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  • Summer houses invite company. The houses on the island are no exception. Long time islanders swap guest stories and tales of visitors who got more, or sometimes less, than they expected on island visits.

    Carl had a couple out recently. The ferret guys. I was dispatched to pick them up at the harbor as I had the boat was over on errands anyway. I didn’t have a description or a name but I knew to expect two guys from Massachusetts with ferrets.

    Are they for real ferrets or is their name Ferret, asked Sam at the summer solstice party a couple of nights before.

    For real ferrets, I said.

    Oh, said Sam. Aren’t they related to mink? Will they be, like, on a leash?

    They did have leashes and a portable ferret playpen. For an early season topic of conversation the ferrets were a sensation.

    We had a function at the house while the ferret guys were visiting. They said the island was more civilized than they thought it would be but more rustic too. It was a good summary. They’ll be back. They got into island life.

    For most people it is the outhouse that makes or breaks the visit. More houses have flushers now, but back when I was a kid most houses had an outhouse and only a very few boasted real toilets and the plumbing to go with them.

    One memorable fall night, during supper with 80 year old Karen, a Norwegian famous for serving chicken the one night and then pressure cooking the bones for the next night’s company, the only other inhabitant on the island burst in. It was a dry night and he was in full-on foul weather gear; yellow sou’wester hat, red rain slicker, and hipboots. His eyes were wild.

    Do any of you have a plumber’s snake, he demanded.

    We shook our heads and wondered what was up.

    Apparently the septic system was backed up.

    My outhouse never does that, said Karen as she poured another round of vodka fortified dandelion wine.

    We managed to hold in the laughter until he was out the door and gone.

    As we walked home that October evening, he was digging by lantern light like a man possessed. The carefully tended lawn in front of his picture perfect house dotted with test holes in his desperate search for the inspection port to his long buried septic system.

    As I was saying the outhouses are usually the make or break point of the island visit.

    When my Aunt and Uncle visited years ago, they sent back what was, for them, the perfect house gift.

    We got a note that a package was waiting for us up at H. G. Reed’s store in the harbor. My dad, to his credit, waited until he was back before opening it.

    What is it, I asked from the far side of the room.

    A toilet seat, my mother replied.

    My father was going to refuse to install it in the outhouse, after all my aunt and uncle were never coming back he told my mother.

    In all my years there has been only one truly perfect house gift and it came last year.

    It was Ren’s last day on the island. She had been a perfect guest. Loved everything, joined in, went off on her own, laughed, drank wine, wandered, wondered. Perfect.

    She came up the hill that afternoon.

    I found the perfect present for you, she said. We need to go down and get it before it goes away.

    When we heard what it was we agreed. This was a must have present.

    I got a plastic shrimp tray with a rope handle to drag it across the rocks.

    Carly got the cart. We loaded a saw, clippers, rope, and an axe. Just in case we couldn’t manage it whole.

    Off we went.

    The dead porpoise was washing against the ledges in water about waist deep. It was battered but whole.

    It’s all there, said Ren.

    We can bury it in the orchard holes and then dig out the skeleton, said Carly.

    We waded out to retrieve this treasure.

    It was an adult porpoise, about six feet long, round as a barrel in the middle, tapering at both ends. It was a lot heavier than it looked and a lot more slippery.

    Carly took the tail and I grabbed the mouth and we hoisted it up onto the rocks and into the shrimp tray. Carly made sure the shrimp tray didn’t tip and spill its load as I dragged it across the pink granite ledges up to the cart at the edge of the shore.

    About the time we managed to lift the whole thing into the cart is when we noticed the smell. Out of the water it was considerably more pungent.

    Up the hill we hauled cart, shrimp tray and porpoise. We only passed one other couple riding by in their three wheeler. They did a half-turn double take as they got down wind of us but all they could see was the back of the cart.

    The porpoise is still installed in the orchard hole awaiting exhumation. The complete skeleton will be amazing.

    Like the ferret guys said, the island is both more civilized and more rustic than you might imagine.

    Some people get it, some don’t come back.
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