I’m trying to be thankful, and that should be easy at this time of year. Here I am in Chilmark where I enjoy the legacy left by my parents, Henry and Peggy Scott. That legacy is our family house, facing south on South Road, set between old roadside stone walls, close to an open meadow and looking south toward Chilmark Pond and the sea. Known in the community as the Scott House, my dad had named it Pipe Down, after his days in the U.S. Navy, 1944-45, then stationed on Martha’s Vineyard. Later, in retirement, my dad wrote a book about this beautiful, silver-shingled, 19th-century house and its wonderful history.
My whole extended family can be happy in this house together because here are the memories and images that reflect who we are and where we came from. The walls display portraits by and of my father, of my mother by my father, also landscapes — by my father, my sister Anne McGhee, my brother Hank Scott, my sister in law Marie Fischer Scott, and my oldest daughter Anne Cook — many of Island scenes. Even my father in law Peter G. Cook’s paintings hang here. The Island light makes our house bright by day while, in the cool of fall, we find warmth and closeness by night next to our glowing fireplace. The wood smoke smells so sweet.
Next week, my sister Anne from Cambridge will join my brother Jon Scott and his wife Marie who will roll in from Vermont to spend Thanksgiving at Pipe Down. We share time in this old house that this year will embrace at least three generations of family, from age two months to those in their 60s and 70s. If Gaga and Poppy (Marie’s parents) attend the feast there will be four generations, the elders in their 90s. The family will walk their dogs on the beach, assemble pies together in the kitchen, cheer (or groan) for the preferred football team, visit the town library, play simple touch football in the meadow (rain or shine) while kids play at the Granny Basket (toys collected over time), then say grace at the old family table, where the feast will take place with conversation and stories and songs as accompaniment. My own family will stay in Cambridge and will toast these others from the city.
All this is good, and I am thankful; yet I am carrying a blank in my thankful heart. I’ll tell you why. At this time of year I am especially mindful of my parents, their joys and contributions to the holiday season. Each year since they departed this life, Dad in 1990 and Mum in 1994, I have clipped from the November Gazette a small boxed notice to post prominently on our Chilmark refrigerator door. Everyone looks at the fridge door. That box always announced to family and friends the date of the illumination of the Tree of Lights, sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital Auxiliary as a fundraiser for the hospital. The public was invited to buy a light, $5 to $8 each, to go on this tree, either in honor or in memory of a person named. The Tree of Lights was initiated on the Vineyard by my mother, Peggy Scott in 1982. The reasonable price per light allowed people of all income levels to participate. Each year since 1994, I have bought a perpetual light for a larger donation; and I always felt happy to make that not-so-small (for me) contribution — a way to take care of two birds with one check: by honoring my mother’s creative effort and making a contribution to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
This year, 2007, there is no little boxed notice about a tree of lights in the Vineyard newspapers — nothing that I want to clip and post. There is a blank space on my refrigerator door, there is a blank check in my bank register and there is a blank blot on my heart. Never mind my heart, it was my stomach that ached when I passed by the old entry road to the hospital last Friday, Nov. 9. This was the 81st anniversary of my parents Henry and Peggy’s, wedding date. I hadn’t meant to go by the hospital on that particular day, but I did, and that coincidence may have made me more sensitive to whatever I might observe on the site of the Tree of Lights.
I was shocked. The area leading up to the hospital entrance, once landscaped with established native plantings and lined with graceful evergreens, had been clear cut revealing a wasteland of unfinished parking plots and chain link fencing. A gaping canyon threatens to swallow any vehicle that wanders off course. Presumably, this void is in preparation for a sub floor to the new building, but the size of the excavation is astounding. Of course I knew there would be topographical changes at the hospital. I had seen construction sites before, but I had not been on-Island during the summer and was not prepared for this massive deconstruction. I could swallow that pill; after all, I really did support the building of a new hospital. I was trying to be grateful.
What made me feel sick, physically, was the blank space where our beloved Tree of Lights had stood. I looked and shut my eyes and looked and squinted, but no tree appeared, certainly not our lovely welcoming evergreen that had risen majestically at the top of the entrance drive to the hospital. This tree, dark velvet green in warmer seasons and radiating gold and red sparkling lights in fall and winter, was gone. It had been transplanted so many years ago from the up-Island Morgan family’s field in Chilmark, across South Road from our Pipe Down to the down-Island location in front of the hospital. I always thought it a wonderful symbol of unity and sharing, in addition to the aspect of memorializing and honoring Island family and friends. Where is our tree? I almost screamed out the window. Where? In a dump? A chipper? A fireplace? and I wanted to scream again. No one let me know. No one called. No one wrote. That tree was important, didn’t you know?
I knew I was feeling sorry for myself, but also sorry for my mother, the hospital, the many people who made the effort year after year to light up that tree and to celebrate with music and cookies and coming together and giving. Then I called Fran Resendes, the former operating room nurse at the hospital and, in retirement, a loyal volunteer and active member of the hospital auxiliary. Fran had kept the Tree of Lights going after my mother, Peggy Scott, died. My shock was more visceral when I heard that Fran had not been notified as to the fate of the tree.
Some of us need to know about that blank spot in front of the hospital — that extinguishing of the happy lights, the removal of an arboreal splendor. Such an insensitive oversight does not bode well for the new Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital Partners collaboration.
“Too big for their breeches!” my mother would have exclaimed.
Thanks, Mum, for your enduring good humor. And thanks, Fran, for saving the history of the Tree of Lights in that special notebook on your bedside table. Thinking of you both makes my heart smile, and I feel truly thankful at last.
Sally Cook lives in Chilmark and Cambridge and contributes occasionally to the Gazette.
Editor’s Note: The hospital development office reports that the tree of lights has been permanently relocated to the Mink Meadows golf course. An interim tree will be used this year, although the location of the tree has not been determined. A ceremony is planned for Dec. 10.