From the Vineyard Gazette edition of Jan. 21, 1977 by William A. Caldwell:
Time totters on, and almost any day now — the word “day” being used in its Genesis or geological sense — the Islander will stop his car on the shoulder of some road leading away from the ferry slip in Vineyard Haven and take aboard the two young hitchhikers and their baby and their dog and their orange backpacks.
Let’s see now; how does it go?
The Boy. — Thanks. Hot, isn’t it?
You. — About time. Where you heading?
The Girl. — The beach. Any beach.
You. — Well, I can take you as far as the Mill Pond. (Or Cornerway. Or Katama Road. Anything that establishes familiarity with the countryside.)
The Boy. — Thanks. Do you live here all year-round?
You. — If you can call it — that is to say, yes.
The Girl. — Oh, wow; dreamy; tell me, what’s it like in the wintertime?
You. — Well, um . . .
It is against this crisis in my own life, which is more imminent than you suppose — gosh, the start of the 1977 season in the sun is no farther forward than Labor Day 1976 is astern — that I shall prepare a little leaflet telling people what it’s like in the wintertime. I’ll get a couple hundred copies printed at daRosa’s and store them in the glove compartment, and whenever I am asked the summerling’s favorite question, I shall hand him a copy.
“It is cold,” my little tract will begin — “bitter cold, because 10 degrees above zero at the edge of the sea is colder than 20 degrees below on an inland farm, and when a northeast wind is blowing full gale you can feel the marrow jelling in your bones.”
Perhaps I should be embarrassed to be setting out so heartlessly to tell the truth. But more embarrassing yet, when I summon up remembrance of summers past, it has been my habit of saying, out of loyalty to the Island or mere forgetfulness, things about winter that did not quite correspond with fact.
It is very beautiful, I would respond, and when my conscience would snort and instruct me to tell them about the day the pipes froze and my earlobes fell off, I could tell my conscience to go get lost. Beautiful is what it is, the pines dressed in bridal white and the fields drawing their coverlets of snow over them and settling to sleep, the tiny white-capped Alps and the houses glowing pink in the sunset, the look of smoke wavering over chimneys and the smell of smoke and snow.
It is very exciting. I’d say when they asked, and when they smiled I’d have to explain, more vehemently than necessary, how it is to stand leaning on the wind and watch the ocean in a manic fury claw down the cliffs and dunes, watch a full-moon tide swamp boats or sweep them across downtown parking lots, watch utility company crews working through a black howling night to get lines back from sputtering in the roadway to delivering electrons to somebody’s toaster in time for breakfast.
“When the roads are plowed,” I shall have to set down somewhere in my little handout, “the drifts form berms along their edges, and when these freeze they function as dams preventing the normal runoff. Puddles become ponds. The ponds become lakes. Water splashes into automobile engines. Engines stop. It is a long way home on foot. For certain cosmic reasons the wind is always in your face. Whatever its burden — rain, snow, sleet, sand — it cuts.”
Not since Noah caulked the ark, I shall have to say, has the house been built that would not spring a slow drip-drip-drip in the face of a well-organized New England tempest, and, speaking of architecture, there’s a nice question whether it’s preferable to have under the house a cellarful of summer furniture bobbing in three feet of water or a crawl-spaceful of occlusion of the plumbing. Let me not neglect to mention the skid at midnight into ditch or drift, the moment when the lights go out just before one has drawn pailfuls of water to flush the johns and poach the next few hours’ ration of eggs, the sudden creaking that means the house is cooling off and the furnace is powerless too, which does remind one of the price of fuel oil.
It will be quite a document, if I can get it all on one side of a sheet of paper and if I can summon up the resolution to go through with it. Not sure I can. To what purpose? These two children want to believe this is a little bit of Heaven, end quote, and so do I, and the one hard fact I seem to have left out of my report on the way it really is in wintertime seems to be that a little of Heaven is, God Knows, precisely what it is.
“It is cold, bitter cold,” I shall begin for sure.
Let me think about the next sentence. It’s time to replenish the fire and go walk a little way along the beach and see if the milling ice has damaged the neighbors’ docks. By the time the first hitchhikers bob up on the side of the road I’ll have devised a way of telling the whole truth about the phenomena of wintertime, such as a cup that runneth over.
Compiled by Hilary Wall