Family lore has it that Angela Taylor weighed nearly 13 pounds at birth. Her subsequent breathing problems were so severe by the time she was 3 that a doctor told Angela’s parents she would die in six months. That was about 95 years ago.
I met Angela last week in a rented house in Islesford, on Little Cranberry Island. Her two nieces met me and invited me onto a screened-in porch for lunch. Aunt Angela sat in a wicker chair wrapped in a purple-shawl, her beautiful white hair coiled into a loose bun.
I thought, “What an unassuming, quiet woman.”
My first impression missed the mark. The twinkle in Angela’s eye, her ready laughter, colorful stories and flashes of assertive opinion soon shifted my assessment. Angela is a formidable woman.
A seamstress by trade, Angela studied art and dressmaking at the High School of Practical Arts in Dorchester, Mass. — “the most wonderful high school ever.” She recently attended her 75th reunion.
“Did you have any more schooling?” I asked.
“No. No, we couldn’t afford it,” but she learned on her own and through others, she said. She was an employee for a while, then struck out on her own so she could make her own schedule. She went into business as a dressmaker.
I wondered if she had children.
She quickly responded, “Never married. Didn’t want to. Too independent.”
Independent says it well, but there is more. Angela makes friends easily, rises naturally to leadership roles, is a skilled organizer, an innovative craftswoman and expresses joy with unabashed simplicity.
“All these years I’ve been having too much fun here,” she said. That is also why her family came for an extended visit this year — to see what she was up to.
Back in 1957, Angela was invited for a summer visit and fell in love with an island in Maine where “Everyone is very independent. They all have their own things that they do.” She has returned almost every summer since.
I was fortunate for the presence of Angela’s nieces, Andy and Micki, to learn more about the summer islander. Angela is disinclined to talk about herself, but thanks to them, I learned that she still walks the shoreline, collecting both edibles and “odds and ends.” I left with a recipe for seaweed pudding and some of the crafts that she sells every year at the annual Islesford Fair, where she runs the beachcombers’ table.
Angela turned the conversation to her talented island friends who taught her things like how to craft a mobile.
“Before Rosamund showed me how to go from the bottom up, I would sit for hours trying to go from the top down! I learned a lot from Rosamund Lord. She roamed the beaches just like Ashley. She has bins of things all sorted, just like Ashley.”
Ashley Bryan, renowned artist, storyteller and puppeteer, is Angela’s longtime island friend, one of several who have offered their homes as a place for Angela to stay. Angela insisted that I visit Ashley with her before I left.
“Auntie, tell her about starting the New England Folk Festival,” said Andy, trying to steer her aunt toward her own talents.
“You were a founder of the festival?” I asked.
“Well, I was part of the workmen from the beginning,” Angela said.
“Auntie, weren’t you president?”
For two years Angela was president of the 60-year-old Folk Festival Association, and she still runs their folk bazaar. Her interest in craft and folk arts, especially the art of found objects, also inspired her to lead a “creative recycling group” in Boston, which she still leads. That group originally met at her local YWCA, an institution that has been a second home to Angela since grammar school.
Through the Y, Angela made lifelong friends, ran programs (“They flew me to California one year for a convention”) and joined an outing club.
“We had a group who danced together, skied together — we did everything together.” One of their ski outings, Micki pointed out, was a trip up the experts-only Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mt. Washington.
Also because of the Y, Angela met her friend Robin, the one who introduced her to Little Cranberry Island. Starting that first summer, Angela kept a journal every year. Andy retrieved the journal from inside the house in order to jog her aunt’s memory.
Angela browsed through musing, “One year we saw the most beautiful northern lights … One year Robin was in the hospital, Rosamund came to check on me … I missed one summer because of no bus fare; the next year I rode a bike …”
“You rode your bike to Maine? From Boston?” I asked.
Angela shrugged. Evidently, it was no big deal.
“Auntie, didn’t you lead bike trips?”
“Oh, I used to lead trips for AYH (American Youth Hostel). Sometimes I rode to Maine with the outing club,” she replied.
Generally amazed, I later followed the intrepid Angela to Ashley Bryan’s house, admiring the strong hands that gripped her walker. I puzzled over what it was about Angela Taylor that was strikingly uplifting. Ashley illuminated it for me. He looked up from his conversation with two other visitors when Angela walked in, his face lit up, and he introduced her triumphantly:
“Angie is 98, and she’s a child!”
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.