Few people will remember his plucky, colorful and completely hopeless campaigns for state senator and sheriff. The first one was in 1978. He designed great T-shirts for the campaign with a hand-silk-screened map of the Cape and Islands. We all wore them; we were youthful then and had a sense of fun and we knew John Miles McSweeney had little chance of being elected. But it didn’t matter. We loved John for his spirit and we were friends. And friends stuck together when we were all coming of age on the Vineyard some thirty-five years ago.
When I learned this week that John McSweeney had died, I paused to think about those years when we were making our way as young adults, raising families, building our own houses, growing our own food, leaning on each other along the way.
A big guy with big appetites, John led a life full of highs and lows. He had deep roots in Falmouth, where his parents had long owned a summer home. In the 1970s, at a relatively young age, he made some money in commercial real estate in Greenwich, Conn., and packed up his life and moved to the Vineyard, where he adopted the traditional lifestyle of dabbling in various jobs. He worked as a mason and had a backyard business sharpening chisels for tradesmen. But he really saw himself as a politician, so with great enthusiasm and no real compass, he ran twice for state representative and once for county sheriff, first as a Democrat and later as a Republican. He never made it past the primary.
We were next door neighbors. John lived alone and became an extra member of the family. He had a knack for dropping by at dinnertime and was a fixture at the Sunday afternoon volleyball games that were the mainstay of our social life. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, there was always a seat at the table for him. One year he gave me two white pottery bowls for forcing paperwhites that had belonged to his mother, and an unabridged dictionary that had come from his family home in Falmouth.
Later came the lows; John didn’t plan well for the future and eventually lost his house. But it was his nature to accept the hand life dealt him; he shed most of his possessions and moved on.
And then the years flew by and I lost track of him.
I still have the bowls and grow paperwhites in them every year at Christmas. And the huge dictionary makes a perfect booster seat for my grandson Will, who is almost three.
John would have liked to see Will sitting on that dictionary, eating his macaroni and cheese. I can picture him ducking his big frame into the kitchen to see what’s on the stove for dinner, perching on a stool to talk about the latest news and gossip around the Island.
And I’m sorry I never got to say goodbye to an old friend.