12:55:48 pm on
Wednesday 21 Nov 2018

An Illuminating Night
AJ Robinson

Grand Illumination Night has always been an important for the Campgrounds of Oak Bluffs, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. As a kid, I always enjoyed this event. This past one was particularly special.


We were happy to be on the Island.

First off, my wife Jo Ann and I hadn’t been to the Island in a long time; we hadn’t been there to see Grand Illumination Night. Our most recent visit had been in June, which is a nice time in terms of weather and crowds, but not so hot, pun intended, when it comes to activities.

Next, there was our foster son, Antonio. He was with us. Forget ever seeing Grand Illumination Night, Antonio had never been to the island or Massachusetts; he had not travelled outside of Florida.

Finally, something very special took place that Grand Illumination Night. The evening started as always. The Tabernacle filled, the band played and we had a wonderful sing-a-long.

We sang a bunch of old standards, including “I’m in the Swiss Navy,” complete with all marching and movements. Then, once it was completely dark, the festivities started. Antonio had never seen anything like it.

This year, there was a little change of pace. Instead of the first lantern lit by the youngest person in the Campground, the organisers elected to have the oldest person present do it. That’s when I got the surprise of my life. The oldest person, in attendance, was Marina Firestone (above with AJ Robinson); she was one of, if not the oldest friend of my mother.

At ninety, she needed her granddaughter to help her on the stage and to the table. The rest she handled the rest on her own and with élan. The emcee handed her the lighter, which was her undoing. It was one of those propane camping grill lighters, which meant she had to hold down the safety and pull the trigger at the same time.


I have trouble with a grill lighter.

I mean, damn, come on, people, really? I have trouble handling those at times and you expect a woman with limited mobility to operate it? She needed help, which she got, but she lit that all-important lantern. These days, most of the lanterns have electric lights, so they came on with the flip of a switch.

The crowd then started to file out of the tabernacle and spread out through the area. We made a point of meandering around Trinity Circle, the road looping around the tabernacle, to give Marina and her family time to get back to their cottage, The Ark, which sat on the circle. Antonio had never seen anything like the cottages, decked out with their Japanese lanterns, so we were in no hurry. Then, finally, we reached the cottage and the eyes of Marina lit up.

“Oh, it is Silvana’s little boy,” she said. “Andy, how are you? There’s food inside, go, help yourself, you need to eat.” She’s always a good Italian mother.

Marina and I embraced, talked and she was overjoyed to learn that my mother, Silvana, was still alive. At ninety and ninety-three, respectively, neither Marina nor my mother thought the other was still around. I exchanged email addresses with the son of Marina. I got her phone numbers, island and home, and sent them to my mother, right away.

As happy as that action was, I also knew it would be a while before my mother called. That was due to another aspect of being as old as are these women; they have outlived many too family and friends. My mom knows Marina will ask of the family, of my brothers, and my mother will have to tell her about, Stephen, my brother, who passed away not long ago.


A special night, tinged with sorrow.

My mother is not ready to answer that question. The Grand Illumination Night was special. It was wonderful to see an old friend, again. Yet, there was a tinge of sorrow. I think when you reach a certain age, most events become like that.

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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