Flying Santa

From Gazette editions of December, 1958:

Santa Claus paid an early visit to the Anthony Bettencourts on Chappaquiddick, arriving and delivering his gifts by plane. Edward Rowe Snow, the Flying Santa, retired lighthouse keeper and author, landed at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, where he telephoned the Bettencourts and informed them that he had a package addressed to Captain Tony, the lighthouse keeper, and asked exactly where on Chappy they lived. Mrs. Bettencourt, who answered the phone, told Santa that they lived in a large flat-roofed house right on Caleb’s Pond. Santa said, “I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

Sure enough, in twenty minutes a blue twin-engine airplane was circling the pond. Captain and Mrs. Bettencourt ran out of the house and began to wave at Santa — Santa waved back by dipping his wings. Then the Flying Santa flew low over the outer harbor, across Caleb’s Pond and dropped a large package in front of the house, immediately soaring back into the air to clear the house and hill. Unfortunately the children were not at home as Santa arrived during school hours, but the senior Bettencourts were just as excited as the children would have been. The package contained gifts for all, including Mr. Snow’s latest book

Thirteen years after the hostilities of World War II came to an end the Martha’s Vineyard Naval Air Station assumes conclusively the peacetime status of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. From the point of view of the public, it has been the airport for years, but the Navy has continued to use its own designation, now to be ended with the transfer of the property to the County of Dukes County. The memories of many Islanders will go back to those days in 1942 when the first cutting of brush marked the beginning of the wartime invasion of the central plainland. During all the three hundred years since the settlement of the Vineyard nothing could have seemed less likely than that millions of dollars would be spent at this particular place.

Then there were those heartbreaking days in early 1945 when plane after plane flew in night training from the new field and crashed inexplicably in the sea. Fifteen airmen were lost, and almost as many planes. Even under the tight wartime censorship it was generally known on the Vineyard that a mystery was involved. The story was never disclosed officially, but when a survivor was finally rescued from one of the crashes, the malfunction of a particular instrument was found to be responsible.

A peacetime sequel at the field was the arrival of the Annapolis football squad for pre-season training in 1946. The scrimmages were held at Katama, but the buildings at the field were used for dormitories, pep talks and lectures.

All past now, those unexpected chapters of Vineyard history.

Of course there is often talk, at this season and through the winter, of the scent of wood smoke in the chilly air. That smell is one of the most genuinely nostalgic in the world, especially on a winter morning, not only nostalgic, but aromatic and as pleasing in its own right and under its own conditions as hickory smoked ham. But a word can be said for good black smoke sometimes, as for instance when it comes from Orrin Norton’s smithy in Edgartown, and evokes memories of what the blacksmith shop used to be in the life of the Vineyard. Long may this smoke of industry rise to tell of forge, anvil, hot iron, and the craft of the smith.

This is not the season for trees in general, but a fall of early snow seems to bring out the best in the red cedar, as least as to adornment of the countryside. Winter tends to be a level season; the foliage disappears and woodland becomes insubstantial to the eye, the wind flattens most things in its path and countless open vistas allow the eye to sweep across land that had seemed secret under the cloak of green thickets.

In such a leveling interlude, the red cedar maintains its columnar independence and majesty. Even the winds cannot prevail. There in the old pasture the cedar raises its steeples, and they are good to see. Upright they stand, now and forever. The pines are a soundly reliable family of trees that can be depended upon for mass, color and vitality. But none has the handsome form, the graceful and erect sweep of the red cedar. There must be space around the cedar and the comfortable, random company of separated cedars is the making of a landscape in winter.

There are various feelings in the air by day and by night as December proceeds in the fashion ordained, long, long ago — chill, dampness, wind and so on, but the one that takes precedence increasingly is the feeling of Christmas. That too is ordained. Although it is conceivable that a June might come with no roses, there will never be a December when the inhabitants of the earth round about fail to be aware of Christmas coming.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner