Someone stopped me recently on the cart path, confirmed that I was who she thought I was, and told me she enjoyed my work.
Then, hesitantly, she asked me about the monument in the city green area off Willowbend Road. She had noticed that the name on it was also Satterthwaite.
When I told her it was a memorial to our daughter Alice, she apologized for having brought up what she supposed was a painful subject.
It is not, of course, and I told her so. I’m always grateful for an opportunity to share memories of the sweet child who blessed our lives for 17 short years, so long ago.
Our conversation made me realize that so much of our population moved here long after Alice’s time, and others may have wondered about that pillar in the park.
May I tell you about it?
Alice was our second-born, a chunky extrovert with a head of brown hair and a smile that wouldn’t quit. Mary, two years older, was the strong-willed intellectual, and Jean, who came along two years after Al, was the happy-go-lucky athlete.
“Alice is a happy,” Mary used to say of her cheerful baby sister.
Alice was the domestic one, mother of dolls Mary barely glanced at; nurse who cared tirelessly for her daddy after surgery; soft-voiced homebody whose room was always neat, whose life was always organized.
She idolized Mary, and was never hurt that her own considerable artistic skills were overshadowed by her sister’s accomplishments. And she patiently minded her impetuous little sib, whose daring on skates and in deep water often edged her toward disaster.
To her daddy, “Alice Alligator” was first-mate and partner. One of the first boats he built required someone to hold the nuts on the inside while he tightened the bolts joining deck to hull. That little girl lay on her back in the cramped bow for what must have seemed an eternity, gripping the pliers with all her strength.
Some of our best family stories involves Dave, Alice, and a boat. He loved to kayak on the little rivers of the New Jersey pine barrens, and when Allie was about four she crewed for him on an early spring outing. Winter storms had thrown tree trunks across the stream, but the one that stopped them was submerged and invisible.
So Dave used his paddles against the log to raise some of his weight off the kayak-seat, and pushed. The boat lurched forward. In a split second, Dave was in the water.
When he surfaced, the boat was upside down, and there was no sign of his little girl.
He knew she was wearing a child-sized life jacket — but where was she? He dived, searched frantically, seeing nothing in the tea-colored tannic water.
Almost beside himself, at last he raised the kayak, and there she was, bobbing calmly inside the hull, just waiting for him to find her.
The water was icy. Somehow, he got the shivering child back to the car, where he stripped her and wrapped her in an old blanket, the only dry covering he could find. They sped 25 miles home.
My first inkling of trouble was when he burst into the house and tore upstairs with Alice to the bathroom, yelling to me to make hot tea.
For years after, she remembered the adventure as the time “Daddy and I drank tea in the bathtub.”
Artist, writer, singer, friend to children, Alice was at the brink of gentle womanhood when she was diagnosed with a cancer she would not survive. She asked us for, as she put it, a “thing” for a memorial, rather than a scholarship.
President Doug Mitchell of the development company (later PCDC) at about the time Alice died, and although a stranger to us, stopped by to express sympathy. He offered any site we might wish to choose for a memorial.
We ultimately selected the little park behind the house where we lived then, and Doug deeded to us a 50-by-50-foot square in the middle of it. He lent workers and a truck to haul in a few rocks, and we set the broken obelisk — representing an interrupted life — in the middle.
A dear friend, whose baby daughter was born that very day, April 7, 1977, planted the pink azaleas that still bloom around the monument, and Al’s chum Tommy Meaders planted crocuses at its base.
The lines on the column are from some of her poems, the plant a detail from a drawing she had made in school. A beloved Sunday School teacher wrote the words we chose as an inscription: “Never to have known her would have been the greater loss.”
If you are one who did know her, you’ll find it hard to believe she has been gone so long. We miss her still, of course, most of all on those rare occasions that her sisters are home and the incompleteness of our family is most evident.
Grief has faded to wistful disappointment. Had she lived, we’d have grown grandchildren. We thought that in losing Alice, we lost our connection with tomorrow.
But two little boys in Virginia will more than fill that gap.