Years ago when I was homesteading in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont with my then husband and our four children, I met a man who introduced himself, saying, “I’m Bill. I author for a living.” He was standing in the cellar hole of our unfinished log cabin, admiring the way we were making ourselves snug there for the coming winter. “I’m just up the road,” he said. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”
As it turned out, I had occasion to ask often. Our hand dug well went dry before Christmas. He helped us haul water. When he bought himself a new refrigerator, he gave us his old one and though we had no electricity, we used it as an ice box, filling the top shelf with jugs of frozen water and storing our food on the shelves below.
When, one after another the children came down with chicken pox, he took pity on me. For two months I’d nursed the older three. Now the fourth and youngest was ill. One cold day in March he drove down the hill to fetch us, made a bed for my daughter in front of his fireplace, drew a steaming hot bath, filled it with scented soap bubbles, and left us to enjoy his house for the day.
He constantly issued invitations to come watch the ballet or the Olympics or the news on his television. He would call and say, “Come. I need you to read this.” I’d hike the mile to his house to find one of his manuscripts on a table, a red pen beside it. He’d have poured coffee, set out a bowl of nuts and disappeared into another part of the house. I’d sit for an hour in the sunny room, reading and making comments in the margins. He’d amble in after awhile and we’d talk. He called me the Queen of East Hill and loved to tell stories about his adventures in the Navy or his latest writing project. I never left without a hug and a borrowed book or two under my arm from the hundreds and hundreds he owned.
On the day my divorce was final, he wrapped his arms around me and let me sob until I had no tears left. Then he bundled me into his car and drove me to a cemetery where we parked overlooking the rising hills that jostled each other on their way to Canada. We wandered among the gravestones. “These people all had problems,” he told me, “and someday you’ll be here, too. Try not to waste too much of your living time in regret and sorrow.”
My memories of the years that immediately followed my divorce are shadowed, though as in all hard times, there were bright spots. Bill was one of them. He gave my sons jobs around his house so they could earn pocket money. He paid me to clean, to iron his shirts, to edit his writing. He dropped off melons and strawberries out of season, let me spend a weekend in his summerhouse when my kids were with their dad, loaned me his car when mine was in the shop.
Once the three oldest kids were off to college, I sold the log cabin and made my way back to my old home in Massachusetts. Bill and I kept in touch for a while but like many long distance relationships, ours was reduced to a card at Christmas and then to no correspondence at all. Last week I learned he died this past December. Now there’s a hole in my heart where he dwelt but in my memory he is still a beautiful, bright spot.
His obituary is here. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/arts/14lederer.html