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  • robertfarago1

Stone Cold Sober (Vinalhaven, Maine)

My eldest brother's house in Vinalhaven is no vinyl haven. There are no LP's in attendance. In fact, there's no music system in his downstairs living room, overlooking a tidal inlet. What Alan and his wife have: silence. Deep, profound silence.

Siting in his upstairs office, I can hear the trees rustling by the window. The clink of my sister-in-law preparing lobster salad from the remains of last night’s crustaceans. The slight creaking of the desk under my laptop as my fingers tap dance on these keys.

Whether it was the boat ride to the mainland for supplies, nicotine from my first cigar in three days or my daily dose of meth-in-a-bottle, I'm not hungry. But I am satisfied.

I've finally spoken to my brother at length about our family history, learning the secrets behind my mother and father's union and immigration to The Land of the Free.

That and telling details. Like the fact that my father made post-war bank “liberating” ex-Nazis’ hidden cars, coins and art work. And the romantic, often illicit affairs that steered the course of their lives.


This is my first and in all probability only visit to my brother's island retreat, some 40 years after he began construction of a lyric poem of a wooden house.

I'm not sure why my brother waited so long to issue an invitation, or share the intel that is our common history. But I have an idea...

I told my brother that my father's sense of humor was his greatest gift: puns, jokes, sarcastic asides, pithy observations and the rest. An inheritance I've passed to all three of my biological daughters.

"I didn't inherit that," my brother admitted.

Huh, as my Knoxville real estate rep would say.

I've always wondered why my brothers kept their distance from me. There was never any animosity between us. Just indifference.

I'm not saying my let's-call-it-wry perspective on life created the gulf, but it's certainly true that neither brother shares my off-kilter frame of mind. They're both serious-minded individuals; one from the right side of the political spectrum, one from the left.

My eldest's revelation – news to me – leaves me thinking I was too, how do I put this? Intense? Maybe intellectually. Maybe emotionally. Maybe both.

And so, this time, I've toned it WAY down. No manic Mondays.

I've just let things be as they are, without comment. Embracing the relative silence both on the island and within my family. And yet...

I met my nephew's three-year-old son for the first time. The kid's incredibly clever. He speaks in full sentences and will not stop asking "why" about everything. I could almost see the wheels turning as he soaked-up the way of the world.

Am I the first adult to mess with his head? The first person to make outrageous statements challenging him to try to figure out WTF was going on?

Perhaps not. But I was definitely the only one who did so during my three-day visit.

Don't get me wrong: the boy's parents and grandparents shower the lad with judgement-free love, affection and care. There isn't a flower in this world that wouldn't bloom in that kind of light.

What this told me: my Jewish sense of humor isn't who I am. It's just the icing on the cake.

What kid doesn't like icing? Mine loved it. Then again, what kid is hurt by a nutritious, low-sugar diet? None that I can think of.

No Man is an Island

Vinalhaven itself enhanced the less confrontational side of my personality.

The island owes its genesis first to the fishing industry, then granite quarrying. Its stone-carving heyday lasted from 1880 to about 1920, when concrete and steel and granite fascias ended the trade.

What's left: pine forests that regrew after logging denuded its forests, swimming holes formed by abandoned quarries, a few civic structures and elegant "downtown" houses.

It’s inhabited by a year-round population of around 1200 souls – well-sustained by lobstering – and an influx of five times as many residents making the most of the short summer season.

The beauty all around them is inescapable. Sometimes shrouded in rolling patches of fog. Sometimes illuminated by the kind of crystal clear light that sings a siren song to the painterly amongst us.

Looking up into Vinalhaven's light-pollution-free night sky is a singular sensation. It puts our spinning planet's place in the universe into proper perspective.

Mine Too?

Tomorrow morning, Fritz and I will ride the ferry to Rockport.

I'm leaving nothing much behind – other than a few memories of my uneventful presence. Truth be told, my brother and his family have a life here that has never, will never, include me.

I'm more than OK with that. I'm happy for him. He's carved a place in the world where he can commune with his family and friends in quiet camaraderie and natural splendor.

That said, I am taking things with me. Insight into my parents' past, images of stunning natural beauty and memories of the short time I spent with people I appreciate now more than ever.

As Marcel Proust said, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." And, I might add, new ears. Trained by silence.

63 views5 comments


6 hours ago

"Truth be told, my brother and his family have a life here that has never, will never, include me"

I doubt you're missing very much, RF.

I'm guess complicated conversations about wine and art really isn't your thing.


2 days ago

you may not have “fixed” your fraternal relationship but a visit with a thoughtful conversation is progress. maine is beautiful in july.


Dave Holzman
Dave Holzman
2 days ago

I'd kind of like to get a better idea of what has kept the two of you apart, and whether and why that doesn't just end, and I would also like to know more about your father, but this is truly a beautiful piece of writing, and I hope it shall go on.


3 days ago

Bet you're happy to be riding in cooler temps. I just ordered an evaporative cooling vest in hopes of expanding my riding season this summer. I used to have one and loved it.


3 days ago

Really wanted to put a joke about Pleatherhaven, but it didn’t suit the mood. Just sayin’.

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