Hale and Farewell
When neighbors go, our lifelines are cut
by Sandra Olivetti Martin
Miss Marple was right. Life in a village does indeed show you the full panorama of human experience.
Nowadays, of course, we all live in a global village, so news six states away or across the world can touch us as deeply as the news of our own neighbors and neighborhood. Our own villages, in turn, have shrunk, sometimes right down to our own property lines. We cast our lifelines long distance, as if we’d evolved beyond physical space.
Chesapeake Country is a little different. You can still, if you’re lucky, sink your roots into village soil. Fairhaven Cliffs has been my St. Mary Mead.
Our little village has held onto its roots despite the tide (sometimes flood tide) of change as families have come and gone (sometimes re-forming along the way), cottages have expanded (sometimes in amazing directions) and babies grown into teens and Marines. Land speculation and investment-buying may someday destroy Fairhaven, but so far the profiteer that’s troubled us most has been death.
When we moved in nearly two decades ago, newcomers mostly came to stay. Over the weeks and years, oldtimers broke us in, introducing not only themselves but also the folkways of a village populated by people who wanted to be in that place. Many of the oldtimers had evolved from summer folk, and often their children had made their own homes along the beaches and cliffs of the old vacation community. The oldtimers were lifelines to a past we newcomers envied, for in coming to this Bay beach community, they’d dedicated part of their lives to good times. We newcomers, of course, hoped to do the same. We knew them not deeply, but fondly. And far too briefly.
For year in and year out, death has made his Bayside visits, taking a neighbor as his souvenir.
Last month just days ago on July 28 death stole Peggy Eversfield, who lived for most of her 75 years in the manor house above the village. A lover of small dogs, good times, Republican presidents and Pope John Paul II; a world-traveler and a beauty, Peggy linked us back a century to the Underground Railroad that may (or may not) have passed through her property.
Last year it was Joe Veith, of Tooth Acres, dentist, Bay lover, fisherman and summer visitor for a generation, who raised so many kids that his cottage stretched into a motel. Joe’s wife Justine who took over the brood after the early death of their mother was his straight woman, butt of the charmingly risqué jokes of a Catholic who went to daily mass.
Joe and Peggy were too well acquainted with tragedy. Like him, she knew the experience of losing her life partner; her dashing husband, Donald, died young, crushed by the tipping of the tractor he was driving. But through children, grandchildren and their own good nature, Joe and Peggy lived on the good side of life. We’d look at them wistfully, hoping to learn the lesson of living well.
Peggy and Joe are at the head of a line that’s too long, though it’s still a short list: Vern Gingell, another old salt; Betty Becke and Jean Smith, beloved wives and women forever beautiful; Myrtle and Natalie, who loved a good time and a good story; Henrietta Bruce and her husband Hank Holbrook; Captain Waltar; and Mrs. Beale, still driving into her 90s.
We knew enough of each of them to know their charms, oddities and sometimes their foibles. They were our neighbors, the living history of our village, who’d walked the paths that we now follow with less guidance each year.
Our villages are also our communities of interest, so all of us in the Bay Weekly village are mourning the death on July 16 of Bruce Bauer of Mason’s Beach. Retired Navy commander, destroyer and merchant captain and Bay elder, Bruce contributed his wisdom and stories beginning in the very early days of New Bay Times, as we were called from 1993 through 1999. He taught us about Fata Morgana, swans, hurricane shutters, shipwrecks and the peculiar history of a boat of his own, one of 186 Atalanta class sailboats made by Fairey Marine in the late years of World War II to be dropped from airplanes as lifeboats.