TEXT BY GEORGETTE CARIGNAN
Shortly after moving into their Edgecomb home, a couple realizes they’re not alone.
Our dream of owning a quintessential Maine farmhouse became a reality in the spring of 1990. It stands on Route 27 in Edgecomb — you can’t get to Boothbay Harbor without driving by the century-old, white-shingled structure with the attached barn that sags slightly in the middle. It needed things, like a well and a septic tank. The Realtor made it clear, several times over, that the water was non-potable and the antiquated tank was unusable. The floors listed. A raccoon inhabited the attic and mice had established a lively community in the walls during the two years the house had been vacant. But it had “good bones,” as they say, and the wraparound front porch tugged at my heart.
Right away, Inez made her presence known. Soon after moving in, my husband and I stood studying the home’s only cooking stove: an enormous cast-iron affair in the dining room with different chambers fueled by wood and gas. I couldn’t imagine how anyone, let alone an elderly widow, could have possibly prepared food on it. Then I remembered the basement shelves neatly lined with dust-covered Mason jars bearing processed tomatoes, beans, corn, peaches, and mincemeat. It was obvious that Inez had spent many hours working at that stove and displayed the results with pride. Then there was the small second-floor chamber off the guest room painted Pepto-Bismol pink and illuminated by a single pink bulb dangling from the ceiling on a cord. “Oh Inez, you are a woman after my own heart,” I thought, of the space I’d claim for my sewing room.
Inez Sherman lived in the house from the year she married Norman, a farmer, in 1927 until her death in 1988. She was a homemaker who also taught at the one-room schoolhouse (now home to Edgecomb Potters), a stone’s throw up the road, for a number of years. Though she had no children of her own, her nephew, who also lived on 27, told us that many a child who had missed the bus or scraped a knee would sit at her kitchen table with cookies and milk while waiting for a parent to pick them up.
"He was breathless and pale. He told me he'd heard a flutter of wings and felt something brush his face — a bat perhaps, but we never found one."
Our first indication that Inez might still be lingering in the kitchen, and elsewhere, came soon after we arrived. I was making dinner (on our new electric stove) when I heard a ruckus coming from the pink room. My husband was working on a new closet for me, and when I went to check on him, he was breathless and pale. He told me he’d heard a flutter of wings and felt something brush his face — a bat perhaps, but we never found one. A couple weeks later, while stenciling a border in the dining room, I was startled by the same thing my husband had experienced — a fluttering sound and the sense that something was brushing very near my face.
“Inez! You keep scaring me!” I said aloud.
As the incidents multiplied, I decided it was time for a talk. “Inez, we love this house,” I told her one afternoon after she confronted me tearing wallpaper from the master bedroom walls. “I know how much you loved it and I promise we will be good stewards.” This was the first of many conversations we had. Alone, with a paintbrush in hand, or while doing dishes, I’d let her know that Linen White was all the rage in wall colors and reassure her that we would not chop down the antique rose bush in the front yard. I kept her in the loop on which vegetables we were planting and why. She became my unseen companion, my trusted confidante.
Even in her old age, Inez had never wanted to leave her farmhouse. One day, her nephew found her puttering in the dining room, which was filled with smoke from a rusted flue pipe. All he could see were her fuzzy pink slippers and about six inches of her legs. For her safety, he insisted she move in with him and his family. The transition rattled her — she had little interest in eating and spent most of her time sitting in a chair by the window, gazing at her home, which was visible up the road. Eventually, her nephew moved her back.
After about two years, my conversations with Inez petered out and I realized that she was gone. I took this as a sign of trust. When I thought of her in those later years, it was not as a spirit lost in space and time, but as a guardian angel watching over her beloved home.
Next, it was our turn to move on. After 10 years, our restless nature got the best of us and we decided to head south. We put the house up for sale and, for weeks, the only people who came to see it were New Yorkers smitten with country life, but clueless when it came to wells and septic tanks, and curious real estate agents.
Then I met a young family in a coffee shop. The father had a DeLorme atlas tucked under his arm. I asked where they were going.
“We’re house hunting,” he said.
“Really? My husband and I are selling a house.”
“Actually, we have already found what we want. We’ll be contacting the owners.”
Feeling silly and somewhat deflated, I asked where it was.
“It’s on 27. It has a ‘For Sale’ sign on the lawn. No one was home, but there was an Old English sheepdog in the yard.”
They were the perfect buyers. A builder and an artist with a young son, they came from another rural town, Parsonsfield, and appreciated the house’s history. Over time, they made thoughtful improvements, such as creating an art studio/gallery in the barn.
Inez is as real to me and as much a part of my history as any flesh-and-blood teacher, neighbor, or relative. She taught me that great passions and great loves never die, that change is inevitable, and that it’s in our best interest to be adaptable — in this life and the next.
Georgette Carignan lives and writes in Limerick, where she resides with her husband, three goats, two cats, and two senior chickens. She enjoys writing memoirs and short stories and has been published in the Goose River Anthology and Rosebud.