From the Feb. 1989 Just a Thought column by Arthur Railton:
Let’s give a cheer for the winter people — that’s us, the folks who rattle around this place when off-Islanders ask: “What on earth do you do out there all winter?” We’re here when the days are short, when the wind is out of the north and the cork is out of the bottle. And the ferries are few. When the Island is truly an island. And we love it because it is.
We’re the folks who make the Vineyard a 12-month place. For whom being an Islander is a full-time thing. Who, all winter, keep the grocery stores, the gas stations, the liquor stores and the hardware stores in business. Well, at least we help pay for the heat. We even go to an occasional movie, buy a newspaper or two, and on special days eat out.
We’re the folks the store clerks get to know and love. Even to call by name. And when we walk in, they put aside their knitting, happy to talk.
Don’t think we’re just hibernating, awaiting the warm flush of spring. There’s work to be done. And we’re the ones who do it. All the work that piled up last summer, when everybody was having too much fun to work. If winter people don’t do it, who will?
We’re Island-sitters, insular caretakers, making sure the anchor is set to windward, so the place doesn’t drift away in a big blow. After all, those sunbirds who leave with the first frost will be back with the first daffodils and they wouldn’t like it if their favorite Island had washed up on Georges.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against sunbirds, those expatriates who call themselves Islanders but always slip away when the nights get long. Why, some of my best friend are sunbirds. If it wasn’t for their postcards of palm trees in the sunset, I wouldn’t get any mail from off-Island after Christmas. Except L.L. Bean catalogues.
Those postcards from Sunbird Cove make life down there sound like summer camp: “Everybody into the pool? Aerobics start in 10 minutes!” They’re going to need a rest when they get back home. It must take a lot of activity to keep from being homesick.
We really should feel sorry for them. We know they’d prefer to stay at home and help us keep the Island prosperous. Keep it a 12-month place. They’d rather be spending their money here than in those huge malls, with all those fountains and tourists and old folks and cars. But they had to go south. Doctor’s orders, you know.
Yes, we should feel sorry for the sunbirds. What a dull life theirs must be. They never feel the warm glow that comes when you zip up a down jacket, or turn on the electric blanket. Or smell the smoke from a wood stove. Their glasses never steam up when they come inside. What kind of life is that?
How dull it must be sitting around the pool, trying to read the paper in the harsh glare of the morning sun, looking for news of a blizzard back home. We owe them a blizzard or two. This winter has been dull, hardly a snowflake. What do they put on the front pages down there when there’s no snow up here? What do they talk about around the pool? The Blizzard of ’78, probably.
We’re happy with our winter, with or without blizzards. The Island’s all ours right now, although just last week someone said two strangers were seen walking down Main street.
We don’t need palm trees. All we need is a little respect.
We don’t ask for much. We don’t ask for public toilets, or more parking spaces, or bigger dumps. Or more sewers. Or one-way streets. We don’t need them.
Winter folks won’t strain this fragile Island. We’re not that many. Or that frantic. This is a Vineyard recovery time; we don’t set the clocks back, they just run a mite slower. It’s the time when the Island renews itself, gathering strength for the summer onslaught.
So let’s everyone give ourselves a cheer — we deserve one, even three.
We serve as selectmen, sit on planning boards, boards of health, on commissions and committees. We spend the winter trying to find solutions for all the problems those other folks will bring with them when they come back .
We’re the doctors, nurses, EMTs; the police and firemen. We keep the libraries open, send out the tax bills, publish the newspapers, run the dumps, organize recycling and volunteer as those “points of lights” our president keeps mentioning.
Most of all, it’s up to us to keep the Island looking good. After all, we’re here during working hours. So we’re the ones who have it ready when the curtain goes up.
Because we know, come spring, the sunbirds will be back, tanned and eager. And what will we hear?
“The Island’s getting crowded. It’s not the same. It’s being spoiled. Why do you let this happen?”
And we winter folk will listen. Then we will look at each other and smile.
Compiled by Alison Mead