PegPublished by Gerry Boyle P’08, P’13
My friend Peg passed away a few weeks back. Peg was ninety-four, and in the last couple of years had some health problems that caught up with her but about which she never complained.
Right up until the end, she had the same come-back when people asked how she was doing: “Well, I woke up on the right side of the sod.”
Peg always said this with a grin, often standing in the doorway of her barn, which was attached to the white clapboard house that has been in her family for several generations. It was built about the same year Maine became a state, along with the rest of the homes in our Central Maine village. Peg lived there alone (she never married), without a television or a computer. She was a gifted musician, and the music that sometimes emanated from her windows on summer evenings came from her cello, not Alexa.
I thought of Peg when I was asked to write about the character of Mainers, because it has been people like her who have endeared me to my long-ago adopted state. They’re capable, independent, resourceful, generous, and unassuming. They see nothing remarkable about these qualities, because often they live in communities made up of people like them.
This was certainly the case when Peg was a young girl here. Her forebears served on town boards, as town officials. Her great aunt was town clerk, doing business from a front room in the house, which hasn’t changed much since (the sign now hangs from a nail in the barn). It wasn’t that Peg was stuck in the past. It was just that, in her life, the past continued to be the present.
I should point out that Peg had spent time elsewhere. Her mother left Maine for the Midwest, and Peg taught music there before she came back to the village. She taught music in the village, too, introducing a couple of generations of children—and their parents, of which I was one—to the Suzuki Method and miniature violins with rubber bands on the necks. Peg continued to play in community symphonies and quartets, including one that rehearsed just down Harpswell Neck.
That was on Fridays. I would see her trundling past in one of a succession of Subaru station wagons, the last of which is parked in her barn. She drove until recently, when she conceded that although she was capable of the actual driving, climbing in the car and getting around once she arrived at her destination was a problem.
But, in her mobile years, Peg traveled the state on birding trips, wildflower-hunting expeditions, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing jaunts, and, of course, to play music. They were, as it’s put in “The Offer of the College,” “generous enthusiasms.” More recently, after turning ninety, she mostly stayed home.
That was okay with her—or, if it wasn’t, she never let on. When others might have greeted visitors with a recitation of their health problems, or maybe lamented being lonely, Peg saw no point in complaining. She was of a generation of Mainers who faced obstacles squarely, took fortune and misfortune in stride, and didn’t allow the luxury of whining.
“It’s a short cut in the long run,” Peg would say, advising someone to face a problem head-on, do the hard work now to reap benefits in the future.
It wasn’t that Peg was a martyr—anything but. It was more that, like a lot of Mainers, she felt that her life should be full and productive, and it was her responsibility to make it so. In her sitting room, filled with the artifacts of a century or more, she read The Economist cover to cover. In the last weeks of her life, she continued to do the same with The Wall Street Journal. When her eyes were failing, her caregivers read both publications aloud to her as she kept abreast of the financial news of the day. She did just that as long as I knew her. I recall a time when a fellow member of the board of our village library, who had some financial acumen, started to educate her on the workings of the markets. He was, as they say, brought up short.
Another thing that Mainers know—you never judge a book by its cover.
I hope that this story isn’t too much of a digression, that readers don’t find it too hard to see that one person’s quiet life can exemplify the spirit of a state.
For me, people like Peg embody what Maine is about—and you don’t have to live in a rural town or have multigenerational roots and a house that could be a museum to be about that yourself.
Maine is a state of mind, and the longer you’re here, the deeper it seeps in. That can happen in four short years on a college campus (I’m a case in point). The vibe that you feel will remain with you long after you leave and may influence the life you lead elsewhere. It also may be part of the state’s allure, the pull that brings you back—for a visit, for a longer stay, for a lifetime.
Gerry Boyle P’08, P’13 is the author of fifteen mystery novels set in rural Maine and is the editor of Colby Magazine. Raised in Rhode Island, he has lived in Maine for forty years.
Pat Corrigan is an artist based in Portland, Maine, who makes paintings, drawings, illustrations, murals, and comics. His work has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune, among others.
This story first appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Bowdoin Magazine. Manage your subscription and see other stories from the magazine on the Bowdoin Magazine website.