Went to an island party
Editor’s note: Almost 20 years ago, Crash Barry lived and worked on Matinicus, Maine’s most remote island. This is another of his true stories.
The morning of the schoolteacher’s marriage to an island girl was misty, warm and wet. By eight a.m., it was raining hard. Around nine, the wind came up and blew the fog away, but the rain and rough seas lingered. At noon, we were back in the harbor. As I grabbed the mooring, the storm disappeared, the clouds moved off and the sun came shining.
We were only hauling for half the day because Captain Edwin and I had both been invited to the wedding. Edwin, of course, had known the bride since she was born. And the schoolteacher and I were buddies. He was a couple years older, and wiser, and we shared an interest in books, public radio, and whiskey.
The ceremony — short, sweet and traditional — was held in the island’s lone church. The only surprise was the appearance of this freshly shorn dude — pink-cheeked and sheepish — who escorted the bride’s mum to her pew. The stranger seemed familiar, but I couldn’t recall meeting him.
At the reception, the mystery was solved. It was my pal S., the older brother of the bride, who lived in a ramshackle fishhouse not far from me, among towers of comic books, a herd of feral cats, and Wonder Bread. S. had a well-known aversion to showers, shaves and other social conventions. Gotta admit, he cleaned up nice.
The reception was a fine outdoor feast on the west side of the island held under a cerulean sky. Edwin and I showed up unintentionally wearing identical dark blue suits, white shirts and matching, red-patterned neckties, which amused the other lobstermen.
Like at most weddings, there was no mingling at first. The social distance between the bride’s and groom’s tribes was vast, though everyone knew this marriage would last.
The bride was smart and funny, a recent graduate of UMaine. Her father was one of the kindest lobstermen on the island. Her mother was a gentle, talented painter of sea- and landscapes. A genuine and generous family, one of the rare ones not involved in an island feud.
The schoolteacher was the scion of a literary family. Both parents were respected editors and writers for national publications. His brother was attracting acclaim for his non-fiction environmental and nature books. Several guests were also movers and shakers in the New York and Boston literati scenes.
Matinicus islanders hate big-city writers almost as much as they despise cops. They’ve frequently been portrayed poorly in the media, cast as hardy eccentrics rugged enough to survive on a quaint island with no stores or restaurants, or depicted as outlaw cowboys bent on revenge. The reports are invariably rife with mistakes, rumors and hearsay, because you can’t get to know the island after just a weekend visit.
To my knowledge, the schoolteacher’s brother hadn’t written about Matinicus. I’d read his books and some of his magazine work, and was impressed. (He’s since become an internationally known scholar admired for his innovative thinking.) Here I was, a young man on a little island 20 miles offshore, with dreams of being a writer. What a perfect chance to network. Unfortunately, I was too shy to even approach the fella. I watched from the sidelines as he and his posse enjoyed themselves.
As the beautiful afternoon turned into a cloudless night, everyone headed to the schoolhouse and the music began. Two brave couples hit the dance floor and broke the ice. Their enthusiasm spread, and others joined them. Eventually even the wallflowers started to swing and sway. Soon the whole school was moving and groovin’.
It was a sight to behold. There, in the middle of this remote island, city slickers danced with sternmen. Geniuses danced with idiots. Losers danced with winners. Enemies drank together and laughed. Everyone was high, one way or the other. I went outside with some of the visitors to smoke ’em up and show ’em what the sky, untainted by light pollution, really looked like.
The dance lasted late, especially for islanders used to rising at dawn. But the next day was a Sunday, so there’d be no lobstering anyway. Besides, we were all having such a great time. No one wanted the party to end.