Codger has always loved this time of year, from Labor Day when the air whooshes out of the Shelter Island beach ball to Thanksgiving, his favorite holiday, a week-long family festival of hugging and overeating and, for the younger Codgkins, plunging into the waters off Crescent Beach for glory and cash.
Not this year.
People decamped last week, but it was more of a trickle than the usual torrent. Many of the COVID-19 refugees of last March have stayed on, worked out their working arrangements, enrolled their children in school here and even begun to think of their country house as their first home.
Codger wonders how this will change the Island. Having once been a second-home owner, even a “summer people,” he knows there is a big difference between how you think about a place for chilling and a place where you’ve made your last stand.
Or even the place where you’ve hedged your bet, waiting for the storm to pass, if indeed it ever truly does.
Last week, another dog walker on Wades Beach told Codger he had been living full-time on the Island for six months and was liking it better by the day. Fellow second-home-owning friends felt the same way, he said, several of them enough to send their kids to school here.
“Be good for the school,” he said.
Before Codger could follow up on that, Cur II spotted a friend, ending the moment. But Codger has been thinking about that remark. The school, he thinks, is the central hive of a small town, even one like Shelter Island with its unusually large elderly population. Kids make friends at school, but so do their parents; 40 years later, Codger still vividly remembers conversations while waiting to pick up his kids after school.
Some 60 new children, mostly in the elementary grades, have reportedly entered the school this term, a huge number for a school whose population was slightly below 200. While younger kids tend to adapt and slip seamlessly into such new situations, their parents, especially if they come from a different cultural sensibility, say Park Slope or the Upper West Side, may have some different ideas of how a school should be run and how much input should come from parents.
Will this put more pressure on administrators and teachers? Will it cause friction or stimulate dynamic cooperation and support?
Codger has no informed opinion on this although as the child of two New York City public school teachers who regarded themselves as the all-knowing professionals and parents as buttinskis, he will be an interested observer.
People have reported that it was school Superintendent Brian Doelger’s warm and welcoming manner that convinced many parents to send their kids here rather than to a South Fork private school, or try to continue online elsewhere. That’s a good omen.
Meanwhile, with sports canceled until next year, what will replace those unifying rallies known as high school basketball and volleyball games, some of the glue that held the winters together? At least the nickname “Indians” has been replaced with some curriculum on Native American history and issues, which has to include why Indians have been suffering and dying lately at greater numbers than most other Americans.
Between that and the interest in Black Lives Matter, there should be lots for people new and old to talk about.
Think positive, thinks Codger. Laurie Fanelli, the director of Senior Services, and Lucille Buergers, the town’s part-time social worker, have assembled a volunteer group of mental health professionals, resident COVID-19 refugees, to help with their case load of such local issues including domestic abuse, drugs and hoarding.
The group is called the Health and Wellness Alliance, and as it settles into the community its sense of mission seems to expand. It was a partner of the library in presenting the recent panel discussion on racism on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech. Local residents, Black and white, shared their experiences.
We better be sharing, thinks Codger. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, “If you’re talking about getting back to a degree of normality, which resembles where we were prior to COVID, it’s gonna be well into 2021. Maybe even towards the end of 2021.”
He also said: “We need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter because it’s not going to be easy.”
Sometime after Nov. 3, thinks Codger, we’ll find out just what that means: worse of the same, or a real chance at combating this physical, economic and political plague exacerbated by a greedy gang of elected terrorists.
Codger is also trying not to think about the ferries sinking in red ink. Hunkering takes on new meaning if you can’t get off the Island.