Blanche DuBois (circa 1985)

Richard Gonci
Of all the 1,100-plus lakes in New Hampshire, including Lake Winnipesaukee (which is actually more like a mini inland-sea) none is more entrancing than Lake Sunapee. It is 11 miles long. And it recently boasted the world’s largest Star-class fleet of racing sailboats.

Stars are gorgeous. They are crewed by two, but, from a distance, they truly look like much more stately craft. Their proportions are perfect even to the eye of a landlubber. They are hauled after every race, lest some nasty nautical nemesis grow on their pristine hulls, even from week to week, and thus slow them down. They were once an Olympic class, as any denizen of these waters might remind you.

The unfathomable depths of this proud water body were once home to legendary golden trout. This freshwater beauty, living at a depth of about 400 feet, attracted anglers the world around as it grew to great size, living unmolested year after year. This was in the time before “acid rain.”

So it came that I, too, was attracted to this bucolic retreat, just two hours drive from my home office in Cambridge, Mass. After a particularly brutal winter’s workload, I researched possible long-term seasonal rentals, where I might decamp for longer periods than just weekends. My notion was to find a setting where I could work remotely for three or four days a week. Now, this was 1985, mind you, so I decided I would have to install a fax line as well as having a phone line – no cell phones to speak of back then.

Ultimately, I found the perfect setting. A lonely beachfront cottage on a private estate. One bedroom. Nice little living room with a fireplace. Adequate kitchen and bathroom. Excellent porch. The owners allowed me to install my two phone lines, though, as old Yankee blue bloods, they were bemused. My rental period was Memorial Day through Labor Day.

As it happened, this setting was also home to one of America’s proudest Star racing families. When I arrived to take occupancy, their newest hull was sitting proudly atop its trailer in the circular driveway. Their youngest son took one look at me and went all agog. I was a mere 5 feet 9 inches tall, but I was also a 200-pound offshore rowing champion. Absolutely perfect as the mate to the captain of a Star boat. I was short enough to duck under the boom, heavy enough to hike out, and strong enough to grind. He inferred this because I showed up with not one, but two, rowing shells atop my beloved Saab 900 Turbo.

My little piece of heaven happened to reside in a cove. Directly across from me was the campus of a very private “dry-out” hospital for the ultra-privileged. Some were so privileged that a number of their clientele was flown in via the hospital’s private seaplane. Robin’s-egg-blue fuselage and a pusher-prop. How oddly romantic, given its chore.

My porch happened to face their facility square on. On the occasion of my second decampment, there came a night when I was sitting out on my porch at dusk drinking some Wild Turkey 101. Having just taken a dip, I was lounging in my Speedo trunks. In 1985, I was worthy of lounging in Speedo trunks. In any event, I withdrew inside soon thereafter, made some nondescript meal presumably, and probably retired with a good book, as I had neither cable nor companion.

My usual morning ritual is to start my coffee brewing just as I prepare to enter my shower. I am not fit company for myself, much less anyone else, without my shower. Upon finishing my ablutions, I know that I will be rewarded with my rich caffeinated brew. Thus it was that morning, a Saturday, as I recall. Donning a robe, which was not always the case given my cabin’s location, I went out into the kitchen. There, I had an unexpected encounter.

At my screen door was an apparition. The screen of the screen door became as a theatrical scrim with the early morning light behind it, revealing to me a post-middle-aged woman all akimbo.

I should mention here that the middle ground between my little hideaway and the sanctum sanctorum sanitarium comprised a vined-jungle thick with brambles, well over 400 yards long. My unexpected guest was clothed in night garments, riven and torn by her sojourn. The strands of her once-proud long locks had been unwoven as if at the hands of mad children. All that was once grace and dignity was now unraveling. And, there she was at my door.

For a moment, there we stood. Taking the measure of one another. I did not need to play detective to know from whence she had come. The “why” was another matter. When I recovered my wits, I opened the door and invited her in.

Sliding a chair back for her from my Spartan dining table I bade her to sit down. “I’ve got coffee just brewed… would you care for some?” I blurted.

“Young man,” she replied, “I saw you lounging on your porch last night, sipping something that wasn’t coffee. And you were a fine sight to see. I resolved to come visit you. I would enjoy some coffee, but could you see your way clear to put just a dollop of whatever amber fluid you were drinking in my cup? And will you sit with me while I sip it? And then will you go make that call that you I and I know you have to make.”

I sat down and rocked back on my chair a bit. I thought of all the reasons why I probably should not honor her request. All the theologies of substance abuse. All of the absolute proscriptions conjured up by those who always know what’s better for everybody else.

And then I remembered Tennessee Williams’ play, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and a certain Blanche DuBois. And I did what was asked of me. For I also remembered the great line: “… for I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” In the play, this line is filled with irony. But, in her case, and in that moment, the “kindness of a stranger” was of paramount importance.

As it happened, once a dram was had, we went by mutual decree to my lovely Saab, opened the moon roof, and drove fully the long way around the lake, under a blessedly bright and warming sun, back to her usual place of residence. I drove much more slowly than the car was capable of, or the speed limit dictated. We “drank” in all those lovely lakeside miles together.

When Richard lived on a houseboat in Boston’s Fort Point Channel, he spent seven years restoring a 1939 53-foot Elco Tri-Cabin. He now owns a 1979 26-foot Paceship, which “Practical Sailor” called “the most pimped-out Paceship in America.” She lies in Beacon Marine Basin in Gloucester, Mass.

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