It’s 5.45 a.m. when I arrive to take my place in line at the North Haven ferry terminal. Despite the fact the office doesn’t open until 6:30, there is already a small gaggle of people ahead of me: two island elders seated in lawn chairs; a redheaded outdoorsy guy squatting against the building, checking his phone; a couple standing and reading. I take my place with a hearty “Good morning,” expecting conversation to break out about the beautiful day, the ungodly hour, the ridiculousness of having to line up for car-ferry reservations a month in advance, like the trip was a rock concert, but I am met with wan smiles and tepid glances. It is clear there’s a newbie on deck.
I was on the island to give a performance of My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother and was the guest of my friends Lisa and Chuck, who own a home there. For several years Lisa and I had been conspiring to bring my one-woman show to the island, and this year the stars aligned to make it happen.
Well, sort of.
Last March, after much back and forth, Lisa, the theater director and I were able to find a date in July that worked for all involved. I would go out and spend three days with my friends, do my show and return the next day. But as that date approached, a wrinkle came up: Lisa and Chuck would not be there for my arrival. They generously invited me to go out and use the house, and they would join me the day of the show. This ordinarily would not be a problem. I frequently travel alone and am accustomed to doing my own lugging and toting. The wrinkle was that the rotator cuff I injured last winter was still not functioning up to form, so I couldn’t throw gear around like I usually do. I had to figure a way to get myself, my props, and provisions for several days out there with Bristol-bright aplomb. I wasn’t going to be one of those pathetic flatlanders with crap trailing behind them down the gangplank. Or, worse yet, require help. I’m a seaworthy Yankee, for God’s sake.
I also understand island ethos: I spent my first summer of college serving as a bellhop and, later, a night watchman at a conference center on the Isles of Shoals. To my newly minted island-girl’s mind, there was nothing lowlier than a daytripper, some moron clad in improper footwear who’d come to wobble around and gawk at our hunk of rock. One of my night-watch duties was to patrol the perimeter of the island to make sure no one had lost their footing and fallen. Who would find me if I fell?, I failed to ask.
Then there were the conferees, many of whom arrived with the equivalent of a summer’s worth of steamer trunks for their weeklong stay. They asked questions like, “What do you do for entertainment out here?” — this to a full crew of hot-blooded college students. (Or, in my case, a dork with a stack of journals to fill with entries like, “The stars, the sea/the you, the me/ I am the rock, you are the island” — musings capable of scaring off any potential suitors.) Or they’d ask the inevitable, “Don’t you miss civilization?” While we were always polite to the guests, we’d mock them in private. “Don’t you miss civilization?” we’d sneer. “You mean with your smog and your traffic jams and your crime?” OK, so maybe Portsmouth was a little lacking in these departments, but we could barely contain our superiority. We inhabited a world that could never be understood on the mainland. We were island people — at least until it was time to return to college.
All of which is why I wanted things to be shipshape when I went to North Haven. I managed to reduce my kit down to two Tupperware containers, a daypack and one small cooler. I wasn’t going to lug a lot of food. Lisa said the house was stocked with staples. I could supplement those with items from the fancy farm market at Calderwood Hall until they arrived. I might even take myself out for a martini and oysters at Nebo Lodge, just like a proper islander would. Not lugging a lot of groceries would show everybody I was one of them.
With the use of a borrowed dolly and a tangle of bungee cords, I managed to get everything on the ferry at the Rockland terminal in two swift trips. I securely stowed my gear and went aft, where I watched residents in the vehicle line rolling aboard, the beds of their pickups crammed with Hannaford bags.
When we arrived, I was ready: Container number one and the small cooler were securely battened to the dolly. All I needed was to don my daypack and I could make my first trip. Except, with a shoulder injury, the simplest things are agony. I wrestled with the pack like I had an angry badger on my back, hoping not to attract the attention of the two young women seated behind me. I didn’t want to look like I wanted help as much as I did. I finally got the thing on, but as I tried to lift the dolly over the doorjamb the cooler came untethered and listed starboard. All the stays on my sails were coming loose, the whole operation was going down … and then, six hands took over. The two women and their father grabbed both containers and my cooler and spirited them not only up the gangplank, but right to the theater’s door, which is conveniently located at the landing. Before I could muster a thanks they were swallowed back into their island lives, and the theater’s house manager was helping me cart my stuff inside.
Once I was squared away at the theater and settled at the house, I made my way through the village, over to the market. Lisa had told me about the island market’s amazing bakery and farm-fresh produce. It was late in the afternoon and the teeny shop was getting ready to wrap up for the day — and, in fact, for the week. The shop would be closed the next two days. They were out of eggs and there was no bread. There was but one remaining quart of milk, which must have come from cows fed on mermaids’ tears and milked by fairy fingers. Well, not exactly, but the price suggested as much. Still, I nabbed it and tucked it under my arm like a cold, sweaty football, lest I’d have to wrest it from some other desperate shopper’s hands. At an utter loss, I added to my booty a fresh head of romaine and a bag of tortilla chips. Dinner that night was an odd affair.
But, as with all challenges, I was soon navigating island life like a local. I walked in the early morning and stopped to chat with dog-walkers along the way. (Something I never do on the mainland.) I attended a lecture at the library and was invited to the island’s weekly ladies’ cocktail party. I sat with my coffee au lait (at that price, it was lait) on Lisa and Chuck’s porch and greeted passersby. When my friends arrived we ate bulging crab rolls and sweet-potato fries at the local snack bar. My show was enthusiastically received, and audience members lined up to chat and ask when I’d be coming back. And when Lisa and Chuck had to leave the island and I extended my stay one more day, I accepted a neighbor’s invitation for drinks on the veranda of their massive shake-shingle cottage hovering over the harbor. I was in.
So when it happened that Lisa needed to make car-ferry reservations for August on the day of my departure, I volunteered. This required getting to the office before it opened and securing a spot in person, before phone and online reservations were made available. It’s something of a ritual out there, she told me. Of course I agreed. It just seemed like the island thing to do.
An hour later, reservations secured and the house closed down, I found myself wrestling my containers from the theater to the gangplank, swerving to and fro. Unbeknownst to me, one of the wheels on the dolly had locked, so I was basically just dragging the whole affair across the tarmac. The dock manager sized me up, saw how pathetic I was and flagged over a pickup that was boarding. With a couple gestures of her walkie-talkie and few words, the manager indicated, “We’re putting this stuff in the back of your truck. Meet her on the other side.”
The driver and I did as we were told. Because, well, that’s just how us island people roll.
Elizabeth Peavey sends a giant thanks to Lisa and Chuck for the use of their beautiful home and for the can of artichokes from their larder that I managed to stretch over the course of three days’ meals.