On Sunday evening, Oct. 25, Sheila Paine died peacefully at her home in Portland, Maine, in the company of her beloveds Judith Steinhauer and Lisa Foley. Together with Judith, Lisa and the capable and compassionate Hospice of Southern Maine team, Sheila was able to depart the way she had lived, quietly, on her own terms.
Sheila was born in Brookline, Mass., on May 2, 1927, the first daughter of Ellen P. (Eliot) and Richard C. Paine. Thanks to a timely visit from Ellery Sedgwick (Uncle Celery), Sheila was spared her mother’s name choice of “Peony” in favor of Mr. Sedgwick’s suggestion. Within 19 months Sheila was joined by twins Richard and Sylvia. From the start Sheila and Sylvia were very close, sharing books and stories, while Sheila acted the big sister with school help and recitation rehearsals. Sheila was always grateful to Sylvia for being what she perceived as the little girl of their mother’s dreams, enjoying dolls and dresses, parties and politeness. From a very young age Sheila was sure she wanted none of that, as she demonstrated by taking a pair of scissors to a lace-collared velvet dress and cutting it into shreds! Sheila always imagined Sylvia’s more feminine ways played a big role in her parents’ willingness to allow Sheila to be true to her tomboy self, pursuing her pleasures of tree climbing (she climbed up into a giant beech tree during the 1938 New England Hurricane), riding her pony and horse and bicycling. Sheila and Sylvia had a deep and enduring love and friendship throughout their lives.
Sheila’s parents were avid travelers and spent the winter months abroad on land and sea. As a result, Bella (Miss Isabella Kerr) was hired to care for the children in their parents’ absence. Bella became a cherished member of the family. Time and time again, Sheila spoke of the love and tenderness shared with Bella, of the times Bella cheered her on poolside while she learned to swim at the Northeast Harbor Club and of the small tokens of affection (a rock, flower, leaf) gathered up by Sheila, Sylvia and Richard and placed on Bella’s bed as a welcome-home greeting at the end of her day off. Bella’s memory lives on through a host of tender stories shared by Sheila, along with a doll named in her honor that has been played with by three generations so far.
Other joys in Sheila’s life were her school years at the Park and Winsor schools, and summer sessions in New Hampshire at Camp Asquam. Sheila shone with delight when she spoke of those early years and of the magic and wonder of adventure and learning: be it the memory of Miss Cunningham, drama instructor, imploring the girls to “act as if” or Miss Todd presenting the next book to be read in literature class. Sheila recalled the moment of the new book’s introduction as if part of a sacred ceremony, with Miss Todd holding the crisp, new volume carefully in both hands, reaching out toward the young women, the smell of the fresh paper carrying through the air. With the introduction of the new text, Miss Todd created a whole world for her students, a place of curiosity and reverence, of wonder and discovery. This invitation led to Sheila’s lifelong love of reading and books and libraries.
Another of the great joys of Sheila’s life were the times spent with her father. For Sheila, Mr. Paine was a fellow maverick encouraging her to be herself despite her nontraditional ways. From him she learned the pleasure of exploration and novelty, of curiosity and diversity. Sheila and her Pa could be found tending his garden at the farm on Heath Street, making birdhouses together in his workshop, learning to tie knots and to sail in Manchester, Mass., and Maine. She often recalled being sick in bed when Mr. Paine arrived home from his office and without stopping for his usual routines, he would dart up to Sheila’s room, holding his hands ceremoniously tucked behind his back. After carefully choosing a hand, Sheila would be presented with the gift of a new book for her convalescence, Mr. Paine having made a special stop at the Old Corner Bookstore on his way home.
Mrs. Paine, Mama, had her special ways with Sheila, instilling a great love of reading and travel. Sheila recalled numerous trips to concerts and theater with her mother as well as trips to New York and Washington, D.C., and journeys to France and Scandinavia. On one fateful trip to New York City, Buttons and Spot, Sheila’s treasured stuffed dogs, got mixed into the hotel laundry at the Waldorf Astoria. Mrs. Paine made numerous calls until they were located and mailed home to Heath Street fresh and clean from their adventure. Sheila also followed in her mother’s footsteps creating a “magic closet,” a cache of books, treats, small gifts for those moments when someone near and dear was unwell or feeling forlorn.
Throughout her life Sheila had a quiet, attentiveness about her. This way of being came in handy when she was chosen for the part of the Virgin Mary in the Park School Christmas play with the doll Bella as the infant Jesus. Sheila was praised for her ability to sit still and silent in the creche for long periods of time. Another of her young triumphs was having won the waltz competition with dance partner Dicky Hall, who had been her summer childhood playmate in Manchester. Sheila took great pride in this despite her protestations about participating in formal ballroom dance classes.
A stellar moment in her life was meeting Eleanor Roosevelt at Hyde Park as one of a group of volunteers at a summer work camp. She never forgot the true interest Mrs. Roosevelt showed in speaking with each girl. At another work camp, in rural Kentucky, Sheila and her brother Richard had built latrines and she recalled the horror of seeing a young boy, the first in line to try the new latrine, jackknifing and falling straight down into the hole.
Always interested in service projects, Sheila found a new and special home for herself at Pendle Hill Quaker Community in Wallingford, Pa. While attending Swarthmore College she had made her way to nearby Pendle Hill. After transferring from Swarthmore to Goddard College in Vermont, Sheila returned to Pendle Hill and stayed there for 10 years, thriving in the company of independent thinkers and the pleasure and satisfaction of sharing in the community chores, especially washing the pots and pans and changing sheets when a new group arrived.
It was at Goddard College that Sheila met her cherished friends Amy L. Hart and Paulus Berensohn. The three kept up a lively lifelong correspondence. Both artists, Amy and Paulus decorated their envelopes and letters with elegant designs and graphics, images of animals, mythological beings and imaginary creatures. Postal workers delighted in handling them for
delivery! Sheila’s letters to Amy and Paulus were filled with descriptive details of the goings-on around her, the natural world which she observed so closely and the antics of dear friends, neighbors and family. Paulus died in 2017 and the absence of his letters left a hole in her life. While Sheila wrote Amy a last letter in her still elegant and unique handwriting just a few weeks before her own death.
Sheila and Judith began their 58 years together as devoted life companions in Pipersville, Pa. There they gardened, read, wrote, walked the country roads, took the bus from nearby Flemington, N.J., to New York City to attend plays, exhibits and concerts and rejoiced in the births of their nieces and nephews. Sheila often recalled the birth of her niece Isabel Constable and her alertness and curiosity from her very first moments. Sheila and Judith also traveled extensively, planning one special trip to Greece during the short winter days in the Northeast Harbor Library on Mount Desert Island. Sheila and Judith left Pipersville for Maine, finally settling in Portland.
Beginning in her teens and throughout her life Sheila practiced healthy living through nutrition and exercise, guided by the writings of Adelle Davis, Robert Rodale and Dr. Andrew Weil. Sharing her father’s curiosity for the new and improved, she relished ordering five-pound jars of organic peanut butter from Walnut Acres, and planting rows of Johnnies organic kale seeds in her Maine garden. The record would be incomplete without mention of her love of kale! To the amazement of doctors, with only one major surgery Sheila maintained a clean bill of health for most of her 93 years without relying on pharmaceuticals.
But far and away Sheila’s favorite place on earth was Moose Island Bar, the Paine family property in Seal Cove. For Sheila, Moose Island Bar was idyllic from the start. She treasured childhood memories of sleeping in the boat house with her older brother Walter and of waking up in fits of laughter at the sight of a mouse floating in his bedside potty. Together Sheila and Walter built their own boat, the Buttertub, and rowed around the cove together. Another favorite memory of Sheila’s was of planting trees on treeless Moose Island with her mother. The Forest Service provided Mrs. Paine with a large number of tiny spruce seedlings. As luck would have it, Mrs. Paine kept sheep on the island. Looking out at the now densely forested island, Sheila often recalled her role in the planting. Using a spoon, she would dig a small hole into the earth and carefully insert a single sheep dropping. Mrs. Paine, with the steady help of Albert Hodgdon, took it from there.
Perhaps the greatest gift she received in her life came in the late 1950s when her Popsie decided to have a house of her own built for her at Moose Island Bar, with their plan drawn up by the architect Roger Griswold. Together, sitting for hours on the shore, they planned every detail. Once the house was complete, Sheila set about building her wall of privacy with the planting of rugosa rose bushes urged on by the addition of mounds of horse manure and seaweed. Privacy was so essential to Sheila that she devised a surveillance system using a footstool and a child’s plastic periscope to monitor what was going on beyond the rose bushes and, at the far end of the house, she tied an escape rope leading up the embankment into the woods and out of sight!
Along with the extraordinary beauty of the place, Sheila greatly admired the people of Seal Cove and the surrounding areas. Moose Island Bar had been cared for by three generations of the Norwood/Hodgdon families with the last members of the family, Marnie (Marvin) and Craig McIntire, becoming two of her dearest friends. Later, with the arrival of Larry Albee and Gary Farley, Sheila welcomed and appreciated the kindness and skill of a new generation of caretakers.
Later in life Sheila met Lisa Foley and they began the 24-year chapter of their relationship. Together they enjoyed cooking (Sheila delighting in being sous-chef), reading Lydia Davis’s stories aloud, singing, and gardening. They spent most all of their summers at Moose Island and many winters together in Montecito, Calif. Some of their sweetest memories were of sharing a glass of wine in the small boat house adjacent to Sheila’s house. There was no finer place to be together and watch the sunset.
On Sundays throughout much of her life, Sheila could be found under a mound of newspapers. She was an avid reader of the NYT, Boston Globe and Maine Sunday Telegram, along with assorted familiar and offbeat magazines and journals. She was also a clipper, sharing her juicy finds with friends and family around the world.
Sheila had a deep appreciation for the written work of Willa Cather, Henry James and Edith Wharton, as well as Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh and Alan Watts, and the dance theater of Martha Graham. When she was hospitalized late in her life, she asked to have a Willa Cather book brought to her bedside. She considered an old familiar volume or a fresh stack of new books to be among life’s greatest joys and comforts.
As a young woman she struggled with her mother’s traditional beliefs and values, but later in life Sheila came to have great tenderness and affection for her mother. The struggle to be herself and her mother’s resistance gave way to a wonderful affection and mutual respect. With age Sheila became more and more like her Mama, thinking nothing of inviting guests to leave after a brief 20-minute visit!
Sheila Paine was predeceased by her parents and by her brothers Walter C. Paine and Richard C. Paine Jr. She is survived by her sweethearts Judith Steinhauer of Portland, Maine, and Lisa Foley of Montecito, Calif., her sister Sylvia P. Constable, brother C. W. Eliot Paine and his wife Linda, sister-in-law Barbara Moyer and numerous wonderful nieces, nephews and grand-nieces and nephews.
Judith and Lisa would like to extend their gratitude for the loving care and attentiveness given to Sheila by Dr. Roger Inhorn, Dr. Dustin Sulak, Dr. Allison Gorman and the extraordinary team at Hospice of Southern Maine. A remembrance of Sheila’s life will be planned for the summer of 2021 on Mt. Desert Island. Please make any gifts in Sheila’s memory to your local food bank, homeless shelter or rural library. That would truly delight her.