, Salem, MA


September 20, 2012

Column: New England neighborliness and the lady at Number Nine


And it is this house that Mary still invites us to regularly to sit and chat, here where she tells us delightful stories from her 48 years of working at the House of the Seven Gables. Every time we visit, we learn from Mary a little more about the town where we live, the “marvelous place” that, for her, is not comprised merely of dates and facts, but of personal memories filled with details and emotions and family.

Like the childhood summers she loves to recall, of swimming at Dane Street beach in the mornings and spending her afternoons reading in the "new" library on the Commons. Or the amazing vegetables and flowers her brother grew on the plot of land where our home now sits. Or the services she’d attend at St. Mary’s (where she was baptized), the friends she’d meet at the movies (in what’s now the Cabot Street Cinema) or the restaurants she loves (like Stephy’s or the Wenham Tea House, where her friends surprised her for her 90th birthday).

Mary doesn’t have many living relatives any more but there’s a steady stream of visitors to her house, hoping to hear her recite an original poem or a story about one of her trips to Ireland or “that time in Beverly when . . .” They come, too, to talk about their latest news, because she asks and she listens.

Though she says she doesn’t want any fuss over another birthday, those of us who know her can’t help but celebrate her remarkable achievement of turning 95 and of living a rich and full and deeply local life. Mary personifies so much of what makes Beverly a great place to live, that it’d be downright un-neighborly to let the moment pass. Besides, her local story is what The Salem News — the newspaper she’s read almost every morning of her life — is all about.

So to the Lady at Number 9, Happy Birthday! Thank you for your ongoing cheerfulness and inspiring example of what it means not only to be a proud New Englander but a great neighbor and friend.

Jo Kadlecek is the senior writer and journalist in residence at Gordon College in Wenham.

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