GRINDSTONE ISLAND NEWS - SEPTEMBER 5, 1999
The locust trees are yellow, the maples are turning red, the fallen apples smell like cider, we found a snake curled comfortably in our boat (a sure sign of fall), and an autumn peace has slipped over the newly dry and wave-sanded pink rocks at the shore. Summer is coming to a close. How short it has been.
But awakened from such reverie by a weekend blasted with the astonishing noise of new cigarette boats racing to and from the beach, it was nice to remember a man who enjoyed quiet, enjoyed his while. Clara Carnegie told me she wants to go to the boat museum in Clayton to see a write-up about Milton, so on Friday, when we had to make a trip to the mainland, we called Clara and asked if she wanted to come. Unfortunately, she had just come in from work and was tired. John and I, however, did go to see what the curator had said about Milt. We know that Bill Rueckert thought him the best boat restoration man on the river, so we thought we’d like to see what was said at the museum about him. Moreover, Clara and Milt had for so many years delivered the Grindstone News to the “T. I. Sun” that I had a particularly warm spot in my heart for them. And it is Stella, their daughter who types all these lines every week. More reason to go.
First of all we arrived late in the afternoon when the grounds were empty so we had plenty of time and space to see the new Pauline Morgan Dodge Small Craft Building. It reminded me of Aunt Polly’s home on Wild Goose Island, low and easy on its ground, with a roof that flows comfortably, as the river did on that beautiful autumn Friday, in nice easy swells. We went from room to room looking for Milton’s boat, and in the last room, we found it, labeled “Sailing Skiff, ‘Gram’s Boat’.”
The identifying commentary asked us to notice the Spanish Cedar top strake and the mahogany trim. It was a lovely craft, and, the notice said, a fast sailer which “once sported an inboard engine. Note the neat patch where the exhaust pipe went through the top sides, the repair to the keel where the shaft passed through and the gas fill cap on the deck where the builder’s plate should be.” This boat, the notice continued, “has been restored by a highly regarded St. Lawrence River boat man, Milt Carnegie. Living year round on Grindstone Island, Milt has never needed a driver’s license, for he has spent his life in boats on the river.” The length of the boat is 22’10”, it was built cir. 1887 by the Spaulding St. Lawrence Boat Co., and the donor is J. Richard Monroe.
I was delighted that we had made the trip! You can read this inscription and say “Yes, a fine man”, but when you read it next to the beautiful skiff so carefully restored you begin to ask how to enjoy the work you do as much as Milt obviously did his. For one thing, it seems that to enjoy, you have to allow all of your senses to be concentrated, you have to hear the board that is punky, you have to feel the sanded surface you are working on, you have to taste the cold pure water you drink to wash away the dust that has gotten into your throat. You sometimes smell the varnish to see that it is the correct mixture, and you certainly look and look and look, gratefully, at the wonder that is coming into being. Milton had to have enjoyed bringing this old boat back to beauty. He knew he had to take time, not to crowd his life, to do only what he considered worth his while.
And he must have known he had to pay the same lively attention to the people he loved. On August 8th, this summer, Anthony Philip Carnegie was baptized, at the grave of his grandfather. Milt, giving a wealth of time to his grandson, had always wanted him to be baptized. A man who is as sensitive and attentive to his family as Milton must have been seems to leave his strength, and the blessings he wants for them, with those he loves even after he dies. He did everything he did simply and without any ostentation. The trip to the boat museum to see the result of Milt’s loving craftsmanship was well worth our while on one of our last afternoons on the river.
Thinking of the joy of working heartily brings us to Betty Paxton,too. Betty and Baby Emmie stayed with Polly Daw as her companions to the very end of the last days of her life. Sometimes Betty was working sixteen hours a day, and at one point she told Kitty, “I don’t know if I’m going to manage, I’m so tired.” But she did. She understood that Polly’s raw and sharp complaints would turn in an instant to “Oh, Betty, I don’t know what I would do without you.” She misses Polly now, as all of Polly’s friends miss her. What a gift it is for Betty to learn about dying, and about death from a woman who loved life as much as Polly Daw did.
There are also the joys of dancing heartily, and that was what a “beautiful crowd” did on Saturday night! There were far too many people for the little hall to hold at one time, but the evening was warm and clear and the benches outside near the door were full of people talking or watching their children who were seeking the cool air. In the yard there were groups of young people talking about whatever young people talk about, maybe a new four wheeler, maybe a “busted” propeller, maybe a new love, maybe---. The hall is the place to get together on Saturday night, and even, later in the evening, to dance a bit. There was one square dance after John and I had gone home. Bubby, the caller, has to warm up to that work, and John has to get up early for choir practice. But I always hate to hear we missed a square dance. The DJ was good old John Morrow, (who may find some square dance music by next summer). He had really lively music, though, just right to celebrate with Fred and Linda Jackson on their 34th wedding anniversary! And they cut quite a rug. (William Morris, editor of “The American Heritage Dictionary”, even with 37 entries under “cut” and 18 other notes about “cut-off, cut—something or other”, didn’t attempt any derivation or definition of “cut a rug”!) But Fred and Linda danced heartily!
Pastor Dick Petry, in his apron was in the kitchen with a swarm of very earnest and concentrated children helping him cook the burgers. He counted 15 short- order cooks, and reveled in the enthusiasm of his crew. Harbor Inn donated the meat, and many of the businesses in town donated gifts for the raffle that swelled the gift the Hall could give the family of “Standard” Dan Hudson who has been fighting cancer this summer. This is the third year that the people in the Hall have been able to give a little help to someone who needs some encouragement, and their “little help” is always accompanied by whole armloads of love. We all heartily wish you well, “Standard Dan” We hope you can come dancing with us next year on Labor Day weekend!
There weren’t quite as many worshipers in church on Sunday morning, but the faithful ones were mostly there in their pews at 10:30 am. Many families have gone home to get the children to school. Carolyn and Ken Larson have gone back to Massachusetts to get medical help for the severe back pain Ken began suffering. We missed them both in the morning’s meetings, and hope for good news soon of Ken’s recovery. Two Davison brothers, Andy and Jim, helped Pastor Dick serve the communion wine and bread. Many years ago when we first came to the island, their father helped in such ways with the services, and often helped “Unscrew the inscrutable” (to use his own term) in the many years he was part of the Grindstone Church congregation.
There was lots of hearty music- making in the service. The choir sang, Renae Lashomb, home from all her travels, sang one solo, Helen Ingerson sang another, and the whole congregation, with Andy Davison conducting us, joined heartily in the round we sang in dismissal at the last service of the year. Then we joined hands around the big cottonwood tree out in front of the church to pass the peace one to another before we go our separate ways for the winter. No matter how happy we know we will be in our winter homes and work, the last service of the year always comes too quickly.
So many of us wandered on down the road to spend just a little more time together at the annual Squatters’ Picnic on the Marra’s lawn. This year the picnic was in memory of Buck Slate who began the tradition. Thinking of the crowd of young people who had been at the dance the night before, I remembered the huge class celebration when Tom Slate graduated from high school. I asked Brenda if I would be putting ideas into Buck’s head if I said he had invited all that class to spend Saturday night there in the two Slate houses at the cross road so he would be able to keep track of them and know where they were while they were celebrating. Brenda said that was exactly what Buck had in mind. In his sometimes gruff way, Buck watched over his whole island family, and we miss him. Little Kathy Carlisle’s solemn pleasure at holding baby Emmie reminded us of Buck’s joy in holding a new Grindstone baby in his comfortable arms. Brenda and Erma try to keep Mary Margaret and Bobby Bazinette from missing him too much.
As we sat around the table, Phil Marra began to talk of some of the ideas the people at the Hall have for next year. They are going to try to have some special activities for the young children before the dances on Saturdays. The kids who have a good time doing the Limbo might like some dancing lessons, for instance, and they would probably welcome a few movies or games. Phil suggested that a different person direct whatever activity we all might concoct each week so the responsibility would not fall on one person. Seeing so many children at the Hall over the weekend made that sound like a wonderful idea. Phil said some of the group at the Hall are talking about buying their own sound equipment too, so we could avoid having to transport bands and their exotic lights, sound enhancers, and instruments across the river every Saturday night. That also sounds like a fine solution to what becomes a burden borne by only a few hardy souls. The Hall could also buy its own square dance music, and Brenda said Bubby is already trying to learn a few more calls with the help of a book she bought last year. (And maybe we could even turn down the volume if we were tuning our own equipment??)
Phil is still trying to find some more photographs of old-timers to keep the traditions of the hall warm in our hearts and minds, and make the rooms seem more like home. He has one new photo of the Rev. Gabriel, who was minister during the forties, with his hand on the new pump the Ladies Aid Society bought for the Church Well that was dug when he and his wife ministered at the church. The well became known, then, as “Gabriel’s Well”. So we end the year already looking forward and planning for next year. Evening began to approach as we talked. So we all gathered up our dishes and the food that was left after everyone had feasted, and, with hugs and kisses, good wishes, and a few tears, parted for the year.
There are a few bits of news to report about some of our friends:
In Florida, Tom LeMagna is now under the care of Hospice. That gives Mabel some needed rest and support. He is comfortable but failing, Erma says.
John Dower is also under the care of Hospice. What a blessing Hospice is. Marjory, too, needed help and support.
Maggie Ennis is now at home, but will be a long time recuperating from her injuries. We rely on her pluck to pull her back to health.
Finally, Dick and Mary Petry want to note their winter address : 6921 Mc Mullin St., Jacksonville, FL 32210-2760. Their phone number is: (904)- 786-0231, E-Mail: email@example.com
Once more, the whole congregation wants to say Thank you to Dick and Mary for the energy and love, the heartiness they have put into their summer’s work.
We began the summer gathered together at Urch’s and Harry’s wedding and now we end it gathered again together at Buck’s Squatters’ Picnic. It’s been a good year in between too.
So it is.