The Getaway

By Sjoerd Lammers street photography/ Flickr
By Sjoerd Lammers street photography/ Flickr

By Andrea Jarrell

Susannah was murdered just before Christmas. I didn’t hear the terrible news until after New Year’s, when a friend called me on my way home from a family holiday out of town. The house where she’d been killed was just a hundred yards or so from ours, poking up from behind trees across the road. Nothing between us except our long driveway and adjacent pond. Not that I could have stopped what had happened, even if we’d been home. We probably would have been sitting in our living room watching TV or upstairs reading bedtime stories to our two kids. We probably wouldn’t even have heard the gunshots.

When it happened, the co-op preschool that her son and my son and daughter attended was already on the holiday break. My husband Brad and I had loaded up our SUV, bundled the kids into their car seats, and driven down to Portland—Maine, not Oregon. From there we’d flown to Michigan, to my in-laws’ house with its big Christmas tree and glittering ornaments. In the days before Facebook and Twitter, we’d remained blissfully cocooned and cut off from the rest of the world.

I didn’t understand at first why I reacted to the news of Susannah’s death the way that I did. Yes, there was the shocking violence of it. And the throat-catching sadness for her little boy, and the wrongness of anyone snatched from life, much less someone so young. But there was more to it than that. Especially when I admitted to myself that I hadn’t actually liked Susannah. Or, more accurately, I hadn’t allowed myself to like her.

The truth is, I’d always been a little afraid of her. After she was killed, I understood why.

Brad and I had been in Maine for a few years by then. In our early thirties, we were just starting out in our marriage and our life as parents. We’d always been city people before. Our move from Los Angeles to the idyllic town of Camden was the first of what we expected would be many adventures in our life together. Camden is the childhood home of Edna St. Vincent Millay, the town where the movie Peyton Place was filmed, and, rumor has it, a haven for retired CIA spies. Locals looking to move know to put their houses on the market during the summer, when tourists fall in love with the quaintness of it all: the harbor, the lupine-covered hills, the age-old stone walls, the black and white Oreo cows. But Maine winters are for a hardy few, and the smart lookey-loos come to their senses before any money changes hands.

We moved to Camden knowing what we were getting into. Brad had been offered a two-year gig at the Institute for Global Ethics, to work on a project about running positive political campaigns. I saw the move as a way to leave my workaday life as the PR director of a small college—to trade in my pantyhose and suits for jeans and sweaters and get back to writing. Fully expecting to return to L.A. in a couple of years, we found tenants for our small house. But the two-year project turned into two more, and five years after moving we finally unloaded the L.A. house, unsure if we would ever head west again.

Moving to Camden felt a little like we’d entered the witness protection program—so far from everyone we’d known, plunked down into a new life. I took to that life more easily than one might expect, embracing it with “pinch me” elation: pancakes on Sundays, a fully-stocked pantry with an extra freezer for meat, trips to the pumpkin patch, red wagons in the driveway, rain boots and slickers, mittens and parkas. This was the stuff of ordinary families, which I’d carefully observed during childhood sleepovers. Having grown up in small apartments with my single mother, who was much more interested in books and travel than picket fences and seasonal door wreathes, I kept waiting for the residents of Camden to discover that I didn’t belong.

Oh, I knew how to look the part at Mommy and Me music classes, or when it was my turn to handle a baking project at the preschool, or while hanging out under a wide- brimmed straw hat at the local beach, my kids appropriately slathered with sunscreen and playing with sand pails and shovels. But I still felt inferior, the way I had as a kid when I would tell friends and their parents that my mother was a lawyer rather than a legal secretary. I told that lie right up through college, even though the thought of being found out made me queasy.

Certain people hatched such lies in me—in Camden, people like Kim Tate and her husband Jack. Kim was a tall, athletic blond who’d gone to Yale. She’d met Jack—also tall, but dark and handsome enough—on the train between New Haven and New York City one afternoon when they were both in college. With their good looks and money, the Tates were small-town famous. Other mothers at our preschool had a crush on Jack, one of them going so far as to tell Kim that she looked forward to receiving their photo Christmas card so she could moon over him. I had more of a crush on Kim, whose three perfect little children were spaced a year and a half apart, lined up like cherub-faced Russian dolls in hand-knitted sweaters she’d designed and made.

Our oldest kids—Kim’s and mine—were in the fours and fives class at the co-op preschool along with Susannah’s son. If Kim was on the elite end of the social spectrum, Susannah was on the other. Or at least that’s where—I admit now—I put her. Almost from the moment I met her, something about Susannah made me steer clear. When I saw her faded, rust-colored Toyota in the school’s parking lot, I stayed in my own car, behind darkened windows. I waited to go inside until after she and her son emerged from the school—their fingers laced, the day’s artwork flapping in Susannah’s other hand.

She was one of those pretty girl-women—twenty-one, twenty-three, twenty-five? If she hadn’t been a mother, she might have seemed even younger, like a teenager with her whole life before her. I’d seen fathers at the preschool watching her, trying to be nonchalant as they homed in on her. You could tell that she’d grown up attracting such attention and was no longer surprised or moved by it. At first, I wondered if my impulse to avoid her was simple jealousy because she was younger and sexier than I was. Her short skirts and angled beret over long corn-silk hair displayed a confidence that I’d never had. Then I noticed that she avoided me and the other parents as well—never lingering to chat on the playground.

She smiled but hurried purposefully, gathering her son’s lunchbox, backpack, and coat. My mother had projected a similar defensive smile when she attended school events or collected me from a sleepover. Just we two, she used to say. It dawned on me then that Susannah’s confidence, like my mother’s, was designed to let other parents know she was doing fine, even though we outnumbered her two to one. I could feel how tightly Susannah’s hand grasped her son’s as they exited the preschool, holding on to each other and their place in the world.

The only time that I can remember even talking to her was at my daughter’s birthday party. It was July; all the preschool parents stood around on our wide green lawn as kids took turns barreling down the giant yellow Slip ’n Slide my husband had set up.

I happened to be standing next to Susannah when the gifts were opened. Her son’s present was a wooden fairy wand that his mother had painted dark blue and topped with a glitter-encrusted star. She’d written my daughter’s name in silver along the handle. We watched as my daughter opened the gift and ran her small hand along the scrolling letters of her name. Susannah leaned sideways to me, our shoulders touching, and said, “I knew she would like it. She’s such an artist.” I imagined them together in the co-op preschool on one of Susannah’s days to help. I could see her asking my daughter about the painting she was working on. Susannah would’ve bent down to be eye-level, pushing her long blond hair behind one shoulder as she did.

Then one day, as I pulled into the preschool lot, I noticed a man sitting in the passenger seat of Susannah’s car. He was my own neighbor—a fit, tanned man named Craig. He operated a moving, refuse, and antiques business out of his home and adjacent barn. When we first arrived from California, my husband had hired him to help move us in. Admiring his Yankee entrepreneurism, my husband marveled, “He’s got it covered. He’ll move it, dump it, or sell it.”

I remember being inordinately happy to see my neighbor in Susannah’s car, happier still when I passed her familiar Toyota parked in front of his house. It intrigued me to think of how they might have met. Perhaps he had hired her to answer the phones for his business. Or they’d struck up a conversation in Cappy’s bar on Main Street. There was no question of why Susannah would appeal to him. But I could also see why he would appeal to her. In his late forties, he was attractive in a town where single men were few and far between. She might have said to herself, try older, try wiser. He would be a good provider, a role model for her little boy. I pictured them together—sheets rumpled, his tanned workman’s hands on her milky skin. I imagined him thanking his lucky stars each day to have such a lovely girl on his arm.

I’d once imagined such meetings for my mother: a new client or lawyer in her firm, who would appear one day and change our lives. I wondered what Susannah’s secret was. How had she managed to find a partner and step into a new, safer life when my mother had not?


Kim Tate was the one who caught me on my cell as my family and I drove home from the airport. “I didn’t know you two were close,” she said. “I’m so sorry,” she kept saying as I sobbed after hearing the news. Sobbing that I didn’t understand at first because, of course, we were not close at all.

In my mind’s eye, I could see Susannah sitting in my kitchen, drinking coffee with me. I imagined her son playing with my kids on the floor of our living room, but that had never happened. I hadn’t wanted them at our house. As cute as her son was, I’d written him off as damaged goods. Damaged the way I’d been at his age. Jealous of what my friends had, prone to elaborate lies and petty thefts, hitting and hair pulling when no one was looking.

It hadn’t been Susannah’s youth or prettiness that made me steer clear of her and her son. It had always been their aloneness and my fear that if I got too close, that old familiar just we two aloneness might rub off on me.

Like a bedtime story, my mother used to tell me of our escape into the world from my father. She’d light a cigarette, press it to her elegant lips, exhale, and begin. Benign stories at first. Later, the stories about his venereal disease and his cheating and her black eyes. But even in her early, seemingly innocent stories, there was always a little violence. Singeing her eyelashes and eyebrows trying to light the stove in their first apartment. My father breaking his arm in an arm-wrestle on his birthday—the bone splitting right through the camel hair jacket she’d given him. “His muscles were stronger than bone,” she’d said with a trace of true awe.

Our neighbor Craig was a mild man, nothing like my father. And yet he’d acted on the same jealousy and possessiveness that my mother had run away from. My mother had also been a girl-woman. At nineteen, the day she first felt me move inside her was the day she began plotting how to leave my father. Scared of what this man who slept beside her with a gun under his pillow might do to us one day when my crying got too much for him or when yet another man admired her beauty. Somehow I’d given her the courage.

Was it her little boy Susannah was thinking of when she told Craig it was over? It wasn’t hard to imagine Craig’s desperate pleading as he tried to make her stay. My mother told me that my father did the same, how he threatened to commit suicide if she ever left him. I could picture Craig grabbing Susannah’s arm. She would have tried to shake him off, her blond hair flying as she tossed the few things she’d brought to his house into an overnight bag. She would not have known that he’d gone to the barn to look for a gun.

My mother’s getaway car had been a teal blue Corvair. She’d literally and figuratively strapped me in beside her from then on—her precious cargo. How I wished Susannah had just gotten in that rust-colored Toyota and driven as far away from Craig as possible. How I wanted to run to her now and wrap my arms around her.

He shot her twice, using an antique pistol from his shop. According to the papers, after he killed her, he called his grown son and left a message on the son’s answering machine. “I’ve done something stupid,” he said. Then he hung up and killed himself.

As my family and I drove down our road, past Craig’s quiet house, I remembered the last time I’d seen Susannah’s car in his driveway. The sense of relief I’d had, thinking she’d found her happy ending. Thinking she could loosen the grip on her small son’s hand just a little because they were safe at last.

Passing our pond—frozen and covered in snow—I heard the car’s engine labor as it climbed our long driveway and saw the ice crystalized on branches of barren trees. How I wanted to rewind the film and change Susannah’s ending the way my mother had changed ours.

As we pulled into the garage, firewood neatly stacked and dry by the mudroom door, I told Brad I’d help him unload the suitcases in a minute. My fingers were already tapping out my mother’s telephone number. I waited, still in my coat in the car, pressing my phone to my ear, listening for her voice, waiting for us to talk, just us two.


ANDREA JARRELL’s personal essays have appeared in The New York Times “Modern Love” column; Narrative Magazine; Brain, Child Magazine; Memoir; Literary Mama; The Washington Post; The Huffington Post, and the anthology My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friendships, among other publications. She is at work on an essay collection.

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By takomabibelot/ Flickr

By Jim Krosschell

The rocks we perched on still show at high tide. The rising sea has not yet taken them—as a refuge, or a memory, they may last our lifetimes. They peek out above the waves like a little archipelago, dry and safe.

When my daughters, Kate and Emma, were young, we ventured out almost daily, especially in the first blush of vacation. It was an exercise in re-bonding suburban lives fractured by schedules and performances. We could get to the rocks only at low tide, and we would not stay long, for the tide rises quickly on these shores, and the surf is unpredictable, and it would have been a little too adventurous, having to disembark—or embark for that matter—in the wet. No, we climbed up our battlements when the only barrier to access was the slippery rockweed littering our path. The tops of the rocks themselves were weed-free, un-colonized, suitable for timid people from cities south, exciting for two young girls, nine and seven, who liked to pretend they perched on unassailable islands, perfect for their father who knew better but hoped for a different future anyway.

The rockweed presented a problem, though. It looked irredeemably slimy. We stepped around it, in a crooked, almost drunken way, not brave enough to touch by foot and certainly never by hand. “Ewww!”, that totem word of childhood, afflicted my family too. I even warned my girls when we set off down the shore about less obvious dangers: the barnacles that would scrape your skin raw and those black or green mold-like patches on the boulders we negotiated. “Don’t step there,” I said, “especially if it looks wet. It’s very slippery.” Naturally then, I warned them off the rockweed, whose piles appeared bottomless and would suck them in—we were not to test it in our nice sneakers certainly, no matter what live treasures of crab and baby lobster lay all goggle-eyed underneath. In our early pilgrimages we avoided most things organic, which die and rot and stink; our special rocks were dry, clear of processes unknown, safe above the tide.

A few years later, we discovered tidal pools. The three of us had been progressing farther and farther away from home, and about a quarter mile down the shore, past the houses on the bluff and a long stretch of jumbled beach, we found classic Maine pink-granite ledge, smooth and worry-free. The pools were hidden, flooded at high tide, barely accessible at low. But we persisted, older now, less squeamish, contorting our bodies to peer into crevices, where the rewards were hundreds of snails and a score of exotic starfish. I even started combing through the rockweed a bit, lifting it up like great hanks of hair to show Kate and Emma the cute little green crabs hiding in the fronds. I didn’t know at the time that some of those crabs were invasives from the south, pleased to enter the warming waters of the Gulf of Maine and feast on lobster like the rest of us tourists.

We’ve progressed far in fifteen years. The world is hotter, and seems more violent, or at least more instantly connectible to disaster. Maine is now more than a refuge for me, now that my daughters are grown and gone, Kate still on the Atlantic but the wrong side, in Denmark, and Emma just moved to California, an hour from the ocean but the wrong one. Maine is an ark on the floods. This week after Thanksgiving, I sit in the house, staring at water, staring east in fact but both east and west in spirit. The solitude of the shore seems tinged with loneliness today, a place halfway between, and although I give thanks for new lives and exciting independence, I miss my children terribly.


Seaweed is the icon of Maine least likely to star on a blog or a brochure. If you look closely, you might see a frond peeping out at the base of Thunder Hole in Acadia, or a strand or two on the great expanse of Old Orchard Beach, or a discreet pile artfully arranged around a lobster about to be boiled. The photographer or dreamer operates generally at high tide, when seaweed hides, when the lines between surf and stone are clean. Mess doesn’t sell.

But the stuff is everywhere, especially the farther north you go, where the shores wear it thick as an ill-fitting wig, not entirely useless but almost. It is harvested, to be sure, as fertilizer and thickener, and it has achieved a little notoriety as “sea vegetables”—the various kelps, for example, which have long been eaten around the world (the nori of sushi rolls in Japan, dulse as a cocktail party snack in Ireland)—but seaweed is down at the bottom of the roster of marine exploitables. Most Americans like their food familiar, bland, processed by Big Ag; seaweed has a strong taste, and smells of low tide even after drying and processing. The number of evangelists for seaweed, even in Maine with its riches, approaches zero.

When all the fish are gone, perhaps only then we’ll turn to Gouldsboro Bay, where I’ve read of a seventy-year-old man, probably crazy by modern definitions, who cuts kelp by hand, standing in a wetsuit on offshore ledges, buffeted by heavy surf. We’ll believe him when he praises kelp’s effect on his immune system, and we too will pray for the enlightenment of humankind: eat kelp, live long, for it will restore the seawaters whence we came and heal our guts and blood. We’ll believe the research and the analysis, the richness of kelp’s minerals, trace elements, vitamins, enzymes, high-quality proteins, and the ever-sexy phytochemicals, the claims of tumor inhibition and reduction of cholesterol and conquering of viruses. But not until we’re desperate, in the coming dystopia.

Rockweed, however, the most plentiful seaweed, is not very edible, not even by New Age humans, and has been harvested but minimally for fertilizers, advertising no sex appeal whatsoever. Until recently.

It’s one thing to see a man in a skiff scraping rockweed off ledges with a long-handled rake. It’s quite another to see a huge mechanical harvester in your cove. In the new age of peak oil, natural fertilizers look pretty good after all.

Rockweed dominates the intertidal zone of many northern shores. It grows slowly; after a normal life span of ten to fifteen years, its fronds may have reached eight feet long. It survives all but the heaviest of surfs by attaching to rock with sucker-like holdfasts. It sports air-filled bladders along the fronds, to lift it to sunlight at high tide. Scientists say that as many as one hundred fifty species of animals—birds and shellfish and minnows hiding out—rely on rockweed for survival. Thus, Maine’s fishing industry may depend on it. And rockweed protects not only commerce, but the whole shore. Not for nothing is it commonly called knotted wrack, as if to cushion the intertidal zone from the ruin of ocean storms.

I wish that, at the beginning of my years here, those very years while my daughters were growing into their own lights, I had focused us more, found one baby rockweed plant, say, marked its holdfast, and every week crouched at the shore, in the wet, in our old sneakers, to observe its progress to adulthood. That bit of shore would have become precious in an entirely different way.

Stepping back now from that edge, I can at least suggest that “knotted wrack” is a wonderful description of our current dilemmas.

Predictably, every living thing, even weeds, will be exploited eventually. Predictably, environmentalists find a bully pulpit only when the big machines arrive. It’s inevitable that the Rockweed Coalition (“no-cut zones”) will battle the Maine Seaweed Council (“the sustainable use of seaweed”). Our ecological problems are as local as ownership of the intertidal zone in Maine (nobody quite knows who can do what, the law is ancient and not clear); as knotty as livelihoods versus legacies; as intractable as feeding the stomachs and aspirations of seven billion people.

A few years ago in our cove, we could expect to see a moored boat or two almost every summer day. Rakers scoured the sea bottom for sea urchins to satisfy the craze in Japan, and in two years the urchins were wiped out. This past spring the price of elvers, baby eels highly prized in Asia, reached two thousand dollars a pound. I give the fishery maybe five years before it’s gone. An invasive red seaweed from Asia via Europe threatens our New England shores; it suffocates all life in its path, stinks when it dies, and ironically enough, might be controlled by sea urchins. Every day of every year, the U.S. loses five thousand acres of land to development. I listen to my daughters talk about climate change. There’s despair in their voices, a resignation to the inevitable.

The idyll in Maine may last longer than in most places; but we lucky ones have equipped only ourselves to survive, have equipped no descendants to adapt, and we survive mostly by dreaming, sitting on our rocks above the tides.


Rachel Carson, in The Edge of the Sea, called it the underwater forest: “The trees of the forest are the large sea weeds, known as rockweed, or sea wracks, stout of form and rubbery of texture. Here all other life exists within their shelter—a shelter so hospitable to small things needing protection from drying air, from rain, and from the surge of the running tides and the waves, that the life of these shores is incredibly abundant.”

“Small things”: the plainness of prose can sometimes be devastating. The shore still calls out thrillingly, here in Maine especially, but Carson’s simple joy from just sixty years ago echoes today with the terrible probability of its loss. Even the simplest shore will be stripped. I look at it as if some kind of sympathetic pain, some horrible probe from the future is invading our days and fracturing our DNA and our children’s DNA, leaving but a moment or two, here and there, of fullness.

We know we’re failing the forests, yet we continue on raking, year by inevitable year. Which means that the human essence is now failing, which means that I, too, am failing to protect these smallest of things, a minnow, or a weed, or a girl’s touch. It’s so easy to sit by, stunned and timid, just because I can still find a primeval sense of life in Maine, because Maine can offer to my family and to anybody who believes in these words some kind of sanctuary, the way life used to be, a place where blood is still seawater. I respond to the seashore too often just for its beauty, or in fear of its slime, and do little about its exploitation besides manipulate words. And if that’s the legacy I’ve given my daughters….well, I haven’t shown them how to muck, how to see like an animal. We’ve gotten far too used to our lavish city comforts, to our ability to escape in our cars from the cars.

The very nature of our bodies is being altered—that essence of salt water in our veins, those proteins in our brains designed over millions of years to treasure sunshine and open space and the creatures, even the slimiest, of the shore. I wish now that I had taken Kate and Emma squishing and laughing into the forest. I wish we had gone a little crazy in the surf. It might have made these passages a little easier.


JIM KROSSCHELL divides his life into three parts: growing up for twenty-nine years, working in science publishing for twenty-nine years, and now writing in Massachusetts and Maine. His essays are widely published (see his website).

Family Secrets

By Beth Hannon Fuller

By Beth Armstrong Leahy

One night, a patron waves me over to her booth in the restaurant where I am working my second job as a waitress. She’s blonde and attractive and dining with her husband. We are both in our early fifties. Her face is square, her hair wavy, almost curly. She introduces herself as Debbie. She has six children and three grandchildren. She shows me a photograph. And she tells me that she is my cousin. Her mother and my mother are first cousins. I have never heard of this person before now.


This isn’t the first time I’ve learned something about my family that has been kept from me. Just after my father died thirty-two years ago, when I was twenty-one years old, I picked up the ringing phone at the same time that my mother picked up another extension. I eavesdropped. It was the life insurance company needing to know if there were any previous wives or children who might make a claim on the insurance payout. To my complete surprise, my mother said yes—he’d been married before but there were no children, and it had only lasted a year.

I couldn’t believe my ears. I shared this bombshell with my sister, Sarah, who at twenty had already been divorced. She wished she’d known, she told me, so she wouldn’t have felt as ashamed to tell my parents of her own impending divorce.

What other family matters did I know nothing about? What about that uncle in Oregon who no one ever talks about? Are there other secrets, a collection of skeletons in the attic closet? When another uncle was divorced I never saw his boys—my cousins—ever again. All this uncertainty and mystery in one small family. Was this just the tip of a family iceberg, an iceberg with pieces breaking off to float away from us?

A few years later, when I was thirty-two years old, my older brother told me that our maternal grandmother, who died when I was three and he was ten, had died by her own hand. Or as he put it, “She blew her head off.” Wow. Just wow. Quickly scanning my memories for any clues that I might have missed, I couldn’t come up with anything. My aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandfather had never slipped. I recalled the only time I’d asked about her, when I realized that I didn’t know how she had died or much else about her for that matter, my mother’s answer was “cerebral hemorrhage,” spoken in a tone that didn’t invite further probing. This answer was not a lie but neither was it the whole truth.

To this day, I have never revealed to my mom that I know the real cause of death. I feel that if she didn’t want Sarah and me to know, then I should honor that wish. I did, however, tell my sister. We both, along with my brother, have been diagnosed with and take medication for clinical depression. Since learning of my grandmother’s suicide, I have spent no small amount of time pondering this information, wondering how she could have done it to her family. I know that she and my mother were close; we lived next door to her and my grandfather. She had eleven grandchildren; some of us were toddlers and have no memories of her. They had horses. Why did she do it? Once, I heard my mom arguing with my brother on the phone—we were middle-aged by then—and she vehemently said, “My mother was the sanest person I know!” My brother could only have expressed doubts about her mother’s sanity to evoke this response.


So now before me is this lovely woman who has just revealed our relationship. And I believe Debbie instantly—she looks like us. I, too, have a square face and blonde, wavy hair. In the middle of this restaurant, with my co-workers rushing by me and customers gobbling up their lobsters, I learn from her that my grandfather’s half-brother, Kingsbury Bragdon, engaged to another, walked into the family home after some absence, saw their young housekeeper for the first time and was completely smitten. He broke his engagement and married the housekeeper, Eleanor—Debbie’s grandmother.

The Bragdon family was one of the founding families of this town here in Maine. My great-grandfather was one of three men who founded York Hospital. The Bragdon Insurance and Real Estate Agency, started in 1901, is still in business all these years later. The Bragdon clan belonged to the Country Club, owned horses and boats and fancy cars. Even today their children go to private schools and to the best colleges, and they vacation in tropical locations. There are buildings all over town that bear the Bragdon name.

The turn of events with Kingsbury was apparently not taken well. This suspicion is borne out by the rest of the story. When the lovely former housekeeper was pregnant with their sixth child, Kingsbury dropped dead of a heart attack at the age of forty. Our family splintered. Eleanor and her children were not taken in by the rest of the family. They were nudged aside, not included in family gatherings, and eventually pushed to the far fringes of the family. A very few slender threads were left to tether this woman and her children to the clan she had married into. When I asked my mom about this, she told me that she and my grandmother did bring Eleanor and those six children hand-me-down clothes on occasion.

I feel ashamed and outraged at this news. How could they do that? How could they be such class snobs? How could they dishonor Kingsbury that way? How could they basically turn their backs on those fatherless children? I feel like, so many years later, I should apologize to this descendant of theirs. And what do I do with this information?

Apparently her branch of the family has been well aware of what happened two generations ago all along and has come to accept it. Why I have never been told of these people, I am not sure. Clearly, that generation had a problem with the housekeeper’s family background and pedigree, or lack thereof. Maybe, once that piece of the family was pushed away, the following generations couldn’t find a way to repair the breach and their shame about what had happened made it easy for them to just let them keep drifting away. And so it would have been simpler to not bother telling my generation anything at all about it.

Debbie certainly doesn’t seem angry or hurt or resentful. She is just telling me, very matter-of-factly, what happened and why we don’t know each other. She plucks a photograph from her purse and proudly shows me her grown children and young grandchildren. They are all smiling and beautiful, and I feel pride, too. She named one of her sons Kingsbury. We make promises to keep in touch. I want to hug her, this woman, this stranger with whom I share bloodlines and history and secrets. And, as it turns out, an occupation: just as Eleanor did, we work as house cleaners.


BETH ARMSTRONG LEAHY still lives in York, Maine. She has two grown children and tries not to keep any secrets from them.