In Another Century

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 7:30pm

It is a strange thing not to be exceedingly, record-breakingly old, but remember so clearly a world so different from the one we know.

Technology has erased boundaries and miles even as it has built walls, taking away the communications  that required some thought and effort, a pen and paper vs a keyboard, a stamp — and on Block Island — a trip to the Post Office, not the striking of a “send” button.

It is for everyone but here, it seems it must be even more so. On a gray Sunday, with a building sea and strong winds forecast to continue through the next day, I left church and thought the boat was stalled in the Old Harbor, seeming frozen in place. It was time for arrival and the vessel had turned and was backing into the ramp, the lack of motion an illusion.

I do know the time of the mid-day boat on Sunday, from a long-ago trip when I was still thinking I had to be there much earlier than I did in deep winter, and being startled to find an empty slip. Perhaps it was the emptiness of the whole scene that confused me; from my spot on Water Street the gates were closed, the pavement wet, the usual greeting gathering, sparse as it might be on a late February day, absent. The cars backed up in a last gasp effort to escape before Tuesday at the earliest were just out of my first glance range of vision.

The fact of that Sunday boat is a mark of that changed world. There was none when I was growing up, a fact that eluded me for decades. Our little winter carrier, the Sprigg Carroll, carried few cars and our trips with a vehicle were infrequent, and those we did take had to be tailored around my mother's duties as organist at church as well as school.

No Sunday boat was never a topic of conversation that I recall.

Which carries me back Feb. 24, 1967, the Day the Deer Arrived.

My mother and I were returning from a school vacation trip on the Sprigg, a passage notable only because of large wooden crates on the freight deck. What was in them, my mother asked someone, a deckhand, perhaps, who told her “deer.” It seemed quite unlikely but there were, she insisted, sounds coming from within them.

The boat docked; people were milling about as they usually were when that one predictable event of the winter day took place. A school year book of that era even devoted a page to captioned photos of “meeting the boat.”

The deer — or whatever was in those crates, deer had to have been a joke — were upstaged when a local man burst into the small aft cabin. He was a freight hauler but the world was a looser place back then, someone could come to the cabin to make an announcement. It was not unexpected that his wife had given birth that morning, that the baby was a girl was news. Then, after a studied pause he added “and then. . .” the second girl came along and suddenly there were twins!

That was news, in the days before science gave us certainty and cell phones immediate information.

And so the date the deer arrived became etched in stone, easy enough to find with a simple “when's the twins' birthday?” call to an older sibling.

He was off and attention turned back to the boxes being loaded onto a truck (trucks?). It was February in 1967, and something was happening. We did not get off the boat and head home; there was never a stream of cars pouring purposefully onto land. If not everyone, most people on the boat, and at the dock, became part of a procession heading up High Street, then Payne Road, and to a meadow where the crates were unloaded, pried open, and four, surely terrified, deer bounded off into the brush.

Sometime in the late 70's, when conversations turned to deer hunting, Fish and Wildlife personnel  came over for a meeting at the library. They brought with them slides of that day, including a line of people, watching. There I was, in a blue coat I recognized, and likely remembered because it had come not from the Sear Roebuck catalog, rather a store on the mainland, quite the exciting purchase back then.

Again, the world has changed, and gone back again; now we order on-line, a convenience, not a rural mail-order stigma.

I think the photos, or some of them, were reproduced years back in an article about deer, in this paper, but in grainy black and white, not the color of the slides. I do not recall snow on the ground, just the usual late February drab, enlivened with the news of twins and arrival of deer.

Then we went home and unloaded the groceries and I did not see a deer for perhaps ten years, and then a lone creature on Pilot Hill Road.

The weather had to have been fine in 1967, the State would not have made the trip otherwise.

This year, the day began with slamming wind and rain, this deluge that seems to have been going on for a very long time, turning my road, again, to a pair of silver streams, filling the swales, again, with water.  It had abated by noon, when the fog-shrouded boat was backing into the ramp, and I found myself, in February, while not longing for battering storm winds, at least welcoming the knowledge that they would help dry the land.

The Sunday boat slipped out on schedule and did not return until Tuesday, leaving behind an old-time empty island, then came a windy and sunny Monday with a desolation that left me wondering if there were as many people here as had been in February, 1967 when following a truck (trucks?) to an undisclosed destination was just what we did.