BETTYE FOSTER BAKER
It’s my time — that magical salute to summer that begins the moment I drive off the ferry, excited as a kid ready to blow out her birthday candles, down Sea View past the rolling sea and round the corner onto my street to see my home again. When I step on the porch, no matter what is going on in the rest of the world, I know it’s going to be heaven for at least four months.
That’s a sea change, literally, from winter’s immersion in the battlefields of Gettysburg along Lousy Run Creek which courses behind my house. On this porch, there is no Civil War to contemplate, though those lessons continue to resonate.
For now, it will be all about the birds that begin song at four in the morning, catch-up conversations on the porch and homecoming. There will be old friends, and new acquaintances that renew that sense of comfort; there will be the undemanding summer reading and writing of poems and singing songs with the grandchildren; hanging out in galleries, finding those hidden land bank sandy beaches and lonesome trails; and looking for that once in a lifetime sunset that colors the sky in shades of crimson, gold and violet; but most of all there will be you, e-mailing all the wonderful events and stories that will unfold these precious days.
The ritual began two weeks ago but it is always new. When all the windows were washed and Bill had planted his vegetable garden and the beds mulched, when I finished planting my flower garden and hung the last bright basket of geraniums, I went to sit on Brady’s porch for the first time this summer.
Ami, his cocker spaniel, greeted me and jumped high in hopes of snatching a deviled egg off the plate I was carrying. Brady was standing and directed my attention to the cushion on his Adirondack chair. A tiny baby bird, just learning to fly, had landed there and his flock were perched high on the telephone wires chirping an encouraging message. Brady lifted the tiny novice who flew magnificently from his hand across the road, but unfortunately was unable to sustain that hopeful flight, and landed in Arlene and Ken’s flower bed, behind the newly planted petunias. I could only think of Mieux, their cat stretched out on the porch, who would have no compunction to end that short life and pleaded for someone, anyone, to go to the rescue. Someone did. The bird was lifted from the petunia patch and it flew back to Brady’s, this time landing in the cedar tree where we could see his every move. “Food,” someone said. And at that moment two birds alighted on the same branch to give nourishment to the little one, probably taken from Julie and Dirk’s birdfeeder. We all took a deep breath. Our hopes for its survival were once more reassured. When I left Brady’s, that baby bird was still there, and the two that came to feed him remained perched on the limb, probably encouraging another attempt at this new trick of flying.
As I left, I could only think that that young life might be cut short. And it occurred to me perhaps I was witnessing in this feathered creature the one gift that is the greatest of all — time. It has little to do with the material and less to do with fame and fortune. It’s the intangible that defies our control. Yes, it is time that we all want and some will get more than others. Maybe that is why I relish these days, not entirely ignoring the needs that continue to circle around, nor giving up my love of politics and history that I write about in the Gettysburg Times. However, while I am here, there will be a temporary reshaping of priorities for a time that only comes once a year — those quintessential summers on the Vineyard where time is its own measure that brings a deeper understanding of place, its importance in the schematic of our lives and the fundamental need to come home where genuine joy is felt with family and friends.
For me, that joy is expressed in so many ways. It was seeing those exquisite cottages that wrap around Ocean Park from the approaching ferry and knowing they are still standing in their sweet familiarity. Seeing, for at least one more year, Kenny De Bettencourt plant his magnificent field of zinnias, cosmos, and sunflowers. Last year, he said it would probably be his last. When I spoke with him this past week, he didn’t think he would be able to thin and harvest his patch alone this year, but he expressed that “down home” grit to give it his best. It was finding my next-door neighbor Arlene Connolly had trimmed my Montauk daisies before my arrival to ensure their best bloom in September and her welcoming smile as she handed me a vase of beautiful wild flowers; it was seeing Ken Owens from Birmingham jump out of his car, engine still running, to greet us with a bear hug as we were walking the road home from Linda Jean’s where, earlier we had seen Ezola and Earl Adams having breakfast. It was that first call from Janet Thompson who took a break from getting her cottage ready for summer to say, “Hi,” and seeing the “sisters” (Kathy, Ruth and Millie) and Gussie at Lola’s Sunday brunch at their “reserved” table. These are the things I treasure about the Island.
Note the changes on the Camp Ground and Circuit avenue. The Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association replaced the Tabernacle cupola, incorporating a new cross made of carbon fiber which is externally lit. Sadly, Sunporch Books and that cute, funky accessories shop for the avant garde, Sheila Allen’s Style, will be sorely missed, to be replaced by yet another shop, The Green Eyed Daisy run by Jeannie Klivanoff. Yet, in spite of those changes, Oak Bluffs and Circuit avenue remain the hub and watering hole for summer gatherings and sheer excitement across the Island and spiritual insights associated with our town. Proximity is a good thing here and our town has its bonuses. It allows us to walk and save gas, get a bit of exercise, and observe up close life in this historical town which can never be characterized as dull.
We can now say that summer is officially here! Our 17th annual Harbor Fest on the waterfront was a blast, and was with joined with the Summer Solstice event. Combining the two celebrations was pure genius. Booths lining the waterfront sold great food, art, pottery, jewelry and there were hundreds of people enjoying the day. One of my friends told me it took her almost two hours to get from the beginning of the waterfront to end as she kept greeting friends who had just arrived. Yachtsmen held their own on-board celebrations. A trio playing music on the bow of one yacht made a splash with the onlookers, while guests aboard enjoyed delicious looking bowls of finger food delivered by one of the restaurants. Musicians and dancers from Members of the Twelve Tribes Communities caught the fancy of many as they performed many unique dances to a wealth of folk tunes.
After six o’clock, the celebration moved to Circuit avenue where Summer Solstice took center stage. Restaurants sold food on the sidewalks, and stores laid out their summer wares and bands played as the sun set and revelers danced to the beat. The Oak Bluffs Association provided a fabulous day of fun and frolic and that wasn’t all. At approximately 9:15 p.m., the fireworks began and those who waited were not disappointed. The barge anchored close to town beach set aloft a beautiful display enjoyed from Thea Hanson’s porch as guests touched glasses to toast summer.
What a day! Oak Bluffs again served up its own brand of hospitality, shopping and entertainment. There was something for everyone to enjoy. And enjoy they did. And this is just the beginning. As we approach the Fourth of July — that great getting-down celebration which signals the beginning of summer vacation — just sit tight, take hold, let the wind blow your hair back, and take this last time to be free. We all have our sacred, summer rituals around this holiday, and in spite of a scary economy it doesn’t cost money to embrace that feeling all great communities share — a sense of connectedness and authenticity the Island is known for. We’re off and running, folks, toward another spectacular summer.
Last summer, I wrote a piece for the commentary section of the Gazette on Robert Sims’ lyric baritone — a remarkably gifted singer, who has received praise for his moving interpretations of African American spirituals. I first met him at a performance at Lincoln Center and again serendipitously last summer while he vacationed at Brady’s bed and breakfast across the street. After hearing him perform at Lincoln Center and listening to his compact disc, I was simply bowled over by his rich tone and beautiful voice and suggested he come perform on the island. That suggestion will become a reality on July 6 at 7:30 p.m. when Mr. Sims will perform at the Tabernacle with the Georgian Guitar Quartet, a new voice in the chamber classical music scene. Mr. Sims, a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory, is equally at home singing Dr. Malatesta in Don Pasquale or roles in Massenet’s Cendrillon which won him the American Opera Award, as he is singing spirituals. Mr. Sims is also the gold medal winner of the American Traditions Competition, and recipient of the Friedrich Schorr Opera Award. This program is not to be missed.
I was saddened to learn of the passing of the Rev. Dr. Joseph H. Evans on April 19 from his wife, Harriette Evans. Reverend Evans was a seasonal resident of Oak Bluffs for nearly a half-century, graduate of Yale Divinity School and a distinguished minister who often spoke at Union Chapel. He was past president and secretary of the United Church of Christ and over the course of his ministry served several UCC churches. I recall his memorable ninetieth birthday celebration three years ago. He is survived by his wife Harriette, three daughters, eight grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren. He will be missed.
The Polar Bears will begin their summer season at the Inkwell on July 4, at 7 a.m. The beach is still in the process of renourishment and after the concrete wall collapse plans for improvements have slowed but continue. However, this will not stop those enthusiastic Polar Bears from their daily swims, beach walk potlucks and all the wonderful activities they enjoy each summer. New swimmers are always welcome to join.
Looking for some literary inspiration? The Oak Bluffs Library poetry group meets on the third Wednesday of each month at 10:30 a.m. Come out and share your poetry and listen to others read their works. For more information, call 508-693-9433.
Planning a wedding, anniversary, family reunion or special tribute? Have guests coming? Let me know. This column shares memories, coming events and all that’s exciting in Oak Bluffs. And by the way, don’t forget to open your gifts.