Most miracles happen when no one is watching.
This time of year, presents appear under trees, with no traces of soot under the chimney or footprints in the snow. Bundles of winter hats and scarves are donated anonymously to warm those in need. And, in a quiet corner of town, a man climbs up scaffolding he has rigged around a 24-foot Christmas tree to carefully and meticulously drape yet another string of white Christmas lights from its branches.
When all is hung with care, the tree will sparkle with 3,000 twinkling bulbs. On New Year’s Eve, all are invited to behold the miracle.
It is a tradition Scott Tuttle and his wife, Jani Gardner, began more than 10 years ago, after taking over ownership of the Fourway Carriage House on Franklin street in Vineyard Haven. The first winter, the couple decorated a tree so beautiful, Ms. Gardner remembered, they thought, why not put one out in the courtyard for all to enjoy? “The building kind of asks for it,” she said recently.
A 21.5-foot tree filled the courtyard the following year, and Mr. Tuttle and Ms. Gardner left the tree up through the New Year. They opened their doors to the public as part of the Last Night First Day festivities in town. People trickled in, slowly. One was Ann Wallace, then director of Women’s Support Services on the Island. She asked the couple if she could come the following year and set up a table with information and cookies. Like the tree, her presence became a tradition that stuck.
“I remember even from when I started here,” said Carrie White, who in September replaced Ms. Wallace when she retired. “I had a woman call and ask if we were doing it again. She said she hadn’t really been aware of the services and went out on Last Night and saw the table and it empowered her to seek help.” Ms. Gardner has had similar experiences. “The year before last a woman came up to me and said, ‘I cannot thank you enough,’” she said.
And so, while Mr. Tuttle tests each light to make sure its bulb is bright, the staff of Women’s Support Services warm their ovens for cookies and sort pamphlets into organized stacks. “Domestic violence and sexual assault are things that people don’t talk about,” Ms. White said. “But there’s a huge need and people need to know there’s support for them, that they don’t have to do it alone.”
After the addition of the Women’s Support Services table came the toy trains. About five years ago, Mr. Tuttle thought to put out some of the train pieces and tracks the couple had stashed away in boxes. “In the beginning, we didn’t know it would be a big hit,” Ms. Gardner remembered. The first year they did it, families came as usual and their children played with the trains. After a long night, Ms. Gardner and Mr. Tuttle fell into bed, not thinking to lock the front door or put the trains away.
They woke the next morning — “It was 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day,” Ms. Gardner exclaimed — to the sounds of little voices. “We went into the courtyard and there were three kids, they couldn’t have been older than 8 or 9, playing with the trains,” she laughed. Caught red-handed, one quietly asked if it was okay to play. “That’s what it’s there for,” Mr. Tuttle replied.
And that is the miracle: a tree that stretches to the sky, adorned by so many lights Mr. Tuttle was still busy stringing them the day after Christmas. Trains meant for playing and a table and cookies to quietly provide information to those in need. “The magic is when, even if you’re six feet tall, when you look at it, you’re once again that child,” Ms. Gardner said.
The Fourway Carriage House will be open as part of Last Night First Day from 3 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 31, but the festivities do not end there. “We have a very, very full program, said Melissa Loberg of the Tisbury Ambulance Association, who has organized the event for the past six years. “There’s a lot for both families and young people. It’s a very community oriented event,” she said.
The schedule reads like a holiday wish list. For the cinephile: Alice in Wonderland at the Katharine Cornell Theatre and Pirates of the Caribbean at the Capawock. For those with feet prone to dancing: a Dance-o-Rama. For the athlete: Island Cove Mini Golf and ice skating at the arena. For the gigglers: two different improv troupes. And for the hungry: breakfast for dinner at the Art Cliff Diner and lunch and supper whipped up by the Tisbury Firefighters. A Last Night First Day button is the only ticket for entry.
The highlight on the roster may be the slew of musical acts set to take Island stages. Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish at the Katharine Cornell, Maynard Silva and friends at the Sail Martha’s Vineyard building, an acoustic pickin’ party at the Baptist Church — the list goes on. After the traditional fireworks over Vineyard Haven harbor, take a shuttle — free to those with buttons — to Outerland and end the evening and 2007 on one last musical note with a repeat performance from Mr. Hoy and his Bluefish.
Other events not to miss are the fireworks cruise around the harbor, the Annual Crazy Zany Hat Parade with Coco the Clown on New Year’s Day and a chance to win a getaway to Boston including round trip airfare on Cape Air, dinner and an overnight stay.
Any proceeds raised go towards the ambulance association. Last year, the funds helped the association to outfit a new ambulance, train new volunteers and pay for any Tisbury student wishing to take part in a training class, slated to begin in early January. “We are always in need of more volunteers,” Ms. Loberg said and encouraged anyone interested to get involved.
A complete listing of Last Night First Day events is available in today’s calender listings. Last Night First Day buttons are $12, $10 for students and seniors, and are available at Mocha Motts, Alley’s General Store, Island Entertainment, Bunch of Grapes, Martha’s Vineyard Online, the Chamber of Commerce and all Last Night First Day venues on New Year’s Eve. Tickets for the fireworks cruise and the Outerland concert are sold separately. Raffle tickets (five for $5) are for sale at all venues and the winner will be chosen at the end of the hat parade on the first.