Originally published in The Weekly Packet, January 11, 2018
Remembering Blue Hill in different times, through different eyes
Blue Hill resident Julie Nicholson published ‘With Love from Granette,’ collecting memories of her mother’s childhood.
by Anne Berleant
Weaving together three generations of women, bound by blood and love, Julie Nicholson began her 2017 book, With Love From Granette, after discovering her mother’s writings throughout her Blue Hill home.
“I found chapters in the pump house, the cellar and the attic,” Nicholson said. The chapters had been dictated by her mother, Annette Mackay Pyle Ely—Granette to her grandchildren—to Nicholson’s daughter Shelby, and they draw a picture of growing up in New York City and Vermont, with summers spent in Blue Hill,
“It is different from St. Albans and New York in that it is not only a place,” she writes of Blue Hill, “it is a road of milestones.”
As a child of the early 20th century, the journey to Blue Hill from New York City’s Fifth Avenue takes two days and one night by train, and then another three hours on a road “of ups and downs of hills and dust. Transportation is by buckboard…[and] when we come to a hill, we must get out and walk” to spare the horses.
While she is accompanied by a cook and maids and a nanny, her parents rarely come, so for Annette, a Blue Hill summer is “untrammeled liberty” and freedom.
As the oldest of seven children, she spends the day swimming, running, writing a weekly newspaper and doing home theater with the older of her brothers and sisters. In later years, as a teenager, she attends dances, complete with dance cards with pencils attached, with music played on the Victrola.
But the carefree childhood of a well-kept daughter comes to an end with the death of her father. The family stays in Blue Hill after the rest of the “summer people” have left.
“It is a strange world,” Annette writes. “It is filled with smoke and you can look at the sun straight without blinking. … People put wet blankets on their roofs because sparks drift. There is a feeling of menace and fear. Men and boys are out fighting forest fires.”
Three weeks later, Annette’s younger sister falls ill and dies. Many years later, Annette herself is discovered in a New York morgue, after taking on an assumed identity to hide her own illness—cancer—from her family.
Nicholson, who herself is fighting a so-far successful battle against cancer at nearly 90 years old, finds Blue Hill a spiritual place.
“The beauty, the people, the friendliness, the deep thoughts, the exchange of those thoughts,” she counts off. “The dearness of it all. It’s not phony.”
Nicholson is part of the South Blue Hill Baptist Church group, and shared With Love From Granette with the ladies she prays with. “I didn’t think they’d like it,” she said. “But they loved it. One lady read it three times.”
Nicholson included a piece from her own grandmother, Ann Eliza Brainard Smith, first published in a 1924 edition of Vermont newspaper, the St. Albans Daily Messenger, and also one written by herself. The three pieces together form a portrait of a time, place and way of life for the children, wives and mothers of men—Nicholson’s father and grandfather were a minister and judge, respectively—who moved in society’s upper strata.
Blue Hill became so much a part of Nicholson’s life, she said that after retiring from a yacht chartering business in the West Indies, she and her husband moved here. Her husband died about six years ago, but daughter Shelby now makes it her full-time home. Her other daughters, “they come and they go,” Nicholson said.
She sees her cancer experience as one that “opens wondrous doors,” she said. “Every day is so precious. You see things you wouldn’t otherwise see.”
With Love From Granette is available at local libraries and for purchase at Blue Hill Books.