August 17, 2010

Middle Bass Island: The Final Toast to Doug Cartledge

It was lovely that so many people came, of all ages, to raise a glass and to share memories of our father.

About an hour before the scheduled four o'clock flyover, Charlie looked at me and said, "So have you written the toast yet?"

Hadn't crossed my mind.  I don't know what I thought -- that we'd sit around with our feet up on the coffeetable and hoist a coffee cup in silence?  Anyhow -- I remembered that I know how to write, and I decided to do something I'd first thought of the night Daddy died:  make a list of the nouns that defined him.  I filled a page and a half of a legal pad, and then I checked it out with Charlie, who was on his knees trying to get the music CD prepared for the original memorial service to play.  Gypsy Rose Lee, my dear friend from Chicago who came for the weekend, joined us.  She mentioned that in such situations people generally mentioned relationships as well.

"What does that mean?" I asked (these sorts of events transform ordinary language as well as ordinary comprehension).

"Things like husband, father, brother, grandfather..."

"And islander," Charlie added.  "You've got to have the word islander on the list."

It takes a village to honor a human being, because each person is unique and valuable, and each person holds a particular piece that belongs in that puzzle.

I began with the words "My father, the noun"   First came the personal relationships: husband, son, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, etc. Then I moved through the official and unofficial titles --including licensed real estate agent and licensed sanitary sewer operator and puppeteer -- and ended with "and Islander."  Immediately, someone added, "And the best friend anyone could ever hope to have."  (/Could a statement more dear have been uttered?)

Gypsy Rose Lee then read from the Mary Oliver poem; which began with the sea. What could be more fitting for a man who served in the British navy, was stationed on the Ark Royal when it was sunk, and spent his adult life living and working on Middle Bass?  As I was doing the toast, and again as Gypsy was reading, the plane's engine roared overhead. Douglas was the pilot.

The search for beach glass.

Eighteen people in a two-bedroom cottage; forty or so people there for the toast (not counting those who participated in other parts of the world); bikes and beach glass and family. The farewell brought forth new life, new relationships, renewed connections, and a new shape and solidity to a strong and loving family.  For those who couldn't be there --  the South Carolina contingent of Michael Douglas and his family; and Mary Flowers and her family, and the British contingent of Aunt Mary and Cousin Danny in Italy and Cousin Nigel and his wife Lesley in Lostwithiel; and Mother's Cousin Carolyn and Cousin Jackie -- we spoke of you often, knew your desire to be with us; and knew that you were with us in the the toast and in spirit.

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