Matinicus Island Lays to Rest One of Its Own
This morning, as I write, the island prepares for a funeral. There won’t be a church service. I do not believe we’ll be seeing the funeral director or any professionals in suits. The Ladies Aid, as such, does not have to sweep the floor in the church basement, set out tablecloths, and arrange flowers. This particular fisherman requested a far more informal sort of celebration of his life.
So I fried up a big mess of doughnuts. That’s all I can do.
Here on this island where nothing is ever simple, despite certain prevailing mythology, even a description of who the deceased person was is not simple. Let me back up — even trying to figure out what to call him is not simple. The man’s name was “Hossa.” That’s the spelling from the obituary, and the notes from people on Vinalhaven who have made donations to the island EMS service in his memory. I have no idea whether it’s short for anything, or has a story; suffice it to say that nearly everybody with family on Vinalhaven has a nickname. Maybe Biscuit or Spanky or Gweeker will know where Hossa got his name. His legal given name was rarely used; I lived here for years before I had any idea what his “real” name was. I guess Hossa was his “real” name.
Hossa died on Matinicus, a hospice patient in the home of friends who cared for him while the storms raged and the roof leaked and the dog had puppies and the relatives and the sternmen and the neighbors came and went, helped or hindered. The amount of work involved in caring for somebody who is dying of cancer is no small thing. I think my neighbors deserve a medal.
He was not the only hospice patient this tiny community nursed this past winter. Ken Ames, the island’s oldest resident and a native-born fisherman, died in February; his service will be on his birthday in May. On that day, islanders will again clean out their trucks to carry mourners and visitors who arrive by boat. We will bake, and put on clean clothes, and bring flowers from yards and gardens. We know how to do this.
I say we lay to rest “one of our own” today, but that isn’t simple either. Hossa didn’t own property here, or vote, or go to school, or fish out of his own boat here, but he seemed to feel that this was home as he faced the end of life. As best I can tell, he chose to be here. He had some family here, and family in that cemetery, and the ways of Matinicus fit his lifestyle. Yes, there is more to that than I will write here! Suffice it to say that I had to duck once as the projectile from one of his earlier hobbies whizzed overhead. (It was either Hossa or his brother Max, anyway; now they can laugh about “making the chickens scramble in the road” together in the hereafter.)
The cemetery is just across the driveway from my kitchen window. As I scribble these notes, and the smell of hot grease left from making four dozen doughnuts still hangs in the air, and the captain of the Sunbeam calls on the telephone with his ETA for Matinicus Harbor, I look out the window and notice somebody in dressier clothes than usual wandering in the cemetery. My husband cuts a few daffodils to place in front of his own father’s gravestone. It looks like the impending rain will hold off for a few more hours. That will help.
The Sunbeam is usually involved when there is an island funeral. They bring the casket, if there is one, and the funeral director, if there is one, and often the minister and flowers and a boatload of relatives. In this case, they carry friends and relations who journey from Rockland for the afternoon. The local guys didn’t have to muster and dig a grave this time, as Hossa was cremated, but Nick went over to the cemetery and figured out where the small hole ought to be. People don’t buy cemetery plots on Matinicus; they either stake out a spot while still living (and are able enough to haul a rock up from the beach, in some cases) or their friends and family stomp around and do some head-scratching and decide on a spot when the time comes. Some of Hossa’s ashes have already have been taken to one of the nearby uninhabited small islands around Matinicus, a place called No Man’s Land, as was his request. That is a job for a lobster boat.
Island women are baking all over the place this morning. Cakes and brownies and other refreshments are delivered to Troy’s house at the four corners in the middle of the island. It is there, rather than in the church, that islanders and visitors will gather after a brief graveside committal. The style of socializing Hossa indicated he’d prefer might be somewhat cramped by the psychological confines of a church.
Eva Murray raises a glass to those who did all the work.