Ruth Doan MacDougall

Essays, Journal Entries, Reflections & Short Stories


March 17, 2013

        Back in 1969 my sister, Penny, moved from New Hampshire to Maine, and soon afterward during a phone call she told me that at the Winterport library she had discovered some wonderful novels—“They’re by a Maine writer named Elisabeth Ogilvie and they take place on a Maine island.”
        Growing up in Laconia, New Hampshire, Penny and I had dreamed about such islands during childhood summers at New Hampshire’s Rye Harbor looking out to the Isles of Shoals, which are partly in New Hampshire, partly in Maine. We didn’t actually set foot on those isles until we were adults, but we read Celia Thaxter’s Among the Isles of Shoals and our fascination with island life began early.
      Don and I were living in Dover, New Hampshire, at the time of Penny’s move to Maine. After her phone call I hied myself immediately to the Dover library, hoping against hope it had Elisabeth Ogilvie. It did. I took out the first novel in The Tide Trilogy, High Tide at Noon, which had been published in 1944, and I hurried home to our apartment and opened it.

The Island lay very still under the clear golden light of a midsummer noon. The whole world was bathed in a windless silence, steeped in warmth. Yet the air, alive with a peculiar clarity, had a sparkling edge.

Here in the great bay the sea held a blue that shook the heart, but the sky laid hold on you a different way. The islands rose from one blueness and touched another, and in the glowing light they shone white and creamy and tawny and red, crested darkly with spruce. On the farthest northern horizon the mountains billowed along the sky in richly tender curves, grape-blue with distance. It was a day to drink like wine, and feel its intoxication seep through your heart and soul.

The dragger was incongruously dingy and loud in all this brilliant silence  ...

        Well, I was hooked. Who wouldn’t be?
        After I finished the trilogy (which eventually grew to a Bennett’s Island Series of nine books), over the years I found all I could of Elisabeth Ogilvie’s other novels in other libraries.
        Then, when we moved to Center Sandwich, New Hampshire, in 1976 and met our neighbors, one of them said, “My cousin is a writer too. Elisabeth Ogilvie.”
        I nearly fainted. I gaped at Elizabeth (with a z) Kennedy and asked idiotically, “The Elisabeth Ogilvie?”
        Lib laughed and said, “Yes.”
        Thus from Lib I learned details about Elisabeth’s background. Later when Down East Books republished Elisabeth’s 1950 autobiography, My World Is an Island, and I snapped up a copy, I learned more. She had been born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1917; her family moved to Quincy when she was nine. She was taken as a child to the Maine island of Criehaven by her mother who in turn had begun going to Criehaven in her childhood, thanks to a family connection. An outermost Maine island twenty-five miles off the mainland, Criehaven would be Elisabeth’s inspiration for Bennett’s Island. When Elisabeth and I started corresponding in 1992, she wrote me, “My mother’s adoptive family all lived around your part of the state, and she had some happy times there as a kid. (She and her brother, Elizabeth’s father, were separated in infancy, but later found each other.) Her other happy summers were at Criehaven, thus marking her as-yet-unborn kids for life and starting my career for me long before I was thought of.”
        I’m getting ahead of myself.
        When I met Lib Kennedy, she told me about visiting Elisabeth occasionally in Cushing, Maine. After the sale of High Tide at Noon, Elisabeth had wanted to buy a place of her own on Criehaven, but she couldn’t afford anything. Instead, she and two friends, Criehaven natives Dorothy and Guy Simpson, found themselves buying a farmhouse and acreage on Gay’s Island close to the Cushing mainland, where they later bought a house to live in during the winters. Guy eventually returned to lobstering off Criehaven; he died in 1957. Elisabeth and Dot supported themselves with their writing, Dot doing a history of the Maine islands, The Maine Islands in Story and Legend, as well as novels for adults and children.
        In 1983, Don happened to see an ad in Down East magazine for a cottage for rent on Matinicus Island. This is the island closest to Criehaven. He half-jokingly asked, “Shall we look into it?” I instantly agreed, surprising him because getting there would involve a flight in a small plane from Owls Head airport and I am not fond of planes of any size. But to be on Matinicus, near Criehaven? I would get on a plane.
        We spent a week on Matinicus, in a very basic cottage. No running water; with a cart we hauled water from a communal well. We took a boat ride out to Matinicus Rock to see puffins, but for reasons I can’t now remember we never did arrange a boat ride to Criehaven. I did, however, gaze a lot in that direction.
        Matinicus started us on a hobby of collecting Maine islands. Over the ensuing years we visited Vinalhaven, North Haven, and Swan’s Island, and after a week on Isle au Haut in 1991 we knew this would be the island we’d return to again and again.
        By 1992, Penny had moved to New Harbor. I mentioned to Lib that Don and I were planning to visit Penny that September. Lib replied that New Harbor wasn’t very far from Cushing and it was time she visited Elisabeth and would we and Penny like to come along?
        WOULD WE???
        Another Sandwich neighbor, Marcia, was included in the invitation. On September 21, Lib and Marcia drove together to Pemaquid to spend the night at the Pemaquid Inn, and Don and I drove to Penny’s house. The next morning Lib and Marcia arrived at Penny’s, and in our car Don and Penny and I followed Lib’s car to Cushing’s Pleasant Poiint. Penny and I, taut with excitement, couldn’t believe this was really happening.
        But it was real. Into Elisabeth and Dot’s small white house we all were welcomed. The main room, whose windows looked out at Gay’s Island, was very informal and very warm. While Elisabeth and Lib exchanged family news, Dot and Elisabeth rustled up tea and cookies and set them out on the big table covered with a flowered tablecloth. I knew Penny was thinking the same thing I was: it’s just like the “mug-ups” throughout Elisabeth’s books, from coffee and apple pie to milk and hermits! Amid books and papers on the table I saw a pad covered with writing—notes for a work in progress?
        Marcia told Elisabeth how she and her late husband used to visit Southwest Harbor. I was tongue-tied with awe, but then Elisabeth asked me about my work and soon we were talking shop. Lib had told us that Dot knitted trap heads constantly, and this Dot was doing. Don was fascinated; she showed him how and gave him one for a souvenir.
        Before we left, Elisabeth signed the books that Penny and I had brought. Mine was My World Is an Island. Penny’s were new copies for her daughter of the Tide Trilogy, her daughter’s favorites. (To this day her daughter, landlocked in upstate New York, keeps one beside her bed in a stack of comfort reading.)
        When I got home, I wrote Elisabeth a note, thanking her for the memorable visit. I chose notepaper I’d bought two years previously at Jane Austen’s house in Chawton; it showed the house and seemed appropriate. On Thanksgiving Day, Elisabeth replied,

Belated thanks for your note (and Jane Austen’s house) . . . It was so nice meeting you and Don. I haven’t found The Cheerleader anywhere. Do you have any spares so I can buy one?

Dot and I both wish you a good holiday today and a Merry Christmas to come.

        This was before the trade paperback reprint of The Cheerleader was published a few years later, so I replied that alas, I didn’t have any spare copies, thanks to some publishers’ policy of not notifying authors before remaindering, even though the contract says they must. I explained that I did have some extras of another novel, A Lovely Time Was Had by All, a copy of which I enclosed.
        In January 1993 she wrote back saying that “The long delay in telling how much I enjoyed the book was caused by my losing your address, so I had to write Elizabeth for it.” (Lib had let me know that!) A Lovely Time is about the trials and tribulations of fixing up an old house, and she mentioned family members who’d gone through the ordeal of having a house built. Then she continued with shoptalk:

I know what you mean about not being notified when a book is about to go out of print. It has happened to me—pure negligence on somebody’s part ...
I hope you’re spending the winter on a new book. I am, having one I started a year ago, and outlines for 3 more, so when I can’t sleep at 4 a.m. I can pick and choose which problem to deal with. The one I’m working on is the most ambitious, and I feel I’ll be discarding thousands of words once I start to build a respectable first draft—meanwhile I just let ’er go, writing down anything that occurs to me for a particular scene—finding my way eventually through a lot of typewriter-doodling and asking myself questions—in print—about what I am trying to do. I had to leave it over the holidays, having no unbroken stretch of long mornings, and as usual my mind went on working, suddenly seeing mistakes in direction and receiving some good ideas in return.

Well, I’m sure you know all about that!

. . . Right now my reading is confined to leisurely mysteries, the kind that put me to sleep—and won’t influence my writing. Other books are like long awaited dessert when I take a catch-up break from work.

. . . It’s been nice running on to another author. I’m glad I met you and Don at last. Dot sends her best. I hope you’re both having a good winter.

        That summer I wrote her about how much I’d enjoyed her latest, Jennie Glenroy, the third in her historical trilogy that starts out in Scotland, and I sent her a copy of Snowy, a sequel to The Cheerleader, which had just been published. On August 19 she wrote from Gay’s Island:


An island neighbor who’s been ashore came in with a big bag of mail for us (mostly catalogs) but Snowy from you. What a nice surprise! Thank you very much. I’ve put it away for mainland reading so I’ll have something to look forward to then. But the few looks I couldn’t resist made the postponement difficult.

 . . . Thank you for your note about Jennie. If I ever write another one with a period background, it’ll have to be that period, because it took me a long time to collect the material—why waste it on one book?

. . . I’ve been doing a lot of book-signings (awkward phrase) and getting a new book underway and getting all I can of the island too.

She added a P.S.:

August 24th—haven’t been off the island since I wrote this.

        In September I got up my courage to phone Elisabeth for advice about changing agents, and afterward she wrote me:

It was so nice talking to you . . . Your call also helped wash away the taste of a very patronizing review I’d just read; besides her attitude, she just skimmed the book—she came out with some lies. Infuriating. I just wrote her a letter—a very nice one—heaping coals of fire (which always sounded very cruel to me!) Explaining a few things which didn’t seem clear to her ...

Image [Image of a Lover, which she had extra copies of; she’d just sent one to me] should be good escape reading. My mother was a teen-ager going to Criehaven in the summers during this period, and D’s mother lived out there, so much of the life and fun come from their memories. However, I “designed” Drummond’s Island and the quarry island next door.

Say hello to Don. Dot sends her best.

        In April 1994 she sent a postcard saying:

 . . . It was a good winter for work so I imagine you made the most of it. I just put away the 2 mss I’d been working on—turn and turn about—since last fall.  Don’t want to look at them again until we’re settled on the island in May sometime, and even then I’ll have just so much roving to do, to check out all the favorite places. Dot’s first book Island in the Bay was brought out (reprint—it first appeared in 1956 [published by Lippincott]—by Blackberry [Books]) just before Christmas and has had a good start.

Have a grand year, both of you.

        In June 1994, on a bunch of small chickadee notepad pages, she wrote from Gay’s Island:

Sunday, 5:10 a.m. Fog. (And roses!)
. . . I hope to have a batch of mail ready to go along with the first person who drops in but that might not be until tomorrow or Tuesday, when one of our island neighbors faithfully shows up to see if he can do anything. He parks and ties up at our place on the mainland, and pays his rent by being very helpful when you need him; he’ll bring along the mail, take mail, and pick up a grocery order called in at Fales’s store.

Right now this is especially nice because I can’t row for a few weeks—2 weeks ago today I joyously kept on too long at an outdoor project, which resulted in a very sore back, with muscle spasms, which I never had before. And I can’t say it’s an enriching experience, except that now I know what it’s like. My legs aren’t bothered, so I could get into the skiff to go across the harbor to be driven to the doctor, who said, in effect, “Don’t do anything foolish and you’ll get over it—you’re not bad enough to need a muscle relaxant, which would make you dopey, anyway.” Same advice from veterans, though everybody has his favorite painkiller—mine is Bufferin. So despite the fact that at times it’s like one big toothache, I guess I’m surviving. I know so many people who are in real trouble.

Incidentally—our helpful neighbor, who lives about half the week on the island, we have known since he was sucking his thumb and carrying his blanket and his mother was wondering how she was going to get him into the first grade without doing the one thing and carrying the other. But he made it!

Getting ready for the CBS program was fun [I’d told her how a friend had reported seeing her on CBS Sunday Morning, an appearance I hadn’t known about and had missed]—1½ days of shooting with a good bunch of young people, all New Englanders, by the way. Though the producer, Mary Lou Teal, lives in N.Y. And of course Tim Sample, who is a “good guy” too.

Hello to Don and give my love to Elizabeth. I hope if she isn’t in N.H. she’s travelling—having fun anyway, and not being one of the lame and the halt, like her cousin.
                                                         As ever,

        She added a P.S.:

Something about these little sheets, you just go on and on.  E.

        I didn’t hear from her again for five years. Lib kept me up-to-date on her health problems and quoted from her letters to Lib, in one of which she wrote, “I’ve been working on 2 books most of the year  [1995] which is an addiction. Down East gave me a contract on the Bennett’s Island book and I accomplished quite a bit in the summer.” Our correspondence now consisted of my notes on Christmas cards to her. I understood that there would be no reply. Elisabeth’s time was getting tight.
        My last letter from her was written on April 12, 1999, in reply to my letter of sympathy after learning from Lib that Dot had died.

Just saw my first swallow!
Thank you for your card, and I love the subject. I’ve heard of Mt. Chocorua but have never seen a picture. It’s a lovely spot.

Dot had been robust in both mind and body (she was 94) so that the shock was great. She was in for her October checkup, and had had her usual busy summer. After the shock we were all relieved that she never had to endure being an invalid. She couldn’t have. She went very easily in her sleep.

Writing keeps me busy, and there are a lot of D’s relatives around, besides mine, so we all get together when possible.

Have a good summer!

Keep well!—

        In 1998 A Mug-up with Elisabeth: The Newsletter for Readers of Elisabeth Ogilvie began, edited by Marilyn Westervelt and Melissa Hayes. The project grew to include The Mug-up Cookbook, The Extended Works of Elisabeth Ogilvie, and A Mug-up with Elisabeth: A Companion for Readers of Elisabeth Ogilvie. There were even sweatshirts and coffee mugs. Naturally, Penny and I still sport the former and sip from the latter.
        Elisabeth died on September 9, 2006.
        Lib attended the memorial gathering the following summer and brought me one of the programs. I opened it and read:

The Island lay very still under the clear golden light of a midsummer noon. The whole world was bathed in a windless silence, steeped in warmth. Yet the air, alive with a peculiar clarity, had a sparkling edge.

© 2013 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved
Photos by Donald K. and Ruth Doan MacDougall


Table of Contents


Short Story: Boot Saddle,  to Horse and Away!

Travelogue: Girl Scout Trip

Travelogue: The Doan Sisters Go to England

Essay: The Silent Generation

Essay: Introduction to "The Diary Man"

Essay: Writing A Born Maniac

Essay: Legendary Locals

Reflection: Sequel Reader

Reflection: Paul <sigh> Newman

Reflection: More Frugalities

Reflection: A First!

Reflection: More About Ironing

Reflections: Sides to Middle/Barbara Pym

Reflection: Where That Barn Used to Be

Reflection: Work

Milestone: Laughing with Leonard

Reflection: Three-Ring Circus

Reflection: One Minus One—Twice

Reflection: A Correspondence with Elisabeth

Reflection: A Hometown, Real and Fictional

Essay: Introduction to
The Love Affair by Daniel Doan



















Ruth and Elisabeth

Ruth and Elisabeth Olgivie






Dot Simpson and Don

Dot Simpson and Don