For Real Comfort, There’s Northing Like a Shroud

I saw a book I couldn’t pass up at the South Hadley flea market last week, Maine Memories by Elizabeth Coatsworth. It’s a series of stories about life on Damariscotta Pond, where she lived with her husband, naturalist Henry Beston.

This is a fantastic book. Coatsworth includes a lot of stories that she heard from the older members of the farm families in and around Nobleboro, and they’re great reading. There’s something about a story that’s been seasoned by telling and retelling and becomes part of the fabric of the community. Here’s one:

“There lived many years ago in a neighboring town a solitary woman who, they say, ‘wrote.’ No one has the least idea what she wrote, but the memory of desk, ink, and pen clings to her story. As she got on in years she made herself a shroud, to have on hand for her burial if she should sometime be taken suddenly ill.”

There came a spell of very hot weather and the lady decided the shroud would be loose and easy to wear during the hot spell “and could be put to some use before it took on its grimmer duties.”

Then she started wearing it in the garden, and then when she rode her horse around town.

“She discovered there was nothing like a shroud for real comfort, and in summer she was rarely to be seen in anything else. She wore out shroud after shroud, and when she finally died, the neighbors had to make one for her, as there wasn’t a shroud in the house fit to be worn.”