Marshall is mostly remembered for sleeping on her porch all summer and winter on a daybed - a couch that could be used as a sofa by day and a bed by night. Her whole bedroom was out there - dresser, bureau and clothes hanging on a little line that stretched across the porch. During colder months she sported a goose down head covering and an electric blanket. Sometime during the mid-80's she asked a neighbor to install Venetian blinds on the inside of the screens to keep the snow off her bed. She longed to be immersed in nature's seasonal changes. Perhaps at slumber she listened to what someone referred to as the "rhythm of nature," the sound of storm buffeted hemlock branches or the whispers of night creatures. Perhaps she sought the wind on her face or was comforted by pinpricks of rain through the screens or the cold snaps of winter breezes seeking to penetrate her covering.
The cabin was always in "patch" repair because Marshall did not have the resources to maintain it. It offered easy access and egress for the wildlife that shared her premises. There were always squirrels in the house; visitors would watch them run along the rafters. A story is told of a flying squirrel that came in through a kitchen window during a fall storm. "'It's a flying squirrel!' she crowed. 'Isn't he a sweet little thing? Priscilla, it's a flying squirrel!'" It lived all winter in a cupboard, drinking water out of the sink. Come Spring, it returned to the wild. Marshall had possums, raccoons, cats, (she loved cats), all sorts of creatures in and around the place. She fed milk to skunks on the porch. Friends said that you would drive up to the cabin and there would be different critters sticking their heads out as if it were a Disney cartoon.
A neighbor noted that, some years ago, he was called by Marshall to fix a water problem. He inspected the pump in the basement to discover that it had been completely covered over with a mound of dirt. Apparently a raccoon had tired of the whirring noise of the pump and had covered it to shut it up, evidence of the ease with which animals could enter the premises. In 1988, a subsequent owner used 33 tubes of caulk to close all the openings in the cabin.
Honeybees came to be part of the folklore of Marshall's cabin. The bees took over one whole wall on the north side of the structure where the main entrance was located. Marshall was apathetic regarding these new dwellers. She didn't bother them and they apparently didn't bother her. She was never bothered by the innumerable mosquitoes either. She was perfectly content to let the bees live in the wall until they started migrating inside. She also began to be concerned about the stability of the wall that was full of heavy honey. She finally was resigned to call a beekeeper, no doubt with a great deal of remorse.
Marshall always carried nuts on her person for the squirrels. The cabin was full of nuts and her car was too. A young neighbor who visited Marshall commented that sweeping Marshall's cabin was akin to raking a forest floor. The cabin floor was littered with acorns and pine needles and all sorts of creature litter. Other than the floor, Marshall was considered a good housekeeper.
It is said that she loved her bourbon - being a Kentucky lady she even made bourbon balls for friends. She smoked for a short time, emulating a modern woman with a long cigarette holder, but later gave it up when she spent time with a pregnant friend. She had a passion for serious music and had an extensive collection of records, both classical and opera.
A colleague in the Granby library noted that Marshall was somewhat of a perfectionist and a "take charge" person who did not suffer fools gladly. Things pretty much had to be done her way and she was quick to point out any deviation. Yet the colleague described her as "well liked."
She was renowned for swimming, being the first one in the lake in the spring and the last one out in the fall. She would float/swim the length of the lake every day but she favored floating. She would drift awhile (composing her stories?), holding on to a submerged log or stump if she tired, then pushing off again.
From a religious perspective, Marshall believed that all people and all nature came together in God; all were somehow together within God's realm. She believed that you could commune with God just as well in the woods or by a river as you could in an organized setting.
During her stay on Lake Basile, adjacent land development necessitated the felling of several trees to make room for new cabins. Marshall was so upset at this turn of events that she had to leave and visit friends in Hartford. The "thump" of fallen trees was too much for her to bear.
A neighbor tells the story of riding with Marshall in her old beat up Ford coupe to gather wild strawberries in the nearby tobacco fields. The first order of business was to clear the books from the front seat. The car was always crammed full of books as if it were a rolling literary tag sale. What was interesting is that the passenger side floor was rotted out and you could watch the ground passing by underneath as you rode down the road.
Probably the story most often told about Marshall was an incident that took place in her bathroom. Next to the bathtub, there was an opening for a heat register that had been removed and patched. One morning, Marshall stepped out of the tub directly on to that patch. The repair gave way and she dropped into the dirt basement below. Gathering her wits about her, alone and cold on damp ground, but relieved that she was uninjured, her pulse danced when she thought of the door to the cellar being locked from the outside. In the dim light, she anxiously searched the area for something to force an exit. Finding a tool, she wedged it into the opening between the makeshift door and its frame. She popped it open, scampered outdoors and back into the cabin - and got dressed. She must have delighted in telling this story, for everyone knew about it.
Marshall's mother and father were the most important people in her life. They moved in with her during the early 1950's, the three of them sharing less space than a two car garage. Not only did they move in but both were in poor health. Her mother had had a stroke and her father suffered from glaucoma leading to partial blindness. Her mother slept inside on a small bed for 13 years until her passing in 1962. Her father slept on the porch until he died in 1960. Her parents were a big influence on her life but, counter intuitively, they were not readers; they were not book people. They were fully accepting of Marshall as a writer but did not have much interest in what she wrote.
While working at the Granby Library, Marshall originated a creative reading and writing program for children. She would gather old discarded books and the children would paste blank paper over the pages. Then they would write a story on those pages.
She invited all children in Granby, ages 4 - 14 to help celebrate Granby's 200th birthday, telling them that "You may have a part in giving your town a very special birthday present, one that only you can give. What is the present? It is a book. Who is going to write it? You are!" They could write anything that was part of their life in Granby. The resulting stories were later gathered together into a book entitled Granby is a Good Place to Live. This 69 page book, written and illustrated by more than 100 children, was placed in the library for general circulation.
Those who knew Marshall well said that she deserves a little statue someplace commemorating her special relationship with young people. She was very much tuned in to their anxieties and concerns. She had an insightful understanding, compassion and empathy for troubled children, so much so that it caused some to wonder if she had not experienced a troubled childhood herself. Two separate friends, who themselves had unsettled childhoods, gave thought to this possibility. Marshall never spoke of her childhood.
Hardy Kentucky woman, erudite writer, lover of books and children, content with her lot in life, more interested in the natural world than material possessions, quick to make fun of herself, maybe a little obstinate at times, Clara Deane Marshall was surely well liked and respected by all who knew her.
A eulogy befitting Marshall's character was excerpted from The Silver Robin and offered at her memorial service. The passage tells of a young bird learning from his elders how he will know when it is time to fly south for the winter.
"'Soon the leaves will fall to the ground. The trees will stand all bare bones. The grass will wither and die, and the snow will cover it. The catbird said, 'We don't cross the water.' We take our time on the Flight, and end up in the South of our own land. We like the climate there very well.'
"'Ho!' whirred a tiny humming bird. 'We don't stop there. We cross the great gulf. We fly out over the blue waters and we fly and we fly and we fly. And when night comes, and our wings are weary, there is the far Southland waiting for us, green and sunny and pleasant. By the way, I might as well say goodbye. I think I'll hear the Call tomorrow. I've had a sort of feeling all day - you know!'
"'The geese remind us that the Call will come soon.'
"'Well, what do you mean?'
"'You will know when the time comes,' the thrush told him solemnly. 'The Call is within yourself.'
"'How can you hear something inside of you?' asked Bobby [The Silver Robin] skeptically.
"'The Call is in your heart, it sounds in your ears, it is clear in your mind. You hear it in every feather.'
"Bobby thought that sounded very foolish and was about to say so when he straightened up suddenly. Wasn't there something odd going on inside of him that very minute? A sort of throbbing and beating all over him? Could it be the thing they were talking about - the Call?
"'For hundreds and thousands of years,' said the Silver Thrush, his warm and beautiful voice very clear, 'yes, and twice those thousands, and more years still, your forefathers and mine have heard the Call and obeyed it. Because they must.'
"The Call was coming. He could feel it running through his veins, singing in his light and hollow bones, lifting his strong wings. He was suddenly a-tingle with power. How he would fly through the night! He knew the night well, he had flown before in its soft black and silver, but not so far, not so long."
Marshall answered the Call on May 22, 1994. She is buried in the Granby cemetery.
< to previous article
Questions or comments?
Copyright 2003-2011 by BookThink LLC
Copyright 2003-2011 by BookThink LLC