Islanders take the ferry to that other place, America. We even voted in Nineteen-Seventy-Seven to leave the state, and maybe the nation, too — when Beacon Hill moved to remove the Island’s seat in the statehouse, thereby leaving us with less representation for the taxation states always impose. So what if our ragtag secessionist revolution failed politically; the spirit of separation remains strong. Few remember the proposed Vineyard anthem, but a few more still have the flags of our one nation, and more than a few have good stories from those heady days when freedom was on every Islander’s mind again. In our hearts we remain a place apart.
In happy irony, though, every July Fourth those same ferries are filled to the gunwales with people heading here to celebrate the birth of the United States of America. Passengers alight loaded with cratefuls of Costco goods, to a place where we block big box stores. Cars and drivers kitted out with global positioning services drive off the boats onto dirt roads with no names, searching for addresses that defy the technology and tenacious census-takers alike. Everyone’s schedules are jam-packed for not-long-enough breaks on the Island’s timeless, ever-moving shores. Why, even the British are welcome.
It’s all of a piece. Neither the United States — pointedly written with a lowercase u, rather than a capital, in that Seventeen-Seventy-Six Declaration of Independence — nor the Vineyard will conform neatly to a single stereotype.
The nation of immigrants, cracking with anger about immigrants. The land of the free, bankrolling ever more restrictive security measures in the name of keeping us so. And of course we celebrate our independence all together, at picnics, parades and fireworks, joined in hailing what unites us, which at least includes picnics, parades and fireworks.
And what is not to like about that? What picnics we can make with the bounty of Vineyard farmers, backyard gardeners and providores alike! We have community-supported agriculture to join, farmers’ markets aplenty, even honey and eggs next to honesty boxes on the roadside. And don’t forget the fish, whether cleaned and wrapped by our excellent fishmongers — including Louis Larsen, who has been gutting ’em up for us since July Fourth twenty-five years ago — or clams you dug up yourself, a lobster pot you placed just right, or your own hook and line. We do a fine picnic, and we ought to make sure that our reliance on the tourists who join us does not lead to pricing our farmers off the land or greater over-fishing our seas.
And parades — well, where would you find a finer parade than the one that snakes around the bunting-dressed, white picket fences of Old Whaling Town, U.S.A.? We have scouts and veterans and peace activists all marching down the winding, sometimes narrow, crowded streets that keep us all going in the same direction. They are joined by scores of smiling kids who proudly decorate a flatbed to showcase their sports team or pony camp or love of nature — look for something buzzing this year from Felix Neck’s Fern and Feather campers. And all march along, of course, to the beat of Rick Bausman’s samba corps. His drummers lead the Camp Jabberwocky float, which is always the last and always the best. (Americans and Vineyarders are quite alike, it must be said, in being very sure of ourselves on matters of opinion.) In the wider world, the Jabberwocky campers may be defined by cerebral palsy, but here, rolling to the beat in spangly costumes, they are in a different place.
Finally the fireworks. Settled on the sand stretching from the Edgartown Lighthouse down past Fuller street beach, you can see fireworks spraying directly above and in front of you . . . and on a clear night, as Sunday is forecast to be, you also can see the bottle-rockets’ red glare over Nantucket and punctuating the Cape Cod coast, one town after another sending up its celebratory spectacle of lights. From here, we can see it all.
But we the people of Martha’s Vineyard prefer to pursue our happiness in a place apart. To all united with us, happy Independence Day.