Reflection on Reinvention
An afternoon walk last winter led me, unsuspectingly, into the lives of the Ladies of Lewis Point. One month before the country locked down for COVID-19, I was finishing a walk around Damariscotta and paused to admire an unusually colorful scene. Standing out from the freshly fallen snow was a yellow house accented by purple shudders, the tree in front of it ablaze in winterberries. At just that moment, a woman, barely visible beneath a green parka, headed to her mailbox. “Who are you?” and “where are you from?” I heard from a welcoming voice within the billows of down.
Five minutes later, I’m in Daisy Greene’s kitchen, eating home-made cookies and answering her questions. I had moved from Washington, D.C., to Damariscotta eight months earlier, I told her, and my afternoon rambles sometimes took me up Elm Street and down to Lewis Point. Once home to the popular Cheechako Restaurant, frequented by locals and tourists from the 1950s to 1980s, Lewis Point is now a quiet enclave of single-family homes and row-house condominiums situated on the eastern edge of the Damariscotta River. “Maybe one day, I could live in such a pretty location,” I said to Daisy casually.
“Well,” she replied, in a voice clearly hatched from New England. “Give me your phone number. You must meet the Ladies of Lewis Point. You will come as my guest to the next meeting.”
The Ladies of Lewis Point. The lilting phrase sounded like an exceptionally good title for a novel. I was intrigued. “With delight,” I responded.
The timing was perfect. I had been wondering how, being “from away,” I would enter into the social fabric of a small town in mid-coast Maine. I had known Damariscotta as a visitor—the town had captured my loyalty after a decade of summer vacations—and here was my first chance to visit with its permanent residents, its bona fide locals. Maybe the gathering would even shed light on the midlife transition I was in the midst of navigating, relocating from big city to small town to begin a new chapter of life.
Consequently, one February afternoon I found myself seated among a circle of women who opened up about their lives as forthrightly as they sported their knit winter sweaters and white-and-grey hair. Daisy took charge—I was getting used to that—and asked the women to share a little about themselves by way of introduction. We may have been seated in a Victorian parlor in a historic New England home, but the life stories shared with me about building a new chapter of life after retirement were distinctly twenty-first century.
As I listened to the women converse, I found that the knit sweaters and grey hair that had at first reminded me of a gathering of grandmothers defied my automatic stereotype. In mere moments I realized that I was seated in something more like a 1960s consciousness-raising group. I was in the company of seasoned working women; sassy older sisters sharing relationship experiences, together with plentiful advice to go around; and women who came out the other side of seriously tough times, losing partners to debilitating illnesses or sudden deaths. At the end of two hours, a chorus of voices came toward me: “Nancy, what we’re all saying here is that, in midlife, it is essential to be reinvent yourself.”
The First Lady of Lewis Point
It is Daisy Greene, age 82, who gets the credit for bringing together her neighbors and anointing its women, “The Ladies of Lewis Point.” Converting strangers into friends—sometimes “adopting them,” as Daisy likes to say—seems as natural to her personality as her formidable artistic talent.
She has been a force in the Damariscotta art scene for more than two decades, a painter who continues to exhibit and to sell her work in addition to hosting a weekly class of enthusiastic artists in her home studio.
A former teacher at the Round Top Center for the Arts, now home to the Coastal Rivers Association, Daisy’s métier has always been artistic expression—on canvas, in her garden, and in her home. Drawn to landscape art and whimsical portrayals of nature and animals, she explains that creating is “always about change, from a tabula rasa into something. Creating, revising, and revising again. It could be a symbol of my life.”
It was a life that demanded revision when, in 1999, Daisy’s husband Steve died suddenly from a brain aneurism. The couple was one week into the building of a home in Bremen when Daisy’s world blew apart. “I was in shock,” Daisy said. “I did not paint for a year. Yet, I built the house for my husband and carried on.”
Daisy explained that being the daughter of a Scottish immigrant enabled her to draw on strong inner resources developed from childhood. Her mother, one of ten children, departed Glasgow on the Clyde, by herself at age eighteen, to avoid becoming a “mill dumpling.” Her mother’s independence and courage was a beacon. “If she could do all these things, I could,” Daisy said.
The support of family and friends, as well as openness to change, also brought Daisy back from grief. Her daughters were emotional pillars. She remained busy on the art front, exhibiting her paintings at the Pemaquid, Firehouse, and Stable Galleries. Eventually, a new friend entered her life, and they travelled widely. Sometimes even in his Model A. “Saying ‘yes’ to the universe is my philosophy,” Daisy said. “You can’t say, ‘oh no, it will get better’ and wait for it to get better. You have to make it better.”
A variation on that theme is a lesson that Daisy learned by experience: Never say never. She laughs as she recounts how the yellow house she lives in now with her second husband, Bob was one she had once rejected on sight. “I don’t want to live in his house!” Daisy remembers telling her first husband Steve while house hunting. It was too close to town, too busy, the surroundings too manicured. Fast forward ten years, and the man she married at age 71 owned that very house, which is now Daisy’s home. Now, it fits her like the proverbial glove, with its rolling hill for the garden she cultivates with her expertise as a master gardener and her art studio, set in a private corner of the second floor, filled with sunlight.
There was more, when it came to helpful perspectives on change. Reinvention doesn’t have an age limit, this Lady of Lewis Point wanted me to know. Surveying the present, the canvas of here and now, she explained how, at age 82, re-invention is as important as ever, especially in marriage. The dynamism of travel, the click of connected conversations, the pleasure of long walks are no longer shared activities, as her husband, Bob, rounds the corner of age 92 and faces the limitations of age. While her heart remains grateful for every day of life together, her re-invention tools remain ready. “Now I’m reaching back into my bag of resources,” Daisy explained, ”drawing on initiative when I can, recognizing the dead ends, identifying what’s not helpful, and not going there.”
As Daisy spoke about these transitions, her adopted state of Maine was never far in the background. “The landscape nurtures me,” she reflected. “It’s not benign, it struggles, its harsh. There’s a reality—trees, wind, currents, tides, fog, cold. The landscape in Maine doesn’t give you a chance to sit back. It keeps your feet on the ground, it demands coping skills.”
Into that landscape Daisy has strewn her seeds of openness and generosity. Like the flower that is her namesake, she has used her welcoming spirit to enhance the quality of life on Lewis Point. “Daisy is the linchpin, the glue that holds us all together,” Sarah Fisher, her neighbor disclosed. It was Daisy who gathered the Point’s residents around mutual interests in Sarah’s mother’s generation and Daisy who made it happen again during Sarah’s own time. For two decades Daisy painted, and lunched every Wednesday, with Sarah’s mother, Lisbeth, and other artist-friends in the community. Now, Sarah joins Daisy as a resident artist and friend in these same activities.
While the pandemic has put an end to the monthly meetings of the Ladies of Lewis Point for the time being, Daisy now encourages her neighbors to participate in a weekend gathering dubbed, “The Driveway Drinkers.” A changing mix of neighbors, visiting relatives, friends who drop in, and scampering dogs, the group meets on the street—six feet apart, glass of wine or whatever in hand—for a particularly pandemic version of happy hour.
It takes one organizer to make a village. Although Daisy Greene did not set out to teach this lesson, she has. I, among many others, am a grateful beneficiary of her “yes” to the universe.
“The Ladies of Lewis Point” reflects on midlife reinvention and ways people respond to change. In an upcoming issue: Part II introduces the learning disabilities specialist, novelist, and educator Caroline Janover.
The Collective Wisdom of the Ladies of Lewis Point.
|Start a conversation, issue an invitation. This is where community begins. Say “yes” to new friendships and opportunities Start new hobbies and activities, but turn off the valves of self-criticism and judgement. Give yourself time to learn. Honor the effort. Take or start a class at an educational organization. It’s a great way to nourish the intellect and connect with kindred spirits. Re-invention doesn’t have to start from square one. Extend what you know. Build on and share your skills, talents, and experience. Work/life balance is as important during later years as it is during the working years. Partake in any of the great activities associated with the great outdoors.|