Resident Spotlight: Nancy Elliott

One of the many gifts of life has to be the advantageous perspective one gains from simply living it. The years and decades we live, work, love, play, and suffer through, don’t just advance us down a road, they also elevate us, like a mountain growing beneath our feet, with each decade bring- ing new and unanticipated perspectives by always and some- what imperceptibly lifting us to new vistas and plateaus from which to behold our lives—past, present, and even future. Having a panoramic view of nine full decades, Nancy Elliott can look back and marvel at the many “new beginnings” that have arisen for her over the years, and it’s a privilege to sit alongside her for an hour or so and admire the view as I did on a recent Thursday morning.

Born and raised in the town of Lee, Massachusetts—long before the Mass Turnpike (I-90) flew past it—the Berkshires have been a recurrent, but by no means constant, setting for many of her days. She maintains a fondness for the simplicity of the small town life she knew as a girl, likening it to the little town of Grover’s Corners in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.

Nancy grew up, became the “the wife of a businessman,” (Al) and raised six sons! She was always closely involved with the education of her children, and, noting the dissatisfaction of her eldest two sons with their public school education, Nancy began searching out alternatives. The Long Ridge School in Stamford, Connecticut was the first such independent school she embraced. Later, after having moved back to the Berkshires, she saw a school advertisement on a bulletin board showing a group of children proudly playing their recorders and knew instantly that this was a school for her children. (This turned out to be the Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School.)

Nancy has always been an avid reader, and it was a book that changed the day-to-day direction of her life, taking her out of the suburbs and back to the country at around the age of fifty. While in Stamford, she read Living the Good Life, the classic “back-to-the-land” book by Helen and Scott Nearing, and knew she “wanted to live like the Nearings!” And so it was. Al took an early retirement, and, with Nancy leading the way, the family moved to Sheffield, Massachusetts and began their own farm, growing vegetables and fruit and raising pigs, chickens, and goats. She recalls vividly the joy with which she met each day, rising early to milk the goats and wondering, “How can I be so happy?”

After twenty years of self-sufficient homesteading, a decision was made to lessen the daily responsibilities by getting rid of the farm animals. It was not long after this that Al died, too soon, which led to yet another new beginning in life for Nancy. This next chapter eventually included the selling of the farm altogether and another marriage, to Roy, whom she met at a Quaker Meeting. The gift of longevity also carries its burdens, of course, and she would also live through the death of this husband and companion, whose strikingly painted depictions of the Maine Coast (done from memory in his later years) decorate the wall of Nancy’s room in Aurora and surely stand as a testament to the sweetness and sensitivity of this man who was able to recreate these deep blue scenes from the vantage of an unusual height, as if from the perspective of an invisible flying seagull. Or perhaps it was merely the heightened perspective of his age.

Nancy Elliot still reads. The book closest to her hand when I visited was Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy, first published in 1926, when Nancy was a one-year-old child in Lee. And it is the timeless wisdom of philosophy that she seems not so much to merely reflect now, but to embody. Like Socrates, whom she quoted in my presence, she is very much at ease with the next stage in her journey. Speaking of a tragic event in her life, of a loved one she had thought she could never bear to lose, but did, she spoke with well-earned authority. “We bear everything. That’s what we do.”