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Said and Done

Said and Done: Lollygagging was not Mabel's way

This is a Valentine’s remembrance for a lady no longer here. She is worth remembering.

Mabel always wore widow’s weeds. There was no need for it. She had never lost a husband, for she had never married.

We often saw her, dressed in black from head to toe, trudging into town. Mabel was a domestic, a kind of charwoman who did cleaning work for wealthy New Yorkers and Bostonians who had summer places in her town.

At that time, we lived on the very outposts of settled life in New Hampshire. Our nearest neighbor was on the town side of us, a mile away. Electricity and the telephone stopped at our place. Mabel lived 3 miles farther up our dirt road.

We got used to the sight of Mabel hiking into town. Six miles it was from her home into the center. As she passed our windows, she looked like someone spirited from a Civil War era photograph, a 19th-century anachronism hiking a 20th-century roadway.

In all seasons, in all weather, Mabel went to work. Despite her years — Mabel must have been 60 — there was nothing lollygagging about her pace. She stepped right out.

Once when it was raining ice water in March, we stopped her on the road and got her to accept a lift. All she had for cover was a black umbrella. She sat there like a stick, saying nothing. When we let her out at her house, she did us the courtesy of asking us to “stop in some day.”

It was a bright May day when we paid our call. We found Mabel in black, as usual — but surrounded by a light and airy beauty that could come only from a happy heart and free spirit. Flowers were everywhere, her home immaculate, her property well-ordered and neat.

In time we learned that Mabel was the last in a line of girls born to simple country parents. Her clothes had always been somebody else’s clothes. Mabel herself came to maturity looking like a hand-me-down.

So there she lived, stuck with a crippled father, way off in the woods. Mother was dead and the other girls had gone off to places where life promised to be faster and more attractive.

Mabel’s reserve melted gradually as we saw more of her. I stopped for a “hello” in hiking season — thus keeping up with the history of this unique woman.

Then came that period in the 1940s when able-bodied men left home, losing sight for a while of the places near and dear to youth.

When next I was able to visit Mabel, she was gone. Her house was a shambles, the doors and windows crudely boarded up. Vandals had done their dirty work. The once tidy place was a mess — papers, furniture, pots and pans were all thrown together in a pile on the floor.

I had to pass Mabel’s house because it lay on what once was the main road from Richmond to Troy. That was the Appalachian Trail up and over little Monadnock Mountain.

One gray winter day, I let myself in through the broken doorway that opened into the kitchen. There were newspapers dated 1920. Antique Valentines lay there, offering sentiments of affection to people long gone to receive and treasure them.

Sifting through the rubble, I found a greeting card written in a clear hand and signed by Mabel.

“My affairs. I want an active body and good eyesight. I need new ceilings in kitchen and bedroom. Money enough to get through the winter, enough money to help poorer people than myself, have my glasses changed, taxes paid and new teeth, a trip to Edith’s, water in the house and money in the bank.”

Mabel, you darling, we’ll not forget you.

In semi-retirement after 58 years of writing for The Recorder, Paul Seamans of Gill will continue Said & Done on a regular monthly basis. Some of his columns will have been previously published.

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