Copyright © 2019 Doctor Chuck Radis. All Rights Reserved
The pipes froze in our upstairs bathroom on Peaks Island. Again. There’s something close to romantic about defrosting pipes with your spouse. Sandi, a part-time plumber, sat cross-legged on the linoleum in her pink bathrobe aiming her hairdryer at a spot where a pipe disappeared under the sink. I pointed my hairdryer where another pipe took a 90- degree twist.
Sandi said, “I was talking to Dan Durgin about our cemetery plots today.”
“No kidding.” I looked up from my work. “I asked him last summer if there was room for us in Pond Grove cemetery. What did he say today?”
“He said they’re working on it.”
“That’s all?” I asked.
She thought for a moment. “No. He said they’re going to clear out some brush in the spring and it might free up some space.”
“That’s encouraging. When I didn’t hear back, I wondered if there was some special list, invitation only, to qualify for a spot. Was he friendly?”
“Definitely. He waved me down and crossed the street to chat in front of the library. Paul and Pam and I put in a new sink for him a few weeks ago. He and his wife have a lovely house.”
That’s the thing about Sandi, she knows everyone on the island, and what’s more, she’s on good terms with most of them. Women in occupations usually filled by men are commonplace on the Casco Bay islands. In addition to a female electrician on Long Island and a handful of women who own and operate their own lobster boats, the daughter of an owner of Plantes Marina is in training to become a helicopter pilot. A Peaks Island woman, Mary Jo, was recently named the first female captain in the fleet for the Casco Bay Lines.
It’s probably out of the ordinary for a doctor’s wife to be a plumber, but we live in a community of unusual people, and Sandi fits right in. Considering that we’re both in our thirties, our decision to look into burial plots on the island may also seem premature, but it was triggered by Sandi’s practicality; there’s only one “active” cemetery on the island, and it’s running out of room.
When our friend Jean visits Peaks from Boston, she enjoys relaxing at Brackett Memorial Cemetery. It’s a spectacular setting with cresting waves rolling in from the open ocean, clanging buoys, and a cliff where nesting guillemots reside. When she heard we were looking into plots in Pond Grove cemetery in the center of Peaks, she said to Sandi, “I was looking forward to visiting your graves at Bracket cemetery. Now what am I going to do?”
“What makes you so sure we’ll die before you do?” Sandi asked.
Of course, Brackett, is “closed” so Jean’s preference is moot. As one of the earliest cemeteries on Peaks, many of the prominent 18th and 19th century families and their descendants are buried there: Trott, Littlejohn, Brackett, Sterling. Pond Grove cemetery was opened to accommodate Peaks’ growing (deceased) population, and the grounds have an orderly, small town feel to them. It is a popular spot for Kate and her friends’ after dinner games of kick-the-can and hide and seek. The Memorial Day parade in which Sandi plays her clarinet (carrying Molly in a backpack) and Kate rides her decorated bike, ends at Pond Grove.
The connection is even stronger for me; a number of my favorite patients are buried in Pond Grove. I often cut through Pond Grove near the end of a long run, and the headstones trigger memories that might otherwise fade. As another small-town physician, Kathryn Rinsenbrenck, once wrote, It is a peculiar privilege of a rural doctor to walk among one’s dead.
A full year after we asked for our cemetery plot, Dan Durgin waved down my truck as he emerged from Feeney’s Market. Immediately behind him, Elaine Quigg, closing in on 90, the right lens of her coke-bottle glasses blackened to correct chronic double vision, managed to push the EXIT door open pulling a two-wheeled collapsible cart filled with groceries. The glass door caught the back wheel of Elaine’s cart and in an instant, cat food tins, TV dinners, and packages of Mallomars spilled onto the pavement.
Dan captured a can rolling towards the curb and lifted a finger in my direction. Hold on, this will take a minute. Dan reloaded Elaine’s grocery cart and she gifted him a Mallomar. I climbed out of my truck as he ambled across the street.
“Want to meet your neighbors?” Dan grinned, nibbling on the chocolate-coated marshmallow treat. “Meet me at the entrance to Pond Grove in twenty minutes. Bring Sandi.”
Hurrying home, I found Sandi upstairs at her sewing machine repairing a zipper on Molly’s coat. “This could be really weird,” she said. “Do we have to do this today?”
“More than a year after we first asked about a burial plot?”
“Yes, I think we need to do this today. It won’t be too weird,” I assured her.
Back in the truck, we drove up Central Avenue until the road devolved from macadam to packed dirt. I pulled up at the wrought iron cemetery gate marking the entrance to Pond Grove Cemetery. Although Sandi and I differ about cremation (which Sandi prefers), or a traditional burial (which I am leaning towards), we agree that burial on the island reflects our commitment to the Peaks Island community.
Dan motioned us inside and we made our way to the furthest corner of the cemetery where the city had recently cleared some brush. Flat grassy mounds identified each grave site where soil was heaped up from the granite bedrock. Stands of pointed fir and red spruce edged the rectangular open space. Here and there, the back yards of pastel-colored cottages could be seen through the dense woods. Coming to a stop, Dan gestured towards a grassy plot where two moss-covered paths converged. “Here it is. Your plot.”
Heads bowed, Sandi and I stared intently at our site, a gentle mound for two, unsure what to say next. “It’s a nice spot,” Sandi offered.
“You’re on the corner, prime real estate,” Dan replied. “Lorie Gamble, she’s already planted next to Sandi. Laurie always liked her cocktails at five so it’s possible you’ll be in on that.”
“And next to me?” I asked.
“Bobbi Fear. Folks say he always had a crush on Laurie. I didn’t know Bobbi well. Nobody really did. Bachelor lobsterman. Dr. Radis, you may have doctored him at the Health Center for some kind of skin disease; his hands were always festered up. Got so that most folks didn’t want to shake his hand.”
Dan reviewed the price of perpetual admission to Pond Grove cemetery and said we could drop off a check at his house anytime. He slowly made his way back to his truck. Sandi and I wandered among the tombstones. Dan Durgin’s family plot was almost immediately behind ours. Adjacent to the Durgin’s, Henry Meyers’ headstone proclaimed: He worked for peace. Hilda Milton, a home-bound woman I doctored unsuccessfully for years with a chronic lower leg ulcer, was finally out of her house. Lockhart Blaney, a kind, melancholic patient with a memorable name, rested across the lane.
A raven, harassed by several crows, dove into the shelter of a nearby cedar. The haunting call of a piliated woodpecker echoed over the neatly mowed grounds. We left Pond Grove through a break in the stone wall. At the cemetery’s edge a framed photo of a young woman leaned against the trunk of a sugar maple. There was a spent candle next to the photo and a bouquet of oxbow daisies on the dry leaves. A red crayon note was tucked inside a plastic bag with the photo. Miss you forever. Love, Jen.
“Drug overdose,” Sandi said simply.
“I know,” I said, pushing my glasses up on my forehead and rubbing my eyes. “I remember.” We walked quietly on, circling the cemetery back to the truck.