Tuesday 27 Sep 2016

Sailing to Cuttyhunk
AJ Robinson

As a kid, I always wanted to be on Martha's Vineyard Island, every summer. As far as I was concerned, that was paradise; the ultimate play-place. This was in the days before all the theme parks. Back then, there was only Disneyland in California; and for me, it may as well have been on the moon.

Yet, I did know that there were other islands in the area. Nantucket was known as, "The Other Place," Block Island was off near Rhode Island, No Man's Land was the place the Navy shot at, and the Elizabeth Islands were a chain of tiny islands. I'd seen them often enough; there was a great view of them from the Gay Head Cliffs, and we'd sailed by them on our way to Tashmoo Pond, but I'd never given them any serious thought.

Well, one day, when I was pretty young, my father took a bunch of us - Mom and me, and my friend Reed and his family, on a little trip on his boat the "Silvana." Sailing out of Oak Bluffs Harbor, we headed around the island to the west, moving along the Vineyard Sound, the water body between the island and the Elizabeth chain. I was very excited when we passed the small opening known as, "Robinson's Hole." I figured, hey, how about that? The family has its own... hole. My Dad explained that the term meant an inlet or harbor. Wood's Hole was where the ferry to the island came from, Robinson's was the next opening, and then we stopped at Quick's Hole for lunch. Dropping anchor there, I was blown away by the view. Not of the sky or islands, but of the water. It was so crystal clear, we could see all the way to the sandy bottom! We took a swim, Reed and I trying desperately to get to the bottom, but it was just too far away. Then we went ashore to walk around. Most of the islands in the chain were uninhabited, they were nature sanctuaries. So, we could just stroll along, see the birds, and look for shells and sea glass.

These days, what with recycling and all, not many glass bottles get thrown in the ocean any more; so there's little sea glass around. But, back then, there was plenty, and we loved looking for the rare colors. White and brown - soda and beer bottle colors were common, green too. Red less so, and pink was downright impossible to find. So, the chance to search virgin territory was not something we were going to pass up. We found plenty, and I did find one tiny bit of red sea glass.

After that, we sailed on to Cuttyhunk Island, the only inhabited island in the chain. I had always thought Martha's Vineyard was a small island, but it was a continent when compared to Cuttyhunk! The tiny town had only a few hundred people, a small town center, and then some homes and inns scattered across the land. They had a sheriff and a deputy, not that they needed them. As I was told, the last "crime" was when someone borrowed a bike to go downtown. The deer, on the island, showed us no fear of, and at breakfast we learned why - there was no hunting of any kind allowed. The waitress said she doubted there were even any guns. My Dad asked about the sheriff, and was told that no, not even he bothered to carry one. Ah, think what our world could be, if we but followed their example?

But, for me, the best part of all was the pay phones. I didn't use one, but I did read the instructions in one of the booths; they were quite lengthy. First, you had to pick up the receiver and listen. If you heard people talking, you hung up, as it was a party line. I know that, these days, that term means one of those lame phone dating services, but this was quite different. In those days, especially out on the islands, people shared phone lines. So, if no one's was using the line, you hung up and turned the crank. Then you picked up the receiver and gave Penny, the operator, the name of the person you wanted to talk to. And yeah, the operator's name was in the instruction. No phone numbers, you just told her with whom you wanted to talk.

I found out later that the winter population was only about fifty. I had to wonder, what kind of life was that? To live on a tiny island with only a few people; boy, now there was a quiet and secluded life. Would I relish the intimate lifestyle and slow pace, or would the boredom drive me insane? I never have figured out the answer to that question, but I've often thought of that tiny island, and wanted to return. And, that's when I realized what it is that makes a place - any place, special. No matter how brief the visit, it lingers in your mind, it makes you smile when you think of it, and it calls you back.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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