A December Island Ramble
The schoolkids walked up to my house to pick up the instructions for the dreidel game. They had in mind to download this simple Chanukah game’s directions but something was wrong in the ether and the school finds it has no Internet today. All manner of technical people assured our teacher that the problem was not within their particular bailiwick, so the assumption was made that it was evil spirits, and it would fall to somebody at Maine Laptop Initiative to effect the exorcism.
In a screeching gale, Robin trooped five fisherman’s children into my yard, bundled in hand-knits and parkas. I handed over the page describing the game: four Hebrew letters, one on each side of the square clay top, an acronym meaning “a great miracle happened there,” a cluster of children spinning the dreidel, a handful of raisins or chocolate coins or M&Ms or whatever — each time the spun dreidel topples, the letter showing indicates the result. If it’s Nun, the spinner gets nothing, and the next person spins. If it’s Gimel, the spinner gets the whole pot, all the candies or whatever; if Hey, he gets half the pot, and if Shin turns up, the player puts one of his chocolate chips or what have you into the pot.
The children crowd into my kitchen and proceed to butter me up by hinting broadly for cookies. I had a few ginger cookies in the jar, with an old heel of bread to keep them soft, and the kids tucked into them like starving wolves. They warmed up by the stove and headed back into the wind; the school is only a few minutes from here and anyway, as the guys always say before a sickening-sounding boat ride on a particularly nasty day, “it’ll be behind them.”
Matinicus has a total of seven kids in school at the moment. The other two students were getting ready to fly to the mainland for the weekend and their mom hadn’t sent them to school. The way it works around here is you may get a call from the air service saying “Right now!” and you have to be ready to scramble up to the airstrip at a moment’s notice. Today was like that, with wind conditions right on the edge of “flyable.” That’s our word, and a big part of our world, “flyable.”
The wind is whirling the spruce trees around as the sun goes down. The air service had given up flying sometime around the middle of the day today, before everybody had their deliveries made. Ladies Aid Christmas packages filled with homemade cookies and assorted munchies went off to a few retired islanders “away from home” (home is more psychological than geographical, we’ve learned). Tools and lobster trap tags and power company paperwork arrived, mail went off, but somebody’s prescription medication did not make it out here before conditions got too windy to fly. That is island reality.
Maury was at school this morning, as Friday is art day anyway and he’s building sets with the kids for the Christmas play next week. Charlotte the photographer arrived on the first plane, mentioning a seriously bumpy ride (don’t be too rattled, we’re used to this — There are potholes in the sky). Another teacher, Katheryn, was also here in her advisory capacity. The little one-room school was so full of extra adults that the kids were almost outnumbered by their mentors. They don’t miss much.
At the airport, loading Christmas goodies and unloading freight and picking up school arts people and chasing the mail, I sidled up to Kiwi Santa of last year, hiding in his balaclava. “Any chance you might be interested in doing it again this year?” He grinned. Charlotte overheard us: “Oh ho, I hear what’s going on!” This is how we do things around here. Somebody has to get dressed up in the Santa suit on the 24th; we have a tree after the community supper at the church Christmas Eve, with Secret Santa gifts for the adults and something from the Sunbeam for each child. They are really from the Maine Sea Coast Mission, but we pretty much just think of them as the Sunbeam, the boat that brings the floating café, the telemedicine, and five good friends for a crew. They aren’t “the Mission,” they’re Mike and Storey and Pat and Sharon and Rob.
At any rate, the island is beginning to prepare for several weeks of festivities. June went around with names for people to draw for Secret Santa; hard to say who’ll actually be here among the sternmen and the relatives — there’s always somebody weather-bound one side or the other. We’ll make some cookies for whoever ends up here unexpectedly; the rest will exchange work gloves and flashlights and chocolate bars and coffee mugs, as usual. Once in a while somebody gets a sexy calendar and makes everybody down the pew hoot.
Island teenagers, off at school, sing in holiday concerts, take final exams, and consider the polar bears. They’ll be coming home soon on break, to an island at once warm and bleak, at once comforting and stark, to hot cider and frozen mud. They’re used to it.
Eva Murray thinks we need more cookies.