On Saturday, Feb. 14, we set out in the morning from Chilmark for a shop in town and a Valentine’s Day drive. It was a sunny day though terribly cold and strangely still back in Vineyard Haven on this long winter weekend to mark Presidents’ Day — a great opportunity for Islanders to escape to mainland shops, northern ski slopes, or Bahamian bliss. After a quick grocery shop, my husband Peter and I left town behind and drove past the frozen quiet MV Shipyard, the windswept buildings of the Packer Company, and out along the causeway toward Oak Bluffs. I love that drive with the blue water of the Lagoon just on our right and the greener-blue of the frigid Vineyard Sound hard on our left.
Ahead of us was the Lagoon Bridge. Close to its right side, an enormous crane reached its rigid neck up from pilings, supports for a soon-to-be crossing site. Our car and one other car went on over the old familiar drawbridge, no delays at this time of year. No workers in sight, no fishing boats, no traffic officials, no traffic! We quickly closed in on what we really wanted to see — the “golden motel.”
The previous day, when we were returning to the Vineyard from Cambridge, I had braved the chill February air to get a better look at this structure, a new Martha’s Vineyard Hospital in progress. As viewed from the portside stern deck of the MV Island Home, the building cut a swath of yellow across the Oak Bluffs hillock overlooking the entrance to Vineyard Haven harbor. Incomplete, yet impressive, the two-storied steel frame glowed in the rays of late afternoon, winter sun. Wrapped in “glass gold” siding, its form blocks the view of what lies behind and dwarfs, in front, the small, weathered bungalows, huddled shoulder to shoulder along Eastville’s sandy strip. The Great Golden Motel, as I dubbed the new building, seemed to call out, “Look at me, I’m big, I’m pricey, I’m luxurious, I’m beautiful, I’m modern, I’m cool, and I’m here to stay!”
On the road, Saturday, we arrived at the old, main entrance to the hospital. All indications were that we shouldn’t enter there. But the car in front of us exited the main road at that point, and we followed. No other cars in sight and no activity as we accelerated up the broad drive toward the vacant golden motel. It loomed larger than it had appeared from the ferry — two stories, more like two and a half, sporting a four and a half story tower and gabled roof peaks, not so much a motel as a hotel. The new building seemed truly humongous, extending to the rear of the lot in the manner of a huge warehouse. The facade side was more inviting, displaying multi dimensions of double and triple hung window panels, “residential style,” as the MV Hospital Newsletter (Spring-Summer 2007) states. We were promised much in that newsletter: “a first-class medical facility . . . a canopied, drive-up entrance . . . state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging . . . new maternity suite,” and much more in the 80,000-plus square foot building. Through their mighty efforts, the capital campaign team and the hospital leadership came up with the goods to build — the $42 million goal, exceeded! Let’s hope the funds were not in the form of stocks.
On Feb. 14, I could not think about stocks, deficits, budgets, or even the future for health care. The physical reality of what had grown, to this point, out of this Eastville hillock was all absorbing. My impression of a golden motel will go. The hospital’s newsletter stated, “The outside walls will be brick masonry for durability . . .” Too bad, I thought, we no longer have an Island brickyard. The roadway soon became an indistinct, deserted dirt area. We turned around and headed out — back toward the Eastville shore drive.
I was asking myself — where are the low, one-story structures of 1929 and 1974? Where are the hallways and medical units, we have walked through and visited these many years? My husband sensed my bewilderment, so he drove us up Eastville avenue, past the old Emergency Room entrance and took a right onto the hospital drive that leads past the ER parking lot. There they were — still standing the congregate of used and familiar weathered building, as seen from the rear. The back door is transformed, for now, to be the “front” entrance of the “old” Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. We sat in our car silently surveying the signs of aging: the peeling paint of porch balustrades and trim, the molded columns whose colors are faded, the darkening and often moldy shingles, and the roof . . . . Who can see the roof? It started to rain, and we all know of the leaks.
We drove away slowly, as you would when you leave an old, beloved friend who is dying; and you sense you might not see that old friend again. Remembering experiences in the old hospital — some painful and others joyful — I was reminded of how difficult it is to let go of what we know. Two significant events frame my memories.
I will never forget the 1929 maternity ward and my long night of labor in Oak Bluffs, August 6, 1962, which gave us our first child — the new, Island-born, 8 pound baby girl, red and ready for life early in the morning of August 7, 1962 — welcome, Annie Cook. The longer, all-nighter of June 16, 2008, is indelibly inscribed on my mind — the birthing unit in the 1974 wing where our youngest daughter’s courage in hard labor, her husband’s standby strength, the doula cousin’s encouragement, the midwife Catherine Chase’s professional calm, the help of so many caring nurses, and Dr. Donegan’s skill delivered our healthy 9 pound, 11 ounce, Island-born granddaughter successfully into the arms of her loving parents on the morning of June 17, 2008 — we welcome Maeve Cook-Martin.
Thank you staff (of life!). You are the heart of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, and that much is durable and here to stay.
Sally Scott Cook is a resident of Chilmark and Cambridge.