Hail Mary

My heart is heavy with sadness as I write this particular blog. Since the beginning of August our dear friend and cook for the last 12 years, Mary Barney, had been struggling with cancer. I have intentionally respected Mary’s privacy and I apologize to you for not sharing any news about Mary’s health sooner. On Monday afternoon Mary passed away very peacefully at home, surrounded by friends and “family”. Her departure was as graceful as the rest of her life. Many people, including Jen, have been doing heroic work to support Mary these last few weeks.
Oddly enough Mary was never very excited about transitions though this was about the fastest transition she ever made. And as I struggle to let go of Mary I realize I am terrible with transitions as well. We used to joke about how we liked things just the way they are, thank you very much, so why change what is working already even if it might be less labor intensive. Hard works is its own reward. I used to joke about getting Mary a Cuisinart for the galley and she would just shudder and shake her maple rolling pin at me.

One recent transitional cook couldn’t understand how Mary could work with so few tools. I appreciate his efforts to get us through this difficult time and wish he could have witnessed the miracle of what Mary created with hands and heart. I swear I have never met anyone who can bake like Mary. Mary would swear that her cooking and baking were an out of body experience. Mary’s chocolate cake was an out of body experience. Her loaves of bread were raised with more than just yeast. Her focacia, her anadama, her oatmeal, and Italian bread stuffed with spinach and pepperoni… these are the breads that memories are made of. She always blushed when I complimented her on how soft and warm her buns were. On Friday afternoons I would sneak down into the galley and take a warm dinner bun from the rack and she would pretend to not see me. It was our game of companionship. I can taste them now and will forever more. And I will miss Mary’s loving friendship.

I was able to visit Mary this last weekend. Her house was a continuous stream of people. On Saturday I brought my guitar and sat by her bed singing softly to her. Several weeks ago Mary told me that she wanted to take singing lessons when she got better. I told her she sang just fine reminding her of how she used to sing Rosin the Bow. I played her a few requests… “Let it Be” and “Home on the Range” as well as a few silly songs that made her smile. When I saw her on Sunday it was clear that she was letting go. I kissed her cheek and told her I loved her at which she opened her sparkling eyes and gave me one last smile that I will never forget. I knew she was at peace already.
Now I have a cardinal rule that I never talk religion or politics aboard the schooner or anywhere else for that matter. I am not smart enough to say anything intelligent about either topic and it seems to me that more problems are started over these conversations than are ever solved. As the humorist Dave Barry observes, ‚ÄúPeople who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.‚Äù But I am going to break my own rule and offer an observation, not because I want to start a conversation, (see, Dave Barry is right) but because Mary and I used to talk about our search for meaning in this world. If you look through Mary’s stacks of books on her living room floor you will know how important the spiritual journey was to Mary. I loved our thoughtful conversations and Mary helped me realize that the unanswered questions are the ones that keep us young. Neither one of us practice any organized religion but we certainly agreed that we are spiritual beings. Mary must be an old soul for how else could every turkey dinner taste like Grandma made it special just for you. I am of the opinion that Mary finished her spiritual journey in this realm and ready or not it was time to move on. I saw it in her smile as she looked at me that one last time. These thoughts are the only way I can make sense of my loss. Besides, I am going to assume that Heaven was in quick need of another angel and a darned good loaf of bread. And a beautiful angel they got. But, darn, I will miss that bread. God bless you Mary.

Have a great day… you just never know. Be well. Do good.

Great photos by Jim and Jen.


  1. Well said, Barry. I'll always remember Mary for her zen work habits: no hurry but almost no rest, always doing what needed to be done without complaint. And I'll remember her laugh: throwing her head back and bending her knees so she could laugh with her whole body.

  2. Heaven was in need of a good cook. Right now, the angels are enjoying the smells of freshly baked breads, sticky buns and cookies, as well as soups and macaroni and cheese. At night, they will fall asleep to the sounds of Mary’s squeezebox. Her radiant smile will brighten the morning and coax the sun out from the clouds.
    In this poem, Emily Dickinson sums up my feelings in her usual sparse, yet effective way:
    We cover thee, sweet face.
    Not that we tire of thee,
    But that thyself fatigue of us;
    Remember, as thou flee,
    We follow thee until
    Thou notice us no more,
    And then, reluctant, turn away
    To con thee o’er and o’er,
    And blame the scanty love
    We were content to show,
    Augmented, sweet, a hundred fold
    If thou would take it now

    Goodbye, sweet Mary. It was an honor to have met you.

    Abrazos, Michele B

  3. I'll always remember Mary for her playing the concertina with the little grace notes in the melody. She always was cheerful and full of life. One of the good ones. I will miss her so much.

  4. On board the Mary Day this July I had the privilege to occupy the starboard single. Around 5:00 Tuesday morning I came out of the cabin to go on deck for my shower. As I eased out of the door Mary was standing in the galley and gave me a big smile. Later in the day she came up to me and said, "You're Ed aren't you?" Of course I said yes and then we talked for a few minutes about why I keep coming back. She remembered that I took the Wooden Boat Course a few years ago and that I love to help out. In my experience Mary was a woman of few words who met thousands of people during her tenure aboard the Mary Day. I was thrilled that she remembered me. I will always remember her.

  5. Barry,

    Now I understand why I saw the sheet posted on a community bulletin board on Monhegan Island during August looking for a cook for The Mary Day. I guess I didn't want to know why this remarkable woman whom I had the priviledge on knowing for only six days would not be on board for me next summer. No matter the reason, I was going to feel cheated.

    We all grieve for your loss.

    Bill Cavanagh

  6. Barry, thank you for your beautiful words. I have been crying every time I think of Mary, since I heard the news. I am honored that I had the opportunity in my lifetime to know Mary. For all the years I have eaten her amazing meals, listened to her sing and play her music, watch her swim laps around the Mary Day.. I am grateful. I will miss her. I know she is in a beautiful place now, making her beautiful music, delicious breads, cakes, etc, and looking down upon us with that great smile.. knowing we will be ok.. because we know she is. Hail Mary.. I am blessed to know you.

  7. Thank you so much for saying your Hail Mary! Since we got the news last week of her illness and then, suddenly, her death, we've been looking for something, anything, to echo the grief that bounces around this household.

    Mary lived here on our homestead in her "off season" for about ten years in the 80s. Her baking is, of course, the stuff of legend. Many of our old photos show her fussing with the woodstove, building her skills and getting the heat just right. We also have a few wild, whimsical hats she knitted–treasures that shall be cherished even more than they already are, if possible.

    She was also a wonderful musician who could weave her art so gracefully that anyone who played with her was surprised, even bewildered, by the richness and apparent effortlessness of the music she helped create.

    Her harmonies still thrum in all our bones.

  8. Oh how sad! It doesn't seem possible, it wasn't that long ago Mary was smiling and cooking and everything seemed right just. She made such a difference, sleeping in a galley cubby hole but filling a whole world with her joy: a life well lived. Peace to all.

  9. The warm outpouring of comments on this blog and those shared by fellow guests who knew Mary over the years speak eloquently as to her place in our hearts.Our loss is great! Mary Barney and the memories she left will ever be with us!


  10. Barry, Jen & the whole Mary Day family,
    I've been holding you all and Mary especially close to my heart in the past week since I heard of Mary's illness & passing. Thank you for the lovely tribute.
    Sending much love,

  11. Barry, Jen and Crew,
    I am so sorry to hear about Mary. Wonderful tribute you have written, Barry. It is amazing to me that after only a few days spent with some people you can hold such a dear place in your heart for them….and their cooking. Mary was a gentle woman with kind eyes and a quiet command of her galley. I'm glad I got the "Ring That Bell" cookbook while on the Mary Day, I'm going to try my hand at Mary's Spinach Bread in honor of her.
    Remembering Mary
    Christy Bergeson and Becky Chace Brewster

  12. Barry, thank you so much for a beautiful tribute complete w/ a few subtle jokes that are so "Mary". As many are, I'm deeply saddened, lost in the surrealism of loosing a dear friend. I wish I had known & been able to help in these last days but it feels so good to know who was there & to know you sang to her all day on Sunday and that Jen was part of the group of women who cared for her in the final hour. I too will remember Mary for her smiles, those sparkling blue eyes, her gentle spirit, her caring – all the years of dancing will be my strongest memories; she was usually the person beside me to keep me in line. I had hoped to actually sail w/her too, but alas another lesson about putting things off.
    Mary, Mary , never contrary, thank you for the time shared in your life, the smiles, the laughter, the music and your sensibilities. I will hold you in my heart always.

  13. I had the pleasure of 11 cruises with Mary. I loved helping do the dishes because I got to talk with her and watch her work. Everything she made came out perfectly no matter the weather. Plus she was able to pop up on deck to help with the sails at a moments notice. She was a very big part of the Mary Day experience. My heart goes out to Jen, Barry, Sawyer and Nadie and all of those who are close to her.

  14. Mary Barney A life full of love, wonder and caring. We are all blessed by having her radiance and joy be part of our lives and our memories. Thank you Mary for sharing yourself so selfishly and so well. Whether you were brandishing your squeezebox, a sword, knitting needles. a trowel, a spatula or any number of other tools you did it with grace, skill,intuitiveness and impishness. Always ready for whatever needed doing and always quick to volunteer. There are so many places that Mary excelled and so many lives she touched. One of my many memories of her is as Rambo in the mummers play where her impishness really shone. I'll miss you friend! HUGS to all her friends ad family! And THANK YOU for being there to help with her transition.

  15. Barry & Jen you already know how saddened I am by Mary's passing. To me she was more than just another cook on yet another windjammer. Mary was an inspiration to me as a cook and as a person. I only hope that I can continue to learn from what she has taught me. I'm thankful that I had the chance to know her if only for a few short years. She'll always be in my memories and I'll always think of her when I'm baking. No words that I can use really do her justice but I know that she's watching over us all. Rest well Mary for you have earned it.

  16. I don't know how I found my way to your blog…actually I do, I was searching for writing and pictures on "loving friendship" and landed on your page — wow, what a beautiful story, a fine testament to a lovely soul — a baker after my own heart. I am inspired by this story and love and loving friendship you shared with Mary. Thank you.

    Mary V.

  17. I learned of Mary's passing through your spring newsletter. Only a few days ago, I again mentioned Mary in a conversation about my week sailing with you and her a few years ago. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and Mary's cooking and personality were a big part of that adventure. I never describe the voyage without emphasizing Mary's cooking and presence. Simple pleasures are truly the best, and she made the simple act of eating wonderful food into a great pleasure. And I've seldom enjoyed doing the dishes so much as after one of her meals! Thank you for your newsletter and online tributes. She'll be missed, but never forgotten.

  18. Lynn Mundinger and Paul Dethlefsen- Barry, Jen ,crew, and family. We are both so sorry for your great loss- Paul and I were on the Mary Day Late Septemper 2008- Mary had such a spirit about her- We got to hear you both sing while on the ship -Her cooking was amazing in such a small area that she had to work in- What a gift she was -and so glad to hear she had so much loving support around her when she died- Our thoughts and prayers are with you- Namaste my friend-<3

  19. We were shocked to learn of Mary's passing when we read the Spring Newsletter – its always an eagerly awaited harbinger of Spring, along with the crocus and red-wing blackbirds! But how sad to learn about Mary. I'll remember her pitching in with the deck work when things got "busy" in a sudden squall or tricky mooring, always so calm and confident. Yet when the fuss died down, there she was back down in her galley, fixing up another marvelous wonder for us, like nothing ever happened. And who can forget her braving the icy waters most mornings with her jump off the lee rail. Sure made us landlubbers feel like wimps.

    As long-time Mary Day crew, we'll sure miss Mary and her smile and soft voice. Fair winds and a following sea, Mary.

  20. Capitan Barry & family, I had the joy of meeting Mary, and all of you when my daughter & I sailed on your wonderful ship. I did "galley duty" on the trip, and seeing Mary, and watching her cook was a marvel. I can honestly say in all of my life that was the best vacation I have ever had. (and I do have the years to say that!) For your loss, I extend my sympathies to you and your family. But, in my mind, I can see her smiling. Blessings to you and yours, & I heartily agree she's baking up a storm. You left a touching tribute to a lovely woman.
    Gwenn Lewis

  21. It is always pleasant to receieve the newsletter from the Mary Day. However, it broought sadness to read of the death of Mary Barney. Her creativity in the tiny galley yielded so many delicious meals. My favorite was the Yankee dinner, bringing back memories of a New England childhood. Thoughts and prayers are with Mary's family and the crew of the Schooner Mary Day.

    Dick Forsyth Sail Aug 07

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