Monhegan Island Ferry leaving Monhegan Island 172 / 173
Feeling timeless, we
assume we’ll always
take this spring
journey together,
imagining only the
children will
grow older.
Wr i t i ng My Mom’ s Ob i t ua r y on t he Monhe gan I s l and Fe r r y
“First of all,” she says, “I don’t want any husbands
in it!” I’m taking dictation from my mom on the back
deck of the passenger ferry, coming home after her 78th
birthday trip to the island. She speaks over the rumble
of diesel engines. Surrounded by backpacks, picnic
baskets, the crew heaves heavy ropes from the dock.
The narrow harbor slips away in a blue dream of May.
I take notes on the back of my packing list. We spell out
her parents and grandparents names, where she was born
and raised. I say, “I can skip the husbands. How about this?
She completed her education after raising her family of four
children.” My life flashes by, a brief clause in my mother’s.
My sunburned niece calls out, “Don’t forget she was Woman
of the Year in the Cincinnati Enquirer.”
The late sixties, I was in high school, my parents’ marriage
exploding, and she was a ball of fire. Hot summer, the prison
inmates in the 1860s monolith were rioting, banging their pee
buckets on the bars. My daughter asks, “What did you do?”
My mom spells out the details. I add an exciting verb: She
spearheaded the Citizen’s Committee on Justice and Corrections
establishing work release, weekend sentencing, and furlough
programs at the Cincinnati Workhouse. “Awesome!” My daughter
admires, as we take a break to watch the seagulls whirling above.
I was in college in my mom’s cramped apartment after the divorce.
Sitting on my bed in the dining room, she was back from a weekend
in the Ohio State pen, a program she organized to put judges, lawyers,
and probation officers in prison for the weekend. Excitedly she reported,
“I shared a cell with a prostitute and got to ask her, ‘So do you enjoy it?’
She said, ‘Lady, do you enjoy brushing your teeth? It’s a job.’”
In the eighties, she moved to Maine. We skip the next husband,
house renovations, the first cold winter learning to heat her
house with the wood cookstove, the first desperate job with
Sears, cold calls, selling warranties. “That was a downer,” my
mom laughs. “The best job was driving up to Aroostook County,
monitoring heating assistance programs. The poverty there was
worse than what I’d seen in city slums. But I’d get a handmade
potato basket on my way home.” She still uses them to harvest her
gardens, freezing everything she needs to get through the winter.
As the mainland comes closer, Chuck laughs, “Don’t forget to put
in pre-deceased by her ‘brother’ Chuck!” “But that’s not going
to be for a long time,” we all agree. Pale from the strain of the
weekend, in his third year with AIDS, Chuck’s been our family’s
best friend since he was a hippie living in a teepee in our backyard
in the seventies. My son adds proudly, “You have to put in that you
still go to kick-boxing classes. And when are you going to retire from
taking care of old people?” We agree to fill in the blanks later.
We lean against each other, content, quiet. The ferry follows the
channel between islands. Feeling timeless, we assume we’ll always
take this spring journey together, imagining only the children will
grow older. The ferry shudders up to the dock in Port Clyde. I jot
down last notes. We don’t want to forget her homemade bread and
pies, how fine she is at splitting wood. My mother’s impatient to get
off the boat. She’s got her garden to plant, now that we’ve passed
the full moon in May and the danger of frost is past.
At home, I type it up and mail her a copy. My mom calls, “It’s the
best obituary I ever read! I love it. Now I can cross that off my list!”
1...,156-157,158-159,160-161,162-163,164-165,166-167,168-169,170-171,172-173,174-175 178-179,180-181,