These were the honored ones: "Sis" Matthews (85 years old) and Annie Couch (84 years old). "Sis" sat in a low chair on the first wagon. Annie sat in the hay on the second wagon. Both had missed the first hay-ride, so Buck did it again - same red tractor, same route, same stops, but with the new passengers everything was new. This time we picked out Les Roche's and Midriver behind the trees. A little further on we could see "the folks from Midriver" on their swimming rocks. Again we pointed out Josephine Murray's place and Mike Mole's.
This time our highway was busy with traffic: Kenny Brabant pulled his backhoe off the lane for us to pass, last week's passengers, Tom, Leanna, Lisa, Kim and little Tom, and Nick Grant pulled up behind us on their golf carts when we stopped at the quartz pit. Big Tom had two big hammers to mine some precious rock.
One of Buck's uncles' added to the many stories of Bill Johnston:
After a time in hiding at Devil's oven. Bill moved up-river nearer to his daughter's home in Clayton, and hid in the old mine on Grindstone where his daughter could more easily bring him supplies. The mine entrance, very narrow, supported by great cut rocks set to jam with care, would be almost impossible to find in the woods, and the cavern, which enlarges behind the entrance, reaches almost back to the road, making a spacious hiding place. True or not, the spinning of the stories seemed biblical!
Doreen and Donnie Meeks' steady conversation rose and fell behind me. "There were seven children born in our little house over there where that stand of sumac is. Think of it — no electricity, no water — (we had two cows that we hitched to the cart to bring water from a well back there at the comer of the property). We walked everywhere. It wasn't so overgrown. We could walk across the fields to school, and in winter we skied. Our skies then, though, were just a couple of narrow boards with a strap to step into. And if you broke a strap, a new one wasn't "easy to come by.
"I used to babysit, and, my Lord, I could hardly wait for the people to come home to see what they would bring me. It was never money, but one time they brought a little book. One time they brought just a piece of 100 candy. I used to think it was so nice of them to spend a little bit of their grocery money on a present for me. Why, I'd have stayed with the children anyway, just to help out, don't you know.
"You'd never believe it, but along that ridge of granite were coming to, we used to pick enough blueberries everyday to make four or five pies. And in June, the wild strawberries in the grass were the biggest wild strawberries I've ever seen, almost as if someone had once planted them."
She pointed out Eva Heitekangas's land, and told about Creed Heitekangas's success "in the service." Next year we all agreed, we had to see that Eva got over to the island. Sylvia Schytz Eva's "aunt, who owns the next farm at the head of Grindstone, has been too ill this summer to get over much herself. She is now in chemotherapy, but seems to be doing well. We all joined in wishing her well.
Annie Couch, on my other side, laughed as we passed the cheese factory. "Do you remember, Doreen, how the whey used to stink where they drained it off into that little ditch? I had a dog that got into it chasing woodchucks. (He was death on woodchucks.) I was so mad at him. I had to take him right down to the river to give him a bath so we could stand him! "See those white berries? I don't know what they are, but the birds don't eat them, so my mother said we shouldn't. They're probably poison.
"There's the house where I was born. It's a lot different now. I used to like Grindstone in winter. I'd take my two girls and we'd take walks in the snow. It was deep, then — and pretty. See that road by the cheese factory, it looks like a lane: Well, that leads to the house on the marsh where my husband and I lived. I'd walk that way over here to my sister's. We built a little bridge over the creek we had to cross."
Once more we stopped to see Kitty and Salt Garnsey's horses. This time they wore hoods to keep flies out of their eyes. And a bit further on everyone piled off the wagon to gather wild flowers: milkweed which has developed some pods, corn flowers, goldenrod, queen Anne's lace (Doreen says if you put the stems in vegetable dye they will turn the color of the dye) vetch, clover, thistle (which we left alone!) coreopsis - Brenda Slate pulled up some black-eyed susans by the roots to plant in her garden. If the roots don't "take," the seeds should.
The whole way, Sis sat right up straight looking out over her island ... as if she were going a-haying it with Charlie, not talking much, just attending to how things are on Grindstone, now, on this day in September 1994. Twice we passed groups of Buck's cows, safe this year in their fence, and contented. The young ones he keeps near his house so he can look after them. Sis thought they looked "good."
Bob Smith, sitting next to Sis, (He, too, was one of "the honored ones," but he doesn't tell his age) said, "Someone should bring tours over for sightseeing on Grindstone." But, Brenda said," I don't think so." We all like living on the island, enjoying its pears (which Debbie Donaldson tested for ripeness at one stop—they are not ready yet), its apples (they are ready!), its elderberries, which are lush this year (but a lot of trouble—all those little stems says Annie. Sis says, though, that a few are good in apple pie), its flowers its vast views of the river, and its pastures and hay fields." We're not museum pieces," someone said. Then we were back at the cross road where we started.
Once more, at night, after dark, we gathered for the last dance — the one that is always best of all, and it was. Once more, the disc jockeys were Jamie House and Diane Jordan playing good country music and a set of squares. All of us "old-timers" appreciate Buddy Patch dancing the squares with us. And the line dancing was better than ever too.
Fran Rossmassler, who came to the Hall party straight from the dinner party she and Peter gave for a good-bye to some of their island friends, won the 50-50, and made it a donation to the hall. Joey Natali, Diane Jordan, and Maggie Matthews all won hats. Then Phil Marra did his own spot-lighted dance to bring the last Saturday to a close.
And Sunday, not quite packed to leave, Mary Beers called everyone to worship before she and her family departed late Sunday evening. Again the Church was full. The sunflower Erma Slate had left for Mary, leaned on the altar rail, still smiling. Laura Brown introduced her brand new Zachary John, and held him up for us all to delight in. Brenda Patch came along with Laura. It's been a long time since they were in Bible school. But others have taken (heir places.
Jesse Beer gave me a beautiful stone doll with a blue floppy hat that she had made in Sunday school this summer. It will cheer our dining room sideboard all winter long! And how I thank her!
As the congregation sang, "Dance, dance, wherever you may be...," Debbie Donaldson, Jaycie, Jamie and Stephanie Donaldson, and Sara Beer danced a wonderful interpretation of the old hymn. Debbie's choreography is always perceptive and alive, and her dancing is skilled enough to be a part of revelatory worship.
After singing "God be with you til we meet again," the congregation quietly moved out of the church to form a circle around the great poplar tree in front where Mary blessed each one of us before we went on our separate ways.
About 90 of us went our ways up the road to "Hooterville", that green and peaceful refuge past Buck Slate's house where a congregation of Slates had settled, for the last meal together. Squatters' picnic has become a tradition now. Each of us brings a delectable dish and sets aside several hours to enjoy one last long, good talk. All of the young men came. All of the young girls came. All of the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents came. This year, under the blue sky and warming sun, we sat most of the afternoon, hating for it to end. And a few couldn't bear not to climb up on the hay wagon for one last tour of the island before we all depart. We left, waving good-bye to Sis as she sat in her accustomed place, smiling amidst the scent of Buck's new-mown hay. There were other parties all up and down the island this week, up at Les Roche's, over at Juniper, a family get-together at the Schwartz house...all of us hate to see summer end.
At Les Roche, Michael White told us about his boat flipping over in the high wind last Sunday evening, about Polly MacLean seeing his boat upside down with four hangers-on, and about Johnny MacLean's coming out to rescue them. The only real loss was a pair of glasses, but all of us were glad to give Mich and Nadinka a special warm, thankful hug that they were safely with us at the party. Kenny Brabant has the boat safely put up for winter.
Why not end this last Grindstone news of the year with the recipe Harry Slate passed on — that "has probably been around for a long while" - that comes from the old-time fishermen on the river. This is how Jay Slate said Harry told him to cook the walleyes Buck and Brenda gave us: fillets of wall-eyed pike mix up some pancake batter. (I went to Joy of Cooking.) Add a little vinegar saute in oil until crisp and golden.
So it is.