When I was ten, my friend Jeannie invited me to spend a whole week at her vacation home in Bar Harbor, Maine.
Jeannie had been a lovely surprise to her family; her older brothers were fifteen and twenty years older. Her parents took the two of us throughout the harbor and beyond in their fishing boat, and we spotted speckled seals all along that frigid Maine coast. The water sprayed our freckled faces as our hair flew back in the wind. The air was clean and the views stunning. We later did cannonball jumps off the end of their pier, and I noticed the water was as black as night; nothing like the beaches I was accustomed to. It was many years later that I learned the water was fifty feet deep off that pier! No wonder it was pitch black.
One morning, Jeannie’s mother shooed us out the back door with a sturdy basket each. Fill them up, and I will make pies for dinner. We were true New England girls, and we imagined the pages of “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey. I held my breath hoping to see a bear and her cub as we picked wild blueberries in the woods of Maine. Every snap of a branch made us jump.
We ate as many wild blueberries as we picked, and our fingers and cheeks were darkly stained. When we returned to the house, Jeannie’s mother looked at us and laughed, her blue eyes dancing. Go wash up, she said, as she swatted us gently with her dish towel. She evidently understood ten year old girls, and she never complained when we left blueberry stains on her white towels and in her porcelain sink. We helped her roll the dough, and fashion the pies. She placed them carefully in the hot oven and we played a board game together before setting the dinner table.
Pie was served that evening with a scoop of Brigham’s vanilla ice cream and a dollop of kindness. I was feeling a bit homesick, and Jeannie’s mom knew it. She tucked Jeannie and me into side-by-side twin beds in the blue room each night, crisp sheets starched and cool beneath our sunburned skin. I whispered my own prayers when the lights were dimmed and fell fast asleep. Outdoor play and fresh sea air tired us to perfection. Sleep was solid and earned; our bodies exhausted with the goodness of exercise.
As I gaze back in time, I see with adult eyes the kindness of Jeannie’s mother, who was nearing sixty with a ten-year-old daughter. She cared for us tirelessly and made sure we had fun. She watched over us gently without stifling our play. She swept and hung out towels and bathing suits on the clothesline, cooked simple and delicious fare, and prepared picnic baskets of bologna and cheese sandwiches on white bread smoothed with mustard for our outdoor adventures. She smiled a lot.
We would not have been able to have such a time if we had access to a television or an iphone. We were accustomed to imaginative play, occasionally growing bored with each other and with make-believe. This was not such a bad thing. Boredom pushed us to creativity or to chores: both of which are essential to a well-lived life.
The decades have passed, but I remember Jeannie’s mother well. Kindness lives long and reaches far.