A Summer memory
“I have someone in my life,” I heard my great-aunt announce.
“Oh, a boyfriend!?”
“No, a man-friend,” she was quick to correct, standing on the porch of her cottage, elbows out, with palms resting on either side of her hips. Wisps of grey hair fell into her squinting eyes. I wasn’t sure whether it was the glare of the sun or from a smile that would accompany such an announcement.
With every arrival in Maine for summer vacation, there was always that special sort of news, best delivered in person for the greatest effect.
This tidbit was particularly fascinating to my early teen-aged inquisitiveness since I had just begun to get my head out of books and look around, taking in future potential. Little did I know this would be the summer when I would become acutely aware that cupid’s arrow has no timetable and can easily spring from a bow and head straight through our piney woods to its target.
The gentleman in question lived alone on an island just off the shore where my aunt had her cottage. When we finally met him, he looked to be about her age, bristly whiskers growing free from the occasional close brush with a razor, and a silence about him that didn’t encourage conversation, at least not with me. That was okay. I was happy just to observe and listen.
Their story unfolded among the many tales told of a summer evening after I was sent off to bed, assuming that my ears would be tucked in, too. What I knew to be coming was just too good to miss. I wanted to know more about this man, a storybook figure who had taken a fancy to an aunt who had never married and the family had pretty much given up on in that regard.
As I made myself comfortable on a hidden upper step, I leaned against the stairway spindles. I held my breath that nothing would snap or creak. My aunt had already positioned herself, ready for anything, on the old family griddle.
“Soooo . . . !”
Here it comes, I thought, arms wrapped around my knees.
“. . . you said he built everything himself over at his place,” someone chirped.
“Yes, he did.” I could hear the pride in her voice. “Even rigged up a contraption that would get him a cup of hot coffee in the morning.” Neither of them had electricity. “Quite handy, he is, that’s for sure,” she added.
I loved to hear the accent, really full-blown now in the quiet of the firelight, “for sure” sounding more like “fah shu-ah.”
After murmurs on how such a contraption could be conceived, much less come to practical fruition, her friend’s accomplishments continued.
“He put up a flagpole for you, didn’t he?”
“Yes, and what a great idea!”
She went on to explain since they didn’t have telephones, either, it was the only way they could communicate. “I hoist up the flag and when he sees it, he comes ovah.”
I can’t see the leaning forward or the exchanged looks, but I can just imagine, as I find myself doing the same. At least the leaning forward part.
“He’s got an inboard motor . . .”
“I’ll bet he does!” Barely a chuckle is heard at this. More like throat clearing.
“. . . and he fixes things like the sink when it gets all clogged up.”
My aunt was bound and determined to make his visits purely practical, with no further mention of motors or other intentions.
We were to spend more time than usual at her place that summer, prompted by my dad being dead-set on building a footbridge for her. It was badly needed, as far as he was concerned, so she could get to her spring more easily. He hustled, stripping trees of their bark, brought down two-by-fours on the dirt road, and hammered and sawed to his heart’s content. I’d be willing to bet, since she was his favorite aunt, that he, too, wanted to show her he could roll up his sleeves. Of course, I took all of this in.
The entire time the project was underway, we were invited to meals, but her friend never joined us. Those times were relaxed, with her unique routine of leisurely clearing the table and leaving dirty dishes in the kitchen, waving away any offers to help. She explained to me, “I wait until after everyone leaves. Then I can relive the experience of good company!” My not being especially fond of clean-up chores, I was delighted, but soon realized it didn’t give me the opportunity to get closer to her which was disappointing.
As long as I could remember, she had been in the cottage all alone every summer, except when family came to visit or someone stumbled upon her place quite by accident. She was never afraid and never seemed to feel she needed to be. Still, it must have been a bit lonely for her until she discovered a special friend and handyman who lived on the wooded island she could see from her porch.
I wish I could remember his name. My mind keeps going back to Fred, and I don’t know if he shared her interest in books, classical music, nature, and an adopted chipmunk. She never said. It might have been a matter of just being there for each other. A graduate of Simmons College and sensitive to the women’s suffrage movement, she was a gentle soul, and with her life having taken an unexpected turn, I felt particularly happy for her since she appeared to be so happy herself.
“And very fahtunate.”
I don’t know if there was any more to his visits than tending to matters of the home, hearth, and maybe a cup of chowder, but my heart hoped there was.
Did she ever go over to the island to visit him there? After he fixed or did what needed tending to, did they go off together?
How I wanted to ask! In those days, though, such delving questions from someone my age was discouraged, and so I was left to wonder.
Not about anything deeply personal and possibly indelicate, but more romantic—star-lit island evenings and tenderness, romantic.