In 2017, when the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service needed live-in caretakers for a rocky, windy island off Australia’s southern coast, it limited the search to couples who could demonstrate that they had spent a lot of time together in a remote place, on the theory that such couples know a thing or two about getting along, and depending on each other.
Tasmania Parks and Wildlife should set up a recruiting table in the IGA parking lot.
What happens to a couple in a place you can’t leave after midnight? For Valentine’s Day, the Reporter asked four Island partners what Shelter Island has meant for their relationship, for better or worse.
Tom Hashagen and Lisa Shaw have been together for 35 years, and have lived, worked and made music together.
Lisa: When we met, I had lived here most of my life, and was anxious to get away and stay away.
Tom: I was in love with Shelter Island as well as in love with her. Lisa could have taken it or left it.
Lisa: I wanted to leave it.
Tom: Music is the glue.
Lisa: It’s how we met really, when I joined his band. He was mean and rude and I didn’t like him one single bit.
Tom: Yeah. Pretty much I was an [expletive].
Lisa: I’m not sure what happened.
Tom: I’m the better man for it.
Lisa: Now I have those small town stories, like when I go to the liquor store and they’ll say, you know Tom has also picked up some wine.
Tom: We used to talk about wanting to retire someplace else, and then we’d take a ride over to Louis’ Beach to see the sunset … we’d be nuts to leave.
Lisa: Because Tom has a reputation as a chef, there’s an assumption by some that I don’t cook, so when I do cook, it is a surprise.
Tom: It sure surprised me.
Lisa: What do you mean! I can cook.
Tom: I taught you how to cook.
Lisa: The physical constraint of being on an island, is deep within the psyche. It’s community more than a spousal thing. It’s such a small community, especially this time of year.
Tom: When I was at Buzzy’s funeral at the Presbyterian Church, I signed the guest book “Tom and Lisa” and that’s all I had to write because everyone knows who that is. It’s who we are. But it’s also our brand as a band.
Lisa: And if you ever break up, it’s really bad.
Bliss Morehead and Mike Zisser had previous marriages and children before they became a couple 40 years ago, and moved to Shelter Island full-time over 20 years ago.
Bliss: In the city, being part of a couple was just one point of light in one’s private little constellation. Out here, it’s a big definer.
The first time we walked around our new neighborhood, out popped a neighbor who told us that she’d heard we bought the house, we weren’t married yet and would be in the fall, we worked together in the city, and we had five children, which was nice because there were some other kids on the street.
In the time before cellphones, I made a call to a client from the pay phone in front of Carol’s. Later that day, an acquaintance said she noticed me using a pay phone earlier, and was anything wrong at home? There was a hint of — married women not using pay phones when they have perfectly good telephones in the homes they share with their husbands — a Madame Bovary moment!
Albert and Mary Dickson have been together for 33 years.
Mary: Albert grew up here and his goal was to retire here. It was a prenup, I had to agree to that.
Albert: Shelter Island was always where we were going to wind up. No North Carolina or Florida. This was it.
Mary: I signed the prenup.
Albert: There was no prenup.
Mary: It wasn’t literally, but …
Albert: There was a lot of comfort, knowing this is where we were going to come.
Mary: In Red Bank, [New Jersey, where they had previously lived] there were a lot of restaurants, a lot of activities. Here, you have to create things. When people sit in front of the TV and eat, that’s the kiss of death.
Albert: Mary is not just a cook, she’s a chef.
Mary: A tablecloth, napkins and candles doesn’t cost any money. Make it nice.
Tracy and Bryan McCarthy have been together for over 10 years.
Tracy: We spotted each other at an Island watering hole, and within minutes, I had the entire low-down on who Bryan was, where he worked, and what he was like in high school. Every fact you would want to know about someone before approaching them in a bar.
It’s always easy to stay in touch, because if one of you doesn’t know where the other is, someone else has probably seen your spouse within the last hour and can clue you in. Cons? When I leave the Island on the ferry, it gets reported back to him ASAP.
Plusses? There are not a lot of other distractions, so we end up doing a lot together.
I don’t think it is too much different than being in a relationship elsewhere, except you have fewer choices of where to go out on date night!
I do credit the smallness of Shelter Island to bringing Bryan and me together.