Living Life with the Grace of a Butterfly by Shirley W. Mayhew, Music Street Press, 2019, 117 pgs., $10.

Longtime Martha’s Vineyard readers will greet this slim volume with a warm, welcoming smile. Living Life with the Grace of a Butterfly is a collection of 25 essays published in the Vineyard Gazette between 2009 and 2018 by Shirley Mayhew. Having these pieces gathered between covers affords readers new and old a chance to visit again with a natural storyteller.

In 1946 the author applied for a waitress job “on an Island off the coast of Falmouth,” a place she’d never heard of before she met her future husband Johnny Mayhew (who came from nine generations of Islanders and bore the Island’s founding surname) in a poetry class at Brown. But the world was new for her back then: “I had never heard of Martha’s Vineyard, but then, the whole world, near and far, was beyond my imagination,” she writes. “World War II was over, I was 20 years old, and I felt like a grownup.”

That same sense of open possibilities, of unflagging interest and simple wonder, permeates these reflections. Mayhew reflects that her long life (our author is in her 90s) is divided into chapters: babyhood, toddler, high school student, college student, wife and mother, junior high school teacher for 20 years, grandmother... “and now I realize I am into the last chapter of my own life,” she concludes. But there’s no sense of elegy in these pages. The inconveniences of old age — needing help to get up off the floor after a fall, feeling too tired to attend local festivities, etc. — are recounted with gentle directness and a distinct lack of fuss. Living Life with the Grace of a Butterfly is written throughout with the game attitude and wry wit of a young spirit.

Our author lived in West Tisbury for many decades in the house she built on Look’s Pond with her husband, and many of the stories she recounts in these pages capture moments and realities from the Vineyard’s past. When Hurricane Carol struck the Island in 1954, for instance, there was no satellite weather prediction or constantly-updated Internet warnings. “In those days we had no television and we never listened to the radio for anything but entertainment. If there were any radio warnings of the impending storm, we were in dreamland and didn’t hear them,” she writes. “The next morning, we didn’t need to be told.”

The first annual tax bill she and her husband paid was $192.60. Before her first plane trip in 1965, she bought life insurance from the vending machines that once existed for that purpose in Boston’s Logan Airport. She cast her first presidential vote for Harry Truman in 1948. In the course of her lifetime, she has seen Martha’s Vineyard transform from a farming and fishing hub with the vibe of a small town into the hyper-monied vacation resort so much of it is today. But her essays neatly avoid any easy ‘those were the days’ faux-sentimentality. These are the reflections of a level-headed mother and grandmother: no whining, little patience for whiners, and a perennial sense of gratitude for life’s good things.

There are reflections here on fishing, oyster farming, and the joys of the Vineyard’s library system. There are stories of family and the peculiar joys of being a grandmother. There are too-brief digressions on some of the Vineyard’s wildlife. There are well-polished anecdotes about brushes with some of the celebrities who’ve always visited the Vineyard (James Cagney accidentally happens upon her while she’s breastfeeding her daughter; Walter Cronkite’s wife trips over a tent-wire; Katharine Hepburn makes an inevitable appearance). And through it all, there’s an infectiously optimistic sense of the past constantly informing the present. Hearing Elizabeth Warren at an event in 2017, for instance, prompts a quick note: “As I near the end of my life, I am grateful to have witnessed a really wonderful politician.”

Living Life with the Grace of a Butterfly recounts no earth-shattering events of world importance. It’s a clear and inviting chronicle of normal life — friends, family, and the joys of small-town Island life. Each of these stories was a treat to read in the Gazette over the years; the book is a treasure for readers to revisit as they themselves grow older.