Living in Folly Cove, driving Route 127 through Lanesville and Bayview over and over, not a day passes that I don’t think of the spry, intelligent journalist Barbara Erkkila. I last saw her at Christmas a year ago; I think of her clenching her fists then, almost punching the air with her frail arms, declaring, “I love a story!” Note cards were spread out on a small table that day, the work she was doing on her next book.
I first heard Barbara Erkkila’s name at the Bayview Methodist Church’s annual Nisu sale. When I asked for a Nisu recipe, one of the many women in the church basement said solemnly, “You should talk to Barbara Erkkila.”
“Barbara Erkkila? Can you tell me how to get in touch with her?” A reverential silence fell over the room, shiny loaves of cinnamon-sugar coated Nisu braids rising in pans all around.
“Barbara’s recipe is the best,” someone repeated, still not letting on who Barbara was or why she had such Nisu authority, and still not giving up the recipe that had produced this room full of Finnish bread. Eventually Connie Mason gave me a Nisu recipe, but even she vaguely indicated Erkkila’s was better.
When I finally met Barbara Erkkila a couple of years later, our conversation spanned her long career as journalist for the Gloucester Daily Times and The Boston Globe, including an award-winning story on the first Maine shrimp landing. We covered her definitive histories of the Cape Ann quarry industry and Lanesville, “Hammers on Stone,” a history of Cape Ann granite, and “Village at Lane’s Cove,” respectively. She told me about the New York engineers reconstructing the opening to the Holland Tunnel calling her, and asking how to match the stone originally quarried in Lanesville.