Key Citizen

Arthur "Carl" Berube owns four buildings in the small town center of Ballouville. He bought the store/post office building in 1986. Most of his apartments are rented to his four remaining children and grandchildren, for very reasonable rates. The hours he now works are long. The store is open seven days a week and the only the help he gets is from his daughter Debbie Theriaque who shares the hours with Arthur. (RICHARD MESSINA / October 28, 2001)

The wedding ceremony hasn't even begun, and the guests are placing their bets. Few of them give the marriage of Dawn and Jim Owen more than a year.

Even one of Dawn's best friends is putting money against her. She's the one who has strung crepe paper in the living room of her Plainfield ranch house so the couple can exchange vows on this New Year's Eve, 1995. There's no food laid out. Most of the 30 guests are antsy to get on with this. The justice of the peace is more than an hour late, and the wait is interfering with the evening party plans of the guests.

The bride has squeezed into a size 9 off-white dress from Sears even though she gave birth just three months earlier. Her auburn hair wound in a French twist accentuates those dark eyes.

What did she and Jim name their son?

Jacob.

Is that the kid who is bawling over there?

Everyone knows what Jim's grandma said that first day Dawn came to visit. They had been dating five months, and already this 22-year-old daughter of an auto body mechanic was pregnant. "She turns around and says, oh great, another kid in the world who doesn't know his place."

What can Jim say except, "They're hard. They're hard people. They tell you straight up."

Dawn wasn't married when she had her first child, either. She eventually married the father, a friend of Jim's.

Dawn wanted to settle down and be a mother for as long as she could remember, but she had a bad feeling about that first wedding to her sweetheart from Plainfield High School. There she was, decked out in the white wedding dress of her dreams.

"Mom, I can't do this."

That was a fine time to decide, what with 200 guests coming, and all the money her mother shelled out for this day.

"You have to," came Mom's orders.

That guy hit Dawn, told her she was fat, no good, ugly.

She downplays it now. "It wasn't every day."

He pays $65 a week in child support.

Jim is making about $11 an hour "humping furniture" at the Staples warehouse. Some of those desks he loads onto pallets weigh a couple hundred pounds, and the forklift sometimes doesn't do the entire job. He's fit, but that kind of work will make a young man old pretty fast. That's why he doesn't want to be a mason like his grandfather was. He went to technical school for that, but that's backbreaking work, too. He does that on the side. It will come in handy when Dawn's mother offers her that kitchen cabinet for $250 that she's just got to have. Jim can always build his mother-in-law a stone wall as barter, since they are too broke to buy it.

Every time Jim mentions taking the test to become a correction officer like his dad, his father talks him out of it. Jim knows he is right. "I don't have the patience to deal with all that horseshit."

It's the state retirement package that seduces him. Twenty years, and that's it. "I can retire by the time I'm 50. I'm not going to punch a clock after 50."