Deborah Ansboro Cahoon Didick
“If you don’t participate, it doesn’t work.” This was among Deborah’s favorite phrases. She lived up to it every day by engaging with each moment, with whomever she was with, with whatever she was doing with interest and enthusiasm. Life’s winding and often bumpy, challenging roads never dimmed her bright light as she met whatever came her way with her expansive spirit and belief that life is always worth living, that it is worth trying one’s best.
Deborah Ansbro Cahoon Didick passed away at her daughter’s home in Westport, MA, on the morning of April 1, 2023.
Deborah was born to Robert Nelson Cahoon and Dorothy Veronica (Brown) Cahoon on September 23, 1944, at Tobey Hospital in Wareham, MA. She loved growing up in Wareham on Main Street where she lived with her parents and her grandparents, Charles M. Brown and Ann Rose (O’Brian) Brown, her dog Suke, and her beloved playhouse built for her by her grandfather.
When Deborah was 13 her family moved to Brookline, MA, where she graduated from St. Mary of the Assumption High School. The summer after graduation she lived and worked on a Navajo reservation in Arizona where she taught Sunday School, cooked, and had many eye-opening experiences. Her interest in and respect for the Navajo remained with her for the rest of her life.
She attended Regis College in Weston, MA, graduating with a degree in art. Deborah was particularly interested in primitive (or “early”) art. The following summer her interests took her abroad to study archaeology, to work on archaeological sites and to explore Israel, Jordan, Greece, Cyprus and Lebanon. Her knowledge of ancient history was significant. During conversation she readily pulled forth from her mind information about Sumeria, Mesopotamia, The Indus Valley and Ancient Egypt.
As a young mother in Cambridge, MA, Deborah nurtured her daughter’s creativity with art projects using a variety of materials and techniques. This led to her teaching preschool art classes to other young mothers at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Many of these classes were taught to mothers whose children’s fathers were incarcerated. This was the start of a long and wonderful partnership with Cambridge Center during which Deborah shone as a gifted teacher and talented folklorist, employing her organizational and creative skills to inspire others. She developed her own series of classes focusing on the importance of the cycle of the seasons, emphasizing the solstices and equinoxes and how civilizations all over the world and throughout time have and continue to acknowledge them with ritual and celebration. Her favorite definition of folklore, found in an old family dictionary, was that it is “the history of the spirit of a people.” Deborah’s own enduring, shining spirit was undeniable and enhanced the lives of many.
In the early 1970’s Deborah and her first husband, Sidney J. Brien, were among the group of Morris Dancers and musicians who initiated, with open hearts and no permit, the fist May Day celebration in Cambridge which started at dawn along the Charles River by Weeks Bridge. This May 1st gathering with singing, dancing and procession was embraced by the Cambridge community and still occurs annually. She made the Maypole for that first May Day celebration and maintained it as it was used for many more years.
She was a great cook who catered, on her own, many weddings and parties at the Phillips Brooks House in Harvard Yard, Harvard University. Deborah’s catering skills expanded to include New England style clam boils, and preparing seasonal desserts to be sold at a local gourmet shop.
In 1979 she and her family moved to Concord, MA, where she became the librarian at Willard Elementary School. Deborah embraced this opportunity with her trademark enthusiasm for sharing knowledge and her confidence in children’s innate competence. Perhaps the most memorable curriculum she created was the Laura Ingalls Wilder project for her 5th grade students. It included not just reading and discussing Wilder’s books but also singing, dancing, cooking, and learning how to do research by calling and interviewing people and writing letters. The project culminated in a stage performance at the school by these 5th grade students.
In the 1990’s Deborah was Director of the Carpenter Museum in Rehoboth, Mass. She curated and set up many exhibits some of which included quilts, glass items, WWII memorabilia, and local artists. The pieces featured in her exhibits were mostly items gleaned from the community. The personal stories that came with these items were always incorporated into the displays. She truly enjoyed this job and the Rehoboth community.
Family history was always close to Deborah’s heart. Her research into the lineage of her maiden name Cahoon (the Scottish name Colquhoun) began with visits to various town halls on Cape Cod during family trips. It was a happy day for her when she found her first Cahoon ancestor to arrive in Massachusetts from Scotland in the 17th century, William Cahoone. He was one of thousands of Scots taken prisoner by the British at the Battle of Dunbar (near Dunbar, Scotland) in 1650. Many, including William, were sent to the American colonies as indentured servants. After his indentureship ended, he married Deliverance (nee Peck?) and had seven children. In 1673 William became the brickmaker for the town of Swansea, MA. He was also among the first settlers of Block Island, RI, where his name is on the Settler’s Rock monument at Cow Cove. Deborah organized two gatherings of Cahoons all of whom were descended from this same William Cahoone. Being an only child, she relished finding her Cahoon Cousins, as she called them, and truly considered them family. Her second husband, Richard R. Didick, was a great supporter of her Cahoon adventures, cheering on her interest in her heritage and helping her to create a William Cahoone web page.
Wherever she lived Deborah had beautiful gardens full of flowers and herbs. She loved having her hands in the soil. She even loved weeding! Wherever she lived she made a beautiful home filled with interesting things each of which had a story from family history to her own adventures, from something someone gave to her to something she found somewhere. Always a smart dresser with her own style, she felt it was important to be presentable. She was particularly fond of middle eastern food, desserts of many kinds, and ice cream! The ocean was one of her loves, a place that gave her peace. Her parties were unique and wonderful. The Christmas parties with Mummer’s Plays and Joseph Peabody’s Punch were beloved by many. Her daughter had unforgettable costume birthday parties for which Deborah made the decorations, cakes, and her daughter’s costumes.
She was a marvelous and thoughtful mother to her fortunate daughter. Deborah not only nurtured her only child’s artistic abilities, but also taught her about the solar system and how to use a microscope. During long walks she showed her how to identify wild plants and what many of them could be used for. She introduced her to cooking with herbs and spices. Her daughter’s bedroom was always a happy place full of interesting toys, great children’s books, and playful yet fully functional furnishings Deborah made,. Her support and love never wavered.
True to her name, Deborah (Devorah, Hebrew meaning “Bee”) was ever busy as a bee. Always planning, organizing, creating, arranging, learning, teaching, communicating, and encouraging. Her heart was true. She knew her own mind and often spoke up for others. She is and will be remembered for her enthusiasm, infectious energy, love of talking (!), love of knowledge, love of sharing knowledge, and for “making a proper fuss” over those she held dear. Resilient, original and resourceful, she could make something out of nothing and make it fun.
She is survived by her ever-grateful daughter Erika C. Brien of Westport, MA; her first husband Sidney J. Brien of Westport, MA; and many wonderful friends and Cahoon Cousins. She is predeceased by her second husband, Richard R. Didick. Per her wishes, a Celebration of Deborah’s Life will be held later this year for family and friends.
“The gloom of the world is but a shadow;
behind it, but within our reach, is joy.
To honor her memory please do something kind for someone, encourage children to express themselves, take the time to listen to someone else’s story, celebrate the people you love, enjoy your favorite dessert, and never, ever give up.