The man at the door was wearing a suit and tie; a really nice one, and his shirt was starched and almost shining. It was obvious that he was a stranger not just by his looks, but by how he acted, like he knew he was on unfamiliar ground, and maybe even a little lost. It was just after sundown on December 23rd, more than thirty years ago, and it was highly unusual to see anybody, even a traveling salesman, working on that day and especially at that hour. Even more ominously, the stranger had pulled out and opened his wallet, and held an identification so as to show who or what he was.
As my cousin opened the door of his small rented mobile home, what we then called a trailer, the visitor stretched out his hand with the picture showing and announced, “Good evening. I am special agent Taylor* of the I.R.S.”
Within no more than a few seconds he would explain who he was looking for and why he was there. But in those seconds, and before he could utter those words, my cousin’s whole life history passed swiftly though his mind.
He was reminded that he had dropped out of school even before finishing the eighth grade, (and thus avoided having to leave the Island for High School). He recollected that he had never held a job other than working in the water, and that unlike most of his family he had never owned a boat of his own. He had instead worked as a crewman for any of ten or more friends or family who took him along for a share of the catch. Like almost everyone else he had been paid strictly in cash, in a barter economy that kept no records and reported no earnings.
He contemplated that he didn’t even get a social security card until he was in his thirties, and then only because he had been told that this was the only way he or his wife would ever be able to draw any kind of pension. And most of all, he thought about how he had never once filed his taxes – either federal or state, since as far as he was concerned he had never earned a real income.
In only a second or two all of this came back to him, and not just that. He assumed, it had come back to haunt him!
As my cousin struggled for what he might say or do, at first pretending that he did not hear or understand what he was being told, the stranger at the door tried to continue his introduction. He wanted to explain that he was there only to ask for directions. You see, in the days before 911 identification, homes and even streets on the Island were not marked, except for an occasional mailbox with a “Star Route” number that had absolutely no order or sequence. The agent was looking for a recent newcomer to the Island, one who had appeared to be a successful businessman searching for a quiet place to retire. But he obviously had some unresolved tax issues or else a government agent would not have been seeking him out in person only less than two days before the most important holiday of the year.
But before he could, my cousin gave way to both the fear and the resignation that had overwhelmed him. Stretching forth his hands so as to easily be shackled or cuffed, he looked the stranger in the eye and asked, “How come you waited until this close to Christmas to come get me?”
Harkers Island people and stories, as told to and by one of them.
"All the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life . . . the sun rose upon a tranquil world, and beamed down upon the peaceful village like a benediction.” Mark Twain - Tom Sawyer
For the last ten years or so I have been compiling a list of stories --- some sublime, and some ridiculous, and some in-between --- about the Island I grew up on. It remains my hope to arrange them into a coherent narrative that will convey some of what it was like to be a small part of a special place at a special time.