by Robin Harper
If you’ve lived on Martha’s Vineyard as a full-time resident long enough, you eventually get used to its Sybill-esque tendencies. You know that in the summer the population will swell 500%. You understand that in February there’s a pretty good chance you may have the movie theatre all to yourself, but in July you’re going to have to put in some serious sweat equity to see The Hangover: Part V. You’ve accepted that between Memorial Day and Labor Day you will start calling Oak Bluffs “Oaks Bluff” so the tourist who asks for directions will know what you’re talking about. To top it all off, ABC Family’s The Vineyard will try to convince you that we’re all drinking the Black Dog Kool-Aid while we engage in a Sharks vs the Jets routine with summer people.
Islanders are fairly adaptable – living all together with seven miles of water between us and the rest of America we have to be. But it’s also safe to say that many of us suffer from a form of identity-whiplash; every year watching our quiet little home on the sea become the Eastern Seaboard’s #1 destination for summer play.
I wholeheartedly admit that I join the annual island chorus exalting the arrival of September, bringing with it quiet streets, available parking spaces and once again more familiar faces than not.
But amidst the groans and hands clasped together praying for the autumnal equinox, I have to remind myself that some of my favorite moments took place during the twenty-seven summers I’ve spent here – moments that are uniquely Vineyard and for that I’ll always count myself lucky.
1. Bathing in the Aquinnah Cliffs clay pools
I must precipitate this with a reminder that the cliffs are ecologically protected and it is forbidden to climb the cliffs or touch the clay. (I was nine and didn’t know any better).
It was my family’s first summer on the island and we decided to check out Moshup’s Beach at the base of the Cliffs. As we walked far down the beach, my little self was somewhat intimidated by the increasing number of naked people. I watched as many of them climbed into the clay pools formed by the rainwater that had run down the side of the cliffs, and was astounded when my mother urged me to jump in and get dirty (this never happened before). Again and again I caked myself in clay from head to toe – the ocean my bath as I jumped in over and over to watch the water turn blood red around me.
2. Jackie-O sighting at the Katherine Cornell Theatre
When I was 14, my mother took me to see a performance of Fiddler on the Roof at the Katherine Cornell Theatre. After what seemed like never ending rounds of “Tradition” and “If I Were a Rich Man”, I was about to ask Mom if we could bail when intermission came. That’s when we spotted her at the refreshment table – Jackie-O in a long peasant skirt and a slouchy sweater with her namesake sunglasses on top of her head. My mother was of the generation that positively worshipped this woman, so I wasn’t surprised when she grabbed my arm, literally jumped and down like a little schoolgirl and whispered gleefully in my ear, “It’s Jackie Kennedy!! And she eats brownies!!”
3. Swimming in the phosphorescence at State Beach
Everyone has that summer – that one perfect summer when you’ve just left your parents house but real adult responsibility hasn’t kicked in yet, when everything’s free and easy and full of possibility. The summer of ‘96 was mine and it will always be marked by my first midnight swim with friends at Bend in the Road beach – where the water was filled with green sparkles and a full moon that promised 100 more hot summer nights.
4. Bumping into John-John
I was 19 and the company I was working for at the time had sent me to deliver a box of pamphlets to the airport. The box was pretty big and as I wrestled it up to the rental car counter I bumped into a man standing there filling out a form. I turned to say excuse me and saw a flash of perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect man. JFK Jr was looking back at me and said “No problem”. Two little words and color me a puddle. Unfortunately his wife was standing next to him so there was no chance for me to convince him that the open-mouthed girl with the flaming cheeks who had just knocked into him was the REAL woman of his dreams. Sigh. In case you were wondering… he smelled absolutely DELICIOUS.
5. Oak Bluffs Fireworks
Okay, this one is obvious. But damn, these fireworks are good. Like most mothers, I’m not the biggest fan of schlepping kids, snacks, blankets and chairs from the parking space I was able to find half a mile away to Ocean Park, but I’d do it every night of the summer if I could. Every year at the finale, I’m transformed into a child full of awe – small, insignificant but somehow part of a bigger picture. That’s worth every step, every jostle of the crowd, every minute stuck in traffic going home.
We’re now in that brief yet idyllic time, when most of the August people have gone home and we have the island back to ourselves to enjoy the last few gasps of summer. Take a beat before school starts and the cold sets in to take stock of your own island memories, then go out and make some more.