Authors Posts by Jack Shea

Jack Shea


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Painting A Life, Ray Ellis: An Artist Seen Through His Work, 192 pages, 159 paintings, Compass Prints, Savannah, Georgia, 2014

Before his death in 2013, the painter Ray Ellis had resided full-time on Martha’s Vineyard for more than three decades, and as a public symbol he is as recognizable as Gay Head Light and the gingerbread cottages.

We observed him as a genial and gentle man, a nationally recognized artist, and so generous a donor of his valuable work to Island fundraising causes that he became one of our community’s largest contributors. Fewer of us knew Mr. Ellis’s backstory and his ferocious instinct for survival as an artist and as a man in the social and artistic turbulence of America in the 20th century.

For that perspective, we are indebted to Island writer CK Wolfson, who has given us a gem, a complete story, based on careful research and extensive, candid conversations with Mr. Ellis before his death.

What we get in “Painting A Life” is a boisterous saga of a man who persevered, falling and getting up again and again through The Great Depression, World War II, and enough death, disillusionment, and financial setbacks for two lifetimes. We learn that it took Mr. Ellis almost two-thirds of his life to achieve his simple goal: to paint without distraction.

Coffee table books typically deserve their reputation as the Chinese food of really expensive literature. Accompanying text often is as glossy as the pages. “Painting A Life” is not one of those. For one thing, it only costs $45, the in-season equivalent of two cheeseburgers and a couple sodas.

For another, the book is a valuable reading experience. While it appears to be a definitive collection of Mr. Ellis’s work — with more than 175 sketches, cartoons, portraits, and still lifes from way stops in his much-traveled life — this is a story of life lived to the fullest in pursuit of conviction.

Not that there weren’t pitfalls and distractions, including service in World War II, the death of his first wife after a long struggle with alcoholism, raising four children, and the siren song of business success that led to bankruptcy.

Mr. Ellis kept on painting, developing his style regardless of the period’s art fashion from Art Deco, Modernism, and the flinging of paint on blank canvasses. And it worked. Six thousand paintings worth that hang in galleries, museums, and in private collections all over the world.

If you are an artistic knuckle-dragger, as I am, you will be amazed before you are halfway through reading “Painting A Life.”

As a result of the honest narrative and paralleling selections of work for each period of Mr. Ellis’s life, you will begin to know the man and see his struggles and successes right there on the canvasses. Very cool experience. Ms. Wolfson and Treesa Germany, director of Compass Point and the Ray Ellis Gallery, have done a great service to Mr. Ellis. He and they have provided readers with a spate of clear and useful life lessons and cautionary tales in the unvarnished telling of his tale.

We learn that Mr. Ellis was not your reclusive artist swathed in angst but very much a man of the world. He spent much of his life in the advertising business to generate coin for the family. If you’ve been in that business — or watched Mad Men — you know that the advertising agency business is not a breeding ground for high principles, loyalty, and the like. It almost got him, but he kept on painting.

Mr. Ellis completed his work on the book before his death. He is much-quoted and his words, offered with pure candor about the business of living, have an Olympian cast today, barely a year later.

Here’s my favorite. “It isn’t the circumstances that control the results. It’s what goes on inside your head, despite what’s going on outside.” The book is replete with these gems, polished and buffed hard after 92 years of living.

It seems to me that Ray Ellis’s life is his gift to us as much as his art is. Read his story.

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Mikey Waters, aka “The Ring Whisperer,” finds another one.

Heidi Renneker poses with her savior and wedding-ring-finder Michael Waters. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Heidi Renneker sat on a bench in Edgartown last Wednesday afternoon and stared at the diamond wedding ring on her left hand, winking in the summer sun. “No,” she said softly. “No, I didn’t think we’d ever see it again. I thought it was gone.”

On June 25, Ms. Renneker, her husband, Todd and their cherubs, Elsa (3), Jack (5), and Ava (8), were half way through their annual week on the Vineyard, playing catch in the water on State Beach.

“I threw the ball and my ring just flew off my hand and disappeared into the water. This ring fits perfectly. It’s never come off,” she said. The Rennekers watched, aghast, as the priceless third-generation heirloom ring arced away, then disappeared into three feet of water.

Heidi Renneker shows off the ring Michael Waters found.
Heidi Renneker shows off the ring Michael Waters found.

Two things happened almost  immediately. First,”Todd said, ‘Don’t move! We’ll find it,’” Ms. Renneker recalled. Then the soft summer day suddenly turned ugly. Wind, chop and slashing rain came up, hampering, then ending, their groping search after 30 minutes.

Enter the “Ring Whisperer” aka Michael Waters of Edgartown.  “We went back to our rental place and I just started Googling. Nothing under ‘metal detectors,’ so I Googled everything I could think of, and under ‘lost rings’ I saw a story in your paper (“Facebook leads to Mikey Waters and newlywed’s lost wedding ring,” MV Times, July 17, 2013)about Mikey finding a ring last year,” Ms. Renneker said.

“He called back almost immediately,” she said, turning to Mr. Waters, sitting quietly on the bench, enjoying the story. Mr. Waters had just returned the beloved ring to Ms. Renneker, accompanied by the kids and her mom, Linda Raveis, all of whom came back to the Island on Wednesday for the reunion.

“I could just tell from her voice how devastated she was,” Mr. Waters said. “So we went to State Beach that day and they showed me the area. I was going to find that ring for her.” A born and bred Islander, Mr. Waters knows the waters and currents hereabouts.

“The storm was in full force then. I had to wait for it to settle down, so I marked off a grid, set a couple of red landscaping flags on the dunes, where they’d stay put until the weather let up,” he said. Mr. Waters searched the beach near the tide line while he was waiting, to see if the ring had washed up.

Michael Waters, left, with Heidi Renneker and her kids (from left) Elsa, Ava and Jack.
Michael Waters, left, with Heidi Renneker and her kids (from left) Elsa, Ava and Jack.

The weather took its time letting up and the Rennekers departed several days later for their Wayland home without the ring, but with Mr. Waters’s commitment. “He kept telling me, ‘We’re going to find it’ and I could just tell he wouldn’t give up,” Ms. Renneker recalled. “This has been a wonderful life experience. I didn’t know people like Mikey were still around, who would make this kind of effort for complete strangers.”

Mr. Waters is a buoyant, understated man of middle height. His eyes dance, giving a hint of the leprechaun about him. Ring-finding is not his business; he just lucked into it, so to speak. Like most working Island residents, Mr. Waters has multiple jobs, as a truck driver and machinist for Goodale Construction Company in Oak Bluffs, and operating Creative Concrete Designs, a home-based business specializing in patios and driveways.

Being the Ring Whisperer is a feel-good avocation. He has no fees or rates, will accept a reward if offered, and often a reward is offered. Would he do it for nothing?  “Yeah. I’ve done it for nothing,” he said. “Sometimes the object has little financial value, but its meaning is priceless to people. I like that feeling of seeing people reconnect with something important to them.”

So shortly after the Island Home cleared the dock in Vineyard Haven on Saturday morning with the Rennekers aboard, Mr. Waters was back in the water searching, and he unearthed the treasure.

“I’ve found rings before but not in three or four feet of water. I have a scuba-type attachment for the detector and I knew the current had been pushing right so I started at the far right of the grid. And there was a ring like Heidi described, three or four feet from the spot it went in, buried under two or three feet of sand,” he said.

“I knew they had already left, so I took a picture of the ring with my Iphone and sent it to Heidi,” he said.

“When I got the text with the picture and the message ‘Do we have a match?’ I just broke out in goosebumps, then ran screaming to Todd: ‘Mikey found the ring! He found it!,’” she said. Fade to happy pandemonium in Wayland, followed by a joyful reunion of the Rennekers, the ring, and Mikey Waters on Wednesday in Edgartown on the bench next to the courthouse.

Mr. Waters is seven for seven in the ring-finding business and word is getting around via Facebook and Google. “I’ve had four calls in the last two weeks, including the fire chief in Aquinnah (Simon Bollin) reporting that a couple being married at the Outermost Inn had lost one of their rings in the field near the Inn,” he said. “They got married with one ring and I went up the next morning. Hughie [Taylor, proprietor of the inn] had staked off the area. We found it.”

Mr. Waters has had his share of hard times. He went through a difficult health issue several years ago and experienced the Island rallying to him and his family.

If you’ve been to an annual town meeting or the odd selectmen’s meeting, you know that the people who live here can be contrary and stubborn beyond words, but not when it comes to helping out, friend or stranger will step up.

Heidi Renneker’s reaction on Wednesday to a stranger who showed up for her is a reminder that the people who live here are an essential part of the beauty of the place.


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New Book Captures the Artist, the Island and 25 years together.

“An Amazing Story of the Vineyard’s Derby: 25 years of Paintings, History and Fishing” by Ed Jerome and Ray Ellis. Compass Publishing, Savannah. 132 pages, $48. Available at Bunch of Grapes, Vineyard Haven, at Edgartown Books, online, and at Island libraries. A Limited Edition, signed and leather bound, with a Ray Ellis print enclosed, is available through Mr. Jerome for $250; $300 at bookstores.

You probably know a lot about the late Ray Ellis and about the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. At 68 years, the Derby is the Island’s longest running play, but there’s a lot more to be learned about Island fishing history, culture, and about Mr. Ellis, its premier artist. The story is told wonderfully in “An Amazing Story of the Martha’s Vineyard Derby”.

Derby president Ed Jerome and fast friend and internationally-known artist Mr. Ellis, in the final year of his life with a cast of two dozen anglers and wordsmiths, have created the definitive work on Island fishermen and women and about fishing, a primary cultural imperative here.

Never wet a line or staggered to the Derby shed at 9:59 pm to weigh-in before the doors closed? No problem. This book works on a variety of levels and has been crafted lovingly by Mr. Jerome as a showcase of both Mr. Ellis’s considerable artistic talent and his community commitment.

Each of the 25 paintings Mr. Ellis created as a mitzvah to the Derby is reproduced in an 18×24 inch high-quality volume. Sale of the prints of the paintings and the income from their first collaboration, “Fishing The Vineyard,” published in 2000, has produced a staggering $500,000 in scholarships for Island kids since Mr. Ellis put paint to Derby canvas in 1988.

His 26th and final work, an evocative landscape of the Cape Poge Light on Chappaquiddick, is aptly titled “Journey’s End” and is the cover art for the book.

Each of the 25 prints includes a back story by an Island angler about fishing at that spot or an historical footnote, such as the 1998 print “The Harpooner,” accompanied by Arthur Railton’s account of a German submarine’s sinking of the Progress during World War I, leaving Captain Bob Jackson of Edgartown and his crew rowing a dory 50 miles from shore.

Some stories, no matter how often retold, give fishermen a blood rush. Mr. Jerome wrote the story of “Columbus Day Blitz,” a 2000 rendering by Mr. Ellis of a night when huge striped bass ran like bluefish and every cast was a hit. That night has become the ne plus ultra of Island fish tales. Now Mr. Jerome was really there, but, like Carlton Fisk’s 1975 World Series homer, if everyone who believed they were present actually were there, both Fenway Park and Tisbury Great Pond would have sunk below sight.

Other stories remind us of the noble beauty of striped bass, which creates a willingness and respect for them. For example, Derby icon Janet Messineo has a hard and fast rule to release her first bass of the Derby, keepers included. Accompanying “Stripers at Devil’s Bridge (1999),” Cynthia DeFelice writes about the night she caught the largest striper of her life, and then, awed by its power and beauty lying in the shallows, released it.

A look at the contributors to “An Amazing Story …” reminds us that fishing is not a guy thing and its lure cuts across all walks of life. Contributors include a retired ironworker (world striped bass record-holder Charlie Cinto) and Vineyard salts like Everett Poole, Bailey Norton, and Cooper Gilkes, all fishing cheek to jowl with Rhodes scholars (Arthur Gordon) and nationally-known journalists and authors, including Nelson Bryant and Philip Craig.

Contributors include: Spider Andresen, Jeff Dando, Jack Fallon, Chris Kennedy, Mike Laptew, Mark Alan Lovewell, Ms. Messineo, Tom Richardson, Nelson Sigelman, Greg Skomal, Matthew Stackpole, and Bridget Tobin.

Mr. Jerome also sheds light on how the Ellis prints came to be. Turns out that every year in winter, Mr. Ellis and his talented gofer and model, Mr. Jerome, would visit likely fishing sites for the following year’s print. They would gauge tide, time of day, and available light, then skitter across dunes and man-sized boulders to set up the perfect scene, captured first in photography, then in sketch form before Mr. Ellis painted the final scene.

Their willingness to plan resulted in perfect renditions, including “Greeting the Islander (2009),” commemorating the last voyage of the beloved Steamship Authority ferry, which completed 57 years of service in 2007.

“Ray insisted that a recognizable Island landmark be included in every panting so that people who had visited the Island would have a framework to remember their time here,” Mr. Jerome told The Times last week. “One thing that’s special to me is that it’s really a piece of Vineyard history. Twenty-five years of Ray Ellis’s work and its unique place in our history. It was a joy for me to be part of it.” The former Edgartown School principal noted that part of the book’s proceeds will go to the Derby’s scholarship fund.

Edgartown Books will host a book signing event with Mr. Jerome and contributing authors on Friday, July 18, at 5 pm. Edgartown Books is located at 44 Main St. in Edgartown. For more information, call 508-627-8463.

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“The Vineyard We Knew” by Kevin Parham. Available at Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven, C’est La Vie in Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown Books.

Kevin Parham has written a gem of a memoir about his life as an African-American city kid summering on Martha’s Vineyard in the bucolic 1950s and in the charged 1960s.

This book sneaks up on you. Mr. Parham quietly enfolds the reader into the personalities of his family and friends, particularly his gaggle of siblings, cousins, and himself — initially an unwilling vacationer — as we watch them evolve each summer from children into teenagers under the ever-watchful eye of Nana, before whom Attila the Hun would quail.

Mr. Parham’s work is redolent with minute details of daily summer life on the Vineyard in the late 1950s, a full generation before well-heeled crowds packed the Island. In his introduction, Mr. Parham — a writer and musician who lives in Plymouth with his wife, Olivia — notes that he has had extensive conversations with family and friends to recreate specific events and activities of their coming of age years.

Mr. Parham, an Oak Bluffs summer resident, will discuss “The Vineyard We Knew” on Thursday, July 24, at 6:30 pm at the Oak Bluffs Library.

What we get is an unflinching, unsanitized story, told sequentially through the eyes of a small child, an adolescent, and a coming-of-age teen, overlaid with the perspective of an adult who understands its significance in shaping the person he has become.

Writing through his child’s eye, for example, Mr. Parham employs infinitesimal detail to create an apparently vast physical universe around Nana’s home at 48 Pacific Avenue in Oak Bluffs — just as the world would appear to a six- or seven-year-old.

In fact, his detailed descriptions of the walking and bike routes taken by he and his siblings and friends through fields, woods, fruit orchards, and the cemetery en route to Circuit Avenue, less than a half-mile away, seemed so exotic to me that I went to the site of 48 Pacific Ave. last Sunday morning in an attempt to recreate for myself what that landscape must have looked like 50 years ago.

The neighborhood today is far different from the unheated two-bedroom shacks of Mr. Parham’s youth. I encountered rehabs and new builds with appropriately Spandex-clad inhabitants, but I saw little evidence of the unruly riot of flora and fauna that caught the eye and stimulated the imagination of an urban kid willing himself to live and flourish in an unfamiliar environment.

Nana’s summer roost is long gone, replaced by the Oak Bluffs Library. However, if you pause to sit on the bench at the gazebo next to the library, where 48 Pacific Ave. stood, you will find an inscription on it to Carrie White and Beatrice Parham Hammonds, Mr. Parham’s grandmother and mother.

“The Vineyard We Knew” is also a story of wary, urban African-American kids who discovered the freedom of acceptance, of being one with a polyglot community of cultures and skin tones on an island far removed from a formalized culture of racism 80 miles away in Boston.

Mr. Parham tells us he is glad of that early experience as he managed his way through assassinations, the wars against racism in this country and in Vietnam, and the peace and love movement of blessed memory, including his initial participation in the sexual revolution on the Island during the summer of his 17th year.

This is his first try at authorship. “I wrote the book because I had always shared stories with family and friends of our time on the Vineyard,” he told The Times in a phone conversation last week.

“Really, the book is to honor my mother and my grandmother for what they’d done for us, the sacrifices they made that I only understood as an adult. Maybe I was also hearkening back to a time long-past.

“But I do believe that our experiences as children are definitely a blueprint for the rest of our lives. During childhood, of course, we have no frame of reference about that. No awareness of what’s possible through perseverance.”

Mr. Parham’s willingness to show us his insides — fears, insecurities, and pratfalls — during a youthful decade or more of his life on the Island is authentic and will jog our own memories of the scary growing-up time. If you’re an Islander, his descriptions and references to long-gone people and places here will remind you of a simpler time in your life.

Author’s Talk with Kevin Parham, Thursday, July 24, 6:30 pm, Oak Bluffs Library. For more information, call 508-693-9433.

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A team of 12-year old Martha’s Vineyard Little League all-stars is livin’ the baseball dream this week while competing in a Maryland all-star tournament against 16 other squads from Canada, Michigan, and other eastern seaboard states.

Reporting Tuesday evening from the fabled Ripken baseball complex in Aberdeen, Md., coach Phil Regan was thrilled with the experience his players are having and with their poise and high performance levels playing against the “big guys.”

The “home crowd” Island contingent includes two dozen parents, including four who drove to the event, providing shuttle service to the complex and to special events like Vineyard player Owen Bresnick’s 13th birthday, celebrated this week at a local restaurant.

Mr. Regan was astonished at the physical size of tournament teams. “I’m 6′ 1” and there are 12-year-olds here who are taller than me. I’m not used to seeing 12-year olds with mustaches,” he chuckled. “We are definitely the smallest team in the tournament. When we went to pick up our tournament shirts, we learned that sizes began with men’s small. So that’s what we got and most of the kids are swimming in them.”

On the field, it’s a different matter. Call it the Pedroia Effect, but while the Vineyarders are still looking for their first win after four games, they have been in every game, leading in two contests and taking a one-run lead into the last inning of one game before dropping a squeaker. In the highly-competitive skills competition, the Island kids have finished third and fifth in two double-bracket events.

“They have a double-play competition in which ground balls are hit to each infield position. They have to complete the double-play flawlessly and the shortest elapsed time to complete four double-plays wins. We won our bracket and finished less than three seconds behind the overall winner in the finals,” he said.

The Vineyarders are playing under Little League tournaments rules which call for a larger field, longer base paths and pitching mounds and outfield fences farther from the plate than they have ever played on. The rules allow base-stealing, and balks are called on pitchers.

“The baseball is going great,” Mr. Regan said, noting that the other tournament teams are experienced with the larger field and new rules. “We struggle with stolen bases, we’ve never done it, but we haven’t had any balks called, either. Our kids are adapting quickly.”

A highlight of the week has been the appearance of Tad Gold who plays for the minor league Class A Aberdeen Iron Birds at the complex. A 2010 graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and a 2014 graduate of Endicott College, Mr. Gold was named 2014 national division 3 college baseball player of the year before signing with the Baltimore Oriole affiliate last month. Mr. Gold is the first product of Island Little League to sign a professional contract.

“The kids all know Tad,” Mr. Regan said. “He sat in the dugout and brought a teammate, Steve Wilkerson, to cheer us on. We were scheduled to go to one of Tad’s games, but a tornado alert canceled it. We’ll try to get to Lowell in August when they play the Spinners.”

This complex is incredible. There are seven fields, including replicas of Fenway Park with a Green Monster, Wrigley Field (Chicago) with the brick and ivy, and Memorial Stadium, the former Baltimore stadium. We didn’t get a game in Fenway but on Saturday we play on the signature field. It’s a stadium, really, with three or four thousand seats. Jake Howell will start that game.” Jake was the winning pitcher for the Red Sox in the 2014 Island Little League championship game last month.

“The Island community made this happen for the kids,” Mr. Regan said. “The support we have received makes you grateful to be part of this. All these people who took time off during the busiest time of year to come is terrific.” Offering kudos to his employer, Hutker Architects in Vineyard Haven, Mr. Regan added, “Mark (Hutker) has been completely supportive of our involvement in Island Little League.”

Team chemistry is strong, Mr. Regan said, noting that all-star Miles Sidoti is on the DL with a broken hand but made the trip anyway.

Wait ’til next year? “We’ll see. It’s expensive. There is another great tournament in Pittsfield that we’re considering as well.” That camp is operated by western Mass. native Dan Duquette, former general manager of the Boston Red Sox and current general manager and executive vice president of the Baltimore Orioles.

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Tad Gold prepares to swing in his first pro start as a member of the Aberdeen Iron Birds. — Bob and Corey Rinker

Tad Gold grounded a hard single to left field on Saturday, July 5, to record his first hit as a professional baseball player. A 2010 graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, Mr. Gold plays for the Aberdeen Iron Birds of the Class A New York-Penn League, a minor league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, current leaders of the American League East. His inaugural hit came in Brooklyn, N.Y., in a game between the Iron Birds and the Brooklyn Cyclones.

Batter up: the single A Iron Birds are affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles.
Batter up: the single A Iron Birds are affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles.

Mr. Gold was the national 2014 Division 3 college baseball player of the year as a senior at Endicott College in Beverly, and he played three years as a starting outfielder for the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks in the high-quality amateur Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) here.

The FCBL, like the Cape Cod League and other amateur wooden bat summer leagues, offers gifted players an opportunity to showcase themselves to major league scouts. Mr. Gold’s resumé induced the Orioles to draft him in the 32nd of 36 rounds in the major league draft of high school and college players in June. He learned of his draft selection as he was being honored before the Sharks’ home opener in June.

A month later, Mr. Gold finds himself in Aberdeen, Md., in rookie A ball, scrambling for at bats and riding the buses for five or six hours, mostly to scenic small towns in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and a couple of not-so-scenic places like Youngstown, Ohio.

He plays under the intense scrutiny and analysis that Major League Baseball teams apply these days to talent competing to get to “The Show” and multimillion dollar paydays. The NY-Penn League has been in business for 75 years and has seen a troop of major leaguers come through, playing until recent decades in splintery old ballparks with bad lights.

Not today. The increase in popularity of minor league baseball and MLB’s attention to its prospects has created showcase playing grounds. Mr. Gold and the Iron Birds play at state-of-the art Ripken Stadium, created in 2002 by Oriole Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. Its 6,300 seats are generally sold out.

This week, in a happy coincidence, two dozen Island Little Leaguers and entourage will be at Ripken Field to watch the Iron Birds and Mr. Gold.

If you’d Like to watch Mr. Gold and the Birds play locally, mark down August 28-30 when Aberdeen travels to Lowell for a three-game set with the Spinners, a Red Sox affiliate.

The Times caught up with Mr. Gold by phone last week to get his impressions after a month of pro ball. “The routine is similar to playing with the Sharks: we get home late at night, wake up later in the day and back to the ballpark for eight or nine hours,” he said. “The biggest difference from the Sharks is that the competition is a lot tougher and when we go on the road, it’s for a three-game series or more, so you’re sleeping in hotels. It’s cool, though: we got to see the hot dog eating contest when we were in Brooklyn. Their stadium is near Coney Island.”

(For the record, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut won Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog contest for the eighth consecutive year, downing 61 dogs for the $20,000 prize.)

“Baseball is a job,” Mr. Gold said. “There aren’t many off-days, but I’m as excited today as I was the first day I got here. This is a first class organization. Our stadium is amazing. The baseball people are really smart and they bring in roving instructors to work on every facet of the game — hitting, fielding, base running, making cutoff throws. I’m going in early today for bunting work. These coaches are passionate. You can tell they want us to succeed. They’re always bringing up examples of major leaguers who’ve gone through here.”

His first hit felt good. “It felt good to contribute to a win,” he said. “And it was Seinfeld Night at their park so there were like 9,000 people in the stands.”

How does the clubhouse differ between amateur and pro ball. “Ultimately, it’s more like we’re teammates than guys competing to make a living,” he said. “I wondered about that, what the atmosphere would be like. Really, we’re a bunch of 18- to 24-year-olds playing baseball, You know, I always called my managers or coaches ‘coach’ not by name, but it’s all first names here. They emphasize that we are colleagues, co-workers.”

Mr. Gold’s manager is longtime major leaguer Matt Merullo, a third generation Boston-bred baseball family that includes Boston sports legend Lennie Merullo, who, at 97, is the only living man who has played for the Chicago Cubs in the World Series (1945). Matt Merullo’s 19-year old son, Nick, signed with the O’s last month, becoming the fourth generation of Merullos in pro ball.

Life has sped up in several ways for Mr. Gold. “Really good competition. You don’t see a guy who doesn’t throw 90 (mph). I’ve seen 98,99. That’s the adjustment, getting used to the fastball. In college, a guy at 85 was throwing pretty good. Here you’ll see a curve at 85.

“I absolutely know I can play at this level,” he said. “I’m starting to catch up to the fastball and I’m more and more comfortable in the [batter's] box. This is a special time of my life and I try not to lose sight of that.” However his current season turns out, Mr. Gold will return to the Island, at least briefly, after Labor Day when the short Class A season ends. Then, perhaps there will be an assignment for a fall instructional league or a winter at home getting ready for spring training.

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“Little Bighorn: A Novel” by John Hough Jr., Arcade Publishing. 320 pages. $24.95.

The battle of the Little Bighorn still rages, 138 years after George Custer and several hundred of his troopers were killed by Sioux and Cheyenne tribal warriors on a Montana hilltop on June 25, 1876.

Countless books and articles have been written on the man and the event, Custer apologists and satanizers are still dueling today. Was Lt. Colonel Custer a raging egoist who created his own last stand, or was he the victim of colleagues who commanded 60 percent of the on-site U.S. cavalry force but did not come to the aid of Custer’s 7th Cavalry regiment?

“Not many people do understand Custer,” author John Hough Jr. of West Tisbury told The Times this week. “He was a very big hero in his time. When I’m speaking about the book, I’m going to try to explain the mystery and drama around the event. My idea was to depict that [the Bighorn massacre] as a horrible nightmare. Look, everyone with him knew he was going to die that day.”

Mr. Hough will discuss his new book, “Little Bighorn,” on Sunday, July 20, at 2 pm as part of a speaker’s series at the Vineyard Haven Library, and again at the West Tisbury library at 5 pm on Saturday, July 26,  at the West Tisbury library.

Mr. Hough has delivered with a riveting novel of the life, times, and death of one of America’s most captivating personalities. The story is told in the voice of Boston-bred Allen Winslow, of Phillips Academy in Andover and Harvard College-bound.

Turns out Custer may have been a fanatic, but not about marriage, and he had cozied up in Washington, D.C, with Mary Deschenes, a well-known actress who was Allen’s mom. Allen is summoned to dinner in D.C. Custer dines with them and offers Allen a chance to ride with the 7th Cav in their summer campaign against Sitting Bull and the allied Sioux and Cheyenne nations.

Mom loves the idea, Allen hates it, and Custer doesn’t really care — until he learns that the unchaperoned 16-year-old sister of his regimental surgeon has run away from home in New York City to join her brother in the West. Custer may have finished last in his class at West Point, but he also knew that when momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy, so Allen is dispatched to meet the wayward lass in New York and accompany her to the campaign staging quarters at Fort Abraham Lincoln in North Dakota.

Some of us find the prospect of visiting North Dakota unappetizing, even in 2014. In 1876, the journey took more than a week by train, in heat and dust, with multiple way stops and transfers. For Allen and Addie Grace Lord, the trip also entailed dodging Pinkerton detectives hired by orphaned Addie Grace’s self-righteous and well-heeled Cambridge aunt and uncles to return the lost lamb to their Calvinist fold.

Here is where one of Mr. Hough’s particular skills as a story-teller emerges. He is a concise, deft writer and a journalist who researches the hell out of his subject matter here, as he did in “Seen the Glory,” his very successful 2009 novel on two Vineyard lads who fight in the American Civil War in the Battle of Gettysburg.

His willingness to learn the quotidian aspects of late 19th century life and manners, speech and vocabulary, and to incorporate them into the story puts us in the horsehair seats of the coal-burning monster chugging across America.

I learned about life in the 19th century from his description of that train ride and its passengers: a melange of traveling salesmen, card sharps, and wide-eyed idealists seeking to start anew in the West.

The youngsters fall in love and inch toward their date with destiny, a process that Mr. Hough uses to build tension in a story whose outcome has been known to every schoolchild for more than 100 years.

Writing against a known outcome can be a thorny business and raises the stakes on the writer’s ability to create willingness by readers to suspend disbelief, a necessity for novels to be successful.

And he does it without hurrying, using a steady, constant pace that allows the reader to steep in the characters and their decision making and to occasionally shout silent, alas unheeded, warnings. I mean, you know it’s gonna go balls-up in the end, but you’re nail-chewing anyway.

Along the way, he dispenses bits of ominous dialog. Custer tells his new recruit that he is embarking on, “A new destiny, Allen. It won’t come round again.” Addie and Allen meet Joe Merriwell, a dead-eyed old Indian fighter on their passage who says, “There’s two, maybe three thousand fighting men waiting for you on the Powder River. Tell that to Colonel Custer.” Other characters, including military wives and Native American scouts, report dreams and feelings of impending doom.

At Fort Lincoln, Addie and Allen have consummated their love and are married, which defangs the Pinkertons who return to Cambridge to pick up their check.

On May 18, 1876, The 7th Cavalry rode out of Fort Lincoln in search of Sitting Bull, giving Mr. Hough the opportunity to describe life on the march, and the interior battles between Custer and his colleagues, who heartily loathed him and his success. We also learn that Custer was a more complex man than his popular image. His colleagues also hated him because Custer was an Army whistleblower.

Custer was in Washington, D.C., when he met Allen to testify willingly before a Congressional panel investigating theft and corruption surrounding “Indian” affairs throughout the financial and supply relief chain for native Americans. The U.S Army, as it turns out, was involved up to its forage cap.

So we also learn that Custer’s ethic included both a willingness to kill and subjugate his foe and, at great career risk, a complete unwillingness to abuse the vanquished.

Author’s Talk with John Hough Jr., Sunday, July 20, 2 pm, Vineyard Haven Library. Saturday, July 26, 5–6 pm, West Tisbury Library.

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“Eden in Winter” by Richard North Patterson, Quercus, N.Y. and London, July 15, 2014, 620 pages. $26.95 hardcover. Available at Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven and Edgartown Books, and at Island libraries.

Read this book.

Richard North Patterson is not a New York Times best-seller for nothing. In the third and final book about three generations of the Blaine family trilogy on Martha’s Vineyard, Mr. Patterson has produced the best of the series.

The book will work for readers anywhere but has a particular appeal for us because Mr. Patterson, a longtime member of the community, describes this place, its people, and its seasons with particular clarity. Island residents who know this place will nod in recognition. Visitors seeking to know this quirky community will be informed.

Mr. Patterson credits insight drawn from several friends, including Marcia Gay Harden and Drs. Charlie Silberstein and the late great Bill Glazer, both Islanders. In the book’s acknowledgments, the author added a poignant postscript about his friendship with Dr. Glazer, who died in 2013.

Dr. Charlie Glazer is their psychoanalytical alter ego in “Eden in Winter,” and his character not only brings lucidity to an emotional and psychological Armageddon, but he also provides insights for the readers to use in their own lives. Superb writing craftsmanship here.

The critical central character in the trilogy is Ben Blaine, a charismatic swashbuckler, womanizer, and best-selling novelist who has stood tall on the national stage for decades. He is the darling of the Island’s summer celebrity sniffers, an absolute brute and mysteriously dead as the novel opens.

Ben was a 1950s Island kid, born of the Island’s unseen poverty to an alcoholic fisherman and wife-beater. Ben uses his rich friends to get up and out, to Yale and a writing career, with a way stop in 1960s Vietnam, courtesy of Charles Dane, upper-cruster and father of Whitney Dane. Mr. Dane did not appreciate the attentions of this Island urchin to his daughter. He whispered in some well-connected political ears and voila!, Ben was draft bait.

Vietnam fed the fire in his belly and he used it to become rich and famous, living in the Chilmark neighborhood that had spurned him. The twists and turns of his life and those in it continued for decades and generated secrets and accompanying emotional and psychological dysfunction that come to a head when a dying Ben Blaine fell, jumped, or was pushed from a Chilmark promontory to his death on the rocks 80 feet below.

The police and D.A. like the latter theory and launch an inquest into people with a motive, including Ben’s brother; one of Ben’s sons; Ben’s current but estranged blueblood wife; and Carla Pacelli, Ben’s current and pregnant girlfriend, a recent Hollywood mega-star who has come to the Island to recover from the booze and drugs that destroyed her career.

Carla is the most sympathetic character in “Eden in Winter.” Mr. Patterson draws a believable story of her life, based on a childhood that honed her acting skills as she sought approval from a dad who dispensed love like he was throwing a manhole cover — that is to say, infrequently and not very far.

Adam Blaine, Ben’s nominal younger son, had it easy when all this was unfolding. He is a deep-cover CIA operative hunting Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Afghanistan’s mountain regions. He is the only family member not under suspicion because he was 10,000 miles away. The action scenes of his assignments in Afghanistan are as good as it gets in the spy thriller genre. Adam loathed Ben as heartily as the rest of the clan.

Now he returns to the Vineyard for the funeral and immediately determines to defend his family using a variety of covert obstruction of justice methods — the tools of his trade, if you will. The unraveling of all this is the plot of the novel.

But Mr. Patterson has created a much more gripping, psychologically parallel plot: what happens to people when uncovered secrets challenge their belief systems, what happens to people who have lived a lifetime of corrosive relationships, and, finally, is it possible to become whole again?

That’s where the stuff is. I can imagine Mr. Patterson and Dr. Glazer sitting on the front porch, unraveling the formative experiences of several generations, mapping the emotional landscape of a diverse group of people with an eye to emotional recovery and, dare we say it, coming to peace.

What came out of those meetings and into “Eden in Winter” is fruitful for all of us. While we may not have experienced the dramatic level of events of this novel, all of us wrestle with past and present relationships. You will recognize yourself and others in these characters. In addition to a great read, Mr. Patterson offers us usable insights to recognize our own devils and some methodology to put them to rest.

Hear Richard North Patterson talk about “Eden in Winter” and the Martha’s Vineyard trilogy on Thursday, August 14, from 7:30–9 pm at the Chilmark Community Center as part of the Author Lecture Series hosted by the M.V. Book Festival.

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Joe Sollitto, waving on the right, marched past the Harbor View in Edgartown's Fourth of July parade last year. To the left of him is Fred B. "Ted" Morgan, who led the parade for 43 years. — Photo by Alison Shaw

Being the guy after The Guy isn’t always easy.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out (Pete Carroll after Bill Parcells). Sometimes it does (Bill Belichick after Pete Carroll).

Joe Sollitto, riding in the Edgartown Fourth of July parade.
Joe Sollitto, riding in the Edgartown Fourth of July parade.

No worries for Joe Sollitto. The Dukes County Superior Court Clerk will step off first on Saturday (note the date has been changed because of a prediction of foul weather) as Grand Marshal of the Island’s grandest event, the Edgartown Fourth of July parade. Mr. Sollitto follows Col. Fred B. (Ted) Morgan Jr., who led the parade as grand marshall for 43 years before passing the torch after the 2012 event.

Mr. Morgan has been interviewed ad infinitum about the parade and its Island significance. He has always been clear that July 4 is Independence Day and the parade is a celebration of freedom.

Last year, the two men worked together in a transition year. It helps that both men are on the same page and that between them they have more than 80 years of parade participation.

Mr. Sollitto has participated in the parade since 1972. Both are members of American Legion Post 186 in Edgartown, the parade sponsor. Did Mr. Sollitto’s long parade involvement help make him Mr. Morgan’s hand-picked successor?

“Absolutely,” the 92-year old World War II  hero said from his Edgartown home last week. “Joe has done a great job on the parade. He’s worked with me over a number of years…and he’s very familiar with what’s going on.”

Mr. Morgan is considering whether to march again this year. “I’m really not sure whether I will,” he said with a chuckle.”Probably, I’ll decide on the day of the parade.”

The Harbor View presides over the parade each year.
The Harbor View presides over the parade each year.

Last Friday, Mr. Sollitto sat with The Times to talk about the “don’t miss” event and its meaning to the Island. “This will be always be Ted Morgan’s parade,” he said.  “When you think about the Martha’s Vineyard Fourth of July parade, you think Ted Morgan. Ted is one of the few real heroes I’ve met in my life – that any of us will ever meet. He’s very quiet about it. Ted is not one for the spotlight.”

Mr. Sollitto, as his predecessor has, also credited the work of Kristy Rose, assistant to town administrator Pam Dolby.

Well over 1,000 marchers  participate – a significant portion of Island residents. “Well, when you think about it, yes, it could be that 10 percent of the Island marches,” Mr. Sollitto  said. Residents who aren’t marching are lined up four deep on downtown Edgartown streets along the nearly mile and three-quarter parade route.

“People will put together a float or march for a specific cause that’s been helpful to them. Camp Jabberwocky and the Navy Band are perennial favorites,” he said.

Parade planning begins in February. The thought of the Navy Marching Band sitting in standby at Woods Hole on July Fourth is ugly. “The logistics are pretty big. We get with the Steamship Authority, the New Bedford fast ferry and organize buses and vans for transportation. It’s like conducting an orchestra; everyone has to be on the same page,” he said.

But, as an authentic Island event, it can also be a cappella. People show up with a float, ready to go, on parade day. “We encourage people to let us know by this Thursday so we can plan positions,” Mr. Sollitto said. “But, you know, people wake up on July Fourth and decide to participate. We accommodate as best we can.”

The Harbor View presides over the parade each year.
The Harbor View presides over the parade each year.

In addition to celebrating freedom, the parade has become manna to Island organizations and service agencies who show the flag and raise awareness about their work. Mr. Sollitto understands that value. He marched (and trumpeted) with the MV Boys and Girls club marching band until it disbanded in 1988. “We always saw a bump in donations after the parade,” the Marine Corps veteran said. “We’re asking this year for a patriotic theme on all the floats and we encourage businesses to partner with agencies and service organizations and to sponsor their floats. The agency publicizes its work and the company advertises its business.”

The parade is a boon to Edgartown business. With the support of the Edgartown Board of Trade, there is enough going on to keep visitors busy, literally from dawn to exhaustion, culminating with a fireworks display after dark over Edgartown harbor.

The parade begins at the intersection of West Tisbury Road and Pinehurst Road at 5 pm sharp. It turns right onto Main Street and then  left onto Pease’s Point Way (next to the monument). It follows Pease’s Point Way, makes a right onto Morse Street, a left onto Fuller Street and a right onto Thayer Street. At the end of Thayer Street marchers turn right onto North Water Street. Next it takes a right up Main Street and pauses in front of the reviewing stand in front of the Whaling Church. It continues up Main Street. takes a left onto the West Tisbury Road and finishes at the Edgartown School.

When the bells chime at 5 pm on Saturday, the parade will step off on time. Joe Sollitto will be wearing his tan Marine Corps “Charlie” uniform, Ted Morgan will be in the house, and all will be right.

Note: The parade has officially been postponed until Saturday, July 5, at 5 pm. The fireworks will also go off on Saturday night, at dusk.

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— Courtesy Alan Dershowitz

Alan Dershowitz has written his 32nd book to put his legal work “… into the broader context of how the law has changed over the past half-century and how my private life prepared me to play a role in these changes.”

For brevity’s sake, we will not introduce Mr. Dershowitz here. If you don’t know about him, feel free to return to your video game. Knowing about him and understanding him are two different things, Mr. Dershowitz asserts in the introduction to this autobiography. He also pledges unswerving honesty in his life story, a quality found in few self-bios. For the record, he delivers, along with liberal plaudits for himself and others. He also pops a few mythic bubbles about well-known public and legal personages.

Whether he is painfully honest in describing “Dersh,” his public persona, or “Alan,” the person, is moot to those who have already made up their minds. He is either a savior of the human condition or a self-aggrandizing rascal. Proponents from both the left and right seem equally confused.

In “Taking The Stand” the back cover blurbs, usually reserved for love-bombs, are a riotous blend of smart people, sometimes sharing the same political camp, who love or loathe him in clearly-marked prose.

For example, you’d think Noam Chomsky and Henry Louis Gates would be fellow-travelers on the subject of Dershowitz and civil liberties. Here are their blurbs:

Chomsky: “Dershowitz is not very bright (and) he’s strongly opposed to civil liberties.”

Gates: “Astonishingly brilliant courtroom presence (and) a subtle and compelling theorist of civil liberties.”

A pride of similarly divergent views from presidents, prime ministers, and some really neat people complete the pastiche. Go figure.

When all else fails, we must actually read the book and decide for ourselves. What we learn is that the Dershowitz public persona — relentless, dramatic, with dollops of high-profile public rudeness — can overshadow the estimable legacy of important law he’s created over the past 50 years.

For example, I assumed that public defenders have always been available to indigent defendants. Not so. As a law clerk, Mr. Dershowitz worked on opinions that led the way to establishment of the public defender system in the mid-1960s. There are other substantial examples of his legal pick and shovel work that advanced justice for all.

However, as legendary pitching coach Johnny Sain said: “The world doesn’t care about the labor pains. It just wants to see the baby.” The image of Dershowitz defending O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson, Claus Von Bulow, President Bill Clinton, and a bundle of other high-profile defendants defines and overshadows the work of a gifted legal mind.

“Taking the Stand” is tidily arranged around two themes. The first is a recounting of his early life, education, and career. The second arranges his public casework under topics named “The Changing Sound of Freedom of Speech” and “Criminal Justice” and a particular sweet spot, “The Never-Ending Quest For Equality and Justice,” dealing with human rights, race, and the division of church and state.

Mr. Dershowitz was raised in 1940s and 1950s Brooklyn, N.Y., by orthodox Jewish parents (and grandparents) whose lives spanned the Great Depression, World War II, the Holocaust, and diaspora. He was relentlessly reminded of the dictates and prohibitions of rabbinical law as well as interpretations of those laws. DVR setup instructions are child’s play in comparison.

He was a lousy student with a big mouth and an unbanked passion for being in the thick of issues that captivated him, evidenced by signing petitions as a pre-teen to working on Julian Assange’s Wikileaks defense last year.

He became a great student and Harvard Law School’s youngest-ever professor at 24. The big mouth and the unbanked passion? Not so much change. The record, as they say, speaks for itself.

What’s the greatest value we can take from a book? Self-knowledge, I think. Truth is, I didn’t want to review this book because I’ve never been able to figure out whether I admired this guy who I’ve never met. I would make a mitzvah for my pal, Peter Simon, no slouch himself at opinion-offering.

Peter and his wife, Ronni, are having a catered send-up for Mr. Dershowitz and his book at their Simon Gallery on Main Street in Vineyard Haven on Sunday, July 6, from 5 to 7 pm.

What I learned from my read is that objectivity effortlessly falls victim to opinion. Using a self-administered test, I asked myself about my opinion of three Dershowitz headline cases before the facts were in. The truth is I believed Mike Tyson did it because he’s a violent, asocial man. I believed Claus Von Bulow did it because he’s a rich aristocrat, and I believed O.J. didn’t do it because he was a gridiron artiste.

Try it. You may not like what you find, but you will think and learn. It made me feel better to know that great legal minds have also fallen prey to their belief systems. Mr. Dershowitz chronicles, by name, several legal luminaries who were misogynists or were devoted to civil rights law practice while belonging to private clubs that excluded African-Americans and Jews as members.

Mr. Dershowitz includes a lot of behind-the-scene dynamics in the process, including a hilarious bit of dialog between he and Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger on the cosmic subject of bear-baiting and obscenity.

Part of the confusion about Mr. Dershowitz, I think, is rooted in his commitment to argue both sides of a question. It seems inconsistent to us. So I’m going with the idea that the guy has been applying Newton’s Third Law of Motion for the past 50 years: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Author’s Talk with Alan Dershowitz, Sunday, July 6, 5–7 pm, Simon Gallery, Vineyard Haven.