The Honey Boat,> by Polly Burroughs. Illustrated by Garrett Price. Published 1968 and 2008. Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, PA, 44 pages. $14.99.
For those who remember traveling the streets of Edgartown years ago, the term honey wagon was a euphemism for the septic system pump-out trucks that traveled the streets during the height of summer. It was pretty easy to understand why they got such a witty name. The vehicles attracted so many flies that from a distance they could look like beehives.
The humor extends to the waterfront, where the idea of a honey boat is not a reach, especially when it refers to a vessel that carries trash and garbage. The Honey Boat is a children’s tale about protecting the environment; it was first published in 1968, which may qualify it as the Vineyard’s first book about environmental protection.
Polly Burroughs is a celebrated Island author. She has written many great books through the years and it is refreshing to see these stories reprinted. Two years ago, Mrs. Burroughs was successful in getting the wonderful book Zeb, Celebrated Schooner Captain of Martha’s Vineyard, republished. That book is a retelling of the life of Zeb Tilton. So why shouldn’t a book published back in 1968 on being green get published?
Before investigating this little book on your own, know there is a bigger story behind it not mentioned anywhere between its covers.
Eleanor (Ellie) Doyle, known more formally back then as Mrs. John D. Doyle, is the protagonist in the book. She was a celebrated personality on the Edgartown waterfront. Many knew her for her charm behind the raw bar at Eldridge’s Fish Market, which was later taken over by the Edgartown Yacht Club, with her in it. She was a fast quahaug shucker. She is reported to have opened two bushels of clams (1,600 clams) in two hours and 45 minutes. Her celebrity status moved up a notch when she was featured in the movie Jaws.
For many years she took her eponymous catboat Eleanor out and around Edgartown harbor and collected the garbage that fell off visiting boats. It was a positive effort to keep visiting boaters from accidentally or intentionally dropping their garbage over the side. She started doing it around World War II and did it dutifully during the summer for many years. Only twice was she prevented from her duty, reportedly by hurricanes, one in 1944 and another in 1953.
She was good at what she did and earned positive favor from those all around her. She was reported to have given herself the title of sanitary engineer. She got married again in 1971 and became Eleanor Harvey.
Some will still remember that she was gifted in taking discarded items and fancying them up to look like Christmas ornaments. She was particularly gifted at making ornaments out of seashells.
Now that you know, this book will glow.
The Honey Boat is a fictitious tale about one of Eleanor’s adventures. It is a fun story involving a young girl, one that any child can relate to.
The illustrations are entertaining by themselves and have an old-fashioned quality to them. The Edgartown harbor looks great and some of the scenes are familiar. For those who are looking for precision in the story, there are some obvious creative shifts in the telling. Eleanor’s boat in the book is called Dauntless, while in real-life her catboat was called Eleanor. Later, she got a 16-foot catboat called Eleanor II.
Another excusable discrepancy centers on who runs Edgartown. The book refers to a mayor, while Edgartown is governed by selectmen.
When the book came out, Mrs. Doyle got a lot of attention in the media. She was featured in the Boston Globe, New Bedford Standard Times and of course the Vineyard Gazette. Many sought her autograph.
The book tells a light-hearted tale, with a simple message that will never age: people need to take care of their harbor. It is a green book, published at a time when green was only used to describe money.