In the middle of an April blizzard in Lubec in 1924, Charles Tinker had to bundle up and walk the mile into town.
He had to fetch the doctor. Charles’ wife, Mary, was in labor with her 12th child.
I had a lovely conversation last week at the Phillips-Strickland House in Bangor with that blizzard baby, Vivian Murray, who was born Vivian Tinker almost 90 years ago. Until her move to Bangor two years ago, Vivian lived her entire life right there in Lubec.
“We weren’t rich,” she says, but her fount of stories indicates a life rich in all the most important things.
Before her move to Bangor, Vivian had lived in the same house in West Lubec for 65 years — the house she and her husband built when they were first married, the one in which they raised their four children, and the one she lived in alone for 20 years after her husband’s death, welcoming her children and grandchildren home for visits and holidays.
“When we got married, my husband said, ‘Do you want a car or a house?’ I said, ‘Are you foolish?’” She laughed at the memory.
Vivian laughs easily and often, and looks nowhere near her 89 years. Perhaps those two things go hand in hand, a cheerful attitude and a face that doesn’t fully reflect the passage of time.
In any case, I felt more cheery myself after spending an hour or two listening to Vivian’s stories.
Since they had no car for eight years and lived several miles from town, Vivian and her husband, Robert, didn’t get out much. Robert got rides to work from their wonderful neighbors, who later became surrogate grandparents for Vivian and Robert’s kids.
On weekends, instead of car outings, the Murrays hiked back into the woods about a half-mile, pushing a wheelbarrow. Robert’s family had built a cabin there with an outhouse, a lot of bunk beds, a homemade cooler that used piped-in spring water to keep food fresh, and a big old iron woodstove.
“We once had a deer fry in the wintertime, and I used to make biscuits in that old woodstove,” Vivian said.
Finding the fullness of life in simple things started during childhood for Vivian. The family didn’t get to town much. Their house was right on the ocean and they found enough to do messing around right there.
“It was fun. My friend and I rowed a skiff all the way to North Lubec. We weren’t supposed to. We did it a few times though,” she said.
I wondered if Vivian knew how to swim or if they ever thought about life jackets.
“No. Isn’t that awful? We felt safe,” she said.
Some of Vivian’s siblings were more than 20 years older than she was, so they sometimes helped take care of her. Her parents were tirelessly hardworking people and Vivian told me about them with no small degree of pride in her voice.
“My mother cleaned house for a local family, did all the washing by hand and everything. She also strung herring and worked in a sardine factory,” Vivian said.
All this in addition to raising nine children (three died in infancy).
“Mom could do more work in a day than I ever could.”
Vivian’s father was a fisherman.
“He used to go in the weirs to get herring.”
He also was first mate on a whaler, an expert caulker and an occasional policeman.
Vivian’s dad owned an unusual boat, “the last double-sterned pinkie,” named the Regina M. Today, the boat is a historic vessel owned by Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut, but Vivian remembers outings in it.
“Dad would take us out in the Regina M. We’d go out and catch some haddock, then we’d land on a beach somewhere and my mother would make fish chowder,” which she said they’d cook over an open fire. “There’s nothing like eating a good chowder right out of the ocean.”
After graduating from high school, Vivian worked as private secretary and bookkeeper at Seaboard Packing Co.
“I had to carry the payroll to the Lubec ferry for the Robbinston plant, and the pay was all in cash. I was supposed to have an armed escort behind me, but I told Mr. Pike that made me more nervous, so I didn’t use the guard.”
Vivian met Bobby Murray, another Lubec native, after his return from service in World War II.
They were at a dance and he said to her jokingly, “What in hell are you doing here?” She answered, “I don’t know, what in hell are you doing here?”
Then he asked her to the movies. That was it.
They settled down in Lubec, where, Robert said, you could see the best sunrises and sunsets of any place he had ever been during his wartime travels.
“He died on Feb. 2, 1992. It was on Groundhog Day and my husband had a wonderful sense of humor, so he’d have had something to say about that.”
That is exactly the kind of bright attitude that Vivian brings to her life.
Vivian and her sister Margie (Surles), who also lives at Phillips-Strickland House, are the only surviving members of their family. They enjoy being together in the present and remembering the best parts of their happy past.
In Vivian’s small room there is a rocking chair in one corner that used to belong to her childhood friend Gwen. Over the back of the chair hangs a brightly colored afghan, crocheted by Gwen.
“That’s my little piece of her to remember her by.”
There is no sigh, no expression of grief in remembering this friend of 75 years, only this:
“We were best friends since we were 12. And we never had a fight.”
Robin Clifford Wood wishes all readers a very happy holiday. She welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.