Radio Silence: "In the field of communications, radio silence refers, rather straightforwardly, to a period or condition where radios are not transmitting." - Merriam-Webster online dictionary.
On July 18, 2018, the phone rang at 9 am. I was deep in ticking items off of the to do list, preparing to for 2 weeks of family and friend time up at my dad’s family’s lake house in the far northeastern corner of Vermont. It’s a 14 hour drive from here to there, a magical paradise with a huge fireplace, kayaks and Sunfish sailboats, and beds for 20. My great-grandfather built the house; I’ve been coming here since I was just a couple of months old. Averill was the closest thing I had to a home base while growing up. Part of our cruising prep is reminding ourselves of the importance of family and tradition, so while a vacation doesn’t really seem relevant to any cruising plans, family is always relevant.
There are also 2 other houses up on that lake that belong to the family, one a small cottage that’s considered part of the family property, and another one, called the OPO, that belongs to my aunt Sue, my dad’s only sister. The house was owned jointly by Sue and my grandmother Marge, and for a long time Marge lived there in the summer while Sue commuted from southern Vermont on the weekends. Sue moved up there permanently 7 years ago after she retired, choosing the isolation and long winters and also reveling in family visits during the summer. We get to see her once a year; I store up all my back-scratching muscles for the visit.
Sue is the kind of aunt everybody ought to have. Never married, she has a special touch with both kids and animals. Zach and I (and our friends) have always felt welcomed, loved, spoiled a bit, and seen for who we are. She’s generous with her time and space, offering beds in the house if we just wanted an extra few days up at the lake, even to people she’d only just met. A favorite recent memory is from when we just returned from our last cruise with the kids, our buddies on Osprey in tow. A flurry of last-minute decisions made us change our driving-home plans, and Sue accommodated 2 moms and 4 kids, plus 3 extra dogs to go with her yellow lab, Jaz, for a week with smiles and open arms. It might have been louder and more boisterous than she was used to, but she loved all the bustle. She may have gotten a few extra back scratches out of the mix, as well as some more homemade dinners.
A long-time smoker, she couldn’t quit even after valve replacement surgery. Sitting with her in her room wasn’t super easy on my breathing, but being with her was more important. Until my grandmother died in 2012 her bedroom was the only place inside the house she was allowed to smoke, so she spends a lot of time there, a beautifully situated room with its own bathroom and a private door onto to the expansive lakefront deck. After Marge died, things changed a bit, but her bedroom is still her favorite place to smoke.
I love being there with her. I love stumbling into the kitchen, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep and need of coffee, hoping to beat her to put the kettle on the stove and most often finding the water already hot, ready for me to make Chock Full O’Nuts coffee in the Melitta drip manual coffee pot that’s been there for as long as I can remember. I love knocking on her door, being invited in, and watching her play solitaire on her computer. I love sitting on the edge of the bed, scratching her back as she directs me to exact spots. I love watching ducks and loons and bald eagles with her, love encouraging her to come to the sunset with us. I love how she has screwdrivers for cocktail hour, and a glass of milk with dinner, and apricot brandy before bed.
She loves my pepperoni pizza, hates anything spicy or exotic in any way, and the only dessert she likes is icebox cake. She’s been known to hide peas fresh from the garden from my mother.
On July 18, two days before we were going to be in Averill for 2 weeks, 2 days before we'd see Sue and share all the backscratches and laughter we've been missing for a year, the phone rang. It was my dad.
“Sue died yesterday.”