The Poem-girl

Annabel Lee Montague was fiercely proud of three things: Maine, her husband, and her own name. She was born in the family cottage along the coast of Southern Maine. It was a lonely, lovely remote place. It is not the most extravagant beach house in the Indianpointe area, but it was the first one built there in the early 1900’s and that lent a homely pride to it.

The way that Annabel Lee would tell this story is that she was not named until she was a month old because she was the youngest of seven girls and her parents had simply run out of names. One day her mother, Charity Montague, was walking along the beach with the new baby swaddled in her arms and she stopped a moment. Looking out over the Atlantic ocean, she began to recite Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem:

“In a kingdom by the sea,

That a maiden there lived whom you may know

   By the name of Annabel Lee;

And this maiden she lived with no other thought

Than to love and be loved by me.”

Mrs. Montague let the next incoming wave soak her bare feet and the hem of her dress. It was mid-July, but the water was still icy cold. The mother clutched her baby in one arm, and put her free hand into the salty water. She then sprinkled it on the infant’s forehead and made the sign of the cross. Annabel Lee was baptized with drops of the Atlantic. It was a scandalous, unholy christening, but it was final.

This baby, my grandmother, did not remember this windy day of her christening, or her own mother. When Annabel Lee was only three, Charity died in a boating accident at the end of their summer holiday. After this tragedy, the two youngest girls were sent by their heartbroken father to live with their austere grandmother in Connecticut. Still, they always came back to Indianpointe for the summers with their father.

Annabel Lee’s wild heart was allowed to flutter and thrive in those cool, breezy summers. She rose and fell with the tides, and memorized the curves of those shores like the back of her hand. I can see how the place where sun and water lived and played together shaped my grandmother. Lightly, lightly. That was how she lived.

She learned to savor those fleeting summers, but she did hold onto them. She kept on living through those dull, monotonous spring and winters with her own severe, exacting grandmother, taking it all in stride with the season. Even after forty years of marriage to my grandfather, I could still see this resiliency.  How much she loved and boasted in her tall, Texan man! Even still, I think he needed her more than she needed him. She was warm and tender, but she was buoyant.

“Annabel Lee, like the poem,” She would always firmly say she introduced herself. She did not like nicknames, so even those who knew her best still called her by her entire name. I smile when I think of that. Annabel Lee was certainly not made to be subtle.

****

I grew up in Texas with my grandparents, and Annabel Lee loved how the land “gave the sky a chance”, but I know from the pictures of the seaside that were hung up in the kitchen and hallway that the ocean that had christened her as a baby still called to her.

“Why did you ever leave Maine?” I asked one afternoon.

Her wrinkled hand stopped stroking the dog’s head and she peered up at me quickly from behind her thick spectacles as if I had asked an impertinent question. I sensed a spark of the wild, young Annabel Lee who had grown up in rural Maine. However, the flare quickly died down and the corners of her mouth loosened.

“Sophie,” She said to me, “I can tell ya it’s not cuz I wanted to.”

“But you met Grandpa in Texas?”

Finally, she gave in, “My money was gone. My trust fund had been emptied before I could even graduate college. I knew had to do something. I had recently read a magazine article about oil men in Texas and decided that it was worth a shot. So, I packed my bags and booked a one-way ticket to Houston. When I landed, your grandfather was the first Texan I had ever seen. I decided that I liked his looks, so I walked over to him at the baggage claim, introduced myself and asked him to get my purple valise.”

Grandpa Reynolds’ eyes crinkled as he smiled at his wife but didn’t utter a word. There was over forty years worth of love in that look. I knew then why my grandmother had never returned to Maine.  

Annabel Lee Montague-Reynolds passed away in her sleep last night. I have never been to Maine, but I am going to find that beach house on Indianpointe. I am going to find the place where light and water play together, and I hope that I find a reason to stay.

Advertisements