Remembering A Mighty Girl

Wights and Susan Isham

Susan (far right) with her Sunday River Inn family.

Recently, on the Facebook page “A Mighty Girl,” I read about several strong, self-sufficient women who took on the world in different ways. At the age of 67, Emma Gatewood became the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Drew Gilpin Faust is the 28th president of Harvard University. Maggie Doyne opened an orphanage in Nepal at the age of 19.

“A Mighty Girl” highlights inspirational female role models of the past and present, from Marie Curie to Malala Yousafzai, and encourages girls to “be the leaders, the heroes, the champions that save the day, find the cure, and go on the adventure.”

On Friday afternoon, in a tragic automobile accident, our community lost a mighty girl.

With her wide smile, indomitable spirit, and huge heart, Susan Isham was a friend to everyone she knew…and she knew everyone.

Easygoing, professional, and dedicated, she was a sought-after food service employee who made hospitality an art form.

She worked at the Sunday River Inn for more years than I can count, starting when she was a teenager and eventually becoming its ultra-capable manager. She could take reservations, rent skis, fold towels, and make dinner for 60—all at the same time, if needed.

As a single mother, she taught her daughter the value of self-reliance, as she taught it by example to everyone she knew. I doubt she ever realized just how many people she inspired with her capability, strength, and positive attitude.

As strong and self-sufficient as she was, Susan was also incredibly generous with her time and resources. She was a tireless community volunteer, and she never turned away anyone in need. She fed them, counseled them, and restored their spirits, and when she sent them back out into the world, they knew that someone had their back.

She stayed in her hometown for nearly all of her life and made treasured and lasting connections with her community. She was a loving mother, grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter.

My niece Sara, who grew up with Susan at the Sunday River Inn, wrote, “You have been so much a part of our family over the years and we are all the better for having felt your love, grace, and optimism. May your family find peace in the prayers of all the hearts you have filled in your too-short lifetime. Godspeed to your spirit!”

No one whose life was touched by the spirit of this mighty girl will ever forget her.

Sitting right here, watching the leaves turn color


I wrote this three years ago on Columbus Day, when we were pushing back hard against the end of summer, and stayed at camp until mid-October. This year, we moved home three weeks earlier, on September 21. We had fall projects to tackle, and the nights were turning cold; a few mornings in the 20s have convinced us it was the right decision. But yesterday afternoon, with the temperature reaching 70 degrees, the sun shining, and the fall foliage as beautiful as I’ve ever seen it, I couldn’t resist spending a little time at camp. I went for a last kayak paddle around the lake, then I sat on Sunny Rock for a while…just sat right there and watched the leaves turn color.    

October 8, 2012

One year, when I was about thirteen or fourteen, on the evening before we were to leave to return to Connecticut from Maine at the end of the summer, as we ate our last camp supper on the screened porch, my mother looked out at the lake and said, in an almost defiant tone, “Some year, I’m going to sit right here and watch the leaves turn color.

I was a teenager—self-absorbed, unsympathetic, dismissive. I wasn’t thrilled about leaving camp, either, but hey—at least I’d get to see my friends, and school might not be too bad this year, and there would probably be some boy on whom to develop an unrequited crush. It was the end of the summer, not the end of the world.Leaves_2012_2

A year or two later, as we were packing up to leave again at the end of another summer, my mother sighed. “This year was going to be the year when I would get to sit right here and watch the leaves turn color.” It must have been 1974, the year my father would have turned 62, the year he would have planned to retire and move back to Maine. They would have stayed on at camp as long as they wanted to that fall—sitting right there, watching the leaves turn color—then relocated for the winter to the snug little year-round home “on a hill in Bethel” that they had always talked about.

Fate, in the form of unexpected widowhood, then my (equally unexpected) arrival, intervened. My mother eventually did retire to Bethel, in 1982, but I don’t think she ever really did get to “sit right here and watch the leaves turn color.” She plunged directly into a hectic retirement schedule that included volunteering, church activities, bridge club, and babysitting (she was “Gramma Wight” to half the families in Bethel), and by Labor Day it was time to get back to her house in town before things fell completely apart without her.

Now that I live three miles away from camp, I’ve been pushing back against the end of summer just a little harder every year. Last year we moved home from camp on September 29th, and we’ve already beaten that by over a week this year. Of course, we’ve had a fire going in the woodstove almost steadily for several weeks, and we’ve probably burned at least two cords of wood that should probably have been earmarked for heating our “real” house during the “real” heating season. But when you’re married to a logger, wood seems cheap and plentiful (it’s not, really) and it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to heat a drafty, uninsulated summer camp in order to squeeze a couple more weeks from the season. (Next year, we’re thinking, with some insulation in the roof and walls, we could target November first. In the more distant future, with new windows, and some heat tape on the water line, could we make it to Thanksgiving?)


We’re planning to move home this coming weekend—really! I know I’ve been saying that for the past two or three weeks, but every day I see something—a sunset, a flock of noisy geese, the full moon reflected in a lake that’s as still as a mirror—that makes me think, if we had moved home yesterday, we’d have missed this. Life is so much simpler here that it’s hard to think about leaving.

Besides, I’m doing it for Mom…sitting right here, watching the sun set. And the moon shimmer on the water. And the leaves turn color.