The Working Waterfront

Islanders and the shame of baggage

No privacy when it comes to hauling bags to and from island

Barbara Fernald
Posted 2019-07-30
Last Modified 2019-07-30

By Barbara Fernald

It starts at the grocery store on the mainland. I hand my cooler and canvas bags to the cashier, who passes them to the bagger, and I start to unload a full grocery cart. I have an itching need to get the cart unloaded quickly so I can get to the other end to help bag the groceries. I would actually prefer to do the whole job myself.

I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to how my groceries are bagged. I want to use as few bags as possible, but still have all items contained within the bags. No loose bottles of laundry detergent for me.

On a passenger ferry, going to the Cranberry Isles, it is far easier to keep track of four heavy reusable bags than it is to keep track of a dozen bits and pieces. Truthfully, I am trying to avoid the shame of carrying too much baggage. I know I’m not alone.

This is not emotional baggage but the emotion that crops up for me when I have too many things to load aboard the boat. Public transportation to the islands features such an intimate, limited space that there is no way to hide yourself or your personal belongings. 

When I am keeping track of what feels like too many bags for one person, I am only too happy to hear someone arrive on the dock saying, “I can’t believe we brought all this stuff!” It just makes my day. They have more stuff to keep track of than I do. If they seem to be suffering baggage shame, I can say something like, “Wow! Is that all you brought for three weeks? Great packing job.”

At low tide, everything must be carried up or down the ramp between the dock and the float. The opportunity for shame increases with the number of times a piece is handled. It’s a little easier when the tide is high and the boat carries most of the freight on the roof, out of sight. Sometimes they even pull alongside the dock to unload freight, bypassing the ramp altogether.  

Timing also comes into play if you are running late. It is hard not to be annoyed when someone shows up with a car full of stuff, just as the boat is ready to leave.

Many times I have opted to take a later boat, rather than make everyone wait while I unload and load my things and then park the car. The time to reserve judgment is when you are on the last boat of the day. We all have been stuck in traffic, at one time or another, racing to catch that last ferry ride. It behooves us then to be patient with latecomers because the next time it could be us. 

Oh, how we islanders long to drive our cars directly from the grocery store to our houses. Time and tide would be inconsequential. We could load and unload any number of bits and pieces in total anonymity, without having to keep track of them many times over. This is actually possible if one wants to schedule a barge trip for a car, but it’s not a practical option for weekly grocery shopping. 

When I first moved to the island 43 years ago, I didn’t know how long I would stay. The uncertainty did not prevent me from bringing a lot of stuff, but baggage shame kept me from bringing it all over to the island on my first trip. I just left it in my car and waited to put it on the boat when my brother arrived one week later, so people would think it was his! 

The best advice for dealing with baggage shame, or any shame for that matter, is to lighten up on yourself. Every time my friend Susie arrives from New York, she brings an assortment of bags, boxes, plants, and a very hairy dog bed that travels back and forth with her dog. Her hair dryer, a roll of packing tape, slippers, and the dog’s water dish are just a few of the odds and ends that don’t always find their way into a bag or a box. Yet the bits and pieces all manage to show up with her as she arrives on the dock, smiling shamelessly, so happy to be back on the island.

Barbara Fernald is a jewelry maker who lives, writes, and packs lightly on Islesford (Little Cranberrry Island).