This is a column I wish I didn’t have to write.
Lea Wait, one of my favorite people, finally lost her battle with cancer and passed on on Aug. 10. Just like the characters in her novels, she never gave up.
In her cramped study nestled in a storied house on the Eddy Road, she cranked out 24-plus charming mysteries set in New England. They featured women sleuths like Angie Curtis, who is the organizer of a needlepoint co op and Maggie Summer, a widow, who owns an antique shop on, surprise, the Coast of Maine. All good reads.
She had many friends in Boothbay, Edgecomb, Wiscasset and the rest of the Midcoast. Many knew her from her frequent talks in libraries, community groups, and schools as she lived a life that many wish for – that of a working writer on the Maine coast.
Lea knew that writing is tough, demanding work. Day after day, you have to sit down at a computer/typewriter/blank sheet of paper and put your thoughts down in a readable fashion.
Red Smith, the great New York sportswriter, had it right when he wrote: “Writing is easy. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”
Lea loved to talk about her work, her adoptive family, her husband, and the coast of Maine. But, her eyes would twinkle when she opened up about the home she inherited, the home the locals call the Marie Antoinette house. In a region where history is embedded in the DNA, her home is an icon.
It is a big square white house overlooking the Sheepscot and a 19th century fort that never fired a shot.
Lea told me it began its life across the river on Westport Island in 1774. Years later, it was purchased by a ship’s captain who floated it across the river on a barge, hitched it to a team of oxen and towed it up the hill.
Then the story comes to life in a tall tale that Lea said was part history, part legend, and part bunk.
Across the sea, Marie Antoinette, an Austrian princess, married King Louis XVI. It was during the French Revolution, a distressing time for members of the royal family. In 1793, she followed her husband's lead and went on a date with Madame Guillotine.
As the tale goes, the ship’s captain was in France and agreed to spirit the queen to America to escape the mob. Allegedly, her friends loaded some of her belongings on his boat, and he waited for her to arrive. When she didn’t show, the skipper just sailed away with her stuff and stashed it at his big house on the hill, and thus the legend began.
It was repeated in 1936 by Boothbay poet Charlotte Beath Brown.
“It stands upon an Edgecomb hill,
Clothed with an air of old romance.
The house that once, long years ago,
Was decked to greet a Queen of France.”
Lea’s family has owned the home since the 1950s. She has researched the legend, collected dozens of old newspaper clippings, and even has a dreadful historical novel promoting the tale. Lots of folks believe it.
Once, she said, a believer just waltzed into her kitchen, spouting a strange message. Another version has the Queen’s Persian cat mating with a local raccoon to create the first Maine coon cat. Some say Marie’s ghost, clad in a black cloak, prowls the house.
Lea, who made up mysteries for a living, would just laugh at the legends. Then with a twinkle in her eye, she would say something like: “But, you never know, do you?”
In the last few years, she struggled with treatment but kept working. Recently, Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library invited her to their annual book fair, and she sent her regrets. But, of course, she arranged to send a bunch of her books so her fans could buy one or two.
She knew what was coming, and knew, like all of us, that we have a date with St. Peter. We just don’t know when we are supposed to meet him at the gate.
But, Lea left us a present. In the blog of the Maine Crime group, she penned a charming farewell note. Here it is.
“Maybe it’s that smell of mud flats. Or the taste of lobster. Or sea breezes. Or just knowing that people lived here before we did, and survived, and that this world would also be there for those who came after us. And that, as my mother had written, no matter what ‘there’s still a quiet place.’
“Maybe we all find the place that brings us that peace and calm Maine has brought me.”
RIP dear lady. You are missed.