How Old Are You?

From a February, 1991 Just a Thought column by Art Railton:

You’re getting old if you can remember when:

You came to the Vineyard on a steamer, not a ferry, and she landed at Oak Bluffs. But not in a slip.

And a few folks, the rich and adventurous, arrived by seaplane, flying from Woods Hole and landing in Vineyard Haven harbor.

And if you said you were going to the “crick,” you didn’t have to explain where it was.

When streets were topped with scallop shells and it took weeks for your bare feet to take it.

And if you ordered a milk shake, that’s what you got: milk, flavor and some shaking. An ice-cream soda was something different. And a frappe, pronounced frap, was a whipped ice-cream soda. And if you were in Edgartown, probably Pete Vincent made it. If you didn’t like his, there was always Tilton’s Soda Fountain next door. At either place, you rested your elbows on a marble-top soda fountain.

On Circuit avenue, the place was Rausch’s Ice Cream Parlor, a very proper place, and very elegant. Marble-topped tables.

A short-lived sport at the Bluffs was shuffleboard, imported from Florida. The court was next to the jetties, now like a lot of spots, a parking area.

Shuffleboard in Oak Bluffs was never as popular as the auction houses where handsome auctioneers talked giggly ladies into buying items that they didn’t really want.

Nor as fragrant as the Old Popcorn Store, Darling’s, where every clerk wore white. And the taffy machine entertained the kids.

There were no curbings on Circuit avenue, and most everybody walked in the street.

As they headed for the big-band sounds at the Tivoli.

There certainly were rocking chairs lined up along the porches at the Pawnee House and the Island House. Rocked nightly by guests who watched the crowds stroll past, munching Darling’s popcorn.

When the biggest worry driving to Woods Hole was that the drawbridge over the canal would be up and you’d miss the steamer.

And donkeys carried you down the Gay Head cliffs.

South Road in Chilmark looked like the approach to an English manor house. The bushes were trimmed like hedges. And at Long View, Abel’s Hill, there really was a long view. To match the Long Rest across the road.

That was when the dream of every South Beach walker was to find a bottle or a case that had been tossed overboard by the rumrunners.

Edgartown folks with money swam at Chappy. The rest of us went to the Bend. And you didn’t have to explain what that was. Everybody knew.

The Bend was where the dashing young aviators from the Katama Flying School swam every afternoon at four. Driving up in their Duesenbergs. And Packards. The young ladies on the beach smiled back.

Vineyard Haven’s waterfront was a coal yard and a lumber yard. And at the Lagoon Bridge, Betty Benz ran a Tea House.

Tea rooms and tea houses were everywhere. Afternoon tea was a religious rite for the ladies. They were as common as art schools for young women.

And there was a turkey farm in Vineyard Haven.

A Sunday treat was homemade ice cream at North Tisbury. You bought it in the old post office, next to the old church that Erford Burt moved to Vineyard Haven to build his boat yard.

The road up from Menemsha Crick was so sandy and rutted that Model T’s sometimes had to be driven up in reverse.

That was before there was a Dutcher Dock. Or a Menemsha Basin.

Downtown Edgartown had at least three grocery stores plus a fruit and vegetable store. And if you asked for a pound of butter the clerk carved it out of a tub in the icebox. And if you wanted margarine, you whispered it. And the air was redolent with the delicious aroma of fresh-ground coffee.

And T-shirts were men’s underwear, sold only in Hall’s Dry Goods Store.

The post office and the telephone company shared a building (now Edgartown Hardware). And the Redmen met upstairs.

But you’re really getting old if you remember when the fire engine was kept on the first floor of the Vineyard Haven and Edgartown town halls.

And when there were uniformed stewardesses on the Great White Fleet.

When Steamboat Wharf in Edgartown was lined with swordfishing schooners, with names like Liberty and Hazel M. Jackson. And the next wharf was an ugly coal yard.

And you danced in the Chilmark Tavern.

How lucky you are to be so old!

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner