Editor’s Note: Maddy Butcher delivered this bit to those who came to Sally Butcher’s Celebration of Life, held in Brunswick, Maine, October 15, 2022:
Mom would have loved this gathering, although she would have had her reservations. She loved parties and she loved getting friends and family together. She did not love talking about herself or having people talking about her. So, of this part, she would not have approved. Sorry, Mom.
As my dad said a few days ago, we all remember and cherish Sally Butcher through our particular windows. This is my window:
Mom called herself a housewife or a homemaker. But of course, she was much more. Photographer, coach, ambulance driver, EMT, organizer, dream facilitator, chaperone, schemer, author, and editor, to name a few.
She was inspirational, someone who enriched our lives with her humor, curiosity, strategizing, and encouragement.
Mom was our sparkplug for learning and instilled a love of learning in me, Sam, and scores of people she encountered. Specifically, for us, she said:
Let’s learn to ski.
Let’s learn to sail.
Let’s learn to play music.
Here, these are binoculars. This is a sewing machine. The kitchen is yours, just pick up after yourself.
Along the way, with the fun, she also instilled discipline, commitment, independence, and independent thinking. All of which, I’m sure, was part of her grand plan.
When I was in grade school, my mom let me have goldfish, caterpillars, and crickets in little aquariums in my room. Not in the same aquariums, mind you.
When she and Dad were working with a contractor to build our house in Harpswell, she asked Sam and I (age 11 and 12 at the time) for our ideas on the house design. Draw up a plan and we will consider it, she said. My idea, for the record, was four single-wide trailers connected by tunnels. Mom demurred.
About that time, she put me on a plane, by myself, to visit her mother in Cleveland. She did not give me the Stranger Danger conversation. Rather, she said, “ask more questions than you answer.” Nearly 50 years later, I credit her with kickstarting not just a way of being, but a career as a journalist, asking questions for a living.
Mom instilled curiosity. She was resourceful. She was okay with being silly and spontaneous. She was okay being naïve.
Some examples have been rolling around in my head lately:
Around the dinner table, especially during the holidays, she always encouraged folks to have seconds or thirds as well as dessert. She told us that “Oh-poo-newy-newy” meant big fat belly in Hawaiian. I haven’t fact-checked that, but I’m holding it as true.
Often, before dessert, she would suggest we all raise our arms over our heads as a strategy to make a bit more room. Again, something she passed along as a truism.
Especially at holiday meals, she would often start the Nose Game, of putting one’s finger against one’s nose. Quiet-like. Not ostentatiously. When you saw this happening, you had to do it, too, because the last one to cop on would be doing the dishes. Finny on you!
It was usually Mom who started the singing of glasses, you know, when you run your finger around the rim of a glass? She would encourage a chorus of glasses and teach newcomers how it was done.
She was a coiner of phrases and gestures. For us kids, long before weed meant marijuana, it meant overexcitement. Excitement as in “wheeee!” Overexcitement as in, “it’s nothing to get wheeed up about.”
Mom struggled with the gesture of giving someone the middle finger, perhaps because she didn’t count the thumb as a finger, so which of four was the middle one? To help, we would advise her, routinely, in the heat of a conversation: “give ‘em all five, Mom, give ‘em all five!” And she did.
Years ago, she and I were driving to the Portland airport and we noticed that the symbol for it was PWM. Why the W, do you think, Mom?
She said, without hesitation: “Portland. Where? Maine.”
Her imagination, especially visually, was part of her being. She saw bears in trees, faces in clouds, smiles in buildings. Twigs and leaves were stickmen chasing monsters over the snow.
Mom believed in indulges and didn’t really care if they weren’t conventional indulgences. Hot dogs. Chicken gizzards. Bacon and cheese on apple pie. Potato chips in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Scenic routes. Naps. Taking the black bridge over the Androscoggin, which for those of you who don’t know it: it’s a one-car, one-way, one-at-a-time type of deal, with wooden planks through which you could see the river flowing fast.
She extended her indulgences and her love across species. Especially, as we all know, to dogs. They were her tribe. She gave them people names, sometimes after her favorite people, sometimes just because. Gus, Mike, Lark, Jess, Judy, Kate, Betsy, Barney.
She was at home outside, extending herself to animals, of course, but also to plants. There were long back-and-forths between her and Dad around cutting down a tree or not cutting down a tree. This was at ol Bess, in Harpswell, where the property had lots and lots of trees. One might even say too many trees. But she knew that a tree was life and was connected to everything around it. To hell with firewood or a clearer view of the water.
While walking in the woods, she noticed and went around spider webs, not because it was messy for her but because she appreciated their good and beautiful efforts.
In her therapy work, she nurtured the good stuff that emanates from dogs. She had the wisdom, in her training, of setting it up so her dogs could do their best work of comforting and being present. In her dying days then, it was so fitting that the dogs sat vigil even more diligently than us humans. She died with me, Sam, and Dad by her side but also with Monty, Tina, and Barney. Of this, she would have approved.