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Column: Shelter Island souvenirs


Memory is a tricky thing.

I’ll never forget that afternoon on the beach, the setting sun, the waves breaking. Wait. Waves breaking? That must have been Montauk.

Or maybe I’m remembering spring break at Clearwater Beach? Wish I’d kept a souvenir.

We live in a resort, and for hundreds of years visitors have left here with objects to remind them of a special time and place. Island retailers have sold souvenir postcards since the 19th century, and in the mid-20th century you could go home with a can of Shelter Island scallops, an idea I find deeply disturbing.

Not more disturbing than the “Shelter Island Cuff,” available on eBay from designer Amrita Singh, “encrusted with crystals and various shaped stones in red, black or turquoise,” presumably to remind the wearer of the subtle colors of the glass bin at the town Recycling Center.

The bracelet is said to make a glam statement, so why not pair it with a “Shelter Island Head Pendant”  — same designer — to solidify those memories by wearing a jewel on your forehead made of gold-tone brass with resin stone and Austrian crystals?

I was feeling pretty smug about the Shelter Island Head Pendant when I remembered that I have some slightly glam Shelter Island souvenir jewelry myself, a silver pendant in the shape of the Island.

And when I asked around, I found out that many current, former and some-time Island residents also have an object in their lives that reminds them of Shelter Island.

For instance, Katherine Hammond keeps an arrowhead that she found in the yard when her house was built 30 years ago. It’s a link to the Island’s past, since she’s pretty sure it is hundreds of years older than her house.

Deer antlers are the physical representation of Joe Denny’s connection to the Island. He found them in the woods, and said they remind him of what an honor it is to be able to live close to nature on a perfect island. They also help him think. “I display them inside a small building on my property where I spend a lot of time contemplating in the space between thoughts,” Joe said.

Jean Dickerson is a harelegger with family that goes back 10 generations, which qualifies her DNA as a souvenir of the Island. Her list of souvenirs starts with her house, which her father built, and in which she was born, but also includes maps, sweatshirts, paintings, a table and a blanket. “I keep all and love all,” Jean said.

Cindy Belt doesn’t consider things she finds on the Island to be souvenirs since she lives here, but she does have a personal rock. “It fits exactly into my loosely closed hand and reminds me of the calm, happy day when I found it on Wade’s Beach several years ago.”

Jeanette Flynn and her daughter Tara have made a project of collecting souvenir beach glass for years. So far, they have three glass jars of multicolored glass from Island beaches, to remind them of times together.

Katherine Garrison and her family relocated to Dayton, Tennessee at the end of June, right after her son Will graduated from the Shelter Island School, making the question of souvenirs of Shelter Island an especially poignant one for her. “My most cherished souvenir from Shelter Island is the beautiful plate with a painting of the library on it, given to me by my co-workers. A piece of my heart will forever belong to this amazing library.”

Not every memory recalled by a souvenir is a happy one. Paul Shepherd broke his walking stick during a temper tantrum over some doggish behavior while walking his canines.

No animals were injured, but the stick took significant damage. “I glued it and still use it,” he said. “There is something about wood and the hand-rubbed finish … and the reminder to chill out. After all, dogs are only human.”

Joanne Sherman’s favorite souvenir is a green and blue magnetic map of Shelter Island, even though the memories it invokes are closer to “I Love Lucy” than “Remembrance of Things Past.” She said the original map was made in 2001 by her son Matthew as a Father’s Day present for his dad, Hoot Sherman.

The magnetic map stuck on the back of Hoot’s truck was so widely admired that Matt and Joanne went into production, making dozens of maps every weekend for years at the kitchen table with magnetic paper and decals, selling them by word of mouth, and donating the proceeds to local worthy causes. Nowadays, you can buy the maps at Bliss’ Department Store, and Hoot still has the original.

Although Lois B. Morris hasn’t gone into the souvenir-selling business, storage considerations might force her hand, since she lists Shelter Island hats, license plate, notepad, stationery, car magnet, coffee mug, T-shirts, and local scenes painted by local artists among her current souvenir collection.

Now I lay me down on my Ralph Lauren Shelter Island vintage linens (which Etsy describes as pink and red roses “like what you’d find in Grandma’s attic”) and dream of a place where nature was something I could hold in my hand, and peace could be carried in my pocket.

My souvenirs are symbolic of a time and place, and a physical reminder of what was important about it — a relationship, the peace of a day on the beach or a walk in the woods, or connection to people who died before I was born.