Last time we discussed birthday parties for little kids, including how a John Deere tractor is as good entertainment as any ol’ for-hire pony or prestidigitator. Those laughing children (and adults) hoisted aloft in the tractor bucket weren’t even wearing helmets, hearing protection, or fall-arrest lanyards! Shocking. Anarchy, in the right hands, makes for an improved childhood.

Since then, rather than birthdays, this island has been busy with funerals. A few months ago the family of a hundred-plus-year-old merchant mariner with Matinicus roots began making arrangements for the ashes of Captain Ed Clark and his wife to be buried here. The Sunbeam delivered the two gravestones to Matinicus last spring, and the local guy who serves informally as a sort of cemetery sexton used the municipal Kubota to move them from the harbor to the cemetery in the middle of the island.

The Maine Seacoast Mission vessel Sunbeam is instrumental when it comes to these things. For over a century the Sunbeam — the current boat is Sunbeam V, by the way — has carried the whole business — coffin, mourners, flowers, overdressed preachers, uneasy relatives, and seasick undertakers to the most distant offshore communities. Nowadays the boat is less a matter of necessity than tradition, but the presence of the ’Beam adds a dignity and a sense of custom that most everybody appreciates.

There are, in general, no paid strangers doing the work. A Matinicus funeral is basically about mustering the neighborhood. Young people and new islanders learn that you dig your neighbor’s grave, you bake cookies or make deviled eggs for the social hour, you sweep the church basement and offer cut flowers from your garden (or from somebody’s garden, anyway), you take the chain saw off the passenger seat of the car and offer rides up the hill to little old ladies, and you take a break from the workday to show up if you can. No need of dress-up clothes. Whether the ceremony involves the most earnest of hymns or a swig of rotgut, we stand around in the cemetery, and we notice that we are together.

The other little box set lovingly into the ground last week contained the ashes of my husband’s mother, Pat, who was a good friend to me. Pat’s service didn’t require a heavy gravestone delivered on the Sunbeam, but her children had ordered a brass plaque from Brooks Monuments and, it being mainland freight headed for the island, I collected that item in the bimonthly U-Haul a few days before, along with the usual random assortment of other people’s stuff — a pallet of concrete and a large mattress and a ladder and some two-by-eights — and carried it to the island on the state ferry.

At my mother-in-law’s graveside service, Douglas Cornman, the chaplain associated with the Sunbeam, spoke some traditional words, our friend Marytha sang, our daughter Emily read a poem that Pat had written some time ago, and then the family tried to explain about the reference to squirrels in her obituary. Pat loved watching wildlife but harbored an abiding dislike of the squirrels who repeatedly sabotaged her bird feeders. She was quite the talent with a long gun even in old age and had, at one point, dispatched about 300 of the little vandals in her Scarborough subdivision before the neighbors sent for the police.

Another thing Pat could do was blow a conch shell. She and her family, including my husband as a boy, spent a good deal of time messing about among the uninhabited rockpiles of Casco Bay and the peninsulas back in the 1960s. Pat had found out that the actual United States Coast Guard regulation regarding a fog signal aboard ship allowed the option, along with horn and whistle, of a conch. I have heard that once, when their humble craft was boarded by an eager and skeptical young Coastguardsman, she found the need to demonstrate. The night before her service a bunch of us got to messing around with a conch shell. Hopefully our neighbors were not overly startled. I can report that it is no harder to blow than that danged Sousaphone from back on the 4th of July.

Captain Ed had been a very young — I have heard that he was perhaps the youngest — Merchant Marine captain in World War II, so the maritime references we commonly experience at Matinicus funerals were entirely fitting. Somebody read that “Crossing the Bar” poem by Tennyson at his service, and Douglas had brought up the ship’s bell from the Sunbeam with which he struck eight bells, signifying “end of watch.” Then, one of Captain Ed’s sons pulled a harmonica out of his pocket and played Taps.

You can be sure there were a few who blinked a few times, or found it hard to speak for just a moment.