I was in Alley’s the other day buying my requisite newspaper and coffee. The woman in front of me in line excused herself to finish her conversation with another standing off to the side. The woman in her late 50s or early 60s who excused herself and wore a colorful, handcrafted felt hat was speaking to a woman in her 80s who had a bubbliness of someone half her age, wore what I can only describe as a bonnet, looked familiar to me and spoke audibly and loud enough for me to hear that Yvette Eastman had died at the age of 101. She had fallen, broken a hip and things degraded from there.
I spoke up before introducing myself and thought aloud “the same thing happened to my grandfather” as I remembered mowing Yvette’s lawn in East Pasture Lane. And that view. Her house sat atop a hill overlooking Menemsha pond in Aquinnah. Yvette was opinionated, firm and a character among all the characters who inhabit this Island.
I then decided to introduce myself and told the older of the two ladies that she looked familiar and I was sure she knew my grandparents Jack and Lucy Ann. She smiled.
“Lucy Ann. Of course I knew her.” And though Lucy Ann died nearly 25 years ago, my new acquaintance showed me with a limber curtsy: “I’m wearing her pants!”
This broke the ice nicely and we began to chat. Her bucket purse sat on the ground next to her feet as she clasped its handle, a paper bag in the other hand.
I knew little about her except that she wrote and that my aunt had cleaned her house. I learned of her time at the Providence Journal and six years as editor of the Vineyard Gazette.
We shared many common interests as our conversation moved from travel to hunting, something she strongly opposes. As she expounded on the subject, touching on various forms of eradication without a hunter’s hand involved, she made it clear this was a firm opinion that I would not dare to reverse.
I was away for the month of December. I don’t hunt, but during the season it is hard to walk through somebody’s barn without pinballing through hanging carcasses. I caught the early season geese, but a failed refrigerator thwarted dreams of aged meat when the musty fridge was opened after its cooling system had conked out. This left me with all the hung geese I had been stockpiling from a friend who liked to shoot them but didn’t always have time to pluck, destined for the compost pile.
I missed the backstraps, the scraps and trimmings and the fun that is had in helping a friend or family member skin and clean a deer. Knives are sharpened, radios play in the background, your fingers are numb and you hope the blood on your hands came from the deer and not your veins.
I missed my chance and now freezers are stocked, hides gone and from what I have heard secondhand, it was business as usual.
We have gotten a decent amount of snow this winter and had our share of frigid weather broken up by a few mild January days.
The bay scallop season came and went in the blink of an eye in Chilmark, while Aquinnah motors on though the season, it has slowed there, too. Isaac Taylor told me this morning at the gas station: “They [the scallops] are still there; some people have better things to do than sift through all that weed.” He was talking about the eel grass hiding the scallops.
“Do you have better things to do?” I asked him.
“Not better, just other things.” He said as he gassed up his dump truck and life went on.
The Chilmark guys have headed over to the Great Pond in search of oysters, and are hitting it “pretty hard” by Johnny Hoy’s estimation.
The cut is open now, so they will salt up nicely in the coming weeks before the cut gradually closes and the cycle starts again.
I got a few geese when I returned after the new year and their breasts and thighs are packed up in my freezer awaiting a future in sausage or cassoulet.
Asked by my new acquaintance at Alley’s if I was a hunter myself, I said: “No, but I believe in eating venison because I love it.”
We then digressed to memories of my father saving her late husband’s life after he was attacked by a swarm of bees on a job site. He was deathly allergic and my father’s quick thinking helped to get him to the hospital safely.
She remembered our pet raccoon growing up and that it rode around in the front seat of my parents’ truck with us. She chuckled aloud at the thought of this.
I asked her if she liked venison and she broke our eye contact to look off contemplatively.
Then leaned in to make sure I knew she was being frank with me and said:
“One of my favorite things about traveling is going out to eat in a foreign country, pretending I don’t speak their language. Then I order venison. I love it.”