe that is how my life story will go.
I certainly hope so as well. Thank you so much for doing this interview, Jacci. Do you have any final comments for us?
I am so honored you wanted to know more about my showboat life. I might add one thing. If you ever hear a calliope playing to let you know a showboat is coming to a landing near you, drop everything, hunt your quarters and dimes, and come enjoy a night of fun with a showboat family. Maybe it will be mine on the Kingston Floating Palace.
Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling author of many novels, including When the Meadow Blooms, Along a Storied Trail, An Appalachian Summer, River to Redemption, These Healing Hills, and Angel Sister. She and her husband live on a farm a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Ann enjoys discovering the everyday wonders of nature while hiking in her farm’s fields and woods with her grandchildren and her dogs, Frankie and Marley. Learn more at www.annhgabhart.com.