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Ham Bags & Holidays ~ Winter on Gwynn’s Island
By Ann Sale

     More ham bags in winter, that’s for sure. If you’ll follow me in to Scrooches Market you’ll probably see your first ever ham bag. Scrooches, our only island store, advertises itself on a big rustic sign as The Island Market but Scrooch owned it and just because he died and several other owners have come and gone is no reason for us islanders to change what we call it. If one of us has ‘passed’ the ham bag will be sitting on the counter—somewhere between the day old donuts, reduced of course, and the cash register. An island tradition so old no one seems to know when it started, the ham bag bears the name of the newly deceased and gradually fills with crumpled bills and silver coins, contributions to help the family purchase a ham for the supper after the funeral. There have been decades when the price of a ham was hard to come by—still may be for some of us—so no matter who buys the store, the ham bag tradition conveys.

     It’s true, more of us die in winter, our little cemetery with the road running through it expands and we shiver by the graves as cold winds whip across the water. Maybe to make up for what we fear may be coming, we have a wingding of a Christmas. Like a lot of our homes it’s the old fashioned kind. 
We start early—but not before Thanksgiving. When the moon is full and the nights crisp as a perfectly done slice of toast we take our skiffs and canoes out on the creeks and carol our way from house to house and pier to pier. Folks have usually started their entertaining then and roasting oysters make the air pungent with salty, smoky scents. Bonfires are blazing near the water and the guests join in our singing—it’s a rousing, raucous unbelievably magic holiday opener.

     Soon candles and wreaths begin to appear at sparkling shutter sided windows transforming our stately old homesteads into a scene Currier and Ives couldn’t touch. We have some cozy cottages and trailer homes too so our kids get to see the occasional neon Santa and nose glowing Rudolph. As we troop to our ‘cultural center’ the Methodist church in days long gone by, we are aware nearly every home is decorated and if a lighted tree isn’t in the yard you can bet the boat in front is aglow. 

     Here we have our island feast with carol singing for all, but our gift of the night is always the songs and beautiful voice of one of our island angels, Judy Ward. We know she could be singing anywhere in the world with the voice she has, and if she didn’t give so much of herself to the rescue squad (one reason she’s called angel) we might have to share her. Judy’s guitar casts a spell and we finish this evening swaddled in gratitude for our blessed island life—and each other. 

     Pretty soon families come, swelling our little population, infusing robustness and joy, but we’re a small community and we don’t forget each other. We know who can’t afford much for their kids this year—who’s lonely and needs a place at the table—who’s troubled and needs just the little gift left by the door. When all of this is done and the company has gone home, we wrap up snugly and trudge our bay whipped beaches so we’re sort of ready when the first ham bag appears at the store. 

© 2001 Ann Sale. All Rights Reserved.

Readers may contact Ann Sale via email asale@crosslink.net


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