When my wife Jeanne and I started the Chilmark Store in Chilmark center in the early 70s, the building had been pretty much dormant for 15 years or so, but as a child Louie Larsen and his brothers knew the place as Community Market run by Rex Weeks who lived in the house across the street.
We didn’t know much about the grocery business, which was the primary purpose of the store when we started it, but we got the hang of it on a steep learning curve and the many helpful hands of the community. When Trip Barnes brought the first trailer load of goods to make the initial shelf stock, about 15 people came out to work with us through the night to sort through that daunting mountain of goods.
It may have been Louie’s desire to see the old building come back to life as he’d known it previously, but I suspect it was more his very broad generosity and probably his adoration for Jeanne who had grown up best friends with his older daughter Kristine. In any case, he came in the store one day and handed me a list. He was humble when he asked if I could fill it, something I now know to be a big part of him. I figured his wife Mary was away and he needed a few things for the house.
When I looked at the list, meticulously written in small script (not Louie’s hand) I was flabbergasted to see an enormous assortment of goods. It was his grub list, made up by the cook aboard Louie’s fishing boat. This was a 92-foot steel longliner, crewed by six men who needed food to last 30 days. Not nuts and energy bars, but food. Potatoes, onions, beef, pork, chicken, roots, fruits, leaves, seeds and beans, plus dairy, frozen goods, sodas, drinks, spices, tea, coffees and condiments. Pretty much something from every section in a major store.
“No hurry,” he said. “If the weather’s good we want to get out before Friday.”
It was Wednesday when he handed me the list.
We did some serious running around to fill the list of goods that had been prepared, taking into account all the individual preferences of the hands on board. Louie wanted proper grub for his trips. In subsequent trips throughout that summer and a couple more following, we eventually got the system down.
Louie didn’t have to give us this business. He could have taken it to one of the down-Island stores or shopped at New Bedford Ship Supply. But he didn’t. He came right in our little store and plopped down what would be the largest account we had for all the years we ran the place. It spread to his son Danny’s boat, too, an equally big sword fisherman that sailed from Menemsha during that period.
Lots of older residents from Gay Head on down to the West Tisbury line patronized our place. A lot of them are gone, too.
Looking back now, as we often do when someone important in our lives passes, I can feel the substance of this man and his contemporaries who helped to weave the fabric that is me, that is this whole up-Island community. We take this for granted most all the time. But today, as I think back on Louie Larsen’s generous gesture to two young up-Island kids so long ago, I can only say that we are very, very fortunate to have rubbed shoulders, broad shoulders in every sense, with this lovely man.