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  • Every house on the island has a shed or barn or at least a closet that serves as one. Some have two or three. The big barn and outbuildings attached to my parent’s house caved in and rotted away long before they bought the property. All that remained were the rectangular outlines of cut granite and block. My father always talked about the shed he would build, maybe a little barn, post and beam.

    I just need a little more space so there’s enough room to get everything organized and work at the same time, he said every summer.

    I smiled. Just a simple island dream.

    Gwen’s parents were some of the last to live on the island. Even after the families had left and the village died, they still came back. Gwen said they had a corner of their barn on the mainland full of odds and ends and everything they couldn’t bear to throw away.

    It’ll come in handy out to the island, Old Les Morrill told her. Next time we go out we’ll take it along.

    When I was a kid you could still walk through their house. The plaster had long since come off the walls leaving bare laths. The glass had dropped out of the windows. The chimney had tumbled into the Japanese bamboo that grew up through the windows and floor boards. The barn was a pile of jumbled, greying lumber.

    By the time I bought the property that used to be theirs the house was just a cellar hole full of weeds, rusting iron scraps and white drifts of plaster, with a stray spruce, 20 feet tall holding up the last wall. All the rest had rotted away. The year I dug out in the foundation before we built , I came across where a pantry shelf must have collapsed. Amidst the plaster and old square nails I found a neat rank of old bottles, 3-in-One Oil, Kemps Bitters, Sarsaparilla Extract, and a mound of odd screws and bolts, nuts and washers with just the trace of rust to show where the can had been.

    Gwen’s parents weren’t the only ones. Whenever I was stuck on a job and needed just the right plumbing part, or LP gas fitting, or drill bit or screw or bolt, I headed down the hill to Ted’s or Lyle’s or Lyford’s to see what they might have in stock. They were the old guard and by then had been involved in island projects and keeping aging houses going for more than 50 years. They had plenty stashed in cigar boxes full of small engine parts, ranks of old spark plugs (just in case) big glass jars full of kinked and rust spotted nails, five gallon plastic buckets rattling full of pipe connectors of every angle and diameter, chisels and hammers and axe heads without handles, handles taped and twined to get the last swing out of them. Jumbles of fishing gear in worm eaten boxes. Stacks of sharpening stones pitted and dipped with use. Treasure of every sort and variety.

    I learned from them to scavenge the shores for brass screws in odd bits of lumber washed away from boat yards and wharfs. I learned to stash the plumbing parts and gas fittings saved from jobs here and there. I learned to buy three of every part I needed in a variety of sizes when I went to town for a part because one was bound to fit and the other two would work for the next job. I learned to bring out old tools, collect wrenches and drill bits. I learned to fill jars and cans with straightened nails and collect odd screws, bolts and nuts in plastic tubs.

    Scott came out to the island about the time I was leaving. He re-built some of the older places and did his share of cleaning out the accumulated debris of generations of hauling and hoarding. He liked to talk about needing to pitch all that old shit and scoffed at the cans of reused nails and tubs of mixed screws. His new shed and barn started out with the paintbrushes all neatly hung and his toolboxes, bench and shelves clean and clear.

    But something happens when you live on an island.

    Scott worked with the crew that renovated Old Les Morrill’s place ashore after he died.

    You wouldn’t believe what Les had back there, Gwen’s husband Dickie told me. He was a regular packrat. I dunno but all the old timers were.

    The first pieces Scott hauled out to the island were Les’s bird house and a storage shelf.

    Soon as I saw them, Scott told me, I knew they’d come in handy out on the island.
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