In 1881 Cottage City’s telephone service started with the first line laid to Vineyard Haven. To use a telephone one had to go to a hotel or a store and by 1882 there were seven phones in Cottage City that were called public telephone pay stations. In 1883 we were connected to the mainland by a Western Union telegraph cable. On August 11, 1883 the telephone line from Cottage City to Vineyard Haven was used to call for help with the fire that night that destroyed over 60 buildings on Main street, the most destructive fire in Island history.
By the mid 1950s when we were growing up, Bell Telephone employed a service of “party lines” where the few people who had telephones in their homes would share lines in groups. Instead of today’s dial tone a live operator — almost always a woman — would say “Operator, how may I connect you?” when you picked up the phone. You would give her the numbers or the name of the person you wanted to speak with and she would connect you. It was all pretty quaint and civilized — except that anyone could pick up their phone and hear your conversation. This wasn’t often a good development for troublesome kids like me whose nefarious plans shared with accessories after the fact could be overheard by another mom. She might be friendly enough with your mother to tell her and cause extra chores reducing the time you had available to, for example, throw the Pay Beach sign over the rail. Not that we ever did that.
The “Sisters” — the Dowdells on Narragansett — shared that party line with my family on Pequot. One, Aunt Kathy Allen, passed away last year; Aunt Ruth Bonaparte has just recovered from a bout with pneumonia, and Aunt Millie Henderson is glad she’s back and promises no more late nights at the Lamppost. Still active in the Cottagers Inc., they told me Olivia Baxter was elected president at the last meeting on August 24 and that funds raised this year are being donated to the hospital, the firemen, senior citizens and four scholarships.
East Chop’s Carroll and Myrna Allston’s end of season get together on Winemack last week was filled with friends new and old. Carroll’s grandfather, Phillip Allston (1860-1915), brought the family to Oak Bluffs in 1902. Carroll’s mom, Maggie, and my mom were also among the leadership of The Cottagers Inc., as has been his wife Myrna. I was delighted to see members of what used to be called Boston’s black media mafia — like Bill Dilday, the first black general manager of a TV station who was also the first black person who worked at WHDH-TV in Boston where he gave me my first media job after college. Another of the guests was the Highland’s Gretchen Coleman Thomas, one of the first black women to host a Boston television show and one of the first black women to be general manager of a radio station at Boston’s WILD-AM. Having known her for much of my life and my entire career, I was interested to hear Gretchen, who has kidney disease, thank Dennis Shortt, the producer of On The Vine Productions for bringing Smokey Robinson and Natalie Cole to Oak Bluffs to raise money for a cure for kidney disease. Gretchen at times has to go off-Island for treatment because Martha’s Vineyard Hospital doesn’t have enough dialysis machines to treat all of the kidney patients, One in three kidney patients in this nation is black.
Starting tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. the Oak Bluffs Library is hosting Game On, a game day for children of all ages to play chess and board games every Saturday morning. Starting next Friday (Sept. 13) the library hosts Freaky Friday Teen Crafts at 3:30 p.m., which will be do-it-yourself scary crafts for teens, no doubt practice for Halloween. Dave Grey has an art show opening at the library tomorrow from 2 to 4 p.m. featuring his watercolors of maritime and rural scenes. The show runs until Sept. 29. Sunday, the third Vineyard Warrior Triathlon starts at 6:45 a.m. with a one mile swim at the Inkwell followed by a 24.7 mile bike ride and a 6.2 mile run. Eight hundred people are expected to compete. I need a nap just writing that. Good luck to all the participants to whom we wish a following sea and the wind at their backs.
DJ Shizz’s popular family Dance-O-Rama moves to Hooked Sundays from 5 to 7 p.m. through the fall. Before you know it, after Dance-O-Rama, the next time dads get to dance with daughters is at their weddings.
With Circuit avenue businesses’ property values dropping after they closed, might there be incentive to put them back to work if the town raised the property taxes back (retroactively) to when they were fully functional at their highest use?
Monday begins the new school session; time for drivers to pay attention.
East Chop’s Barbara Block had a surprise 90th birthday party for her husband Walter with friends and family at their Winemack home last Saturday afternoon. Both Blocks are retired school teachers who have been seasonal visitors since the 1940s. Barbara Block, who was 88 in June, told me Walt’s mom, Rae Block, was one of the nighttime telephone operators in Oak Bluffs back in the 50s until dial phones came into vogue and changed her career plans. Rae Block was also well known for working at the Beach Plum Deli and other places around the Island. Congratulations and happy birthday, Walter. Hey, maybe his mom Rae told my mom about that sign!
Keep your foot on a rock.