ROCKLAND — Penny I. Waldron left this mortal world on December 17, her children at her side, to be reunited with her family waiting in heaven.
“I was born to be a mother. I never questioned it, I just did it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
Motherhood was her mission in life, and she wore it as a badge of honor. But how does one condense a lifetime of memories and accomplishments in so many words? Penny overcame severe adversities from her childhood to her later years in life, but never let them define her – in fact, it was those very challenges that made her the strong and complex woman she was, and remained until the end, a proud and fiery spirit with ocean blue eyes that sparkled like sun on water, a smile you wanted to please, a laugh you wanted to hear more often, and a quick wit and cutting sense of humor.
A Maine girl to the core, she wasn’t one for pretensions or snobbery, and you always knew where you stood. Intensely private, and with a temperament like the weather that ebbed and flowed with the tides – mostly sunny one moment, partly cloudy the next – she prided herself in calling it like it was, and like it or not, chances are you had probably thought what she alone dared to say. Should you dare cross the line, woe be to those at the end of her pointed finger and steely glance that could whither the staunchest of opponents, but it was the deafening silence that followed that spoke volumes.
Penny was born Sept. 22, 1944, the second daughter of John and Bessie (Critch) O’ Sullivan. Growing up on Crescent Street in postwar Rockland, Penny learned thrift and the value of money when she saved her money to buy a winter coat she had admired in a downtown store window, putting a quarter down every week until she had paid for it. At the same time, her compassion for those less fortunate than she was evident when she and a friend raised enough money to purchase a television set for an elderly neighbor.
After her brother Sonny’s death at the end of the Korean War, Penny’s steadfast devotion to caring for her mother, Bessie O’Sullivan, became the standard she expected of us, and of which she deserved. She was proud to mother her younger sister, Darla, whom she adored and helped raise, and who spent many memorable years with Penny and her family snowmobiling and camping.
At a young age she met Richard Waldron, a lobsterman from Spruce Head. They soon married and moved to Spruce Head where they made their home on the water, raised a family of four, two of them twins. One of Penny’s greatest surprises came as she went into early labor with her third child. Dr. Fuller came into her hospital room and said, Penny, I’m not very happy with you! Mom asked her whatever was wrong, and Fuller replied, Your having twins! And Mom said, And YOU’RE unhappy? Bringing them both home and watching them grow up alongside Elaine and Angela was among her happiest years.
The bulk of Penny’s time was spent keeping house and transporting the kids in her station wagon to various after school activities, and later, after-school jobs. She was particularly proud of her son Jeff’s paper route, and enjoyed managing his customers and driving him around on rainy and snowy days. The highlight of her week was Saturday trips to Rockland with the kids, where they’d do errands before meeting her mother Bessie at Newberry’s lunch counter for hot dogs and unlimited cups of coffee. As the kids got older, she’d take them to breakfast at Dave’s Diner or lunch at the Salad Patch as a special treat, and more often than not indulged her sweet tooth with impromptu trips to the Keag’ Store for Heath Bars and evening ice-cream runs to Edwards and Dorman’s.
Penny was proud of her home with its view of Spruce Head Island, and she loved filling it with the antiques she bought on flea market expeditions with her children and Darla. Her fascination with those remnants of the past filled the house, flow-blue dishes, a spinning wheel, dry sink, butter churns, and her salt collection, and inspired her children to follow suit with their own collecting interests. Since she financed her collecting by picking crabmeat every week for her own spending money or extras for the kids (one week she picked 90 boxes), she’d offer whomever was up to knuckle picking a chance to earn some fast cash and save her the tedious task.
Penny’s spare time was at a premium, but she always found time to read. She loved to walk on Patten Point and Spruce Head Island, pick up sand dollars on the beaches, and, ever productive, work in her rock garden, sew, knit, crochet, and embroidery afternoons while watching her soaps, and found great pleasure in caring for her pets and bird and squirrel friends.
As adults, whenever one of us girls complained about having to cook, Mom liked to remind us that while raising us she prepared three squares a day “from scratch”, including nightly desserts, Sunday dinners, and a double batch of chocolate chip or her specialty, molasses cookies, every other day. She baked and decorated special birthday cakes for each kid, and took great pains to make sure the presents were thoughtful and unique to each one. She made sure her kids knew how to manage a household and alongside Richard taught them the honor of hard work, integrity, and the value of money. Mom not only nursed us when sick, but unbeknownst to us at the time, occasionally let us fall so we could pick ourselves up in preparation for life ahead.
She treasured her time with Marguerite Harmon, her late mother-in-law, whose home in Rockland and on Sennebec Lake in Union was a sanctuary for all, and loved joking around with Nannie’s husband, “Baldy” and making popcorn balls at Christmas. She also enjoyed many fun holidays hosted at Pepper Hill Farm in South Thomaston and camping at Damariscotta Lake with Uncle Bud and Aunt Verna Baum. Many a snowy winter evening was spent playing cards with best friend and neighbor Karen (Waldron) Thompson, Nanny Waldron, and the kids.
Travel with her family held a special place in her heart. One summer it was to Wyoming and the Dakotas, towing the camper behind the station wagon, infant twins and all, frequent trips to the hunting camp downeast, foliage runs to Vermont, camping at Mic Mac, working on her sun tan and eating Lays potato chips at Drift Inn and Lucia beaches, Florida in the winter over school break, Disneyland in California, and the family finale: the six-week eleven thousand mile summer trip to Alaska in the truck and camper, with three teenagers.
In the early 1990s, Penny met long-time partner Jon van Kammen and later moved to Wisconsin to be with him. Before long, they moved to Maine and made their home in Warren. Penny became caregiver to Jon during the three months he spent in intensive care at Maine Medical, living in a local hotel so she could spend every day at his side, and then upon return home until his death. Both of them worked for many years at The Lodge in Lincolnville, where Penny made many long-time friends among the repeat customers who asked for her personally every year.
We always asked her how she managed, and she’d say, I’m not sure, we were just kids ourselves and did the best we could. Thank you, Mom, and God bless our precious mother, sister, and best friend, who did better than she ever thought possible.
She leaves behind her four children: daughter Elaine Waldron of Damariscotta and her partner Glen Genthner of Round Pond, daughter Angela Waldron and her husband Jim Lightcap of Union, son Jeff Waldron and his three children Emmaline, Matthew, and Nina Waldron of Thomaston, daughter Jennifer Waldron and husband Luke Wooster of Waldoboro, sister Darla Carpenter and son-in-law Andrew of Owls Head, and many nieces and cousins.
She was predeceased by partner Jon van Kammen, parents Bessie “Damma” and John O’Sullivan, sister Gloria and son-in-law Ronnie Keizar, sister and son-in-law Betty and Raymond Kennedy, brother Kenneth “Sonny” Robinson, and aunt and uncle Catherine and Everett Blethen,
A graveside service will be announced in the Spring.
To share a memory or story with Penny’s family, visit their online Book of Memories at www.bchfh.com.
Arrangements are in the care of Burpee, Carpenter and Hutchins Funeral Home, Rockland.