After recently reading a touching article about Madaket Millie from Nantucket (if you haven’t read it, check it out at bit.ly/NantucketMillie, as it was the inspiration for this story), it felt like it would be a disservice not to share my similar story, albeit a different Island and another icon.
My husband and I fell in love with and on Martha’s Vineyard in 2000. What’s not to love — the views, the sun, the sand, the bike rides? And after we purchased our home in 2006, we found yet another piece of the Island to fall in love with — Alice Ross, our across-the-street neighbor who would teach us life lessons we would soon cherish forever.
We moved in, and immediately took note of the beautiful gardens across the street that were meticulously kept. Alice would be out there rain or shine. People would drop by to commend. Newspapers would take pictures and write stories. All of our neighbors would reap the benefits of the magical colors and scents gained from Alice Rose’s “bounty.” As the years passed, caretaking the gardens got more challenging, but never a peep from Alice. However, once she was up on a ladder caring for some planters, and took a tumble. She was then shut off from such higher endeavors, but the show must go on, and the planters just came down to hand’s reach.
Thanks, Alice; one never should give up. Where there is a will there’s a way. Alice had a “get it done” attitude, and so much spunk that it actually would get her “in trouble.”
Shortly after moving in, we became recipients of gifts from “her kitchen to ours,” delivered by nobody else but the chef herself. The goodies would range from sweet to savory. All of it homemade and from the heart — blueberry jam, rhubarb muffins, or her famous stuffed quahogs. All over-the-top delicious, and often still hot from the oven. I can still smell the aromas. These gifts often put Alice Rose in the doghouse. We live on a pretty busy street, and Alice, back then creeping on 100, was not the fastest walker. She was summoned by her daughter, who lived right behind her, not to cross the street alone.
Now, if you hadn’t guessed, telling a 100-plus go-getter what to do … these rules did not deter Alice from making and delivering our homemade-with-love goodies. Often her daughter would “catch” her in the act, and halfway through her commute, we would all hear, “MOM, GET BACK OVER HERE!” As I write, I can hear it as clear as day, and better yet, can still see Alice with her girlish smirk. We would reprimand her as well on this end, and kindly walk her back hand-in-hand; eventually, as years passed, this included her walker. Like a lot of things in life, you don’t realize how much you enjoy something until it’s gone.
We would visit almost daily to hear some story. She lived through the Great Depression, and her husband would walk for miles to see if there was work to be had — all for, at times, just some milk and eggs. We didn’t dare ever go over and complain about our modern problems, as we do at cocktail parties and dinners out — of our bad commutes, politics, or high taxes. It all seemed so silly when we were sitting with Alice. Sadly, her husband died many, many years prior to our arrival to the Island, but Alice did not complain or let this slow her down. She seemed to be someone who made sure she lived a great life, free of complaints, and was not going to miss smelling the roses.
She had children who lived near and far. And many, many grandchildren, and even more great-grandchildren. She told me how many — I cannot remember, but she knew. She cooked and baked, and when needed would heat her kitchen with an oven on low on those bitter cold days off-season on Martha’s Vineyard. She would pass our kids full-size Hershey bars which she had hidden in a stash somewhere in her house (perhaps the kids did, but we never, ever saw where they came from).
Alice would indulge in one beer and one glass of wine a day, plus sometimes some brandy. We would sip, and she would share more stories, like tales of the Great Depression, but also how one of her pregnancies ended up being ectopic, and she needed emergency surgery. I remember thinking how serious this condition can be now, but I can’t even imagine back in her day. But she just told it as a matter of fact. Just like when she would show us that most of her fingers do not move due to arthritis. We got her gloves, but I’m not sure they helped. She never complained.
It was just matter of fact when we were talking about her 100th birthday party and how excited we all were. She said to me, “I’m tired. I’m ready.” She lived to be 103, and was still an inspiration for our family. Her home has been knocked down and rebuilt, but I can assure you we still refer to it as Alice Rose’s home. My husband has visited her grave occasionally. I prefer to peer out the window and see her smiling. And trying to live life as she did.
Kim Kadehjian Bradshaw is a seasonal resident of Oak Bluffs, along with her husband Mark and their two children, Ben and Lucy. She is a breast cancer survivor, group exercise instructor, headhunter, and aspiring writer.