The island of Martha’s Vineyard is a magical place filled with enchantment and wonder. For more than half a century, I have been under its whimsical spell—one that continues to lure me back year after year.
Just as a migrating bird is compelled to return to a specific geographic region each spring, I gravitate back to the Vineyard. I do this not only to reconnect to a time gone by, but also to reenergize my soul so I am inspired to reach the full potential of my life’s purpose. This compulsion is not unlike the behavior of certain species of fish that instinctively swim upstream to spawn. Regardless of distance or the seemingly insurmountable odds against reaching their destination, they forge ahead with unrelenting determination.
Those who visit Martha’s Vineyard for the first time often develop an irresistible urge to come back, an urge most people don’t readily recognize, perhaps because it resides at the subconscious—or even the deeper molecular—level. Just as is true when one is addicted to a powerful drug, once you are hooked, you reach a point at which you can no longer do without it.
I have long since crossed that line of demarcation in my relationship with Martha’s Vineyard.
Whether it’s hanging out downtown in Oak Bluffs . . . taking an invigorating swim in the medicinal waters that surround the island . . . hiking endless trails meandering through forests, fields, and meadows . . . traversing hills that lead you to the shore . . . or simply sitting alone at a beach watching the sun slowly fade to a reddish pink hue, I faithfully immerse myself in these and many other treasures this island has provided countless times over the course of many years. I never grow tired of or bored by them, but, instead, am reborn each time. With gratitude, I acknowledge the wonderful blessings that God has given me, particularly the summers spent on Martha’s Vineyard.
That journey began when I was less than a year old and continues to this day—over fifty years later. However, when I spent summers there as a child, my personal feelings for the Vineyard were far from euphoric; it was simply a place I was sent to each year. The irony was that most people counted the days leading up to going to Martha’s Vineyard; I used to count them down to the day I would be picked up and taken back home. Now—older, wiser, and more appreciative of this gem of an island—I find that, each time I go there, it is as if it were for the first time. Now I become animated and full of excitement with renewed thoughts of and feelings about tomorrow’s promise.
During one trip to the Vineyard, my wife, Olivia, made an astute observation, and it wasn’t until she shared this observation with me while on the ferry that I became aware of how I reacted each time we drove to the Steamship Authority dock in Woods Hole or to the Island Queen in Falmouth Heights to board the boat. She had noticed that, each time, I proceeded to identify the same landmarks, points of interest, personal anecdotes, and historical relevance that had become an integral part of my experiences on the Vineyard.
With the exuberance one feels when doing something exciting for the very first time, I recalled those experiences with crystal clarity. My eyes sparkled with joy and enthusiasm as I mentioned this and recounted that, much like a child on Christmas morning, giddy with excitement about what Santa might have left under the tree. That exuberance has never waned.
Many accounts of personal experiences on Martha’s Vineyard have been written over the years, each one unique and no more or less relevant than any other. This particular story is, of course, my account of our summers on the Vineyard at a time when the mundane was not necessarily a prelude to boredom, a time when the plain things in life had meaning, when simplicity had its place.
However, this is an atypical account compared to those documented from the perspective of affluence or travelogues, in which people of means flock to the Vineyard on private jets or massive pleasure boats to live the leisurely life of ostentatious opulence, vacationing at sprawling summer estates while undaunted by the existence of common folk—like my family.
For neither wealth nor social status was part of the equation when we were there. Thus, absent those attributes, this is a story about family, discipline, survival, tough love, respect, camaraderie, and self-discovery, played out under humble circumstances.
The Vineyard we came to know was viewed through a completely different lens, in which the dominating factor in our resilience was the closeness we had as family. This closeness buoyed our spirits and triumphantly carried us through the trials and sometimes harsh realities of life on the island when we were young.
Many surmise that anyone who ever had a summer home on Martha’s Vineyard must have been affluent or socially connected to people with power and influence. But, in our case, nothing could have been further from the truth. While my grandmother once owned a modest, unheated, two-bedroom cottage on the Vineyard, it is also worth noting that it was neither her second nor third house; it was her only house, acquired at a time when she was fortunate to have been able to take advantage of an opportunity. That old, rickety summer house in Oak Bluffs served as one of the most influential anchors in my Vineyard life’s story.
If that house still existed today and could talk, it would have much to say.
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