Hungry for life and art

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Pam with her niece Hailey, dog Abbey and cat Kahlua a few years ago.

Pam Crandall went to the ER at something like 3 a.m. yesterday morning. She’d only been home a few days from a scary heart surgery in the hospital in Burlington. It might be pneumonia; it might be something to do with her heart. Pam is 84 years old and as hungry for life as anyone I’ve ever met. No 10-year-old, no sparkling 20-something has anything on her. When I visited her this afternoon and mentioned that I was off to St. Augustine, Florida next week, she murmured that she’d always wanted to go there. Maybe, sometime….

Pam was born and raised in the hard scrabble town of Hardwick, Vermont, the oldest of three sisters. It was a small town full of granite quarries. One of her favorite stories of late has been her early morning walk around town when she was five. She visited the neighbors, and sat in the big leather chairs in the inn. Her mother was still alive then and the story glows with her presence when Pam, the child, got home.

Her mother died when she was still a kid, and her growing up was hard. But she found her way to the big city of Burlington and the University of Vermont, and became a school teacher. A few years later, she became a teacher in Europe where she taught the kids of diplomats and ex-pats to think, and took them to see Mark Morris dance.

I first met Pam 20-odd years ago on Daniels Pond where she had a house across from the place we were renting for the summer. She was a big woman with a thick blond braid down her back, a face that with the braid looked Scandinavian, a ready smile, and a mellifluous voice. The braid is gone. She’s  lost some inches, but she still has the smile and the voice. Today, when I write books and stories, I always show them to Pam because I know she’s read close to everything there is to read in English literature, and she’ll tell me what she thinks. When I retired, at 62, to write, and gave Pam my first book, she told me what I needed to know to write the next book, a better book. No one else managed to say it so I could hear it.

Pam is perhaps the only teacher I know whose students have kept in touch over the years, who have invited her to their homes and credited her with helping them find their way. They remember her toughness and discipline, and her enthusiasm for good writing, the arts, music, dance. When, in her seventies, she had a heart attack and stroke, she fought her way back—it took a year or more—but she wasn’t ready to die. There were too many songs, dances, pots and books in the world.

Pam is planning to go to Toronto this spring to see paintings that she’s only been able to admire in a book. I’m looking forward to her return. Who can I show the next manuscript to, if not to her? Who will go with me to three concerts a week this summer? Who will applaud wildly when someone on the stage hits a perfect long note?

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