Great Island Couples: Herb and Jane Slater of Chilmark

Herb and Jane Slater were married almost fifty years ago in the family home in Chilmark.
Courtesy Jane Slater

Herb and Jane Slater were married almost fifty years ago in the family home in Chilmark.

Married for almost 50 years.

As June proceeds, and along with it the Island’s wedding season, some great Island couples tell us how they’ve made marriages last. This is the first in an occasional series.

My parents celebrated 50 years of marriage two years before my father died, but it was a rare occasion among their friends. My generation (the “Greatest Generation?”) might have been the first one — and possibly the last one — to routinely celebrate long, enduring marriages. The women of my generation came of marriageable age just as WWII ended, and the returning veterans were eager to make up for the almost four years they had lost fighting in Europe and the Pacific. I was 21 when I married Johnny Mayhew – two of my friends were 19 when they married right out of high school, and half of my college friends were engaged while in college. Others, like myself, dropped out of college to be married.

My daughters grew up during a time of turmoil in this country – Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, the Vietnam War. Customs and long habits changed – women began to seek careers and put off marriage until their 30s. Couples began to live together without the blessings of a minister or a Rabbi — some of those relationships lasted; some didn’t.

Our children gave us a wonderful party when we celebrated 60 years together, and we have friends who have passed that mark already. It takes stamina, patience, good-will, and lots of compromise, as well as love, to live with someone for such a long time. We salute those who have proved that they have qualities we all admire.

Shirley Mayhew

Herb and Jane (Neumann) Slater, married Sept. 12, 1964, in the family home on State Road in Chilmark.

How did you meet? We met when I was working at the Menemsha gas station one summer and Herb and his family came into Menemsha on the Aloysius for a season of swordfishing…

Who proposed and how? We don’t remember a proposal…just that one weekend when I was visiting his family home in Barrington, Rhode Island from my apartment in New York City, he generously let me mow the lawn with a new riding mower…while he disappeared and reappeared later with a ring [he] then offered me!

Describe your Vineyard wedding: Our Vineyard wedding was a gathering of friends and family of about 35 or 40 with intentions of an indoor wedding and an outdoor reception. But it was pouring that day so some friends quickly arranged with the selectmen to use the community center and they decorated it with local greens and that’s where we went from the house following the service done by my New York cousin, a Lutheran minister. The cake was made by a summer friend in the shape of the sword fishing yacht, Aloysius, and was the hit of the party!  It was complete with string rigging and more.

How many children? Did any of them stay here? We have Caleb and Sarah Jane. Caleb lives and works in Northbridge and Sarah has a Boston job and lives with her family in Attleboro. Both will tell you they are from Chilmark. They have long roots and love it and will eventually return here to live.

Briefly describe your years together – the good, the bad, and the wonderful… The years together have been just that…good, bad, and wonderful. The hard years were the caregiving to aged parents, both his and mine, and the good years were and are watching the lives of the kids unfold.

Has the Vineyard been the best place to live your lives together? We lived off-Island during Herb’s working years but always came home at every opportunity. We built our relationships with Vineyard connections and lived as if we were here even when we weren’t. All our lasting friendships are here and have always been.

Why? It was just a fit…for Herb and his interest in the sea and fishing and for me with an eye to my Vineyard connections from way back…I feel connected.

If you had one piece of advice to a couple about to be married, what would it be? Hire a professional photographer, don’t depend on guests to take good pictures! And, really, if it feels right it probably is…even if you doubt it sometimes.