At the beginning of our island living we noticed an elderly lady that walked by our house at least twice a week in the summer. She was very crippled and walked with much difficulty. She had a cane in one hand and on her other hand which was crippled hung her handbag and a shopping bag. I would say that the distance she walked in passing our home was approximately fifty to sixty feet; literally it took this woman nearly twenty minutes to walk this distance. She was a very frail looking person and for a long time I wondered who she could be and where did she live. I was concerned because there were no other houses close by that I did not know the occupants. As time went by and I became more familiar with the people in my area I realized that this woman did not come from close by and that made me all the more concerned about her. I have always felt great compassion for the elderly. Finally after inquiring about her from others that had lived in this area much longer than we had, I was told that she was a recluse and shunned any one who tried to give her a ride or get to know her in any way. We could not get her out of our minds and watched each day to see if we might see her in passing. Each time we did see her we became more concerned with wanting to help her. Finally one day we saw her approaching our home so I said to myself, this is it. I went outside and tried to introduce myself to her but she wanted no part of it, she simply said in no uncertain terms “I’m fine and I know my way and need no help” I apologized for interrupting her progress and left feeling sad and defeated in my offering to give her a ride. I guess our neighbors were right they knew her better than we did, or ever would, or did they.
That first summer went by without my feeling less sad each time I would see her pass by. That winter even after we left the island for the mainland as we had not as yet taken up year around residence we wondered about her a lot, if she had relatives and where she lived in the winter.
The next summer she was back again and still we watched to make sure she was able to make the hill that is rather steep and which was a part of her journey. One day I happened to be down at the front of the island where the ferry boat comes in and where the stores are located, it is about a mile and a half from our home and even further from hers. There on the street walking very slowly was this same lady. I could not imagine her walking that great distance and so without giving it a thought I stopped my car and crossed the street and without introducing myself again I simply said “Won’t you please let me give you a ride, I know that you live somewhere past my house” She looked me right in the eye and asked “Where do you live when you don’t live on the island” I told her where I lived, and that I had lived there all my life. She did not ask my name but asked if I knew anyone in the next town over from my home town. I told her I knew very few if any, without listening to me, she asked if I knew her niece who lived there. Strange things do happen ,I swear her niece was the only person that I did know from that town, and knew her only because she happened to be the head of the Maine Poetry Association. The fact that I knew her niece opened a line of communication and a friendship that lasted for many years. She accepted a ride that day and I could see she was relieved from not having this long walk ahead of her. She asked how I knew her niece and I explained that I wrote poetry and that her niece had gotten in touch with me and wanted me to join a writers group.
When she told me where she lived I wondered how she could ever get to her house, there is one of the largest hills on the island leading up to her house, and no roadway just a path. I asked how do you make it up this hill, she explained that there was a back road through the woods and sometimes when she felt tired after her walk to the store she would go through the woods, she did say however that it was a much longer way to go. I asked if a car could go that way and she thought that it could. I made up my mind that I would give it a try, anything to keep her from having to walk up this large hill which I wasn’t sure I would even be able to make it myself. We made it through the woods just fine using a great deal of caution, it was rocky and a place I would not want to put my car through very often. She asked me in, it was an experience I shall never forget. It was like entering into the last century, the first thing I noticed was this giant stuffed hawk which was fastened to a large tree branch located above the brick fireplace. I did not want to let my fascination and surprise of such a place be obvious. Next I noticed this round oak table, covered with some kind of a cloth and on it was an open bible. Hanging from the open beams were coconut shells on chains which had candles in them. The house obviously had not been cleaned in years, there was enough hay seed and grass on the floor, that it literally looked like a part of the carpeting. My time there was not long, but I left with a feeling of satisfaction of having proven to her that I would be glad to help her if she ever needed someone to call on. I still watched for her to pass by and even today after all these years I still can not help but wonder how she ever managed to do all that she did.
We spent many an afternoon reciting poetry and her telling me stories of her growing up on the island and how her grandfather had their cottage built in 1906. She told me that her grandfather ran a shoe and boot store on Commercial Street and how he would take her with him and they would travel by stage couch up to South Paris Me. To sell their goods. Then she told me about her father owning a pickle factory in Biddeford Maine and also was in business with The Grand Union Tea Co.. She told how he would take her to Florida to see the ball games when she was very young and how they use to stop at an open bar on the street. It was a bar with a brass railing, her father would order an ale and the bartender would just give it a shove and it would slide down the bar and her father would reach out and grab it. One day when we were having work done on our house I saw her walking by so I went out and took her to the store, I asked if she would like to have lunch with us, much to my surprise she accepted. The work was being done by Betty’s brother in law, so when lunch time came he decided to have a beer with his lunch and I think he was kidding when he ask if she would like a glass of beer with hers. To the surprise of all of us she said “I would like that” So when he finished filling her glass she said to him “that’s quite a shirt collar you’ve put on it”, we all got a real laugh out of that.
We had always thought when she walked by that she had arthritis, however, we were to learn as time went by that she had polio as a child and that was the reason she was so crippled. She told us that after she was well enough to walk she studied how to make bandages, braces & different devices for polio victims and worked in the hospital teaching the nurses how to use them. She taught school for a time. Unfortunately do to her age and her infirmities she was unable to take care of her own hygiene and as a result it was not good. Her sneakers were missing their toes and her dress I’m sure had not been changed in years, it was noticeable when you were close by. Many nights we helped her get into bed which was a fainting couch at the bottom of her stair way. The springs were all gone but she did not seem to mind. She insisted on going to bed fully dressed with her sneakers on. To me that mattered not, for I was never a clothes horse; give me a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt and that satisfied my needs. In the summer it was shorts and sweatshirt, and so it was that she and I became friends. Many a night we would bring her supper after we got home from work.
During that summer the art gallery on the island was having a poetry reading and the guest speaker was my friend’s niece so I told my friend about it and asked if she’d like to go with me and she was delighted. I picked her up and we attended the event, needless to say our attire was not up to snuff. I had my every day shorts and she was unwashed or combed, and we made our grand entrance!
Because of this experience I wrote the following.
A ROSE AMONG ROSES
As we entered their stately mansion I felt every eyebrow that rose
They were bedecked in high fashion and we wore our everyday clothes
I became aware of each little whisper I saw their
We were like a couple of wharf rats whose fashions were way out of style
I saw their curious wonder and I felt the sting of their stair
But with due respect I held my head erect
And I chose us a front row chair
Then came the nights guest speaker
And from her came a genuine smile
Now we were no longer wharf rats whose fashions were way out of style
For my friend she addressed as Aunt Cora and as for myself she called me her friend
And starting with that very moment I thought the hand shakes would never end
Suddenly they forgot how to whisper and they lost their snobby old noses
And before to long we were no longer a thorn
For they had made us a rose among roses.
The next summer came and she did not show up, we called her niece and was told that she had gone into a nursing home to recover from cataract surgery. The next year she was back again and this time things were not good. We use to check on her every night when we got home from work and would bring her supper. One night we found her down at the bottom of the hill. She was crawling in the grass, she had been outside trying to clip her grass with a pair of grass clippers that looked like they came from the nineteen twenties, she said she had been painting her fence post earlier that day and lost her glasses. We got her back inside her house after a lot of effort on both sides; we never did find her glasses. I called to inform the niece only to be told that she was busy having a birthday party and that she had been adopted by the family and did not want to get involved. She told me to call the other niece whom I had not heard of before, this one told me that she did not like the ocean and therefore she was not going to be able to help, and that her aunt was very independent, and was capable of taking care of herself.
We finally got it touch with the health nurse on the island and they started checking on her and we arranged for her to start getting meals on wheels.
She was in her nineties when we first got to know her, God came and got her during the winter, at the age of one hundred and two. and we lost a great lady and a wonderful friend. I’m so glad I stopped that day and insisted on her taking a ride, what a ride it turned out to be, years of stories and moments to remember.