The Block Island Times
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Scattered Orphans

By Martha Ball | May 18, 2013

The big pond behind my house is disappearing as the leaves of the pussy-willow and shad begin to unfurl. The spray of white when the geese land and the sparkle of morning sun on the water are still visible, but through a thickening lacework of trees. The level looks high and I worry about the drain to the sea that was barely running when I was down there last.

Views are changing, the view of my house from the road will soon disappear, hidden by the big trees in the yard that still have black fingers, barely dressed, against the night sky.

The blackberry vines down the lane taunt me. This winter, I kept telling myself, I would tackle them on a day warmer and sunny knowing full well waiting for the cold of winter to be gone leaves me in the full craziness of summer. It is May, and I have, still, 20 years of Block Island Times, the ones I was going to remove from my life these last few winters past. They live in banker’s boxes in an unheated room that gets little sun in winter; dealing with them, now, seems a chore out of season.

Cleaning out my car is never on any of these lists, it is not some gargantuan undertaking meriting a place in the over-the-winter plan. It is just a matter of moving some piles of paper and beating dirt out of the floor mats and picking up pieces and pieces of white shell collected from various island parking lots.

One umbrella is expected. As with sunglasses, it is something I keep in the car for those rare mainland trips. That there is a second one under the seat also does not come as a surprise, I have one in summer for those wonderful straight down showers, for “umbrella rain” that leaves the pavement steaming and practically shouts “come out and walk in me!” This second one, apparently, I did not return to its proper position, hanging from a doorknob of a shop in town. The third, however, was a surprise.

There were more flashlights than I had expected. Given that among the few things about which I am truly careful is keeping one in the glove compartment, there really need not be any more roaming under the seats. Worst of all, neither of the small yellow ones that went missing over the winter surfaced.

A hand of fabric, soft and lined, was hiding in that dark space and for a moment I thought it was the long lost glove of last winter. Amazingly, when I went through the old wicker chest by the door, I found the assortment of guards against the out-of-season cold — hats and scarves and gloves — all in neat order. There was no black leather among the strays, kept in the hope their mates will somehow appear, my family of scattered orphans gathered in the night.

An orange, recognizable only for its “Sunkist” sticker, bore witness to my insistence on putting groceries in bags, lest they be lost if not forever beyond any reasonable useful life span, in the dark reaches of my car.

There was a hammer as well under the seat, one I carried around for weeks last summer for a minor task for which I had been promised help. I eventually gave up and did it myself but left the hammer in the car, one never knows when such an implement might be needed.

My father was a roofer, I have hammers. In addition to the one in the car there are two, now, hooked on a pantry shelf below the can of tahani and boxes of broth, keeping company with various non-perishable food items, placed so if they fall, as they do, they will land on paper goods and do no harm.

Yet another is in the front entry, brought out as part of a don’t-you-leave-telling-me-you’ll-be-back-tomorrow gambit. That time I was successful, it was the neighbor who not only did the emergency repair I needed but one of the things that is always a surprise as much as I know I should expect such of him.

“Know where this came from?”

“It was my dad’s?”

“Did you ever look at it?” It’s a hammer, of course I have never studied it, never noticed the marking on the reverse — if hammers have reverses and obverses — on the side of the head that did not have “Stanley” imprinted in an etched box. It is old, the metal is worn, but “Bell System” is clear if one looks which I do not as much as the neighbor does.

“John Donnelly” we both said, remembering John and my father, both long gone.

It is easy for the handful of us living here then to remember when Mary D and her family arrived; it was when were settling into direct dial telephones and — of more personal importance —when our little class, on the cusp of second grade, was increased by a whopping twenty-five percent. The phone company found in John Donnelly a technician who could do line work and installations, as well as manage the workings of the microwave system in the new building on the hill across from Town Hall. As has been noted of late, that his wife was a registered nurse when Block Island was in need of one was a coup for the company that became an unanticipated long-term blessing for the community.

There were other things going on that month, nuclear tests in the Pacific, unrest in Algeria, the Vice-President greeted with hostility in South America, the last, as impossible as it seems, I think I remember with the disturbing thought that I had a better handle on world events then than now.

On Block Island in that spring of 1958 a modern telephone system and a new multi-talented family arriving on our shores trumped global affairs as spring bloomed and summer whispered its impending arrival.

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