It was the summer of 1982. Baby slung low on my hip; I strolled along the rocky Maine beach, drinking in the deliciously cool air and stunning views of Blue Hill Bay. I couldn’t help but think what a superb job the native American Penobscot tribe had done when they decided to name this place “Kollegewidgwok” meaning blue hill on shining green water. After all, unusual beauty deserves a unique name.
Pausing to relieve the pressure on my hip, I squatted down and placed my daughter on the beach beside me. Ecstatic to have escaped my grip, she happily banged clam shells together and slithered through the slimy wet rockweed like a tiny sea nymph.
I congratulated myself as I watched her play. It had been difficult, but I had managed to finagle a vacation from my nursing job so that our little family could be together for the next two weeks while my husband finished his rural preceptorship with a seasoned country doctor in Blue Hill.
Using my knees to balance herself, my daughter pulled to a standing position and gave me an over the moon toothy smile. Suddenly the smell of rotting fish stung my nostrils and I gasped. Horrified, I realized that the wee darling standing in front of me stank like rotting fish. Laughing at my own parental foolishness, I made a mental note of what tots should and shouldn’t be allowed to do on the beach, and hoisted her to my waist.
The sky turned a lovely orange-pink color as I waddled back to the beachfront cottage that my husband and I were renting carrying my putrid smelling child. To my surprise, I found my husband home from work and waiting for me in the kitchen.
“Pee-u! She reeks! What did she get into?” he asked, pointing at our daughter and waving the smell away from his nose. “Someone needs to hose her down.”
I smiled guiltily. “I’ll go run a bath.”
“Wait a minute, I need to talk to you. What would you say if I told you that I’ve arranged a babysitter for tomorrow night and we’re dining out with my preceptor and—“ he said, pausing for dramatic effect and looking like the proverbial cat that swallowed the canary. “E.B. White?”
“Are you joking? E. B. White!” I squealed, nearly dropping the baby and staring at my husband in disbelief. “E. B. White, the author?”
“Yes, he lives five minutes away in North Brooklin. He’s good friends with his family doctor who just so happens to be my preceptor,” he replied, grinning like a maniac. “Apparently he’s become quite reclusive in his later years, but he’s agreed to have dinner with us.”
No way could this be happening! I had just been invited to go to dinner with my childhood hero E. B. White. Elwyn Brooks White, the well-known essayist, the New Yorker writer, the reviser of Strunk’s The Elements of Style and the famed children’s author.
My head was spinning and I was giddy with excitement. “Oh—my—goodness!” I screamed. “I’ve got to get a copy of Charlotte’s Webb so I can ask him to sign it.”
“I’ll pick up a copy at the local bookstore if you go give that child a bath this instant,” he said, crinkling his nose in disgust.
I momentarily contemplated handing the baby over to him and telling him that he’d get use to the smell, but quickly discarded the idea and headed toward the bathroom with Miss Stinkypants. I wasn’t going to do anything to antagonize the man who had just invited me to dine with E. B. White.
(To be continued)