Isolated Islanders Celebrate
(…and refreshments will be served!)
As I write, on Friday the 12th, I am about to head down to the island school with all the cookie-decorating supplies, a pile of plain heart-shaped butter cookies which I baked last night, pink icing and sprinkles and coconut and all that sort of thing, and the camera. The six students, ranging at the moment from kindergarten to sixth grade, plus one four-year-old little brother, will do what little kids normally do when decorating cookies, with all of the traditional overkill and exuberance, and parents will be presented with taste treats encrusted with enough colored sugar to patch a mile of bad road. That’s just how it’s done.
Regrettably, we find ourselves unable to adequately celebrate all of February’s holidays at school this year. The school vacation week is actually starting at lunchtime today, with half the school population leaving the island, so Lincoln’s Birthday gets short shrift. That day was always “a thing” when I was in school in the early 1970’s; at the very least, construction paper stovepipe hats were de rigeur, and I think the current crop of Matinicus kids would go for such a bit of theater.
In addition to the Valentine’s hearts, the kids had plans to make fortune cookies for Chinese New Year. I love Chinese New Year on Matinicus. This time of year, we can really use some fireworks. The holiday has no legitimate historic basis for observance here, there is nobody on-island right now of Asian ancestry, and no way old Aunt Marion would ever have paid it any attention, but for we who spend the winters these days, among a population which shrinks to what you can count on your fingers and toes sometimes, any excuse for firecrackers and Chinese food is welcome. In past years I’ve made pot-stickers and had the neighbors in, or we’ve shot off skyrockets in the harbor with the crew of the SUNBEAM (although I probably shouldn’t be admitting this, in deference to their dignified trustees). For over a century, the crew of the ‘Beam has taken seriously its responsibility for the psychological well-being of us isolated coastal types. The captain and the minister aboard both allow as to how a loud sulfurous bang in deepest midwinter is good for the brain.
Speaking of the captain and the minister, the SUNBEAM is in Matinicus Harbor today. The weather is amazing…the sun is bright, the winds are light, and the temperature is moderate. This is rare; note that the folklore has always been that “God’s Tugboat” brings bad weather. Tonight is the long-awaited annual all-island supper aboard the boat (after only one cancellation on account of sea conditions! Not bad!) The gathering is typically held when the population is low, but this is ridiculous; so few islanders are here right now that we’ll all have to have third helpings just to make a dent. I will do my part.
Getting back to the school children, though, they will not be setting off any fireworks. Wait until they see how much bubble wrap I have saved up; we’ll have some noise to bring in the Year of the Tiger, make no mistake. I’ve also got a large ride cymbal suspended from a couple of yards of head twine, and an old bass drum beater, which will make a serviceable gong. They wanted a gong. The old percussion stuff came from “the shop,” as did all that bubble wrap. “The shop” is our building filled with all manners of parts, tools, electrician’s supplies, and strange delights. Opening the door, which alone is a challenge sometimes, and getting past the subsiding heaps of stuff up the stairs, most people would wonder how we can find anything. In truth, right now Paul is muttering that “in an electrician’s house you’d think there would be some Romex clamps around somewhere,” and it’s true, the “piling system” sometimes fails us. Most of the time we can mine around and surface with whatever item will fix the pump, make the connection, or help the school kids with their latest project.
Last night they held “Middle East night” at Matinicus Elementary, the culmination of a unit of study. Parents and neighbors went to school and we all “got our passports stamped” at stations representing various countries. We sampled some delicious local cuisine, heard some music, and checked out the well-researched visual displays. I’d contributed a Bud can and a Coke can printed in Hebrew with the price label in shekels (which I managed to find in the shop, of course,) a Bedouin dress, a kefiyah (a men’s’ red and white head scarf) from Jerusalem, and my daughter’s elegant copy of the Qur’an (no, that was not stored in the shop).
Unfortunately, we missed doing anything for Waitangi Day, the National Holiday of New Zealand. Our New Zealander got a job for a few months coaching rugby on the mainland so he isn’t here right now. Groundhog Day is celebrated by a least one person on the island; each year for the past 40, Bill has sent out his Groundhog Newsletter, which has become something of an institution. The ancient holiday of the British Isles, celebrated at the beginning of February, which became Groundhog’s and Candlemas and the Feast of St. Brigid assumed that spring was just around the corner, that lambs were being born and maybe even a few daffodils were appearing on the Welsh hillsides. I don’t think we’re quite there yet.
Of course, Mardi Gras is not forgotten. Some years, a few of our lobstermen make their way through RV Nation to New Orleans for the big week, and will come home in a couple of months with a bushel of beads for the kids. For the last couple of years I’ve made a “King Cake,” which is a spiced yeast-dough coffee-ring sort of affair with garish colored sugar and a little token hidden inside (whoever gets the treasure in their slice is somehow honored…it depends upon the particular partiers…they are crowned the King of Misrule and proceed to act like an idiot, or they offer a grand toast, or they should expect good luck all the following year, or they are now expected to throw the next party…)
Mardi Gras doesn’t coincide well with the school kids’ schedule this year, with their week off, but I shall be here and shall eat well. I will raise a glass to the victorious Saints, eat a few pancakes perhaps, on Shrove Tuesday, and we’ll see about the Cajun cooking. I wish son Eric was home for this, with his dangerous assortment of hot sauces.
After I’m done with the fried Chinese pork dumplings, and the pink heart cookies, and the pancakes, we’ll see what’ll make appropriate refreshment for watching the Olympics. Western Canada, let’s see…salmon, I suppose, and maybe some Moosehead Beer.
We could do worse.
Eva Murray and her few neighbors no longer get through the winter on boiled dinners.