Eye on the Ball: Old Shelter Island traditions on display

We live together here with our own little moat around us. We mix with each other like no other town. Local tradesmen socialize and play with wealthy celebrities. We are all here for the same reasons — the Island, the beauty, the quiet, water sports, fishing, boating, golfing and to be with people who enjoy the same lifestyle.

All too often, when we think about living on the Island and all it has to offer, we forget to mention the people. Last week, I attended the funeral of one of our own, 67-year-old Garth Griffin, who died suddenly. Out of the blue, I was constantly reminded of the people. This Island has always been about how many people show up and care when the real problems arise.

Last week was one of those times. We had one of our largest support services at a time of year when most Islanders are down in warmer climate. By the looks of things, it really didn’t matter, since if those folk had been here, I don’t know where they would’ve been able to sit, eat or drink.

I attended the service at the funeral home on Friday afternoon from 4 to 7 p.m. The line was so long getting in the house that you had at least a half-hour wait just to get to the casket. Once you passed the casket, there was no room to sit or stand since the room kept filling up. Garth was a past chief of the Fire Department, and firefighters from all over the East End formed a lengthy line to honor one of their own.

I thought of the number of people on the Island on this Friday night and the percentage who attended this service. I would have to guess the attendance had to be around 50% of the people on the Island.

The funeral was the next day at 1 p.m. in the Presbyterian Church. While observing this attendance is when I lost it.

The people who couldn’t make it out on Friday afternoon, somehow made it out on Saturday afternoon. The church was filled with all spaces taken on the floor, in the balcony and standing room. When Garth’s brother, Greg, got up to speak, he looked out in the crowd and the first word out of his mouth was, “Wow.”

What motivated me to write this column for the Reporter was the impression left on me by the volunteer firefighters, and the Ladies Auxiliary at the firehouse. I’m still thinking of this amazing send-off there. I have seen their act many times before, but I had no idea someone was on top of this one. They were all there early, cooking and setting up, and they were all there cleaning up.

Like at the funeral parlor, and the church, lines of well-wishers kept piling into the firehouse when the church service ended.

I said the firefighters and Ladies Auxiliary will never be prepared for this one, but I was amazed at the quality of food I saw when I looked on those tables. Not the normal type of food I’m used to seeing when they are giving it away free. This operation was first class all the way.

Somehow, the more people who kept coming didn’t seem to matter. The food kept coming and it was still delicious. Also included were all the drinks and desserts. The volunteer staff never stopped working, smiling and making us all feel welcome.  

When I spoke to Garth’s brother, Greg, before leaving, I said, “Do you know what your brother would do if he saw this outpouring of love and respect?” 

Greg said, “He would cry.” 

I would have said the exact same thing. Garth knew how to do for others, but he did not know how to handle praise for himself.

I want to say “thank you” to all the volunteers who are keeping the old traditions alive. But more importantly, the way you handled everything with a smile and welcoming voice made us all proud to be one of you.