Having lived on the Vineyard for over four years (these stretches of time sometimes get hazy on the Vineyard watch) I realized I had never been a passenger from the mainland to the Island on the Fourth of July.
Like most other year-round residents, I had become accustomed to preparing, organizing, bracing, racing and frenetically working to make way for the inevitable flow of people onto the Island on what some say is the busiest summer weekend. And so this summer I found myself a bit out of sorts, but nonetheless lined up at the Steamship Authority in Woods Hole observing piles of kids spilling out of the windows, dogs in the back seats catching their first whiff of the sea air, mothers searching for reservation tickets and sunblock, fathers confirming tee-times at Farm Neck and young people such as myself dreaming of getting up-Island to Great Rock Bight for a long walk to stretch the legs. Altogether, I found the view a little different than on past July Fourth weekends.
While riding over on the boat, I looked closely at families and couples, owners and renters and imagined where they were all headed as soon as the ferry doors opened onto that wide view of the harbor. I put an itinerary to each person sitting around me, prior to figuring out my own. As a newly minted “visitor” this July Fourth weekend, I vowed to keep my plans loose and allow for long, extended visits with people I had missed over the last few months.
Over the course of my long weekend, I combed the streets of each town. I found Vineyard Haven pulling together after the Main street fire, tasted the spice of Oak Bluffs, caught the wind off the sails of the Edgartown harbor and found refuge in Chilmark. I found some new stores and business had emerged from the Island’s winter hibernation, including Knickers in Oak Bluffs that had a perfect air of whimsy and delicious femininity. Others had packed their bags and left in search of fairer weather, including Abode, which has always been dear to me. In some cases there were even two of a kind: Sharky’s was now in both Oak Bluffs and Edgartown.
The Vineyard is indeed a creative place. To my delight, for the most part I found familiar faces behind familiar counters as the crowds shuffled in and out. The parking lot beside Alley’s and in front of Garcia’s was so packed on Sunday morning that I had to circle twice for coffee and a paper and a brief pause on the porch.
I strolled the Vineyard Artisans fair at the Grange Hall. I saw some old favorites and delighted in some new artists. One gentleman who caught my attention was selling exquisite cutting boards. With all the cookbooks that have been published on the Island to date, I immediately envisioned how Alison Shaw might shoot a collection of vibrant summer vegetables atop these cutting boards. I ended my stroll at the booth of a young jeweler. I recognized her from winters past, but did not know her name. We said hello. Her designs were deliberate and striking, and I promised that I’d be back in early August to buy a bracelet I liked. I hope it will still be there.
I found myself on “the other side” again when I visited my old place of employment, the Vineyard Gazette. Every year the July Fourth newspaper is too fat for the inserting machine, so sections must be inserted by hand. Reporters and staff from advertising, production, front office, the library and circulation all come together to hand-insert the Gazette that people will read over a long, lazy holiday weekend. I always wondered if Gazette readers noticed the occasional fingerprints that landed on their front-page news. My own fingers had been stained with ink from hours of hand-inserting, but not this year.
My eyes never did completely adjust through the weekend as I walked the streets, dined at old favorite haunts and ran into dear friends. I was embraced by a Vineyard welcome that is like no other. I was home.
Maria Edwards lives in New York city and is a former advertising representative for the Gazette.