The man named Granny lives in a tiny house in the woods; surrounded by the homes of his close family, he lives in relative quiet and isolation from the surrounding, larger world. Granny’s small cottage is shingled in Maine white pine, finely landscaped, and when you drive past his house at the end of the day, the sunlight shines, flip-flapping, through the tall trees that border the sound. Whilst driving, and seeing the little houses that are the homestead of the Toogoods, I wonder how it was that this man came to be named Granny.
The real story of Granny is actually one of his mother, who also was named Granny. I have often wondered what the elder Granny’s name actually was, or if she was simply a grandmother. I have often wondered what the younger Granny’s name is, too, since I only know him as “Granny”, as the man with white hair and a strong handshake that I sometimes meet when I walk into McGrath’s for coffee in the morning.
Diane Arbus must have been describing Northeast Harbor when she wrote: “There’s a quality of legend about freaks. Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle. Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.”
Granny is another unique personality in our small town, our “island of misfit toys”. This is a town of women who walk down the center of Main Street with parrots on their shoulders, a town where heiresses marry the sons of construction workers, where grocery store employees drive black Cadillacs with the slogan “Touch of Class” emblazoned upon the back windshield, where people hula hoop on their way to parties, where people abandon apartments only to leave 14 desiccated cats in their freezers, where people feel their lives are in the midst of a very tiny, crowded, and misanthropic fishbowl. This is a town where one minute you can be disliked by many, and the next, defended by those same people who sought to run you down because people from away are trying to do something to shut you down. The old saying about freaks goes something like: she may be a bearded lady, a freak!, but she is our bearded lady.
And so it goes, life, marching on, one step in front of the other, and we all experience the orbit of our Earth around the Sun in different ways.
“We’re freaks, that’s all. Those two bastards got us nice and early and made us into freaks with freakish standards, that’s all. We’re the tattooed lady, and we’re never going to have a minute’s peace, the rest of our lives, until everybody else is tattooed, too.”
Today is the one year anniversary of me moving to Northeast Harbor, Maine. I came here from Philadelphia, city of 1.548 million people, after living in Austin, city of 842,592 people, for almost 12 years. Northeast Harbor, Maine, is a town of 300 people year-round. In the summer, our population swells to close to 2,000, but most of the time we move along with only 300.
During this time, I have learned how it is to be one woman in a small town. I have learned how to be beholden to strangers, and how accountability in a community works. I have learned that everyone talks about everyone else, mostly because it is more fun to talk about other people than focus on yourself.
I have learned the true goodness in people, and I have learned that some people will be nasty no matter what you do to make them see the light. I have learned that every personality has a place in our small town. I have learned that people help each other, even when you don’t necessarily want them to. I have learned to take a deep breath and not take things so personally. I have learned why it is good to be a person in a place, and of a place. I have learned how to live near my family without it feeling overwhelming. I have learned to say yes, and to meet new people, and to understand that just because things aren’t perfect, doesn’t mean that you should search, constantly and without end, for an unattainable perfection, a perfection that only exists in TV shows. I have learned that everyone you meet has something to teach you. I have learned that the peaceful joy that comes with sitting near the water and listening to loon calls at night is the most powerful antithesis of the stress of my previous life. I have learned the beauty of quiet, and the kindness of people.
I have learned about trust and openness, intimacy and fears. I have learned to put one toe out into the deep waters of life, and to hold it there, trusting that goodness will return from risk. I have learned about friendship and love, and how things may not always be the way they seem at the get-go. I have learned about beauty: natural and human. I have learned about adventure and calm. I have learned about quiet time and the importance of hearing your conscience. I have learned to sit and listen on long docks that jut out into the ocean. I have learned how to be a new person in an old place. I am trying to be patient and just to see all that is happening around me. I have learned to laugh, and to try to understand everyone and everything that cross my path, but not to take any of it very seriously.
I have learned to talk to the wild birds, to grow flowers, to appreciate the wildness of this tiny island. I have learned to forage nettles, eat rosehips, and look at yellow beech leaves in late fall. I have learned what sea smoke is, and why it is important to drink coffee and look out at sailboats, to drive for hours through the Maine countryside, to have conversations with new friends where each betrays one’s individual intricacies. I have learned that it is acceptable to fundamentally change the course of one’s life, and to be a friend to those who seek the same.
I have learned, ultimately, that just because it is random, unplanned, indescribable, organic, and dynamic, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t the highest form of living, the one based on a vital interest, a serious, daily investment in the course of one’s life. Are we here to have fun and to help others have more fun? Yes. Are we here to notice, engage in, and expand all the beauty that exists in our world on a daily basis? Absolutely. Are we here to feel the viscera of experience and understand that the closeness of life’s twists and turns, and the impacts of those changes on us and around us are here to help us notice that time is fleeting and like smoke: we cannot grab on to time, only watch it pass? Undoubtedly.
Here’s to a year, and here’s to where it all began.