Our community lost another friend last week, with the passing of Jack Gallagher. This has been a rough winter so far, here on Beaver Island.
First Tom, who died right after Christmas of a rare disease that took him quickly and left us all shaking our heads. He was so young! Only fifty-six years old, with a memorable laugh and a ready smile, Tom did cement and masonry work, and always seemed the picture of good health.
Next Skip, who was the matriarch of a large island family and a good friend to all. Then Jean, an active and respected business woman. Both of these ladies, though in their eighties, were so full of energy one would think they would keep going for years to come. Now, Jack: the third octogenarian we have lost this year.
This I know: no matter that every single person will meet their end, no matter the age, the level of health or all the warnings, death always takes us by surprise. It always seems too soon, and that we’re not quite prepared for it. Sometimes the dying are more prepared than those of us left behind.
After work on Friday, I walked down to our Community Center, where family and friends were gathering to honor Jack’s life. We talked about his diligence and devotion, his head often bent over account books. There were several examples of his wry sense of humor, his kindness, and his devotion to family and community. There were tears, but also laughter. There was agreement that he’d lived a good life. And that he was ready to go.
The “good death” seems to come up in conversation quite a bit anymore. Maybe it was always so, and I just hadn’t paid attention. Having lost three community members all in their eighties in just a couple weeks, I mentioned a quote I’d seen recently: “When an old person dies, it’s like a library has burned down.” We commiserated a little about all the oral history that is lost, with a death.
That was on my mind after I got home, as I was walking the dogs in the near dark. When Aunt Katie, who had always been willing to answer questions and elaborate on her history, died, it seemed like there were a million questions I wished I had asked, and another million things I should have written down. If I could talk to her again, I’d pay better attention, and I’d have pen and paper ready!
If I could have another conversation with my Dad, I’d beg him to repeat all the stories he tried to tell us when we were young, as he drove us around the island. Then, we rolled our eyes and let his words flow on without notice. I’d do better now. If I had another opportunity, I’d encourage him with the names I can remember, and the portions of the tales that I can recall.
There was one about a wake. Somebody, I think it was Patsy Doney, was taking his turn sitting with the body, while others were congregating in the other rooms. There was plenty of drinking going on. Somebody had the idea to pull a joke on Patsy (or whoever it was), and somehow made the corpse move, causing Patsy (or whoever) to jump (or nearly jump) out of the second story window. By this point in the story, my Dad would be laughing so hard, he could barely get the words out. Not knowing any of the characters, none of us children cared. I’d love a another chance to hear that one, and many others!
I’m sure there is wisdom and history my mother could impart, as well. If I were given a chance to talk to her, though, I’m afraid I’d waste the visit on getting the facts about L.Y. I’ve been puzzling over that for years, and it drives me crazy that I never thought about it when Mom was around to ask!
Gladys and L.Y. Crandall were friends of my mother, but mostly friends of her mother. They lived on the lake where I grew up, and were around quite a bit while my grandmother was alive. What kind of name is L.Y., for heaven’s sake? I always thought it was Elwye, and maybe it was. I never thought about it much, or questioned it at all, until after Mom was gone, and tthere was no one to ask. Now, I think about it a lot.
If the name is Elwye, how is it spelled, and what kind of name is that? If it is initials, more likely, I have concluded, what on earth does L.Y. stand for? The L could be anything: Lloyd, Laurence, Lancelot…but what about the Y? There are few choices, and none seem very likely: Yasir, Yoel, Yanni, Yuri, Yale. With a surname like Crandall, I wouldn’t expect such exotic-sounding choices. Whatever the answer, I know there’s a story there. I just wish Mom were around to tell it!