In the wintertime on this small island, we are a group of less than four hundred people. We all know each other. Every year that passes seems to make that bond stronger.
In the summer, our population swells to over a thousand residents. Vacationers, tourists and day-trippers add thousands more. We love to see the people come: friendly faces from past years, and new visitors happily discovering what the island has to offer. Our economy depends on the tourist trade, but it’s more than that. Summer’s busy-ness is the antithesis of winter’s quiet, and it brings balance to our lives. Still, when we look through the chaos and catch the eye of another “year-rounder,” there’s a feeling of camaraderie and understanding.
That feeling only grows in the “off-season.” When winter is harsh, we make our way to town through ice or deep snow, for church and school and jobs and necessities, and for necessary human contact. When the planes aren’t able to make their regular trips to transport us to the mainland for doctor visits or excursions, and to bring the mail, perishable groceries and mail-order packages, we only have each other. We exchange glances of quiet understanding; we inquire and worry about each other. “How’s your road?” “Did you have trouble getting in?” “Be careful out there!” We’re all in this together.
Not surprisingly, death hits this island hard. Everyone is a friend, and every death is a personal loss. In the last week, Beaver Island lost two long time island residents. Both ladies had long, productive lives, active in business, politics, church and community before a swift decline and a sudden end. It has left us all feeling off-balance and sad.
As often happens here, one funeral will be delayed until spring, when travel is easier for long-distance family and friends. The second funeral was held Monday. It was joyous and mournful at the same time, and the church was filled to over-flowing with people that loved her. “The island’s mother,” was one apt description of the lady who always greeted me with a smile and “Hi, honey…”
Together, in grief and understanding, we soldier on.