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“Hi, Hon”

Walking with Deborah in "my" Brooksville, gazing out on "her" Deer Isle

A Passing

The first time I heard my new friend Deborah Cummins call out to me, "Hi, Hon!" I wasn't sure if I liked it. Maybe a little old fashioned? The kind of thing a check out counter woman whose never met me might say? But then I noticed she only used the appellation for her closest women friends and I thought, oh maybe she thinks I'm one of them!

After moving to Portland, Maine, we didn't know how, or whether, we'd make new friends. After fifty years in one place, Portland was a vibrant city, with lots of people moving in and we had neither children to connect us to families, nor a lot of time for socializing as I was under deadline for The Butcher.

When Deborah and her husband and we first met in our garage, we quickly established we were both writers. Perhaps even more importantly, we shared our mutual adoration for Penobscot Bay and the Blue Hill Penninsula. That was enough to more than get us started. That evening I delivered a copy of Poetic License to Deborah's door and the next morning she'd delivered a copy of her recent essays Here and There: Discovering Home on an Island in Maine to mine. Two little bags with a book inside each that sealed our friendship.

As it turned out, it's easy to make new friends in a new place when they're as warm, welcoming, and generous as Deborah was to us. She was outgoing, supportive, and quickly we developed a routine of wine bar visits, movies, walk and talks, and dinners out. She was usually the organizer as she was far more planful and organized than I was during that last year of finishing my book. We'd join up at Issa Bistro or Blue Spoon in our neighborhood in Portland -- or at Aragosta or Buck's when we were downeast. We'd walk the rooty trails of Deer Isle or the vistaed roads of Brooksville. She loved the sea and all the critters and flowers. And she loved the people.

Given that she and Bob had lived in Portland for a few years she had a bead on all that we were interested in--the city's energy, its diversity, culture, walkability, art galleries and museums, and great restaurants. We spent lots of time talking about what makes a great board of directors since she was first Chair of the Poetry Foundation in Chicago and also chaired the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance and I was serving on a corporate board as well as many others in the past.

And we never missed talking about our travels and our grandchildren, both of which brought us great joy (many of hers shared their own beautiful and powerful memorials to her when we gathered with friends and family to remember her).

What she couldn't ever be was an immediate fifty-year friend. But what she was was every bit as valuable--that excitement of getting to know her many selves; the new ways (to me) that she looked at the world; her special love of her husband Bob; and a long list of things we both said we were eager to learn about each other.

Deborah was a wonderful writer—a poet first, and accomplished essayist. We talked books and writing, encouraged and/or commiserated with each other, and became fans of each other's work. But then she was a great girlfriend too which meant sharing the best places to buy clothes, grandchildren presents, and art. And always, local and national politics.

In March, Deborah joined a poetry workshop centered on "exploring the joy and grief in aging". At 73 and 72, respectively, we didn't think we were old, but we certainly had periods of time that tested our health. Later in March, one morning I received an email from Deborah with this message, "Good Morning, my friend, I hope you'll indulge me," and, attached, was a poem she was working on.

And then, last month, she was gone. Suddenly, unexpectedly, grievously. Nothing would have foretold the news we got that day. As one of my oldest friends in New Hampshire reminds me regularly, "it's a slender reed we lean on".

Deborah's loss to the world is heartbreaking and it's still hard to believe. I keep thinking I'll hear her "Hi, Hon!" as I step off the elevator. She was one lucky find of a new friend and I'm both wrenched with grief to not have the time we fully expected we would have as we grew to know each other's many selves. But how grateful I am for the generous good luck of knowing her at all.

Photo of Deborah Cummins

Nothing Lasts

Not this morning's errant wind gust,

its only intention to have merely been.

The perfectly ripe nectarine, its juices

runing down my chin. Not me,

this body built for an ending.

This container of my many selves.

Spaces where things can begin

to go wrong. The indiscernible

click. The tiny catch in the gears.

Some switch failing to flip.

Our bodies, with their elegiac

backbeats, built for an ending.

Meanwhile, just beyond my window,

clouds impeccable, tides unstoppable.

Meanwhile, joy is dispatched

from who knows where,

When sunlight pours down

and I can almost smell the blue.

— Deborah Cumnins

"Sleep Tight, Hon."

And may we all "almost smell the blue."

Walking the rooty paths of Deer Isle with Deborah last summer.


Up Next

  • October 4: Let's Talk Memoir podcast interview with Ronit Plank. Watch social media for details.

  • NEW: October Panel (Date TBD): Pages and Platforms October Summit--I'll be on a panel about shifting our mindsets to marketing our books.

  • November 2 at 6 PM Pacific; 3 pm Eastern: LA Talk Radio Rendezvous with a Writer. Live radio with Bobbi Jean and Jim Bell. Watch social media for details.

  • November 2 at 4 pm Pacific, 7 pm Eastern: National Association of Memoir Writers. In conversation with Linda Joy Myers for Featured Memoirist. Live Q&A! Watch social media for details.


Take a Listen


From My Stack

Tell Me Everything book cover

Erika Krouse

Tell Me Everything

This is a powerful, Title IX, true crime investigation/memoir about an elite college football team (unnamed for legal reasons but it sits at the base of the Flat Irons in Boulder, hint) and Krouse's personal story of childhood abuse and her relationship with her mother. Winner of the 2023 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime, I was engaged from page one. She lands in a job as private investigator for a law firm, a job she never expected to have, and then sets out to prove what young women have known all along--that the "system" of elite sports used young women as enticement for football recruits and some of them were raped. As she tries to get the victims of these crimes to "tell her everything", in the end she is ultimately called to tell her own story with them, somethig that would be against the private investigator's role, but necessary for her own reconsiliation. "Maybe this is the real human magic (she writes at the end): listening to a person as she struggles to speak her most painful truth, and sharing my own truths in turn. Because I only belong to the world if I trust peope enough to show them my true face, who I am between the seams of my scars. To tell them everything, too." A fine piece of investigative work and a good memoir.

Tom Lake book cover

Ann Patchett

Tom Lake

Remember Bel Canto? It may still be on my top twenty books of my lifetime, though I hadn't thought about it much before picking up Patchett's latest, Tom Lake. I'd heard mixed reviews of this new book but liked it immediately. What reminded me of Bel Canto was how well Patchett can put us in a defined space (here, a regional theatre juxtoposed with a famly farm) and then bring rich characters across her stage while we watch them grow and change. Patchett has never had children, but as she did with in the hostage situation in Bel Canto, she uderstands an adult child's psyche, their dialog, their motivations, and a mother's reaction to them. My only criticism is that it went on a little too long. The book ended, for me, about fifty pages from the end. I kept hearing my own editors saying to me, "no more needed, the story is done." But oh her writing makes it all look so easy when we know it is not.


The grandkids were a thrill--they're so funny, smart, individual, and amazing, and their new dog nearly as perfect as they are. Then a few beautiful days with bestie Ellen Schecter and her sweetie Greg Boiles, hiking up to 8200 feet in New Mexico while talking and laughing all the way. Got to see my dear cousin Mia and her husband Reza to share more stories about our Eberhart grandparents and what happened in Austin, Minnesota.

Ready, now for a final, quieter, month at our cottage — plenty of time for reading, a little writing, paddling and biking. And a couple of promised long conversations by the fireplace with young women I adore who now live nearby.


And enjoy every precious day,

Gretchen signature


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