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Hail Mary


My heart is heavy with sadness as I write this particular blog. Since the beginning of August our dear friend and cook for the last 12 years, Mary Barney, had been struggling with cancer. I have intentionally respected Mary’s privacy and I apologize to you for not sharing any news about Mary’s health sooner. On Monday afternoon Mary passed away very peacefully at home, surrounded by friends and “family”. Her departure was as graceful as the rest of her life. Many people, including Jen, have been doing heroic work to support Mary these last few weeks.

Oddly enough Mary was never very excited about transitions though this was about the fastest transition she ever made. And as I struggle to let go of Mary I realize I am terrible with transitions as well. We used to joke about how we liked things just the way they are, thank you very much, so why change what is working already even if it might be less labor intensive. Hard works is its own reward. I used to joke about getting Mary a Cuisinart for the galley and she would just shudder and shake her maple rolling pin at me.

One recent transitional cook couldn’t understand how Mary could work with so few tools. I appreciate his efforts to get us through this difficult time and wish he could have witnessed the miracle of what Mary created with hands and heart. I swear I have never met anyone who can bake like Mary. Mary would swear that her cooking and baking were an out of body experience. Mary’s chocolate cake was an out of body experience. Her loaves of bread were raised with more than just yeast. Her focacia, her anadama, her oatmeal, and Italian bread stuffed with spinach and pepperoni… these are the breads that memories are made of. She always blushed when I complimented her on how soft and warm her buns were. On Friday afternoons I would sneak down into the galley and take a warm dinner bun from the rack and she would pretend to not see me. It was our game of companionship. I can taste them now and will forever more. And I will miss Mary’s loving friendship.

I was able to visit Mary this last weekend. Her house was a continuous stream of people. On Saturday I brought my guitar and sat by her bed singing softly to her. Several weeks ago Mary told me that she wanted to take singing lessons when she got better. I told her she sang just fine reminding her of how she used to sing Rosin the Bow. I played her a few requests… “Let it Be” and “Home on the Range” as well as a few silly songs that made her smile. When I saw her on Sunday it was clear that she was letting go. I kissed her cheek and told her I loved her at which she opened her sparkling eyes and gave me one last smile that I will never forget. I knew she was at peace already.

Now I have a cardinal rule that I never talk religion or politics aboard the schooner or anywhere else for that matter. I am not smart enough to say anything intelligent about either topic and it seems to me that more problems are started over these conversations than are ever solved. As the humorist Dave Barry observes, ‚ÄúPeople who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.‚Äù But I am going to break my own rule and offer an observation, not because I want to start a conversation, (see, Dave Barry is right) but because Mary and I used to talk about our search for meaning in this world. If you look through Mary’s stacks of books on her living room floor you will know how important the spiritual journey was to Mary. I loved our thoughtful conversations and Mary helped me realize that the unanswered questions are the ones that keep us young. Neither one of us practice any organized religion but we certainly agreed that we are spiritual beings. Mary must be an old soul for how else could every turkey dinner taste like Grandma made it special just for you. I am of the opinion that Mary finished her spiritual journey in this realm and ready or not it was time to move on. I saw it in her smile as she looked at me that one last time. These thoughts are the only way I can make sense of my loss. Besides, I am going to assume that Heaven was in quick need of another angel and a darned good loaf of bread. And a beautiful angel they got. But, darn, I will miss that bread. God bless you Mary.

Have a great day… you just never know. Be well. Do good.

Great photos by Jim and Jen.

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