We were Vineyard summer dinks, or at its most deroga tory, just dinks. We drove up from New Jersey each year, just after school let out, and stayed until Labor Day in my grandparents’ house on Pennacook avenue in Oak Bluffs. My mother, a teacher, stayed the whole summer, too, but my father had to make do with weekends and whatever vacation he could save up.
I heard tales from my mother of how lonely my father was sweating it out back home. We lived close to the stinky part of New Jersey where the air smells like a bad meal left out to rot for weeks. The part of the state where everyone rolls up their windows while driving through on their way to somewhere else.
I felt sorry for my father. After all, the rest of us had been jettisoned to paradise, a summer of sweaty boredom transformed into one by the sea with tennis, body surfing and nearby Circuit avenue.
We knew our place, though, we summer dinks, mere skipping stones on the Vineyard as compared to the Island kids, rooted like jetties and ready to withstand every storm, even the summer tsunami of dinks and daytrippers, crowds and too much money.
Not that some understanding of territoriality and class conflicts held me back. No, the Island kids just seemed a whole lot tougher. To prove it, they beat me up one night at Ocean Park after one of those Sunday band concerts, a normally tranquil scene that still exists today as it did on the night I am remembering back in 1975.
To be honest, I had it coming. Too old to merely skip in time to the music, a few of us dinks locked arms and as effectively as a clothesline, mowed down smaller kids as we raced around the bandstand.
Afterwards, in the quiet darkness of the park, the adults with their blankets long gone, a group of Islanders came to the defense of all the injustices we had committed that night. They fought like they enjoyed it, like they were getting paid for it, like they looked forward to this sort of thing all winter long, training in basements and barns or behind the shuttered storefronts of Circuit avenue, a portrait of commerce in hibernation not to be disturbed until the skipping stones of summer had returned.
One of the kids in our gang had a bad heart and still bore the scar of open-heart surgery done when he was born. His older brother, Peter, heard us shouting and waded in fast, tossing kids to the side, perhaps landing too rough a blow, to protect his little brother. In the chaos, the rest of us scattered and escaped into the night.
For his heroism, Peter received an even more severe beating when the Islanders’ older brothers found him later that same evening. The next day, when Peter showed me his scars, one even on the inside of his mouth, purple and running the entire length of his cheek, from jawline to somewhere deep inside his mouth, he smiled.
I’ll never forget that smile. That dink was damn tough.
A few summers later my life merged with the Islanders. Two of my older cousins from Pennsylvania also lived with us each summer. Beth and Susan were girls and they were pretty and cool and when they became teenagers the boys from the neighborhood took notice. Rebellos, Ben Davids, DeBettencourts, the lusty progeny of longtime Islanders climbed up on our porch and stuck around long after dark. Word went out, I guess, that the little cousins of hot summer dink girls were not to be messed with because we never had any trouble again.
But it was more than just muscle that I admired in my cousins’ boyfriends. They turned out to be kind and funny. From a distance they had appeared insular and fearsome, but up close there was a friendly independence to their swagger.
As a kid, I was so entrenched in my dinkness I never stopped to wonder about it, and yet there were signs that maybe I had it all wrong. The house we lived in, built in the mid-1800s, was a family home. A few doors down lived Uncle Clayt Hoyle, who in his day had been a famous Vineyard fisherman and now owned a tackle shop near the tennis courts in Oak Bluffs. A Clayt Hoyle fishing rod still hangs in my parents’ garage like a coat of arms. My great-grandparents also lived in Oak Bluffs and to go walking in a graveyard, either Oak Bluffs or Vineyard Haven, was to encounter numerous Harding headstones.
Could all of these relatives merely have been dinks?
After my grandfather died, while going through his desk drawers, I encountered a piece of paper, yellow and cracking. On it were a list of names and dates written in his hand.
Shubail Harding, born 1722, grandson of Edward Cottle, blacksmith in Tisbury.
William Harding, born 1745, mariner, Tisbury.
The family tree continued in this way with numerous whalers and marriages to Luces, Nortons, even a Wampanoag woman named Alice Sessetown.
I was the stuff of Vineyard whalers?! I had Wampanoag blood?! Take that, DeBettencourts and Ben Davids, now mere washashores in my eyes. My spirit soared as if headed downwind, full sail while I contemplated not just my past but my new future as an Islander. First things first: time to find some summer dink butt to kick.
— Bill (Harding) Eville