Saturday, November 14, 2009

Elder Ladies of Wellfleet

May I introduce Sally Branch? Sally, one of my late mom's friends, had just returned from Iris’s Café, at the Senior Center, when I stopped by Thursday afternoon. This lovely lady still speaks with a soft Southern drawl, which she calls “the nasal mountain accent of West Virginia,” although the northeast has been home for most of her life. Sally used to work as a Montessori teacher and moved here from Wellesley in 1985 after ten years as a non-resident. The northern wall of her house is all windows, allowing light to enter a cozy living room. “It’s wonderful for reading,” she told me, pointing from the couch to the view of pines beyond. Not surprising that a room, so open to nature, would be decorated with images of Wellfleet and bird books, scattered here and there. Birds are important to Sally whose son became an ornithologist. I often see her out with binoculars in hand, walking down Old King’s Highway in search of a Baltimore oriole or red-crested woodpecker. Sally remains the go-to woman in the neighborhood when it comes to wildlife and actually invented – but did not commercialize – peanut-flavored dog biscuits. Belle, her beloved part-retriever, gone nine years now, is buried in the garden, not far from the bird feeders. Sally told me how she and Belle used to explore the back roads of Wellfleet. She also accompanied Mom to Dyer Pond.

Sally walks at the harbor now, along the new promenade. “I love seeing the dogs there,” she offered as if motive were required. Having noticed town employees replenishing the supply of biodegradable mutt mitts, she volunteered for the job. “I asked the Harbor Master,” she said with a smile. “That’s my main activity now.”

Such optimism is catching. It’s hard not to see things in a positive light when Sally is around. Bright blue eyes shine with enthusiasm as she describes an annual trip to a hillside in Truro, where it used to be possible to watch thousands of tree swallows in migration, settling down for the night at sunset, an “amazing sight,” or having found a perfect new owner for a dusty box of teaching tools, saved from her career—Wellfleet’s new Montessori school.

Sally has a spot reserved in an assisted living community in Virginia, but feels reluctant to leave Wellfleet. I have been able to observe the way her beautiful face has aged over the past forty years. I hope to have the same grace and serenity when I reach 83 …