It’s not something her family can really explain.
It’s just the way she was.
If you needed a place to sleep, you’d crash at Gayle’s. If you wanted advice, she’d be the one you’d ask. Hungry? Then she’d feed you.
“She just loved the idea of people congregating around her,” Heather Cabading recalled of her mother, Gayle Marie Page, who died at age 63 in late March.
She was the quintessential neighborhood mom: Her welcome mat was always out. And it was most certainly well worn. Page, of Buxton, had just two children and one grandchild of her own (with two more nearly here), but she was a surrogate mother and grandmother to dozens of area kids.
“We have hundreds of adopted brothers and sisters, some of whom we’ve never met,” chuckled Cabading, of Limington, mother to 21?2-year-old Egan, and pregnant with fraternal twins.
Meanwhile, when Cabading and her younger brother Troy Haskell were growing up, “our dearest friends just became part of the family. They were ‘the other kids.’”
In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to have a dozen or more kids swarming the family home. They would set up makeshift beds in the living room, and stay one night, a few – or as long as they needed.
In the summer, they’d throng around the backyard swimming pool.
And the fridge – well, let’s just say it was never safe.
But this certainly wasn’t a problem, as Cabading pointed out: When you stayed at Gayle’s house, “it was imperative that you eat.”
She simply wouldn’t stop asking until you did.
So, if you ever stopped by, you’d often find her in the kitchen, stirring up big kettles of soup or making spaghetti. And for those with a sweet tooth, she was especially favored, as she was “famous for her whoopie pies,” explained her sister, Lynda Hudson, of Center Harbor, N.H.
Holidays, meanwhile, would draw a crowd upwards of 30.
And, despite the number of people who cycled through, she was the type who never forgot a single birthday. Or a wedding, for that matter. She even became a justice of the peace to marry Cabading’s childhood friend.
In turn, this is how strongly her surrogate family felt about her: A couple of weeks before she died, her son held a reunion, and attendees were given just a day-and-a-half notice.
Every one of them came, Cabading said.
Also, since Page’s death, there have been numerous phone calls, e-mails and cards, and friends and strangers constantly stop her family members on the street or in the store to offer sympathy and share memories.
“I know what she did for me,” Cabading said, and seeing the reactions “means that other people also realized how special she was.”
As Hudson recalled, it was hard not to: She was a wonderful storyteller with an incredible outlook on life and a great sense of humor.
None of which, her sister stressed, were lost when she was suffering through radiation or the final days of her cancer.
She was also someone who didn’t let social expectations dictate her dreams. At a time when many people are ticking away the days to retirement, the near-sexagenarian enrolled at the the University of Southern Maine to pursue her bachelor’s degree in elementary education.
And her age didn’t slow her down a bit. Like other college students, she pulled all-nighters and drafted extensive papers, her daughter recounted.
Then, in 2008, at age 62, she donned her cap and gown and collected her diploma. Afterward, she worked as a substitute teacher, switching seamlessly from music one day to biology the next.
But then, her brief but quick-striking illness halted her career.
And, much as she tried to hold on, she never got the opportunity to meet or hold her twin grandchildren, Elijah and Abigayle, who are due in April.
As her daughter noted, it’s heart-wrenching that such a vibrant, giving woman died at age 63.
“She taught me to love my family more than anything else in the world. She taught me that every day is a gift,” she reflected.
Still, “she gave 150 percent of herself all the time,” Cabading said. “It would be wrong to feel sorry for ourselves.”
Gayle Page with her son, Troy Haskell, on the left, kneeling, and several former neighborhood kids and Haskell’s friends gathered for a reunion shortly before Page died. Growing up, says Page’s daughter Heather Cabading, “our dearest friends just became part of the family.”