Babbie’s Life

People often ask what my car tags mean: SH Harbr. My great-grandmother, Ellen Woodbury born in 1863,  built a house there in 1910, in a small artist community where all the streets are named after composers. Her daughter Babbie and her husband “the General” retired there after their life of travel. Because my military father also moved every year (I attended 13 schools in 12 years), home was always Shelter Harbor in the summer.

My grandmother, pictured here pushing the hair from her eyes, influenced me in ways I am only now beginning to recognize. She had an art room, where she exposed us to painting, clay, jewelry making, and doodling the hot afternoons away. She wrote, though she only had an 8th grade education. I still have a folder of her short stories and letters of rejection from well-known magazines. Perhaps my love of poetry and printing grew out of this.

Each summer, she would organize an activity for the cousins–usually an extravagant play we would perform for the community. Any money collected went to the New York Times Fresh Air Fund. I remember being Peter Pan one summer and an island girl in Mutiny on the Bounty another time.

We ate meals in the yard at specified times, so cousins and friends would come from waterskiing, napping, playing Monopoly or reading to gather for swordfish, corn on the cob, and usually a choice of three desserts!

Picnics on the beach, sailing on the pond, long talks in the living room with my grandfather. These are the memories.

Today, we cousins all still gather from places across the country, though we are now Babbie’s age when I was a child. We try to create those memories for our grandchildren as we eat popsicles on the porch and try our best to swim out the dock to win the 5 silver dollars my grandfather bestowed on each of us.

I know I am lucky. And as my life takes turns and swerves, ups and downs, I try to remember the foundation of love I was given and to appreciate how lucky we were.