Minding Your MV P’s & Q’s: Year-round residents beaches

—Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole,
About those private beaches. I know there are town beaches for town residents, but don’t you think we should delegate one beach — take Lambert’s Cove or Lucy Vincent if you will — to year-round Vineyard residents? To get access you need proof of residency or an Island Club card. It doesn’t have to be a large beach, as most of us are working too much in the summer to spend much time on the beach anyway. Don’t the Vineyard’s residents deserve a beach too?

Confidentially yours,
Beach Bummed

Dear Bummed:
I sympathize with the sensibility behind this question — I have the same thought myself not infrequently! — but we would all have to agree on a definition of the term “year-round resident.” As we approach the summer months, there is an impulse to circle the wagons and differentiate between “us” and “them,” but those lines are not so clearly drawn.
A great number of people are technically year-round residents, but not actually year-round residents. If you have any Vineyard connections at all — including owning a vacation home — it isn’t hard to register to vote, get your car registered here, or qualify for an Island Club Card. It might actually be easier for summer residents who own property to do those things than for year-rounders, who have to do the Vineyard Shuffle and lack a permanent address. So we’d be relying on the honor system to establish who “deserves” to have access to such a beach — and all humans are adept at justifying our sense of entitlement.
My guess is that nearly everyone reading this column considers themselves deserving of partaking of “year-round resident” status perks, even if (for instance) they grew up here, now live in California, and come home to visit their folks in August. I lived in California for years, and if such a beach existed, that would have been my feeling when I came home. It would never have even occurred to me to question my “beach cred.” Once I moved back to the Vineyard, however, I would have bristled if a childhood friend of mine who’d also moved to California came back in the summer and felt free to go to this year-round beach. That’s just human. We are all afraid of being outsiders and desperate to be insiders.
Let’s use me as a hypothetical model again: Say I came home from California to visit my folks, and my folks were going to the resident-only beach. Could they bring me? If my best friend from California came home with me, could we bring her? If she brought her teenage daughter with her … etc., etc., etc. It becomes an exercise in cronyism. Why would a resident’s daughter’s best friend’s kid be granted more access to a year-rounder’s beach than an actual year-rounder who for whatever bureaucratic reason can’t prove his or her residency status?
Is a college student a year-round resident? If so, do they lose their resident status as soon as they graduate, unless they move back to the Vineyard immediately and stay full-time? What if they want to move back but — especially burdened by student loan debt — they can’t afford a place to live? What if they work here but have to live on the Cape because that’s the only housing they can manage? What if they technically live here (in their parent’s basement or something), but have to go off-Island for long periods of time to earn their livelihood? What if, after a lifetime of living only on Martha’s Vineyard, somebody retires and decides they want to get off the rock for a month every winter. Are they still year-round? What if the month becomes two months? Three months? At what point is their absence more significant than their presence?
And who decides all these things?
Perhaps the only bright line differentiating “real” Islanders from not-real Islanders is that Islanders have a lot of emotional investment in defining what constitutes a real Islander.
And — let’s be honest now — if that is the primary thing that binds the “real” Islanders together, how pleasant do you think it will be to have a small beach in which all of these people, who represent probably clashing subcultures within the Vineyard community, hang out together in their rare and valued off-work hours? That’s sort of what you’re asking for.
Do we deserve that? We deserve much better. We deserve to have access to miles of beach during the many months when we have the time and energy to enjoy them.
Wait a sec … that’s what happens when you live on Martha’s Vineyard year-round! How lucky are we?

That’s my take.

Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to Nicole Galland at OnIsland@mvtimes.com.