Pratt’s Island memories

Wed, 05/26/2021 - 10:00am

News about plans to subdivide and build on the south end of Pratt’s Island greeted us when we arrived home from a vacation in Italy in 2004. I had noticed the surveyor’s tapes decorating the trees along the road, so the news was not a surprise. Although many of us cringe at the thought of this land changing, it is a reminder that land on Southport is precious and in short supply. Land we don’t own we cannot expect the owners to preserve as our special playground.

But memories abound, not only about the south end, but about the whole island when the original ten cottages with their multiple stall garages were the only buildings there. Many families cherish their period of time on Pratt’s, including my mother-in-law, whose family, the Boylins, were the first occupants in one of the three cottages on the west side in 1925. My idyllic memories of summer life on Pratt’s in the seventies found, at the south end, Mrs. and Mr. Damrell in their yellow, year-round house next to the beach and east of them the Webbers in the cottage now owned by the Browers. The house between these properties was rented and eventually bought by the Rileys. On the west side the Chandlers rented the cottage furthest south, then the Grimes, then the Kellers, and then the MacIntoshes, whose cottage was rented for a month to the Phippens. The Moresheads followed the Butlers into the next cottage at the north end, the McWhans next, and finally us, in the small cottage now owned by Mollie Moore.

One delight was that, as I remember, Nancy Chandler was chairman of the Democratic Party in Maine, and Charlie Moreshead was chairman of the Republican Party of Maine. Since we were living in Washington, D.C. and immersed in political debate, I relished the idea of these opposed political philosophies coexisting on the same small hunk of rock.

The other delight was the children. The Chandlers had two children a bit older than the rest. The Grimes, the McWhans, the Phippens, the Kellers, and we had three children each. The Moresheads had four children. This “Pratt's Island Gang” had many adventures in boats, both supervised by the Southport Yacht Club and not, played capture the flag with other yacht club children in the evening, and flashlight tag through the island woods after dark. They could get to sailing class by land on their bikes or by sea in their dinghies. In our household, you had to come home when the noon fire house whistle blew and come off the water when the Hendrick’s
Head Lighthouse came on.

On race days the mothers would sit on the rocks near the north end of the island to watch the children struggle against the tide and around the marks. Only much later did our elder son explain that he and his friend sailed their boat off course often, responding to the call of nature rather than looking for a unique way to catch the wind.

I read the whole of “The World According to Garp,” the popular novel one summer, lying on a blanket wrapped in fog on Pratt’s Island rocks. When city friends asked what I did all summer, I responded, “I go down the edge of the water and listen to the snails eat,” which I did frequently at the south end of Pratt’s. Settling in the evening on the western island rocks warmed by the day’s sun, after-dinner coffee in hand, I tracked the setting sun. Flocks of cormorants skimmed the water as they headed for their roosts on Lower Mark Island for the night. Rafts of ducks drifted by. After the sun set I listened to the birds and other small creatures quiet for the night.
Then I made my way through the dark woods to the cottage, usually building a fire to ease the night’s chill. The woods and the rocks absorbed life’s sadnesses and joys, creating for me an equilibrium that would carry me through the remaining months of the year until we would return. Other families have memories precious to them of past times on Pratt’s, on Southport, on Capital Island, and around the region. We can preserve the memories. The rest of life changes.