Labor Day's Departures Remind Us of the Pleasures that Attracted Them

By C.K. WOLFSON

It's an Us and Them question: How was your Vineyard summer?

For most of the working Us, it's an anthem of impatience, of too slow, too long lines and cars. It is a fast tempo fugue in a world that seems to be waltzing; too many demands and not enough time.

Summer is driving the long way around to avoid Five Corners, the Triangle, the intersection of the Vineyard Haven and State Roads. It's driving up-Island on weekends to point to the overlook and the cliffs and making up stories about whose house is down which lane.

It's Menemsha again and again and again. It's "Where's the bathroom?" It's stand behind, wait in line, park anywhere because when you're on vacation your invisible meter ticks away and parking legally takes time.

We don't see others of Us. "Later," we say, "when summer's over."

We blame Them for the seduction of our plumbers, electricians, carpenters and landscapers. It is Them making Us feel as if our damaged lawns, roofs, windows, gutters, driveways and screen doors are trivial.

While we watch Them turn shades of brown and gold, We have been pale hosts, making beds, hanging sheets, doing laundry, and figuring out how to negotiate a summer meal without having to stand in a line at the grocery.

It is the season when many of Us have to save up for an ice cream cone. Still, they look to Us to explain the prices of gas, lunch menus, car rentals - everything but tickets to the movies and haircuts at Benito's.

Most of Us have listened to most of Them describe their Vineyard vacations: lobster rolls, beach, biking, reading, walking. Others name names: Chappaquiddick, East Beach, Lambert's Cove, East Chop, Lucy Vincent, Long Point, the Arabella. Their words end in est: prettiest, quietest, laziest, nicest, and everything best - tasting, fishing, biking.

The woman in the car line with her family heading home to New York sums up her summer as "the art of doing nothing" (a concept that makes Us draw breath), although by the look of their chock-full van, 10 days of doing nothing requires packing a Thule roof carrier, sporting equipment, toys, bicycles, children's furniture, blankets, chairs, beach umbrellas, plastic food containers, insulated chests and enough outerwear and clothing for at least six months.

The gathering at the airport's Plane View restaurant takes turns describing their Vineyard vacations: lobster rolls, beach, biking, reading, beach, walking, beach.

One woman refers to it as her "Ahhh place," and says it really didn't matter what she did. She's already booked a place for next year.

They watch sunrises and sunsets. They read books, one after another. They come in bunches of families, trimmed in leashed dogs and decorated in logo T-shirts. They think our towns are "quaint," even if "quaint" starts at $3 million, and houses have telescoped out to the edge of their lots.

Most of Them smile, even when they wait, even when they are lost, even when they have to ask Us where the bathroom is. In groups of twos and threes, they stand and say, "Cheese," in front of things many of Us have forgotten to look at: fishing shacks, store fronts, harbors, masts, rigging, flower boxes, beach rocks, driftwood.

Having Them here in summer brings crowds and congestion - theatre and dance performances, chamber music, experts sharing ideas, newly released movies, gallery shows, more restaurants, stores and ferry trips.

Having Them here lights up the August sky with color and crackle, fills the Camp Ground with lanterns and song, keeps the Flying Horses in motion.

Having Them here creates festivals and fairs. It is the impetus for art, dance, theatre classes. It gives Us a chance to win prizes for what we make, what we do and what we grow.

Having Them here reminds those of Us who live here by choice rather than birth, of what it was like to be Them, and for a moment, closes the gap.

How was your summer?

There are those of Us who can remember Vineyard summers as an experience that raised the spirit. We thought the ferry sailed an enchanted path through seas that filtered out urban angst. We would drive off the boat to something, anything by James Taylor, open our eyes in wonder at the gentleness of the place, its intimacy and seemingly endless variety of simple offerings. We used words that ended in est, marveling at the ride along Seaview to Edgartown, the weathered grandeur of East Chop, the absolute magic of Wasque.

Many of Us thought living here, surrounded by natural beauty, in close proximity with neighbors, would make Us impervious to practical annoyances, phone calls, junk mail, lists of have-tos and must-dos. The absolute romance of this Island would liberate our better selves, and we would become more patient, generous, forgiving.

But sometimes it takes Them to remind Us.