It was around this time a year ago that we visited our friend, Peg, in China Village.

It would be the next-to-last time we saw her before she died just after Christmas, at 95.

It was always a joy to visit her because she was so engaging, funny and smart.

She also lived in a big, old house that had been in her family more than 100 years and was passed down through the generations with everything in the house staying exactly as it was. The kitchen was ancient but impeccably kept, complete with a black, cast iron sink and antique dishes, tables and chairs — even an old wood cookstove.

Peg wasn’t very tall, but she was strong and had short, naturally brown hair, right into her 90s.

Her living room had a large desk, on which sat Peg’s rotary phone — she never updated to a push button or cell phone and never owned a television. There was a fireplace and hearth, shelves of books, and tall windows that let in the sun on a cold November day. We’d sit in hard-backed chairs and talk about politics, family, friends and music.

Ah, yes, music.

Peg was a classical cellist and taught stringed instruments to children in her home, which had a music room, complete with an old, upright Steinway piano.

Peg and my husband, Phil, were members of a string quartet, and they played together on Fridays for years, except in the summer when everyone was too busy, alternating between the four homes — two in Harpswell, Peg’s in China and ours in Waterville. They would arrive at 10 a.m., play for two hours, stop for lunch and then sometimes play some more. When they came to our house and if I wasn’t working, I had the privilege of hearing them play as I sat in the next room and read or wrote cards. Meanwhile, I’d make the main lunch dish and the three who traveled brought a salad, bread and dessert.

Peg was an especially good baker, and one time brought a terrific pineapple upside down cake that was so good, I asked her for the recipe afterward. As was often her practice when talking about food or family, she told us a story about the cake.

It turns out the maraschino cherries on top of the pineapple were quite unusual in that they were old — very, very old.

“That bottle of cherries was in the refrigerator when my aunt lived in the house, and she died in 1971,” Peg said, grinning. “I’ve been using them ever since.”

Needless to say, while the pineapple upside down cake was delicious, some of us opted not to consume the half-century-old cherries on top, though those of us who did suffered no ill effects. We sure did have fun laughing about those cherries. To this day, we retell the story as a way to note what an unusual woman Peg was — in so many respects.

Besides having no TV but keeping her rotary phone, Peg was a practical, no nonsense woman who didn’t suffer fools lightly. She read the Wall Street Journal every day and subscribed to several magazines, including The Economist, National Geographic, Time and BBC Music. She paid no attention to celebrity gossip.

Our lunch conversation one day included a brief reference to O.J. Simpson.

“Who’s O.J. Simpson?” Peg asked, in earnest.

On our visit to Peg’s just before Thanksgiving last year, we gave her the sad news that a well-loved member of the quartet, Louise, who was 86, had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Peg’s stoic exterior melted away, and she began to cry. It was the first time we had seen her shed a tear.

Peg passed away before Louise did, leaving all of us bereft. Because she never married and had no children, the big house in China Village where she lived and died was emptied out and put up for sale, ending a long family legacy.

It’s difficult to conceive of the fact that we’ll never see Peg or Louise again, or visit Peg in her museum of a house that exuded history, tradition and familial warmth.

But in my mind’s eye, I see that old place in all its glory, Peg sitting in the living room flanked by newspapers, magazines and mail, telling a good story.

It’s all so vivid, I know I’ll never forget any of it, right down to her inimitable, joyful laugh.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 32 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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