Grindstone Island News - July 3, 1996
Sunday, June 30, Buck and Brenda's anniversary! Once more, I paint the June wildflowers and make a card for them. And John and I, count 34 years since we arrived on Grindstone Island. Jessie Brooks brought us across the north-south road from their dock in Aunt Jane's Bay. By nine o'clock we had our three little children tucked into bed and our belongings enough in order to sit down in the living room. After a while, outside was pitch dark, and we felt completely alone.
Except that cars began to arrive not far away, and we could hear music. It wasn't too long before we heard a tap-tap on the glass in the front door, and saw a little face peering in. Trudy Lashomb needed a toilet. Not at all timid, she came in and told us there was a party in the hall across the road to celebrate Buck and Brenda's being married that very afternoon. Not very many weeks later, we joined the group of islanders at the Saturday night parties, and found a congregation for the Grindstone Island Methodist Church. John was minister then. We also found many, many of the good friends we've treasured during these 34 years.
When we arrived with this years card. Buck and Brenda were in their yard with Fifi (Aleatha) their daughter, who is spending more than a month on the island for the first time in many years. At the same time that we stepped foot in the Slate yard, a lot of islanders were gathered next door in Dodge Hall for the TILT annual meeting. Always a realist and experienced in "the way things go" when a bureaucracy gets started. The three Slates were uneasy about what decision the group was making, especially about its new acquisition, Potter's Beach.
"What can they do with it?" Brenda asked? And I asked Fifi what she thought they ought to do with it. "Well, for starters, they could sweep the sand," she answered, "And then they could pick up the garbage." I thought that sounded like a good pair of ideas. But when I suggested she go make those suggestions to the meeting, she remonstrated. Nevertheless, she made one more suggestion. All those boats that come right onto the beach make it so crowded no one, not even the little kids can swim. About that time Chad, her 2-year-old disappeared around the house and Fifi chased after him.
When I got home, down under the hill, I thought I should call Lolita Pfeiffer to find out what decisions had been made at the meeting so I could report them in this article. What she told me made me sure that summer would be as bright as Brenda's kitchen is with the new rug the family had just put down, Jeremy lifting the old cook stove and Fifi helping to fit it smoothly.
First, Lolita reported, everyone wants the beach left as it is, natural, (Buck would call it "forever wild.")
Second: The beach was to be swept at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon (June 30!), and garbage was being picked up at the same time.
Third: A few signs will be posted asking people (boat people and locals who come on foot or cars or four-wheelers) to: "Take out what you bring." The group decided against installing trash cans because people abuse them and disposal of mountains of trash is an enormous problem on Grindstone. There was a request that boats anchor out from shore so children can swim safely. The idea of a children's roped-off swimming area is also being explored.
Mark Boss has been doing, and will continue, a survey of what people want. He must have gotten advice straight from Buck and Brenda! More probably, summer people and winter people want much the same thing for Grindstone.
Tom Tinney reported that the nature trail is winding along. Prisoners from Cape Vincent will come work on it from the Canoe Point end. The hot dog barge didn't get a permit this year to pull up on the beach, so it will undoubtedly be leaving Flynn Bay to the eagles that are nesting right over its present resting place. (About five years ago, Sally Mole and I watched from the Lindly Bay dock, as one of the huge birds floated down into the top of a tall pine tree. I'm glad to know they are still in residence.)
On Saturday, the Nature Conservancy led about 15 people on a birdwalk, and spotted: a scarlet tanager, a red-eyed virce, an oven bird, a meadow lark, a rose-breasted grosbeak and a ruffled grouse, whose "experience with man," our bird-book notes, "has taught it to be suspicious and shy." (It seems to be an authentic islander!) The walkers surprised it and it put on its awesome display making the leaders turn and run!
To lapse back to 10: 30 a.m. Sunday morning; although the weather was gray and black, the huggin' and kissin' took even longer than last week since many more people, now back for the summer at the river gathered in front of the church. Finally, at Mary Beer's urging, they moved inside. But only the loud growl from the organ quieted the exchanges of news and greetings.
Some bits of news from last week's graduation particularly delighted us islanders: Mike Paxton received the Principal's Academic Achievement Award. Congratulations, Mike.
Amber Natali received two awards, the Kenny Garnsey Award for all around sportsmanship presented at the senior banquet, and the Mat Black Award recognizing outstanding achievement in the hockey season. Amber was the first girl to be invited to the Exceptional Senior Game at Potsdam. She hopes to continue hockey at the University of New Hampshire where she will begin her freshman year in September.
Two other Grindstone Islanders also graduated: Barbara Storandt, whose family has a summer house on the south side, and Tyier Lashomb, son of Stub and Karen Lashomb. Tyier wants to become a graphic designer and will begin college at JCC in January. Neither of them could come to church last Sunday, but the congregation sends its blessings and congratulations to them, too, as they start out on their new paths. Barbara Storandt, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. David Storandt, who have a home on the south side graduated with distinction and is a member of the National Honor Society with a four-year average of 94.28. Barbara will be attending Clarkson University in Potsdam to study industrial hygiene. She was a Lions scholar, was on the student council for three years and was vice president of the senior class. She was also a member of the Science Olympiad team.
Portraits of Tyier and Amber will be among the paintings from Grindstone Island to be hung in this year's "Along the River's Edge Exhibit" at the Thousand Islands Craft School during July. They're both grown up a lot since those portraits were done. Maybe it's a good year to paint them again.
Mary Beer's sermon led us, with her, to wonder about the story of Abraham taking his son to the mountain to sacrifice him. Does God ever with do violence? Or does God always say, "Do not raise your hand against the boy - or girl - or man - or woman."
As we gather, once more, at the river, I'm again amazed at our diversity, at the way Grindstone Islanders represent the whole world, and at the courage one sees in this small group of people. Here, on an island we often romanticize, a whole array of the world's problems are faced with honest questions and various ways of living with them.
Debbie Smith was for many years, the "preacher's kid" on Grindstone. After graduating from Smith College and doing graduate work in Geneva, Switzerland, she made her home in Burundi, a small country on Lake Victoria in Central Africa. There she married and lived happily for 14 years. But during the intensive ethnic strife of three years ago, her husband contracted acute malaria, and since medical care was, because of the fighting, very difficult, he died after only 24 hours. Debbie, soon afterwards, returned home with her young son, Robert, to Hamilton, where she has been teaching sixth grade for two years. We are delighted when she can visit us at Grindstone.
In church Debbie talked to the children (and adults) about her life in Burundi. I asked her to write her account of life reflecting the violence there, and its aftermath. "Connectedness between two spots on a map. Grindstone in the St. Lawrence and Maryland-sized Burundi in Central Africa...And yet connected from here, I can pick up the telephone; dial 13 numbers and speak to my friends. I lived and worked in Burundi for nearly 14 years and have been a long-time visitor to Grindstone. Both places have had the idyllic qualities of friendliness and peacefulness. That is no longer the case in Burundi since it has been driven by death and fighting between two ethnic. groups, the Hutu and Tutsi.
"A land of hills and evergreens" mostly in the temperature range of 70 degrees to 80 degrees with three growing seasons has bowed to hatred and burning and successive massacres by militias and armies. The weak coalition government lacks the will and authority to stop the violence. People who have had brothers, uncles, or cousins killed react out of revenge and retribution others act out of fear, believing that preventive violence will keep them safe. Hatred and invective breed more of the same, on competing radio stations or in bars. The voices of reason and tolerance are rarely heard except on a biweekly Radio I jambo program (which is funded. by U.S. AID), or at church services.
"At the Odeon palace downtown, located so as to be equally accessible to both ethnic groups, the church not only has Sunday services for more than 600, but early morning prayer for more than 100 at 6 a.m. They also provide a feeding team of 13 people who prepare one hot meal a day for two refugee camps, and for an overwhelming number of street children. "Before me violence, there were few, if any, street children. They had homes to go to. Now they are alone. I keep hoping, in spite of all the bad news from the place I still call home, that things will improve and reconciliation will gain the upper hand, that the hospitality and community-mindedness that welcome us on Grindstone will eventually once more welcome me to Burundi."
And, Phil Marra has a note to add - one that enlivens Grindstone each summer: the Saturday night dances begin this week, July 6, with the Ray-John band setting our feet to dancing. Let the good times roll.
So it is.