May 19, 2019
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‘This isn’t just a loss for one family’: Lobsterman’s death unites Maine island town in grief, efforts to help family

LONG ISLAND, Maine — On a clear day, the mainland and surrounding islands of Casco Bay are easy to see from Long Island. On this particular day, though, the rain was driving and a heavy, damp fog had settled over the island town.

From the cab of his noisy old truck, Will Hickok pointed out several community landmarks, like the old dance hall, the filling station at the general store and the island’s school house, most of which appear to be from a bygone era.

A lobster fisherman, known to his friends as “Wild Bill,” Hickok is mourning the passing of his fellow islander Steve “Mike” Hanson, who died Nov. 19 from a head injury after falling at his home.

Hanson, 59, lived on Long Island with his wife and their 14-year-old son. A lobster fisherman by trade, he used his skills as a handyman to do work for and help his neighbors. He wasn’t born on the island, but he was appreciated, and his death hit hard among the small isolated town’s 200 year-round residents.

“He would do anything for anybody and not expect a dime,” Peachie Stevens, 71, a Long Island lifer who runs Peachie’s Golf Cart Rentals, told the BDN the day after Hanson’s body was discovered by two islanders walking to catch a ferry.

“Mike was larger than life out here,” Hickok recalled. “He wasn’t just a lobsterman.”

Hickok pulled off the road and into a driveway.

“This is Tom and Sharon Marr’s house,” he said. “They run a foundation that’s helping to raise money for Mike’s family.”

Hickok knocked once on the front door, then entered.

“Oh, hey, Will,” a weary-looking Tom Marr said as he shuffled into the kitchen. “I’m heading up to the school for the harvest lunch with the kids.”

The conversation turned to more pressing matters.

“Hey, do you know how many more of Mike’s traps we got to get?” Marr asked, referring to the number of Hanson’s lobster traps still sitting on the ocean floor.

In an effort described as “the type of thing you’re just supposed to do for people out here,” lobster fishermen from all over the island have been pitching in to tie up the loose ends left behind by a man who made his living on the sea.

Unable to find Hanson’s “books” — notebooks with coordinates of set lobster traps that most lobster fishermen keep on their boats to help them find their buoys — the two men can only make informed guesses about the remaining places to search.

They figure places foreign to most but familiar to Long Islanders, like Lighthouse Rock, Thumbcap Rock and The Cod Ledge, would be logical places to look. But neither man is positive about the location or number of traps remaining.

As the traps come in, the lobsters in them are sold, and the money is given to the Hanson family. Hanson’s three boats, as well as all of the traps, ropes, buoys and anything else of value is likely to be sold once the painstaking process of gathering everything is complete.

Island ties

Island living is about taking care of those in your community. At the school house, for example, about a hundred people were gathered this day for a “harvest lunch,” which features a meal made with all local ingredients fresh off the harvest season.

The children benefit from learning about local farming practices, but the whole community benefits because everyone is invited.

Several the adults present were parents of the students. But like Tom and Sharon Marr, many of them have no school-aged children. They attend the seasonal lunches for the sense of community.

Youngsters bounced around the tiny building while the adults — many of whom were lobster fishermen taking the day off because of the harsh weather — quietly conversed. The mood in the room was somber for the most part, and the conversations kept drifting to finding Hanson’s traps and fundraising ideas to help his family.

As the lunch ended and people made their way out of the building, Sharon Marr stood in the hallway embracing a sobbing woman. Marr held the woman close, offering comfort.

In a small room at the back of the building, Sharon and Tom Marr sat down to explain the mission of their foundation, which is called Changing Tide.

The foundation, which was founded in 1994 and operates as a nonprofit, helps struggling islanders with problems ranging from medical and transportation needs to professional counseling for grieving children or family therapy.

They also raise money to support early childhood education on the island through bake sales and community functions. They also offer heating assistance to islanders in need.

“For some of our families, in the wintertime they’re forced to make the choice between food and heat,” Sharon said. “We try to make sure none of our families have to suffer. And through the support of the community we’ve been able to help hundreds of people over the years.

“This loss that the Hanson family is experiencing is all of our loss, not in the same intensity that they are, but we’re all very, very sad,” she said. “We hold each other up in times like this. We hold each other while we cry, and then we move forward as a group of people, as a family.”

Emotion overwhelmed Sharon, so Tom put his arm around her and concluded with a steadiness learned from a lifetime of toiling on the choppy Atlantic,

“Everybody’s been springing into action to help,” he said. “Nobody has to ask. They just know what it is that they have to do and they do it.”

For Ian Sharkey, Hanson’s sternman, this is a quality that makes Long Island special.

“This isn’t just a loss for one family; it’s everybody’s loss,” he said of Hanson. “I can’t count how many people have stopped by to check on me and ask if there’s anything they can do to help. Everybody’s been great. We’re all pulling together.”

Sharkey is dealing with financial instability along with the deep grief he feels after losing his employer and friend.

“Every island’s got good folks and bad folks, but there’s not a person on this one that had a bad word to say about Mike. Nobody on the island really knows how to handle it. It just doesn’t seem like it could’ve happened — doesn’t seem real.”

For the winter season, Sharkey and his wife are renting a house overlooking the bay. On this gray day, amid the driving rain, the pain overtook him. With tears streaming down his face, he locked his jaw and explained his love for Long Island.

“You get a true sense of freedom living out here, but it’s a hard life to live, especially in the winters,” he said. “It’s old school, traditional, almost like going back in time to the way things use to be — the way things ought to be.”



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