Columns

Codger gives thanks

As everyone knows, Codger loves Thanksgiving, his favorite holiday, a festival of family, food and the lunatic fun of the Friends of the Library’s Turkey Plunge, an annual rite for all three grandchildren.

But this year’s Thanksgiving seems even more special.

Codger thinks that things are looking up, for himself, the town and maybe the country.

Last Thanksgiving was not as hopeful a time as past holidays. Codger was lurching around in a fog with variously diagnosed and undiagnosed maladies.

A Shelter Island election campaign was looming in which a single issue, short-term rentals, was being beaten like a drum, blotting out such connected yet more pressing issues as water quality, ticks and affordable housing. Meanwhile, the unrelenting divisiveness out of Washington was trickling down on the Island; a rare incivility began to invade political conversation, into letters to the editor, eventually even exploding into parking lot shouting matches.

That was then. Codger believes that dark curtain of hopelessness is starting to lift. It’s not as if he is exactly waking up from a bad dream, but he is feeling happier climbing out of bed.

He thinks the recent national and local election results are a signal that people are reacting, if not always to the issues, at least to the realization that Macedonian fake newswriters, Russian hackers, corrupted American politicians and a mixed bag of Shelter Island barkers have been manipulating our information.

For Codger, watching the Congressional impeachment hearings was a revelation; who knew there were so many brave and principled public officials? It was a rare chance to feel pride in government. Also, two operations since last Thanksgiving have left Codger walking on a new hip and now enjoying the slow evaporation from his brain of more than a year of anesthesia and meds.

The national drama has a way to go, but the local story seems to have reached a positive turning point. The Town Board that takes office next year has a fresh start toward solving problems that have been festering for years. The incumbents worked hard despite a vague and unfocused leadership that ended in what some council members considered a betrayal, when the supervisor voted alone against the STR bill they thought he, too, had supported.

Joining the two stalwart incumbents, Albert Dickson and Amber Brach-Williams, are some other serious people: newcomer Mike Bebon impressed Codger some time ago with a humane and cogent report on affordable housing, and the returning Jim Colligan, a smart, hard worker who would delight Codger if he would tighten up his verbal reports.

Codger does not remember Gerry Siller well from his first time as supervisor, but appreciates the romance of Siller’s gift — a second chance, especially with the prospect of spearheading progress with an eager team.

Codger will miss Paul Shepherd, whose humor and gadfly sensibility, not to mention an eye for what others missed, was delivered with an enlightening and entertaining style.

Codger hopes Paul keeps his hand — and sometimes foot — in local politics. If Codger could give Paul a task, it would be to find possible associations between the local STR forces and the larger national lobbyists, including Airbnb. Recent reports of corporate funding of local STR campaigns and the latest lawsuit against Shelter Island’s new regulations incite conjecture of connections here.

Codger would be happier to find Ukraine implicated in Shelter Island politics than to learn that his neighbors are upending established zoning patterns and quality of life for the chance to build and operate stealth high-end STR rooming houses and pocket taxable income they will never report.

And then there’s the pure good news. Last week, with dozens in attendance, a ribbon was cut to open the 30-acre Mildred Flower Hird Nature Preserve, the gift of Esther Hunt in honor of her mother. Esther Hunt’s family arrived in Dering Harbor in 1913. She was briefly mayor of Dering Harbor. Her son, Bridg Hunt, is currently general manager of the North Ferry.

Codger couldn’t take his eyes off Esther Hunt, still slyly witty at 95, sitting in front of her walker in a feisty red coat. But the image of her that superimposed itself came from a wonderful Charity Robey profile in this paper earlier this year.

Following her graduation from Vassar after World War II, Esther and two girlfriends borrowed her brother’s convertible and drove across the country.

Each afternoon, they would check into a motel, replace the 25-watt light bulbs with the 100-watt bulbs they had brought along, haul out their typewriters and record their observations.

Codger loves that scene, some seventy-odd years before Esther Hunt, much of whose philanthropy has been private, sat in the rain as a piece of her heritage was given over to the public.

Codger is including that morning in his thanksgiving.