Excerpt: Jacob T. Marley


To understand the time between Jacob’s death and his wispy visit with Ebenezer in the bedroom with the old Dutch tiles showing the scenes of Bible stories, one must go back and see what path led him to this spot wherein he was permitted to frighten Scrooge for his own good. It is said in heaven that a record is kept of men’s lives. If that be so, if it truly is important enough for heaven to document the moments of our existence, certainly it must be important enough for us to at least reference selected segments from that story to gain insight on how the man came to be who he was. For the corrupt character of Jacob Thelonius Marley was not made by deity; rather, it was a morbid distortion of who he had started out to be, a sad and rough-hewn statue chipped to existence from the stone of his potential by choice after choice of the man himself.

Jacob’s father, Joseph Marley, who was himself the son of Thelonius Marley, lived in the coastal community of Portsmouth Common. It was here he toiled in honest and dedicated fashion as a shipbuilder. Though he held a position of no particular note in the history of the place, he made adequate provision for his family. No crest adorned his gate (there was in fact no gate whatsoever), but he provided a middle-class home and often reflected that the fourth-greatest blessing in his life was the roof over his head, the floor under his feet, and the hearth that warmed both of those personal extremities. For the record, as I have given you this much of Joseph, he counted his blessings upward as such: For third, he named the five children who gave life to his home and meaning to his life. For second, Clarissa, who had been his companion, his equal, and his adoration for many years. For first, the One who granted him life.

Into this world, Joseph and Clarissa escorted five young Marleys, from Joseph Jr. to Melinda to William to Alfred to Jacob. To say that any of these were adorned with excess would defame both history and the principles of the family. But, as well, to say they felt want was equally false. They were fed, they were housed, and, indeed, they were loved, all to a point adequate to equip a young man or woman with reasonable armor against the vast and unpredictable battles for the souls of youth.

The hard and successful work of Clarissa and Joseph as parents is worthy to be documented, for of their five, they contributed four balanced and productive citizens of the British Empire. However, our tale is the story of the fifth of Marley. His entire life is not even our concern, though it could be told at some other place. Rather, we search for a particular event, the germination of a seed that, watered by some kind of cupidity, would take root in the pure-hearted young Jacob and find its flower in the deceitful old Marley.

The study of the man must begin with a note about his curious lineage. He was given as his middle name Thelonius, which is not an appellation generally worn well by young lads. However, in Jacob’s case, his full name was used for far more than a reprimand by his mother. Indeed, he wore the moniker of Jacob Thelonius Marley with pride. For, while not recognized the commonwealth over, in this small region of the family’s existence, the name Thelonius, spoken, quieted a room, bringing reflection to those who heard it and an unspoken reverence for the deed that had engendered such awe.

Thelonius Marley, father of Joseph, grandfather of Jacob, had worked at so many professions that if a person were to guess at one—say, a butcher—the odds are he most likely would have been right. Had another suggested in surprise that he knew the family and had thought Thelonius was a baker and he was sure others would validate that memory, he too would have been right. It was not that he could not sustain himself in one endeavor. Rather, for men of that time and place endowed with his meager upbringing, simple jobs of limited duration would regularly present themselves, and a worker distinguished himself not so much by what he did as how he was known for doing it. Thelonius labored in a way that was both consistent and admirable. He was known as an honest, hardworking man, and it was his reputation that kept him employed.

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