The Fisherman’s Journey Back To The Sea

I wanted to share this column written by my uncle, Tim Kelly, editor of The Suffolk Times, about my Grandfather. It was published yesterday.

The Fisherman’s Journey Back to the Sea


I’d never before been in the room the moment someone dies.

It’s not something I’ll ever forget. Nor will the memory ever fade of the man who, surrounded by his grown children and two sons-in-law, one of whom is me, breathed his last in a Stony Brook cardiac intensive care room on Saturday, March 27.

Reaching age 86, Martin Skarka surely wasn’t cheated out of his time, not that such longevity takes the pain out of his passing. For a family that lost its Mom prematurely 18 years ago and for their kids who no longer have grandparents to visit, Marty’s death is especially wrenching. As the kind of guy who jokes at funerals ¬Â — “Wow, this is the worst dance I’ve ever been to” — it was easy to believe myself immune from all this silly grief stuff. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? What, are you kidding me? Get outtahere.

Ah, but when he passed, death smacked me one upside the head. He was a great constant and always supposed to be there.

We had something other than your off-the-rack in-law thing going. It started when my older sister married my wife’s older brother. No, we didn’t get hitched in West Virginia to the pickin’ and plinkin’ of banjos. As teens, the Mrs. Kelly and me were wallflowers who kept to ourselves and later were pushed into each other’s paths. So I’ve known the guy, and the Mrs. for that matter, since age 10. He became a father figure to me after my father died when I was 14.

Mart, as he was known within the family, was a child of the Great Depression who went off to war, and when the fighting ended this card-carrying member of the “greatest generation” returned to Eastport and his part in creating and raising a gaggle of baby boomers. All who knew Mart described him as the hardest-working man they’d ever met. He was a member of the hardy brotherhood of clam diggers. When his kids winced at using that description of the old man’s vocation, he suggested “bivalve extractor.” Never quite caught on, though.

No one ever became wealthy selling sacks of cherrystones, littlenecks and chowders by the bushel, wholesale. But despite bouts with true and terrible poverty, he and the late Katherine Wilson Skarka raised six kids, losing one in a horrific car crash in 1959. The rest all went on to careers and homes and families of their own. Not too shabby.

Regardless of the season, fair weather or foul, Mart was out on the bay, pulling the rake with a wrestler’s arms and shoulders, his back straining against a strap cut from an old fire hose chained to the rake’s steel-toothed mouth. It took a storm of prodigious proportions — say, one of the recent nor’easters — to keep him ashore. No point in going out, he’d say, when “the tide’s up in the meadows.”

When phlebitis in his leg drove him off the water — full-time, anyway — Mart took a job at what’s now Peconic Bay Medical Center and worked there for over 20 years, retiring as the storeroom manager. Never took a vacation, but he did take off summer Fridays and spent his three-day weekends digging clams. Throughout the years I’d joke that he’d never die, what with his carcass being so thoroughly salt-cured and pickled. He’d then compare my Celtic complexion to the underside of a fish. He never raised his voice, was as honest as they come, always looked on the bright side and loved to laugh. A rock-ribbed Mets fan, he also loved to hate the “damn Yankees,” which is funny given that his second wife, Ellen, is so enamored of the Bronx Bombers that her license plate reads “MM Fan.” MM, as in Mickey Mantle.

Following his wishes, the family will take to the bay one of these days and scatter his ashes where he most loved to be. I’ll try to smile, but it won’t be easy.

Tim Kelly is the editor of The Suffolk Times.He can be reached at


Friday Music

Early post today. Yer gonna get spoiled.

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary (yes, go back, read that number again. That’s a twenty. Yeesh.) of the premiere of Twin Peaks. I was a *massive* Peaks fan. Still am, I suppose. I even stuck through the largely crap middle of season 2 (after the revelation of Laura Palmer’s killer, but before the creepy-cool Windham Earle stuff towards the end). In honor of the anniversary, I’m posting the vocal version of the theme. Poor Julee Cruise — she was so associated with the show, that when it fell from favor, her chance at a wider career went with it. Julee Cruise and Angelo Badalamenti – “Falling.”

Been watching the new series Justified on FX — based on the Raylan Givens stories by Elmore Leonard. Good stuff — and perhaps best of all is the the theme, performed by the Brooklyn-based Gangstagrass. The music is just what the group name indicates — heavy hip hop beats and rhymes performed over samples taken from traditional bluegrass and country. A brilliant mix, and perfect for the series. Here’s the title theme: Gangstagrass – “Long Hard Times To Come.”

A different track was used for the preview commercials on FX, and it’s equally good. Gangstagrass has an album coming — check it out when it’s released. Gangstagrass – “On The Run.”

Sticking with the mixed-genre hip-hop for a while — my favorite track from the seminal soundtrack to the otherwise forgettable film “Judgement Night”, which mixed metal, alternative and hip-hop acts: Faith No More and Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. – “Another Body Murdered.”

Public Image Ltd. is touring again — they’re playing in KC on the 26th, but I’m not attending. The only “seats” are Standing Room Only… and, bluntly, my ankles are in no shape to stand for 2+ hours. I liked PiL a lot, but sadly, not that much. My favorite track: Public Image Ltd. – “Seattle.”

Now if it was The Beat (or as I knew them, here in the US, “The English Beat.”) — well that would be another story. I’d drag myself there on bloody stumps. But unfortunately, the group has split into two line-ups (The Beat, touring the UK and Europe, fronted by Ranking Roger; and The English Beat, touring in the US and fronted by Dave Wakeling), and so a true reunion will never occur. I’ve been a nut for this band ever since my Uncle Dennis gave me a cassette of the 1982 album Special Beat Service, which I wore out. From that album: The Beat – “Save It For Later.”

Lastly, a tasty bit of oddness from Cake (my favorite track of theirs, apart from their cover of “I Will Survive.”): Cake – “Frank Sinatra.”

Enjoy, kids.