They are sisters and Island natives with a well-branched family tree. Their father was a Prada; his mother was a Vincent. Barbara and Ursula Prada, who share a family home, also both have unusual jobs for which they are uniquely overqualified. Barbara is the Edgartown dog officer; Ursula is the assistant to the Edgartown building inspector. Talk about running a whole town — between your runaway pooch and your runaway building project, the Prada sisters are the go-to women of Edgartown.
Interviews by Sam Bungey
She went out with me on night calls for the first two years, particularly if the call wasn’t clear. It can be tough to get a 150-pound dog in the car by yourself.
There was a Chesapeake Bay retriever once, about 20 years ago. The owner had already been arrested for DUI [driving under the influence] but the cops still needed to get in the car to tow it. This dog was huge. It’s two o’clock in the morning and it’s on a street where there are no street lights. Chesapeakes can be very aggressive and they’re very territorial.
So Ursula’s pushing on the door and I’m trying to get the rabies pole on him. She had both hands on the door to stop him from pushing the door open.
The cops are standing 200 feet back with their guns in case it gets ugly. We finally got one of them to come down and shine a flashlight and luckily we got him out of the car and pestered him into mine. Then I was driving him up to the pound and he turned around and bashed out one of my windows with the rabies pole.
I worked as a town clerk assistant for a few years when I first got out of school. But being stuck in an office drove me nuts. My mother worked for the town for 38 years, in the assessors office. Our great-great-great-grandfather was a selectman for many years. Growing up our parents were on all types of boards. Planning board, zoning board, the school committee, the hospital board. We grew up with the idea of community participation.
There’s some overlap with our jobs. There was one case where a guy was standing there on the property with one of those air horns and was pushing that and making the neighbor’s dog go off. A lot of the time the disputes are over zoning issues.
I went to a barn on Chappy once on a call, which took me forever to find. And I was telling Urusla and she was like . . . “They have a barn over there?” [Laughs.] They haven’t got a permit for a barn. ”
Everyone has sold on this street except us. I never left. A lot of people buying property around here now look at everything like an investment. We like our roots. Maybe we’re just homebodies.
This summer will be the last Prada party. We have like 125 people for an annual thing. We started in 1994 when we did renovations. Lots of people wanted to see the house and it ended up being this big hit. Fifteen years of doing it — leave them wanting more, you know. It gets expensive and you spend all of July doing it. One year a friend said you should do a cookbook. So this year we’re printing one. The Last Blast Prada party cookbook.
One memory Ursula doesn’t have is when she decked my father. He was a disciplinarian, and he even had permission from the other fathers to discipline our friends.
He went to spank Ursula for something she didn’t think she had done and she hopped up and hit him. We were like, “Ursula’s going to die!”
You can go in a circle in our house, all the rooms connect — he was chasing her around the house but laughing too. Then she bolted out of the door and took off and he gave up.
She thinks she’s the quiet one . . . If you need someone to step in and deal with something, you know, like something goes wrong in our house, she needs to call about a bill. Her nickname is The Terminator in our house.
That’s not a nickname . . . . It’s Barbara’s nickname for me.
She’s a nicer person than I am. She’s much more tolerant of things, too.
On-Island it’s just us. We have two sisters off-Island. We had a brother, Barbara’s twin, who was killed a few years ago. I’m four years younger.
When they’re 10 and you’re six that’s a huge difference. They have childhood memories I know nothing about.
I went to Clark University, Worcester and grad school at the University of Illinois and then Eastern Illinois for another master’s. They were in vernacular architecture and historical administration. When I came back, I decided I want to stay here. I like knowing my neighbors. Mostly I liked where I grew up.
I was 26 when I came back from school. And she was 30. So we were adults. I’m not sure if we were 19 and 23 and in an apartment it would have worked very well [our living together]. Our parents sold the house to us for a dollar with a life tenancy.
There’s an occasional decision that one might make. We split the basic costs. I’m a little cheaper than her when it comes to stuff like bed linen. The guest bedroom needed new sheets, and lo and behold, “You spend 150 bucks to dress that bed? Next time we’re going to talk first.” [Laughter.]
Our parents taught us to respect each other. If we started a fight, we’d hear the tap, tap of our my father’s finger on the table. My father had very big hands, it was a Vincent family trait. And his fingers were like this big around, they were kind of like a piledriver on the table. Tap tap tap. We were of an age where we were spanked as kids. We survived, without too many mental blips.
We laugh because we would hate each other’s jobs.
Sometimes they intersect. She warns me, you know, if Lennie [Leonard Jason, Edgartown building inspector] goes up there, tell him to yell to make sure no dogs come out. If the brown one comes out, tell him to get in his car real fast. So there’s a little bit of overlap like that.
When a neighbourhood erupts, they seize on anything they can to make complaints about their opposite sides. You see the worst about people in our jobs.
She had the life she wanted she wanted here. It wouldn’t be remotely the same doing animal control off-Island. The idea that the Vineyard isn’t really real-life comes through in some kinds of jobs. Like the MSPCA rarely puts down animals here. Off-Island the MSCPA puts down animals every day. Healthy animals. Animal control off-Island, there are a lot more vicious dogs, cruelty cases. People here dote on their animals to an obsessive level sometimes.
She drives me in [to work] and I generally walk home. It’s exactly half a mile to town hall.
I had two accidents on the way to get my license. One we just got rear-ended and then just as we were just turning in to the test center, we got sideswiped. Then I failed the eye exam — it turned out I needed glasses. And I was like, you know what, something’s telling me not to do this.
On one of the calls, some guy was trying to get an agricultural exemption on his taxes so he leased out some sheep for the summer. They got loose and were bombing all over the place. We stopped and she asked some guy, “Have you seen a flock of sheep go by?” And he was like, well, she’s drunk while on duty. We finally got them cornered over there where Sharky’s is now.