Joyful Gaits

Fri, 12/31/2021 - 8:00am

Thirty years ago Peter Wood, BI Times co-owner and editor ran a little piece I had submitted, about my sitting with my niece on the cover of the old cistern, listening to the engine of the tractor the neighbor was running up and down the slope of his sister’s bank lot, a sometime sheep pasture, sometime very big potato plot, sometime hay field.
She was visually impaired, has all these years later just had experimental surgery, which may or may not make a difference,
but could tell by the sound of the machine whether it was ascending or descending the hill as she excitedly reported to me.
I liked the thread over time, more and more gossamer every year, that the little scenario represented, the child of Grosse Pointe, Michigan still tied, ever so lightly, to New England. The tractor is gone, the pussy willows and shad taller, but the pond and land and ocean are all still there, amazingly so.
And that little vignette grew in a few months — truth be told I think while Peter was on vacation and left things in the hands of Cynthia Hammett — to this column. Last week ended thirty years and I had a while ago decided that would be a good cut-off, enough years but I seem to have forgotten to tell anyone so here I am.
These going on two years have been dreadful, I had some weird cold most of the month of February 2020, almost as soon as I was back on my feet we were thrown into Covid. Some of us — me — foolishly thought we could shut down for a few months and salvage part of the summer.
We went into a world of Zoom, not as interesting as it was in “The Jetsons!”
I was spent before the summer of 2020. For a few years I had hit a wall in the first part of August, in 2020 it was July and last summer I think I was glued to it.

Then, this month, December, I decided I needed to take a rapid test because I had dared make a doctor’s appointment on the mainland. I’d had a cold, but I have a cold most of the time. Not one, not two, but three rapid tests all confirmed a positive reading, the last at the Medical Center.
Oddly, these past months, before I got sick, I felt I was running on empty and reached back to the random memories, my own earliest, when the town was so small and so much more insular than we realized, when the boat ran once a day, six days a week all winter and we didn’t even realize it didn’t run on Sundays because where was there to go? My own memories were enhanced not so much by those of my father but of history garnered by my mother. Looking back, I think the Historical founders probably looked at
each other with delight when they met “Bill’s wife,” willing and able and interested and here all year!

More people than I had expected were interested; I had become so accustomed to a different take that I was surprised at the reactions “I never knew that!” Surprised and somewhat horrified to be confronted with the fact my few years is, in reality, multiple decades.
It is a way of fending off turning into the worst of Cousin Bill, with whom I had an argument probably thirty years ago. He could be wonderfully charming, he could be gracious and generous and he could be ... Cranky Cousin Billie Lewis. Someone wanted to talk to him about I don’t even remember what and he was being cranky, insisting there was no
“But how can they learn about it if you won’t talk to them?”
“They won’t listen, they don’t care.” And I knew the conversation was pointless. They did care, that I knew, but they were not in it for the long run, which perhaps Bill recognized before I.

Still, I’ve felt myself sliding over in that darker direction of late. I tell myself to remember the good generous side and to think of our more recent loss, Paul Marte and his constant encouragement and support of my writing, work on various boards, and especially
at Harbor Church where his “good job!” was often heard and always appreciated. I’m sure everyone who was blessed to fall into Paul’s orbit has a similar story. I always loved this story Paul related when I asked him of memories of the old bathing beach.
Paul Marte, father of two sons, with no intention to mislead, talks of coming over “with the boys” and at first the dates he mentions do not register: “We tripped over Mildred Allen, the wife of Ned Allen, the then Secretary of State of Connecticut.” It was 1953, Paul was a young, unmarried lawyer, the boys his buddies, and they were out for what he readily admits was a fun weekend. “I didn’t know her, but I knew of her...” he says of the lady and further explains that one of his companions was a City Clerk and did know the Secretary.
That’s what I wrote for the paper. I think it was more like “wait, Paul, what year was this?” and his snort/chuckle response “I wasn’t married, I was out drinking for the weekend!” There was none of the “boy, did we get loaded” or any stories of exaggerated sordid behavior. That was not who Paul was.
One of the postcards on my desk is of a steamer at the New Harbor Dock, the Yankee, I think, when it, the behemoth New Bedford and the according-to-my-mother unseaworthy-in-all-but-the-calmest-waters Pemaquid probably predates that trip by a few years. Ladies are wearing dresses, men white shirts and sometimes jackets, and the telephone sign on the Taffy Tent has a bell, both familiar and dated.
But that’s a picture for another day, now the sweet Icelandics are leading us into a new year, their joyful gaits a hopeful sign for a new year.