The Working Waterfront

Walking back the memories

Island foot tour conjures another way of life

Phil Crossman
Posted 2021-04-23
Last Modified 2021-04-23

I suppose this is a little island. I mean, look at Greenland. On the other hand, Vinalhaven is the same size as Manhattan and it is the largest island in Penobscot Bay.

Still, in the scheme of things or if one lives here for eons and is in the habit of walking a couple of miles each afternoon, it’s a small island.

Today’s walk took me down Clam Shell Alley where, at one end, right in the busy downtown area, I lived as a toddler. Although my Mom’s family came here in the 1700s, she had the bad form to go all the way to Massachusetts—let’s keep it to ourselves—to find and marry a suitable man, then bring him and me as a four-year-old back here to the island.

He came right through the living room and into the kitchen, opened the ice box door…

Today, as I passed by the Sand Bar, our only real pub, I gazed up at the second floor where we first lived and where, from the bedroom I shared with my two-year-old brother, I gazed out fondly at Barbara White who, even at three, I recognized as strikingly beautiful.

It was a memorable place to live for several reasons. There was a lion under my bed, for example, one that only put in an appearance after I’d been put to bed, stories told, and lights turned out. Then, as I lay waiting for the inevitable, and only after my younger brother had gone to sleep, it shifted under my bed, made some stretching and yawning noises and crawled out, looking up and over its shoulder at me as it did so, as if in acknowledgement.

Eventually, although I did wonder what it ate, I grew accustomed to it and each morning I told my Mom—and Dad if I got up before he went to work—that the lion had again come out to snoop around the bedroom.

Every few days the iceman came. He carried a big block of ice up the stairs with a huge pair of cast-iron tongs, knocked and then entered before anyone opened the door or invited him in. He came right through the living room and into the kitchen, opened the ice box door, took out what remained of the old block, put it in the sink, replaced it with the new one, and left. Sometimes my Mom or my brother or me or all of us were there at the table having breakfast in which case he was very friendly and engaged with us all. Other times he simply did his business and left.

Once, every few days, my brother and I were given a bath in a big clawfoot tub.  A wash line from the bathroom window stretched to a nearby tree, over in Barbara’s yard. A little pulley allowed the line to be advanced or returned as one after another piece of wash was hung or retrieved.

I walked up over the hill and on for another mile or so passing a small house where we’d moved when I was six. In this much more rural environment, we had a neighborhood, and playmates. And we had an outhouse, such an extraordinary novelty, at the edge of the backyard where, at night, we could only visit accompanied.

We also had another brother, an infant and he occupied the top drawer of a substantial dresser in my folk’s room. Once, when he was being very annoying, I tried to close the drawer, but my folks had blocked the drawer from being moved in either direction as if anticipating…

Mom hung her wash on a line at the back door, also with a pulley and also attached to a tree. Standing next to her on the back doorstep, I once—only once—bit her, quite badly, on the bottom.

Phil Crossman lives on Vinalhaven.