What do you do?
This is the question we have been asked by family, friends and strangers alike for the past year ever since we became full-time Islanders or, rather, washashores. We wrote our strategy for retiring on Martha’s Vineyard over six years ago. Actually wrote it down on a single sheet of paper with bullet points. We outlined at what age we would retire, how we would transition our lives from Hartford, Conn., to Martha’s Vineyard, what nonprofit boards we would continue to be involved with, what changes needed to be made at our vacation cottage to make it a full-time home, and how we would spend our time once settled on the Island. The Vineyard is special to us for many reasons. We had our first date here on a round of golf at Mink Meadows and a jeep ride on the beach at Norton Point. We were engaged on the deck of what is now our permanent home and we married on the porch of the Harbor View Hotel. My mother’s ashes were scattered in our perennial garden where a marker reads Mom’s Garden. That was the year we married, one year after my mother’s passing. Even then we knew in our hearts we would live here full-time.
We never expected that our choice of retiring on the Island would conjure up such speculation from others. The ever-present question and conversation tends to go like this:
But what do you do? July and August were packed with activities. We had to carefully choose what we wanted to do so as not to double-book ourselves. Between visiting with our summer friends and hosting family visits, we attended the many cultural and literary events offered during the summer. Kayaking, bike rides and long walks at the beach started to take a back seat to seasonal action.
You can tell me, what do you do? One weekend we traveled around the world in films. We learned about a group of young people who are expert wind surfers and toured their beautiful island of Bonaire — a location we added to our list of places to visit. We peeked inside the streets of New Deli, Dublin, Vienna and Tel Aviv to witness aspects of cultures we have little firsthand knowledge about. We delighted in experiencing the joy of an interracial marriage where the bride almost married the wrong groom. We laughed at the cunning of the mother of the bridegroom whose insight into human nature drove the plot of the story. We took in the beauty of the Italian coastline and felt joy for an older couple who found love when their children could not. We cringed at the fate of two young boys in Brooklyn trying to make it on their own while surrounded by adults that had failed them. We marveled at their talent as actors. We empathized with an aging couple in Canada who were dealing with the inevitable side effects of aging, then cheered them on as they stood up against the system. We met new people at each film presented at the International Film Festival. We shared our views of the films, exchanged contact information and agreed to keep in touch. Four days and nights of world travel all within three miles of our home.
Be honest, what do you do? We belong to the YMCA, take swim and water aerobics classes at least three days a week. My husband belongs to a play reading group that meets weekly and a bonsai group that meets monthly. I joined several writing groups and gather with other poets to share our work. We play golf all summer, visit with friends, garden, read and enjoy the wonderful restaurants on the Island. I’m a writer, so I write. I’m also a diehard sports fan. Watching the Celtics, Patriots, LPGA and PGA events, tennis as well as UConn Husky basketball and football games, takes up much of my time. We have chosen new organizations where we volunteer. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to just go to the beach and sit.
Really, what do you do? We do everything we did in Connecticut except we don’t work at our former jobs. Now that summer has faded, I’m looking forward to a slower pace and the joy of doing nothing.
Nothing! I thought so. It must feel isolated. You should have retired to Florida, at least the winters are warm. Good luck living on an Island.
Florida. We’ll keep that in mind. Thanks. What time is your ferry?
Jennifer Smith Turner - Jennifer (a poet) and her husband Eric, longtime summer visitors, retired to the Island in July 2012.