Harold Owen taught high school English, and theatre with the r before the e, to teenagers. He taught our son to play chess as a small kid, and taught our daughter a bit of piano technique. What matters, though, when it’s all said and done, is that Hal taught Dennis, the guitar man of Matinicus, his first chord.

As I write, the sun is turning orange on a hot summer Saturday night. Across the gravel road we hear a band playing to the neighborhood, and Dennis is belting out “Born on the Bayou.” Everybody in the bay will tell you that Dennis is a damned good guitarist. He grew up out here — born to go to haul, basically — and as I hear the stories it was probably not very danged likely anybody was going to lug him to the mainland for music lessons at an early age. There is a good deal of laughter and enjoyment on this island right now, and the music means a lot to the residents of the independent and autonomous Anarchic Republic of Matinicus. I ought to walk over there and listen to the tunes up close but I’m beat after a long day of work, and I’m happy to avoid the crowd at the moment, and the music sounds fine from right here.

Good thing Hal gave Dennis a start playing that guitar.

Hal — a friend, a neighbor, a mentor and, I think, a lot of people’s unrelated uncle (which is always an important role) — was also one for instigating theater just for the hell of it, this despite conventional wisdom and any unsolicited cultural stereotypes regarding who would be interested in such goings on in a fishing community. He organized and directed a reading of Dylan Thomas’ radio play “Under Milk Wood” out here with a random assortment of community members, including my two small kids and that month’s random imported minister with his Canadian accent. He performed A. R. Gurney’s Love Letters with Suzanne Rankin at the Matinicus church, after which my husband remarked that Hal nailed the sarcasm. He organized a round-robin reading of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in the island’s one school, which took the better part of a summer day — with lunch break — and included folks who might not have ever sat together had it been advertised as High Art and Serious Culture, but this was just Hal doing something because why not? Twelfth Night is remembered by some who were there as a peculiar and remarkable day which, some have reason to suspect, just ever so slightly adjusted the vector of a few young lives.

In September of 1989, at Paul’s and my wedding reception in South Thomaston, our large gang of revelers grew quiet for a moment while a couple of well-spoken guests offered toasts as is ordinarily done at that sort of lawn party. Paul raised his glass and thanked everyone, and we had an uncharacteristically dignified interlude of relative calm, between Percy and the Kitchen Stompers and the band known only as “The Guys from Eastern Sheet Metal.” After an offer of a few more gentle words from some tenderhearted soul came a shout from the back of the crowd, in the voice of Macbeth and Oberon and Lear and more than a few Rude Mechanicals, something very much like: “Paul Murray, when are you gonna fix my sink?” Everybody just about fell apart laughing. That was 30 years ago.

Hal died a few days ago. In his later days he occupied the space of each day, and that day only, but evidently with much contentment.

Let us not put anybody on a pedestal, or take the humanity out of memories with application of too much glitter and shinola. It makes me squirm a little when we wax too sentimental about an old friend, and excessive icon-making is just tedious for the relatives. This is also not Hal’s obituary and I do not have the knowledge to even try a comprehensive list of everything of note that he did. I know he was in the Army in or around WWII. I know he had beautiful furniture he’d built himself. I wish only to say, here in public — for Hal feared no public — that my own kids wouldn’t have turned out the same without his art, his twinkle, his depth, his diversity of interests and his desire to teach them to children. And (and I do remember he and I having a discussion about beginning sentences with “and,” Hal actually more liberal than I about the matter), with Dennis starting up his amp just down the road a bit and them boys just now launching into “I’m a Honky-Tonk Man,” this storied isle wouldn’t have been the same without him either.