Situated in the center of Oak Bluffs, one of the more picturesque towns, on the island of Marthas Vineyard Island, the Campgrounds is a unique place. I never knew that as a child, but now looking back I see that it was about as close to the 100-acre Wood of Winnie the Pooh as any place on Earth could be.
When I think about the campgrounds, certain words come to mind: friends, freedom, fun. I find it odd that they all start with F its not deliberate but it does work out that way. As a child, it was a place to get together with my friends, we had the freedom to go anywhere and do anything, and boy, did we have fun! Lisa, a dear friend of mine, spoke of an invisible force field that seemed to encircle the campgrounds, and she was right. Spending summers there, it seemed the safest place on earth. We shot out the doors of our cottages at first light, ran around all morning, and went home when the noon all out signal was blown by the volunteer fire department. Actually, we didnt necessarily go home we just ate wherever was handy. That often meant me eating at Reeds, Lisa eating at my place, me eating at Jimmy and Eddys and so on! Our mothers never knew who to expect for a meal, but they never complained and they never worried they knew that each of them had each others back, so to speak. After eating, it was back out for more fun until the church chimes rang at six and then home for dinner. This was generally the one time that we truly ate with our own families usually, but again not always. I can truly say that the sound of chimes still makes my mouth water, quite the Pavlovian response.
The campgrounds of the 60s and 70s was a unique time and place; a coming together of a variety of circumstances like the planets aligning in a special configuration and then it passed on, much like those same planets spinning off into their own orbits. There was the post-war baby boom, the booming economy that allowed families to be supported by just a working Dad, and Moms to stay at home the Island being a place for working class people, and the geography of the community. This amalgamation of events meant that there were plenty of kids around, maternal figures to care for them, no snooty rich people, and ease of access to places like: the beach, the Flying Horses, Sunset Lake, and play-places galore! Were we in danger? Yeah, probably; we took incredible risks and the terms child molester and pedophile were unheard of in that era.
Back then, a simple working class stiff could buy a cottage for a few thousand dollars. These were places with tiny little bedrooms, miniscule living rooms, and sometimes barely-there dining rooms. A hallway? Unheard of; they couldnt spare the space. The cottages were intended for summer use, nothing more. They had no heat (other than maybe a fireplace), no air conditioning, and simple septic systems.
I have to wonder will we ever see such a world again? Id like to think the answer is yes, but I have a sinking feeling in my gut that its no. The middle class of today can no longer afford the cottages, and the island is becoming a place for the wealthy and presidents to inhabit. Once the rich discovered the cottages, they wanted them as a status symbol to be able to say, Oh yes, I have a place out on the Vineyard. Yet, they were not satisfied with using them for a month or so in the summer. After all, theyd paid a mint for them, and so they needed better septic systems, and insulation, and so on. All of these things added to the cost of owning the cottages, and now they cost more than a home in the Hamptons, an apartment in Manhattan, or a home in LA.
What a pity. When I think of the wonderful, glorious memories that I and my friends share from our time in the Campgrounds, it stabs me through my soul to know that my child shall never know such a place.
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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