Seen in West Tisbury this week: a steady flow of pickup trucks in and out of the parking lot by Alley’s General Store driven by landscapers, carpenters, plumbers and electricians. Fueled by coffee and breakfast sandwiches, iPhones pressed against their ears, Island tradesmen were on the move. There were windows to hang, screens to repair, painting touchups to do once the May sunshine burned through the fog, seaside gardens waiting for a top coat of compost.
Memorial Day weekend has arrived and throughout the week the fresh, salty spring air was fairly crackling with anticipation.
The Vineyard’s long winter nap is over, and suddenly we are all in a rush. We’re never ready, Islanders say to one another as they hurry to prepare for the season.
Ready for what?
For a lush green landscape dotted with lilacs in dooryards that are the signature flower of Memorial Day. For tiny buttercups scattered across fields and lawns. For thickly-flowering beach plum bushes hugging the sand dunes along coastal roads around the Island. For the rufous-sided towhee singing loudly in the bridal wreath each morning when the sun creeps up over the treeline. For traffic jams at Five Corners and the new roundabout that might be comical unless you’re an Islander trying to get to work on time. For summer cops who put twenty-five-dollar tickets on our cars when we exceed downtown parking limits. For the winter coats to be put away and long, lazy beach days to begin. For the first ice cream cone of the season.
For old friends who will come back to visit this weekend.
How was your winter, they will ask.
Wonderful, we will reply. Cold, snowy and icy this year, starkly beautiful, cozy, deeply quiet, perhaps sometimes a little too quiet. You must visit in January some year.
But that’s all over and now it is time to celebrate the unofficial opening of another summer season on the Island. What will summer business be like? After a number of years of a down economy as the Island felt delayed effects of the national economic recession, signs of recovery are beginning to appear. Many tradesmen say they are busier than they have been in years. Early morning ferries are again carrying day workers in the building trades. Island farms are thriving in a popular culture that increasingly favors locally-grown produce, meat, milk, eggs and wild-caught fish. New shops and restaurants are a testament to the optimism of small business owners and entrepreneurs that some believe will be the model for the rebirth of small town America. The Vineyard of course never lost its small towns, so is no doubt well positioned for a future where everyday life is centered a little closer to home. Of course the Island is no Utopia but is in fact a small stage for many of the pressing national issues of the day, including health care, education, the economy and changing population trends.
But the significance of Memorial Day reaches far beyond the opening of the summer season, and there are many traditions here associated with the national holiday. Today just after lunchtime, school children in Edgartown and Tisbury will march to the town harbors where they will throw lilacs and other spring flowers in the water, sing patriotic songs and recite the Gettysburg address to remember those who were lost at sea.
On Monday, the national holiday, Island veterans of foreign wars will host a parade that begins at ten in the morning at the American Legion Hall in Vineyard Haven and ends at the Oak Grove cemetery where hundreds of flags will flutter in the May breeze. Following that the town of Tisbury will host its annual old-fashioned town picnic on the lawn overlooking lake Tashmoo. Who will take the first swim this year? The whole Island is invited, so pack a lunch, bring something for the grill and join your neighbors for this festive annual event. There is no admission fee and no dress code, but family fun and relaxation are mandatory.
Happy Memorial Day to all Gazette readers near and far. Welcome to another Island summer.