Archive for January, 2012

Once Upon An Island

It has been a short fourteen years of living on Martha’s Vineyard. What amounts to more than a third of my life has flown by at a speed that I can scarcely imagine that it actually happened. During my time living here I have been witness to so many changes; people, stores, laws, economies, fortunes. I have grown older, hopefully wiser, definitely maturing as a result. As I traverse the island on occasion, my memory recounts the changes, obvious and sublime.

I celebrated a rather subdued New Year’s Eve, swapping memories and anecdotes with a few friends. I recalled the “Get A Life Café”, Louis added that he owned what is now “Zephrus” on Main Street in Vineyard Haven before opening “Louis’”. We all commented on the bed & breakfast “Martha’s Place” just up the street, now a private residence. Yes, many of the businesses had changed hands or disappeared over the years; the Red Cat Café, The Feast of Chilmark, Bowl & Board, The Ice House, etc.

Most of the businesses changed hands, others just closed. Still others suffered from the financial downturn that currently afflicts the nation, even though we felt the pinch a bit sooner than the rest of the nation, as our economy is based on a resort economy, for better or worse. I noticed the difference back in the 2005 season. All of the numbers were down, not just with my business, but with the majority of shopkeepers I spoke with concurred. The previous five or six seasons had been so strong, there was really nowhere to go but down. The vibe of the island changed back after the 2001 season, after the September 11th attacks. The Clintons were not the summer regulars they had been, a new sobriety set a pall over extravagant vacationing, and once the financial collapse happened, the season shortened significantly.

My first season on Martha’s Vineyard, I paid $22 one way to get my car to the island. There was “guaranteed stand-by”, meaning if you were in line to get your car on the ferry, they would run ferries until the line was empty, weather permitting. Even though gasoline was not cheap on island, it was less than $3/gallon. I used less than a tank of fuel the entire season, riding my bike everywhere. I didn’t own anything on island other than my car, I was free of debt, and I was free to travel; a twenty-something with endless opportunities. The island was an idyllic paradise, an endless summer. Reality was a swift and cruel harbinger of the future; the end of summer.

They say that all good things must end. On Martha’s Vineyard many feel that happens at the end of every season. Others feel that the end of the season is just the beginning of another season. The only real constant, in my opinion, is change. Time waits for no one, but in our memories we cherish all that we hold dear. Living on this island I have gathered memories of people, places, and things that I will never forget, both happy and sad. To be a part of a place where so many others travel to just to be a part of for even a short period of time is very unique.

What are your memories? What was something that you remember so well that no longer exists? Whether it involves the original Humphrey’s location up island or a romantic weekend at an inn that is no more, the memories are yours to recall and share.

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That Was Then, This Is Now

As I type this blog, a full moon beams down through the large windows of my living room, Cassandra Wilson and Jacky Terrasson provide the music, and I think of an approaching anniversary. On January 14, 2006 my life was interrupted. Not just a minor annoyance like a traffic ticket or a failed romance but a slam into the wall, dead stop. A house fire took all of my possessions and destroyed them. Worse, it took my canine companion of six years, Dabo. Things can be replaced, companions not so much. What could not be measured at that time was what other elements of my character would be altered by the event, which lessons would be learned, and how long it would take to recover and to what degree, because I have come to learn you never completely recover from certain aspects of such a tragedy.

The fire started at a wood stove that got too hot and ignited what surrounded it, as simple as that. I had gone to work a few hours earlier and returned home for lunch. All appeared normal until I opened the front door to a wall of smoke. From there it was all just a matter of calling 911 and waiting for the emergency responders to arrive. A call to my insurance agent brought him to the scene shortly thereafter. After a few hours there was nothing to do but leave. I went to my office and made some incoherent phone calls. I had a place to stay for the night and that’s all I knew.

The days and weeks that followed were tough. Being January, the island was a quiet place and I called people to let them know what had happened. There was no social media back then; no face book, no twitter, no smart phones. I can count on one hand the people that helped me rummage through the remnants of my life and acted as a support system outside of my immediate family. My story was a blurb on the radio, a couple of paragraphs in the local paper, not much else; life went on. After a month or so, rather than repeat the entire event to people that asked “how are things going”, I simply replied that things were fine. I didn’t know if they knew what had happened and I didn’t really care if they did. I just wanted to move on at that point. Most of the people asking that question were clients that asked as casual banter, not of genuine concern.

Rebuilding my life, both physically and mentally proved to be challenging. The financial crisis hit just as the cost overruns for the house went 30% over the estimate. It nearly bankrupted me and my family; the banks cut my lines of credit, my income diminished, the house was not completed. It should be noted that the insurance companies give you two years to either repair or replace all that had been claimed or forfeit the full value for reimbursement, including the house itself; not very realistic.

Now, nearly six years later, I still have yet to even come close to where I was before the fire. Obviously I am not the only person facing financial difficulties, but considering the trials I have faced, I think I am holding my own quite well.

Last weekend, on New Year’s Day, a friend of mine also had a house fire. She was lucky to escape with her life. She had no insurance of any kind. She lost all she owned, quite literally; it’s gone. But she has friends, lots of friends. We are all going to help her through this tough situation. We are organized on face book, twitter, and through blogs like this one. This is how it should be, a community coming together in a member’s time of need. One friend at a time, doing whatever they can to help her out; because it’s the right thing to do, because she would do the same for any one of her friends. Do YOU want to be a part of the Martha’s Vineyard community? Start by helping my friend, Paola Fuller.

http://www.facebook.com/notes/friends-of-paola-ayala-fuller/paolas-story/249569381779176

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