Main cabin under  construction, left. “Home,” 8′ x 12′, right

I had no idea, when I decided to go to Mother’s Mattress Factory one night early in 1981, that I would be meeting my date for our first New Year’s Eve on Orcas. I thought I was going to Mother’s to hear my friend Annie sing with the Fabulous Mudtones and – newly separated from the good doctor – prove to myself that I could.

The Mattress Factory was a nightspot in Corvallis frequented by Oregon State graduate students and those slightly older.  People who already had sons in college themselves were rarely seen.  The eyes of my friend and framer, Carol Moore, practically popped through her glasses when she spotted me leaning back to the bar.  She invited me to her table where six others were already gathered. Beer flowed. Annie sang a tight three-part harmony with the guitar and sax players. Dancers swung to tunes like Sunny Side of the Street and Honeysuckle Rose. Feet tapped. Pitchers were refilled.  Hoping to join those on the floor, I pestered one of the tablemates I knew to dance but he declined saying he’d had too much beer. Jeffrey leaned across and said, “I’ll dance with you.”

My, he moved!  He picked up the quick beat and was both creative and right on the time. I found I could follow by watching his eyes (this is still true). When I told him, he tried to outfox me by doing weird little eyeball dribbles down the pipes hanging low in the ceiling. We spun and twirled.  It was fun.  Afterwards, I introduced him to Annie.  He disappeared and I drove home not to see him again for a year.

But now it was ten years later and 1992 was ringing out. The person who had become my confidant, a frequent dance partner, the builder of an addition to my Soap Creek home in Oregon, and who had taught me to solo sail, had joined me to build the main house of my adventure on Obstruction Island.  Of course we were going dancing.

The 92-93 winter had an unusual stretch of freezing weather – three weeks without a break. Several inches of snow were on the ground.  This was a poor year for such an extended freeze.  We had no inside running water. We kept our water outside, collected in jugs and buckets. These would freeze solid.  While using one five gallon bucket of water, I would bring the next inside to start defrosting.   When I was down to the last bucket, I heated the water to boiling and carefully poured it on our frozen standpipe.  More than once I was down to the last quart before the ice jam at a vulnerable joint thawed and again the water flowed.

Little things like ice on the roads weren’t going to keep us from the New Year’s bash at the Orcas Center. My Honda Civic was chained up and ready to go.  In anticipation of the evening we gathered our dancing duds, towels, soap and shampoo into backpacks and headed across the island, clad in warm snow gear.  The moon was so bright on the snow we didn’t need flashlights. Our boots crunched the frozen ground.  We carried gallons of water for Bad Boat, which was tied for some reason now forgotten on the South Dock.  We had to add the fresh water to keep a failing engine part running. Bad Boat wheezed, losing power.  She barely managed to gasp her way into the dock on the Orcas side of the Pass.

Next we ka-thunked in the chains over snow and ice to Moran State Park. Jeffrey disappeared into the men’s side and I into women’s side of the wash house where you could shower – placing a stack of quarters next to your shampoo.

When had I packed in November to come to the island, I had included one go-anywhere dress with a nice twirly skirt.  I also had stockings and heels and so emerged from the washhouse looking like someone ready to dance.  Jeffrey emerged from his side, clean-shaven, in slacks, a sport coat, and wearing the one shirt that had escaped wriinkles (no iron on Obstruction that winter).  He did not  have leather shoes or a tie.

We clunked and ka-thunked another ten miles to West Sound Marina where his sailboat, Coquette, stood blocked and under repair. He climbed up and in.  A faint flashlight beam traced his way down the cabin and he soon returned with shoes and a tie.

When we ka-thunked to a stop in the Orcas Center’s parking lot, we were greeted with the strains of  “Dancing in the Dark” floating on the frosty air.  Friends greeted us and asked us to join them.  Toes started tapping, eyes twinkled and we danced our way into the New Year and our new life in the islands.

Before the evening was over, there was an award given for the couple in the best costume.  Not many had opted for a costume.  The prize was won by a couple in Hawaii tourist garb. Really!  The judges failed to realize that Jeffrey and I, by looking normal, were more in costume than anyone there. They would have known for sure if they had stayed while the musicians packed up their instruments and watched Jeffrey and me pulled on our heavy skiwear and boots right over our party clothes.

We filled our jugs with more fresh water and returned to Bad Boat at the Pass. The moon shone on the water.  The air crackled with cold.  Bad Boat gasped and wheezed back to the island and our kind of normal.


© Caroline Buchanan, 2007; First published Decemer 2007, in the Island Hardward Newsletter.