Sandra Neily here.
It’s been a month of choices and transitions, of learning, loss, and loving what might be small and also so very huge.
I will start with the smaller ones. And then get to Rupert.
I’ve made progress learning how to avoid the store by buying 3 weeks of food at once, letting dry goods “rest” to decontaminate, and (wearing gloves) “processing” the rest at the sink. My plan to have salads no matter what, works well with coleslaw to finish out the last week. (Red and green cabbage, shredded carrots, raisins, any dead veggies that need to disappear.)
Raven, our Labrahound (Lab and Blue Tick hound: lab indoors; hunting dog outside where furry things run from her), has taken to leaning against walls in what I can only think is regression from the two years she lived in a crate before she was rescued.
The used, small camper trailer we bought (before the stock market ate much of our retirement funds), arrived on a truck because by the end of February we’d read up on what was happening in China and Europe. Read up enough to know the virus was already a silent spreader everywhere we’d planned to go. Knew that people who did not have symptoms were spreaders. Knew that it could float in the air.
We were so right.
Much of the fun I used to have with my granddaughter, is now limited to various kinds of outdoor tag where I run fast enough so she really can’t catch me. Unless she’s on her bike. I miss our dress-up sessions and reading cuddles. (Yes, I am very lucky to live near enough to have outdoor playtimes, but she does not understand why her “Moomoo” can’t “come in and play.”)
In early May, it snowed on 3 cords of wood we thought we were so smart to get in before an early fall snow might catch us lazy and unprepared.
All that pales to losing my brother a few weeks ago. We knew it was coming. It was a long, cruel illness. Three of us have led exceptionally clean, careful lives in order to be with him as we knew we could not have hospice caregivers coming and going, and we were not going to send him to a hospital where he would be alone without loved ones to surround him.
My last real chat with him was over literature. “Are you still able to read a bit?” I asked.
He pointed to a book and said it was “mush.”
“Why mush?” I asked.
He could only do a few words at a time. He frowned. “Too general.”
I picked up When We Were the Kennedys by Monica Wood. “I think you’ll like this one,” I said. “It’s an unusual Maine memoir. Alive and real every time I return to it. Nothing mush-y about it. Everyone just leaps off the page. I’ll read it to you and see what you think.”
He loved it. We didn’t finish it, but he loved it the way I loved it: for its depiction of working-class Maine life in a mill town in the 1960’s. He loved it for how Wood essentially recreated all our own childhoods of that era, even as she gave us hers, unvarnished and full of life, confusion, and loss.
I read to him for hours that first day. And the next week, only a few days before he went on his final ramble (Rupert was a great rambler), I sat next to him and said, “I could read some more if you want.” He wasn’t talking by then.
“Or I could just read it and annoy you as I have for decades,” I said with a smile.
He heard the smile, raised both hands and gave me two thumbs up. I thought about skipping the parts where Wood’s father’s death exploded her family, but realized that was probably why he was also drawn to her story. It is very much a book about life and death. And by the time I read it to him, his life and death were also delicately balanced.
That we could come together over the Maine we love and know … the Maine of small towns and big woods where much is lost, even as much remains that we must work hard to conserve … was very, very special. As people everywhere learned of his passing, they wrote to say how grateful they were for all his big-hearted efforts to conserve the best of Maine.
I will close with a few passages from what we put in the paper.
“Rupert’s first and enduring love was the Maine woods, lakes, streams, hills and coast. They were his botanical garden. He avidly explored them on foot, bike and rowing and sailing his beloved Whitehall, his eye ever roaming to an alluring ridgeline. He learned how to find his way in the woods as a boy hunting with his father. He learned how to find spiritual nourishment from the mystery of nature all on his own, most especially during his recovery from a bone marrow transplant from his sister Sandy for leukemia in 1998. …
Rupert was mischievous, loved to trespass, was perplexed by rules and so generally avoided them. He found signs everywhere, layers of meaning unseen by the rest of us. He collected “icons,” things he found in his path, put there for some reason that was his work to figure out. A favorite was a fork flattened by a car tire, which became ‘he fork in the road.’
Sandy’s novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and she’s been a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. Find her novel at all Shermans Books and on Amazon. Find more info on the video trailer and Sandy’s website. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” is available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle and the paperback will be ready for purchase July 1st!