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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Her Name Was Janet Brown

Monarch, New England Aster, Mj Pettengill
Monarch, New England Aster, Mj Pettengill

Today, I'm sad. A woman I have known throughout my life died during an intense storm. Our power was out for at least twelve hours. Her house—a few miles north of here—was struck by lightning and caught fire. It has been determined that she died of smoke inhalation. It's tragic.

She was deeply woven into the fabric of this community. Some would refer to her as a Sandwich girl with untamed roots—a true native. Endearingly, she was like the town crier, aware of the comings and goings of many and keenly aware of local history and current events.

During the first few weeks of returning home, I sensed her eyes upon me when I went to the Post Office. I was affectionately amused and surprisingly comforted to hear her deep, New Hampshire accent. It's its own thing.

One day, she approached me and said, You're one of Ramsey's girls? Which I hadn't heard mentioned for so long. People used to say that to us often; I had tee shirts designed for my sisters and me that said, Yes, I'm Ramsey's daughter. My mother's said, Yes, I'm Ramsey's wife. It was fun and cute.

After feeling a range of good emotions, I told her yes. She went on to say that she used to babysit for us when I was just a baby. She said that I was the youngest, so it was before my two younger sisters came on the scene. I mentioned it to my mother, who remembered her well, and she agreed that Janet babysat for us.

Janet raved about my parents and how those were the good ole days. She also said that she still had the Electrolux vacuum cleaner that my dad sold her (we're talking the late 50s, early 60s)— she just continued to buy parts.

She used to come to my studio for a visit and tea. I can relate to the old salts of this town, the townfolk of my childhood who are mostly gone. One summer day, she stopped by the studio to buy one of my books. She asked me if I would turn her car around. I was perplexed. She told me that she had vertigo and that turning the wheel made her dizzy.

Naturally, I was shocked and concerned. I told Janet that she shouldn't drive; it wasn't safe. She said she had already talked to Doug —the police chief at the time. She promised that she was going straight home. I was worried about her driving in that state. She was already getting up in years.

Janet also visited the studio during holiday events—Christmas in the Village. It was so sweet (but awkward) that she wanted to buy personal items from my desk rather than products that were on the shelves. I was going to just give her one of my coffee cups, but she insisted on giving me five dollars. I enjoyed seeing her because she was so one of a kind, more like a lost art.

She lived alone and had recently surrendered her license. I feel the storm was possibly scary for her, but I am hoping that she was asleep.

It was on the news that someone had died in this town but was unidentified. When I learned of the address, I was concerned for Janet.

While I was gathering herbs and berries this morning, I thought of her, holding a space for her in my heart, when a beautiful monarch fluttered by. The souls of the departed visit us on the wings of a monarch. I was grateful and a weight lifted. Farewell, Janet Brown. You will be missed.

Image: CCO
Image: CCO


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