Farewell to Barbara Chapman Maxson
January 9, 2017
Young Barbara Chapman at Green Lake
My first defining memory of Aunt Barbara (AKA Muff) was my 10th birthday – a small gathering of family at the Bangor House, including the twin pillars of Bangor Society social pathology, my Mother and Grandmother. The scene was set in the family business/home, the Bangor House. Muff was pregnant with Cousin Whitney, around 40 years old and subjected to the relentless invective about her condition that only this pair could produce. Barbara seemed to glide above it all, untroubled by their taunts, and uniquely focused on the actual purpose for the party – my birthday. She got me a present – a book about medieval squires – which I absolutely loved. She treated the family hecklers as a kind of low-brow Greek chorus – singing in the background, but largely ignored by the protagonists. It was an amazing performance at the time, and remains so 51 years on.
Bangor House, the Family Home and Business
In pulling the material for this blog, I spoke to the family about Barbara, and what she meant to them. I was amazed that all of the stories were so similar, but about things that we had never discussed before. Brother David put it most succinctly, “She was the only woman that I ever knew who was always nice to me”.
Barbara and John Maxson
Barbara and John Chapman
In terms of maternal role models, Barbara was handed a pretty tough row to hoe – Ethel Chapman was no day at the beach. She seemed determined to rise above it all, and be something very different – and she was. Every story and impression from all the family members was about her kindness, humor and wit. Barbara had a way of cutting to the core of a problem with a couple of words or a look – never a minute of haranguing, and never any list.
She was a social creature – loving fun people and good times. She was dragged into the Maine wilderness, first by her father and then by her brother, in what can only be described as a difficult relationship with raw nature. She had the unusual ability to bend nature into a social gathering, mitigating the negative effects of bugs, hunger and privation that define the authentic Chapman-based wilderness experience.
I remember skiing with her just once – I was in the fourth grade. She came to Sugarloaf, and we were skiing on old Number 4 T-bar. Barbara managed to slow our normally frenetic pace of skiing to a gradually unfolding social event on the mountainside. She stopped and talked with all of the friends that came by, and there were dozens. The day morphed into a slowly evolving downhill conversation, with constantly changing players, but amazingly consistent themes.
Barbara & team rafting on the Penobscot
For me, it is impossible to separate memories of Muff from Green Lake – somehow the place defines her. Dad tells stories of their childhood with a dozen neighborhood friends on Chapman Road, playing endlessly as kids; first growing up and then old with the same group of friends. She came back with her family every summer when we were kids, and we spent as much time as we could with our cousins, tormenting our shared grandmother and delighting in the pleasures of kids in the summer on a lake in Maine.
Barbara took over the camp at Green Lake with the passing of my Grandparents, and the place transformed from a solitary locus of alcoholic exile for my Grandmother, to a mobbed summer hostel of visitors great and small. Willie Nelson said,” Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” And so it was at Green Lake under new management. The door was always open, the float accommodating for swimmers, and the grill ready for a load of burgers – simply delightful.
Always room at the Inn at Maxson Point
I showed up for a swim one August day, with a squad of hungry and sweaty folks, having just finished a day climbing at Mt Desert Island. We had a bunch of climbing gear, and just happened to have a couple of chainsaws – we never left home without them. She offered to feed us all, if we would flatten a bunch of trees that were obstructing her view of the lake. Feeding us is no mean feat, and we instantly took her up on her offer. We had a ball, and I never remember seeing her happier.
Green Lake in autumn
Barbara at Dad’s 85th
John & Barbara; Siblings & Lifelong Friends
Last time together
The last time that I saw Aunt Muff was at Green Lake, for a lobster feed after a fund-raiser bike ride for the Cancer Center in Brewer. There was a great team of children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and an errant Hopkins; she and Dad had the crew in stitches telling stories of the family – fiasco canoe trips, misanthropic mother stories and a million tales of growing up. It was a wonderful way to say goodbye.
Adios Muff, Sunset from Green Lake