Authors Posts by Valerie Sonnenthal

Valerie Sonnenthal

Valerie Sonnenthal

Another Willys from Chilmark, spotted when I went for my morning swim. A mint jeep indeed. – Photo by Valerie Sonnenthal

Slow down. That’s right, it’s time for those of us who live here to drive slower than we think we should just to avoid the unexpected from around a corner or coming from a dirt road. I know if I had not been extra slow, I might have already been in a number of fender-benders in the past two weeks.

I love seeing neighbors Bob and Irene Hungerford walk their Clydesdale horses from their home to pasture twice daily, the bright-blooming dogwood trees, gardens beginning to pop with color, starry night skies, and warmer days. Take time to inspect your loved ones for ticks. Seriously. I took two of the pinhead type off myself one afternoon, and was just lucky they had barely been on longer than an hour or two. Rose geranium oil can be used on both people and pets as a natural tick prevention.

Congratulations to all the graduating Chilmark fifth graders: Silas Abrams, Emmett Favreau, Tegan Fenner, Katelyn Goldsmith, William Mayberry, Emma Mayhew, Adam Miller, Tristan Scott, Tyler Shipway, and Atlas Zack and their families. Have a wonderful summer!

On Friday, June 26, at 8 pm and Saturday, June 27, at 6:30 pm, my old neighbors from Rockland County, N.Y., Bridgman|Packer Dance will be in residence at the Yard, performing “Truck” inside a 17-foot box truck, and their latest piece, “Remembering What Never Happened,” integrating live performance, video technology, and imagery from the Mojave Desert. You will be transported and taken on a fantastic journey — don’t miss them! For more information and tickets, check Don’t forget they have daily dance classes and yoga too.

Kirtan comes to the Yoga Barn all weekend, with Tom Lena and Shakti Rowan, beginning 5:30 pm on Friday, June 26, with a free yoga class. Check out the schedule and get tickets at

Chris Fischer's "Beetlebung Farm Cookbook" sits in the center of new books displayed at McNally Jackson Bookstore on Prince Street, New York City.
Chris Fischer’s “Beetlebung Farm Cookbook” sits in the center of new books displayed at McNally Jackson Bookstore on Prince Street, New York City.

The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook is a hot item, and not only in Chilmark or on the Island. When I was in New York City the other weekend, I went to my favorite literary bookshop, McNally Jackson on Prince Street, and not only was Jennifer Tseng’s new book on the first table of new fiction when you entered, but Chris Fischer’s book was dead-center in the middle of the new cookbooks featured on their table. When I saw Chris this week, he told me it is now in their window! If you haven’t yet seen the book, be sure to drop by the Chilmark library for the Saturday, June 27, reception for Gabriela Herman’s photography for the book, from 3 to 5 pm. And on Wednesday, July 1, you can hear Chris Fischer speak about his latest project and serve freshly baked bread with crostini toppings from his book.

The West Tisbury School fifth grade class is holding a Cow Chip Bingo fundraiser for their Shenandoah trip at Flat Point Farm on Saturday, June 27, at 10am. A cow will be turned loose in a fenced-in field, marked off in 100 numbered squares. The winner is determined by the cow making its first deposit on one of the squares. Each square costs $50, with the winner taking home $1,000. To purchase a square, contact Liz Oliver at 508-939-0616.

The Chilmark Community Church welcomes the Rev. Kathleen Dorr, an Episcopal priest for 20 years, most recently in the Diocese of Connecticut, on Sunday, June 28, to preach at 9 am. Sunday School continues through the summer during church. Congratulations to Pastor Seongmoon Ahn, who has been appointed to a new church in East Bridgewater. The Revs. Vicky and Armen Hanjian will be serving Chilmark for July and August.

Kara Taylor’s first gallery opening of the season is Sunday, June 28, from 5 to 8 pm for her small mixed-media landscapes. Stop by and help her celebrate at 24 South Road. For more information, see

Opening day for Chilmark summer softball at Pasture Road Field was a complete washout, with much-needed thunderstorms. We hope this did not ruin Father’s Day activities. Be sure to join in the softball fun on Sunday, June 28, at 8:30 am at Pasture Road Field.

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Once a synagogue, its stained glass windows were destroyed by Nazis.

Last July, Barney Zeitz created a stained glass window in honor of Don Lyons at Grace Church. — File photo by Michael Cummo

Island artist Barney Zeitz is leaving on June 29 for his first trip to Germany, but he is not going for a vacation. Mr. Zeitz will be heading about two hours northeast of Frankfurt, to Flieden, population 9,000.

On March 4, 2015, Mr. Zeitz first heard from Marie Ariel of Cambridge. She explained, “In May 2013, I visited an Evangelical church in Flieden, Germany, because the building (trashed but not destroyed during Kristallnacht) had been the synagogue in which my father had his bar mitzvah.”

She said the pastor of the church, Pfarrer Holger Biehn, welcomed her and her friend Richard Olson, who lives in Edgartown, and told them the history of the building post-1938. “Later,” she told Mr. Zeitz, “I told him I had with me a photo of the interior of the building when it was a synagogue. Pastor Biehn was more than pleased, because he said they had no record of what the building looked like when it was a synagogue.”

Biehn had mentioned that his church would like to have a Jewish artist design and make some new stained glass windows for the building. “So, with some delay,” Ms. Ariel told Mr. Zeitz, she asked friends for suggestions. Pam Goff, who lives in Chilmark, suggested Barney Zeitz. Ms. Ariel looked at his website and forwarded the link to Pastor Biehn, who wrote back on Feb. 28, 2014, “Thank you for your help by finding an artist for our windows. I think Barney Zeitz makes some very interesting works and his style may be wonderful in our church.”

Ms. Ariel, about 70 years old, came to the Vineyard to visit Mr. Zeitz in his studio with her friend, a retired Lutheran minister. She loved his work, and they had a wonderful hour-and-a-half visit. She had Mr. Zeitz create a portfolio of 25 images of work he has created for Christian and Jewish places of worship. The pastor and committee members, along with a regional committee, looked at it to help them make their final decision. Mr. Zeitz says he understands that the pastor “really wants a connection to Jewish people, and has been reaching out to the Jewish community in Frankfurt.”

Although Mr. Zeitz’s own family came from Germany, he is not sure where. Mr. Zeitz has created stained glass windows and artworks for Jewish temples and churches, as well as memorials, museums, hospitals, nursing homes, and the Wang Center for Performing Arts in Boston. He is a master of stained glass techniques, including a fused technique that he created. He says he is intrigued by the project in Germany, and will visit the former synagogue which has housed Flieden’s Evangelical church since 1950, and meet with the pastor and other committee members, who are interested in commissioning Mr. Zeitz to create six stained glass windows to commemorate Flieden’s Jewish history, marrying that with other history.

According to Destroyed German Synagogues and Communities webpage, Flieden’s Jewish history began in the mid-1500s, and peaked in 1895. The church is actually housed in a newer synagogue, built in 1870. The windows Mr. Zeitz will create are one part of a larger restoration project for the church.

In a recent letter to Marie Ariel, Pastor Biehn wrote: “On 10th of November we had a memorial event in and in front of our church on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Pogrom Night (Kristallnacht). There were so many people that the room was full, and nearly 30 people had to stand outside. There were more people than in any other memorial event in the years before. I think there is a new interest about the history of our village, and there are less people who try to hush up these occurrences.”

In the photo Marie Ariel had of the synagogue, one could see that the mullioned windows were clear glass. Mr. Zeitz says he is already kicking ideas around in his head. While in Germany, he will take measurements, and determine whether the committee would like individual windows, or have all of them tied to a theme. The community there will have to raise the funds once he has a plan — the State Church will match any funds raised between July and November, 2015. “Then maybe we do a Kickstarter, and get people on this side of the ocean who care just like Marie Ariel did,” he said.

Mr. Zeitz says he has learned that the church wants to set an example in both Germany and Europe: “There are only six or seven churches in Germany that once were temples, and most have a small memorial plaque. But they want to make a statement. So I’ll go and sit in the space alone, and get a sense of what I think is appropriate. I might start designing as soon as I get back. I’m going there to pay to tribute to 500 years of Jewish life in Flieden.”

The Times will follow this story when Barney Zeitz returns.

Washington Ledesma -Photo by Valerie Sonnenthal

I stopped by well-known ceramic artist and painter Washington Ledesma’s studio just over the Oak Bluffs line on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road to see what he’s up to this summer. Mr. Ledesma is a storyteller, a wanderer, a colorful and vivid artist who began painting on glass last winter for the first time when his kilns were broken. He explored glass vessels of all shapes and sizes, and works on flat pieces of beveled glass. His imagery, unexpected magical world, and bright enamel colors always take me on a journey of wonder, myth, and light.

Mr. Ledesma received glass from friends who saved pieces for him; he found glass at our local thrift shops (and the Dumptique) and some off-Island, and for larger pieces he has a source on the Cape. He starts by covering the glass with paint before he adds imagery, but even that has changed. Mr. Ledesma is planning to do a whole series of paintings on glass inspired by Thomas Hart Benton, the well-known painter and summer Island resident. Mr. Ledesma used to start with a line drawing on his ceramics, finish the drawing, the details, and then add color. Painting on glass means he no longer begins with the line drawing and just paints, a freedom he relishes.

He continues to create small metal pieces that he paints brightly, including a pig, a rhinoceros, a chicken, and an apple sitting together on one of his pedestal displays. He goes on to a story about being included in an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum last year, where his fish painting hung beside three Rembrandts and remarks, laughing, “My head was all the time, I get a complex of inferiority. My $4,000 fish and Rembrandts.”

He says, “When I lived in New York I did a series of paintings certain people was interpreting like it was my expression about sex. And naturally what I was doing was my expression to follow the teaching of Picasso, and how to get into abstraction with something that is real. You start to make the lines thinner and thinner. You’re finally ending with an abstract line. When you reach that level after 12 steps or more, you have something that you didn’t know was there. So it is a discovery.” Clearly making discoveries in his paintings is something Mr. Ledesma has never stopped doing.

His studio is filled with work that needs to be fired, but that has not slowed him down. He has a series of ceramic vessels with poetry carved into the surface, including works by Gabriel Garcia Lorca, Island poet Fan Ogilvie, and others waiting to be finished on one work table. Everywhere you look there is work in progress in his studio area.

In the corner of the gallery area is a case with a 4-foot-high ceramic pregnant mother/goddess figure with three breasts, something that appears on many of Washington’s female figures. The figure is completely hand-built from the feet up. He says everyone wants to know about the lady with the three breasts: “In literature there are people like the German Nobel Prize winner Günter Grass, who wrote a book called The Flounder. On the first page he mentions Awa. Awa was a goddess with three breasts, and the whole book is about cooking.”

You can see Mr. Ledesma’s work by making an appointment to visit him at his home gallery in Oak Bluffs by calling 508-693-1823. His work is also on display at the Night Heron Gallery on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, open daily from 10 am to 6 pm.


A conversation with the Chilmark centenarian.

Rena with her caretaker, Kerlynn Stanley, and the sign that once hung outside her last beauty shop, located next door on the farm. Photo by Lynn Christoffers

On Friday, June 12, Rena Fischer turned 100 years old, and her extended family joined her in celebration. Rena lives on Beetlebung Farm in a small house adorned by a sign, “Rena’s Beauty Shoppe,” that once hung outside her last beauty shop, conveniently located next door on the farm. Rena is lucky to not only have family still on Island, but also a warm-hearted caretaker, Kerlynn Stanley, who also briefly cared for Rena’s husband, Albert O. “Ozzie” Fischer Jr., who died at his home on July 26, 2011, at the age of 96.

Rena was born in Limestone, Maine, the seventh of 10 children (six boys and four girls). After both her parents died young, Rena moved to Hoquiam, Wash., to be brought up by her aunt and uncle. She finished school, then moved back east to Cambridge, where her sister Marie had started a beauty shop. Rena completed her beauty training and joined her sister, who named the shop for both of them, calling it Marina’s Beauty Shop.

Rena clearly misses her “sweet husband” Ozzie. Rena clearly knows she cannot always remember things, yet her warm smile, patience, and great sense of humor keep her spirits up, and keeps anyone who talks with her on their toes. When Kerlynn brought over a photo album, Rena happily pointed out old photos of herself, a photo with Ozzie on their wedding day, and enjoyed showing us some of her favorite pictures from the past.


Valerie Sonnenthal: What was the most mischievous thing you can remember doing in grade school?

Rena Fischer: I used to write notes to the fellows. I went to a Catholic school; they didn’t like that.

VS: When was the first time you took a plane?

RF: To fly east from Washington to visit family.

VS: Did you have a favorite pet growing up?

RF: I was brought up by my aunt and uncle. He was quite strict and didn’t want me to have a dog. One time when he was out fishing on his boat, I brought home a puppy. And he fell in love with it.

VS: Tell me about your parakeet (singing in the background).

RF: My daughter gave it to me, for Mother’s Day. It’s named Sid, after an old boyfriend.

VS: Are birds your favorite pets?

RF: I love birds, have had many parakeets. I also love dogs.

VS: When did you first come to Martha’s Vineyard?

RF: I came to work in the summer at my sister’s seasonal Edgartown beauty shop, also named Marina’s, like her shop in Cambridge.

VS: How did you meet your husband?

RF: I went to a dance, just down the road [at the Chilmark Tavern]. After he asked me to dance, he never asked another girl. I knew right away he was the one. He was a wonderful man, even though he didn’t know how to dance. I had to teach him how to dance.

(Albert, her son, later added: “Dad asked her to dance and she replied, ‘Why, I don’t even know you.’ My father answered, ‘Oh come on, Columbus took a chance.’ They danced the night away.”)

We wish Rena continued good health, much joy, love, and good company.


Bob and Frannie Haws pause with their daughter Robin Kaimikaua on the top of the steps to Squibby for a morning walk. – Photo by Valerie Sonnenthal

It is Bob and Frannie Haws’ 50th year visiting Bob’s sister Gay Woese and her son Bob in Chilmark. Bob and Gay began visiting Chilmark in the summers, and became full-time residents 20 years ago. Each year the Haws make the trip from Oahu and get to spend three weeks enjoying Menemsha dinners from Larsen’s, beach walks, and extended family, including a weekend visit with Frannie’s cousins Fred and Barbara Pryor in Katama. This year their daughter Robin Kaimikaua from Maui was able to join them for the trip. Luckily for them, they can fly direct from Hawaii to N.Y.C., where they had the chance to visit with one of their nephews before taking a train and making their way to the Island. We hope they have a healthy and joyous stay.

Rena Fischer turned 100 last weekend, and her immediate extended family gathered in Chilmark to celebrate the joyous occasion. It seems Chilmark provides a good home to grow to a ripe old age, though I haven’t checked the census to see how many centenarians we actually have.

Yoga at the Yard begins June 20, and is offered daily; Sunday’s 4:30 pm class is free. Dance is offered six days a week; check out their performance schedule online at

The Strawberry Festival at the First Congressional Church of West Tisbury is finally here, Saturday, June 20, from noon to 4 pm. Indulge all your berry desires.

Opening day for Chilmark softball season is Father’s Day, June 21, at 8:30 am on the field at Pasture Road off Tabor House. All ages are welcome to join in the fun. Come by and say hi to Commissioner Bill Edison, make new friends, and catch up with old ones. The field of dreams is mowed and waiting.

Join Roberta Kirn for the first of her monthly summer Community Sings at the Yard on Tuesday, June 23, 5 to 6 pm.

Vineyard Sound, the all-male vocal ensemble, will be singing every Tuesday evening from 7 to 8:30 pm at the Chilmark Community Church through late August. Their repertoire includes everything from jazz standards and contemporary pop songs to children’s music and indie rock. For more information, check

The Chilmark Flea starts up on Wednesday, June 24, from 9 am to 2 pm. Remember, every Saturday and Wednesday all summer long.

Lots happening at the Chilmark library; on Wednesday, June 24, at 5 pm, come learn about and listen to the Jim Thomas Spirituals Choir presenting “The U.S. Slave Song Project.” On Thursday, Warren Doty returns to speak about “Frederick Douglass and the Underground Railroad: New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket” at 5 pm. All programs are free. For more information, please call 508-645-3360.

The Beach Plum Restaurant in Menemsha will be donating a portion of the proceeds of all their dinner sales on Wednesday, June 24, to Island Grown Schools. Students will greet customers, and serve the meals by Chefs Josh Aronie and Nathan Gould, cooked with Island-grown ingredients. Make reservations by calling the Beach Plum at 508-645-9454 or For more information, write

On Thursday, June 25, enjoy “Historic Movies of Martha’s Vineyard” at the Oak Bluffs library; Tom Dunlop and film editor John Wilson will be on hand to answer questions. Starts at 6:30 pm.

I ran into Kate Taylor and her eloquent granddaughter Fiona while Kate was putting up a poster for her concerts on July 14 and 15 in Aquinnah and at the Grange with special guest Isaac Taylor. Stop by Alley’s for tickets, or

The Lagoon Pond Association is holding its annual sale of rain barrels, now available at Hinkley’s Ace Hardware, 27 Beach Road, Vineyard Haven, or call Laurisa at 508-645-3797. Great price for a good cause.

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Nikeya Tankard, 9, raised $300 to help Nepal, by selling bracelets at the Oak Bluffs School. Courtesy Anu Tankard.

The Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center’s Nepal benefit, organized by Kanta Lipsky, raised $3,000 on Sunday. Longtime community members reconnected with friends and made new ones. Every table enjoyed a centerpiece of special rhododendrons, the national flower of Nepal, donated by Chilmark’s Peter Norris and Amy Rugel, and West Tisbury’s Elliot Kronstein. The Indian food served for dinner was lovingly prepared by volunteer chefs Annie Colangeli, Uma Datta, Priya Datta, Kim Hilliard, and Kiran Chhibber. Diners were serenaded by jazz musician Stan Strickland, and after dinner, singer-songwriter Greta Bro accompanied by keyboardist Steve Travis lulled the audience with their memorable music.

The Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center underwrote any costs not met by other generous donors, which included Island Source, Cronig’s, Morrice Florists, Reliable Market, Stop and Shop, and Seaside Celebrations.

Kanta thanked the Hebrew Center for all of their support and willingness to host the evening. We learned from Rabbi Caryn Broitman about the American Jewish World Service, which has been active in Nepal for many years, and why this is such a great relief organization. To donate or learn more, go to

Another surprise was Nikeya Tankard, an Island third grader, who arrived at the event with her family because she had something to share. Before dinner Nikeya, whose mother is Nepalese, stood before the packed room, spoke clearly into the microphone, and told us she had made and sold bracelets to raise funds to help Nepal. She told the crowd she wanted to donate the $300 she raised to the evening’s charity.
Vineyard Haven resident Adrian Smith had been invited to the event via Zee Gamson and his neighbor Arnie Reisman. Adrian first went to Nepal in February 1998, right after college. His relationship to the country has only deepened since that time: He speaks the language, has studied stone carving in Nepal, and is based in Kathmandu to lead student study semesters. Adrian spoke about being in Kathmandu when the earthquake happened, and getting to Chaukati, the village where he spends two weeks with each group of students during their semesters with him. He and friends managed to get 10,000 pounds of goods donated, and a truck to haul it, arriving exactly one week after the initial quake.
The first person he saw was the village head, Man Bahadur Thami (which means “Brave Heart”), with whom he has lodged during his stays for the past 15 years. He asked, “How are you?” Man Bahadur answered calmly, “At rest. Everyone is at rest. And so are the buildings.” Then they laughed. Adrian explained to us that for the people of Nepal, things could have been much worse, and they all recognize this. The earthquake happened on a Saturday, a day the nearly 20,000 schools were closed. It took place during summer, so no one would freeze by losing their homes. And it happened during the daytime. You can learn about what Adrian Smith and his friends are doing by following their Facebook page, Nepal Earthquake Relief — Sindhupalchowk.

A gorgeous last May weekend with Bread and Puppet Theater playing shows up-Island, swimming, and Menemsha Saturday night sunset, parking lot full, serious fisherman from Florida gearing up and waiting for the crowds to go, after the oohs and aahs, catching the bus or missing it, wrapped in a beach sheet mother and daughter huddle for warmth, and I fill my tank at Texaco, all before 8 pm. The Gay Head Lighthouse was moved and celebrated on CBS national news:

Susan Puciul shared that she and her husband, Mark Hurwitz, flew out to attend their middle son Isaac’s graduation in May from the San Francisco Art Institute. Adding, ”As much as we love the city and hanging out with his pals, I think the highlight was renting a little cottage in Inverness and hiking the amazing Point Reyes to that edge of the continent. Docile herds of elk, wildflowers galore, great blue heron … great music and food in that little town as well.” Congratulations to Isaac, a painter who follows in his grandfather’s, uncle’s, and sister’s footsteps, who is already exhibiting in galleries, and plans to continue his painting career and stay in San Francisco.

Congratulations to Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School graduates from Chilmark, including Brigida Larsen, Isabella Maidoff, and Franklin Pilcher, who will make it official on Sunday, June 7, at 1:30 pm at the Charter School in West Tisbury. And congratulations to all their parents: John and Susan Larsen, Ingrid and Jonah Maidoff, Alison Pilcher and Rick and Jamie O’Gorman on a job well done.

Joan LeLacheur is having her Wampum for Graduates sale on Saturdays, June 6 and 13, from 10 am to 5 pm at 42 Old South Road in Aquinnah. Call 508-645-9954 for questions or information.

It’s time for the Annual Cross-Island Hike, sponsored by Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank since 1993, on Saturday, June 6, at 8 am. This year’s 20-mile hike begins at Chilmark Pond Preserve’s pond shoreline, and will include Fulling Mill Brook Preserve, Peaked Hill Reservation, Middle Line Woods Preserve, Tea Lane Farm, Meeting House Road Association Conservation Land, Tiasquam Valley Reservation, and Brookside Ridge Preserve, before moving into West Tisbury. To learn more, see the hike itinerary, and find out what to expect, go to

West Tisbury poet Jennifer Tseng reads from her first novel, Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness, on Friday, June 5, at 7 pm at Bunch of Grapes bookstore. FYI, it was just listed on the Los Angeles Times summer fiction list.

Hurray, the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market opens Saturday, June 6, from 9 am to noon! Enjoy a Community Sing and Ice Cream Social on Saturday, June 6, at 3 pm at the Chilmark library. Songs will be led by song leader, drummer, and music educator Roberta Kirn, all for the joy of singing.

Join BiodiversityWorks biologists Luanne Johnson and Liz Baldwin to learn all about our Island snakes on Wednesday, June 10, at 5 pm at the Chilmark library. Please call 508-645-3360 for more information. Summer library hours are now in effect, so the library is now open Fridays from 10:30 to 1:30 in addition to winter hours, and remains closed on Sundays and holidays.

Permaculturist Sean Walsh offers an introductory presentation on the abundant world of permaculture design, from basic edible landscaping to specific fruits, berries, vegetables, and flowers that you can grow at your home, on Sunday, June 7, from 10 am to noon. $15; $10 for Polly Hill Arboretum members. Call 508-693-9426 for more information.

Tuesday, June 9, 6 pm is the last Chilmark Community Church Pizza Night.

The School Superintendent’s Goodbye Tour comes to the Chilmark Community Center on Tuesday, June 9, from 7 to 9 pm, to bid farewell to James Weiss. All are welcome.

The end-of-year recital at the Chilmark Elementary School is being held Thursday, June 11, at 5:30 pm.



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Hundreds of friends fill the Chilmark Community Center in honor of the the late author.

Peggy Freyderg's granddaughter Tamara Sloan speaks while Laurie David and Nancy Aronie listen. –Photo by Lynn Christoffers

On Sunday, May 24, Peggy Freydberg’s Poems from the Pond had its eventful coming-out party at the Chilmark Community Center, with over 200 people in attendance. Laurie David, publisher of the book, orchestrated a memorable event that payed homage to Peggy’s many literary contributions. Copies of the beautifully rendered book 107 Years of Words and Wisdom: The Writings of Peggy Freydberg, were available for sale, and all net profits will benefit the newly created Margaret Howe Freydberg Scholarship Fund.

A cross-section of family, friends, and poetry admirers filled the seats. Nancy Aronie told the story of how she first got to know Peggy when she hosted a reading for her in the fall of 2014. This was the first time Nancy met Laurie David, and within 24 hours Laurie knew she wanted to publish a book of Peggy’s poems. Laurie then enlisted Nancy’s help in doing so. To commemorate the book’s launch, Laurie invited four notable readers (though none had known the author or her poetry previously) including Geraldine Brooks, Kimberly Cartwright, Jorie Graham, and Brooke Adams. The guests gave moving readings, but it was the final speaker, Peggy’s granddaughter Tamara Sloan, whose words filled each one of us with the true spirit of Peggy.

When I asked Tamara how she felt after participating in the first poetry reading celebrating her beloved grandmother, she said, “Gran would have been so incredibly happy and probably would have said again, ‘I know why I have lived this long, and it’s for this moment!’ My father and I both remarked on how wonderful it was to hear others read her poems. For me, even though I know some of those poems almost by heart, hearing others read them … the cadence of their reading, where they pause, where they put emphasis … brings to light new considerations of meaning, and I hear and give import to words I wasn’t as conscious of in quite the same way.

The crowd socializes following the readings at the Chilmark Community Center.
The crowd socializes following the readings at the Chilmark Community Center.

“I did struggle with the reading of the last poem before I went up to speak, ‘Preparing Oneself for Dying.’ That last stanza, ‘Go back. Live with my mistakes. Leave my clutter. After I am gone, when those of you who loved me walk in this room, you will find, to your surprise, that I am still here.’ Well, that gets me every time. The fact that my family and I had literally just dusted off our hands from sorting through her possessions and walking through her rooms before we came to this reading, where she became so much more alive, well, it made me ache with the effort of containing my grief. In fact, childishly, and knowing that this last stanza was to come, I began internally humming, la la la la la, because I didn’t think I could listen to Brooke Adams read that last stanza and not break down.”

Tamara continued about life without her grandmother: “So very sadly, her house must be sold, because none of us can afford to buy it, and her possessions distributed among the family or sold as well. She does live on with all of us, however, and this book of poetry and writings helps keep her alive, gives inspiration to others, and sends her out into the universe in a way that she would have never imagined.”

During Tamara’s speech at the event, she shared some of her fondest memories and impressions of Peggy:

I call her Gran — my kids called her “Great” Gran, and great she was. An inspiration to us all. As you may know, she worked hard to overcome a pretty constant sense of not feeling worthy. Astonishing, isn’t it? A woman so talented, so beautiful inside and out, so kind and beloved — she struggled with not feeling like she had anything worth saying. It was in her mid-40s that she began writing novels, six of them. Then poetry — three books — and when she turned 90, she felt there was still more to say, more to be explored, but not a full book left in her. All of her writing explores, examines, turns over stones, looks under bridges, digs deep into feeling — to try to get at the essence of her being and her place in this world.

Amazingly, this woman who questioned herself so much, offered to others such support, belief, encouragement, and love. When speaking with her, she made you feel like you were the most important person in the world, like there was more to you than you knew yourself. Your story, your gift of another heart rock, your fistful of dandelions that you gave her as a child … she took you in with her deep dark eyes and heard you and appreciated you. I don’t know how many times I heard her say, “This is the most wonderful present anyone has ever given me,” or, “I think this is the best day of my life.” But even if you’d heard it before, you knew she absolutely meant what she was saying, every time.

In a speech she delivered at a literary event on MV she answered the question, “What is the essence of my being that has endured?” She responded, “All of my life I have had a sense of enjoyment at being in this marvelous, terrible, beautiful world and of having an endless capacity to relate to it.” She went on to say that she was glad that she had lived that long, because if she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have discovered poetry, “which has been the most satisfactory writing and the most penetrating knowing of myself I have yet experienced.”

Notice the choice of words, “most satisfactory writing and most penetrating knowing of myself I have yet experienced.” She was 97 when she wrote that. Have “yet” experienced. She had 10 more years of experience ahead of her, and she was keeping the doors open to possibility. That’s a message to take home — her love of life, her searching, her overcoming her fears and daring to use her voice: “I have lived all my life covered up and trying to be bare … a mind too long buried, wanting recognition from those who had been sure of its non-existence …”

In the last 10 days of her life, I was catching her up on the progress of the book and Laurie’s marketing efforts. I told her that there were people talking to Oprah’s people, and I asked her, “Do you know who Oprah is?” She thought about it for a moment, then made a face and said, “That woman on TV”; I told her yes, and that she had a magazine too, and she had a book club that recommended books. Gran thought about it for a minute, and said, “Oh God, this might kill me.” Then she thought about it a bit more, and said, “Well, if I die before the book comes out, then it’ll be a hell of a memorial.”

And that it is. For a woman who wrote: “All my life, I have wanted to be shown respect for a mind not apparent to anyone, not even, at first, to myself.” Even though we all knew she had an incredible mind and an incredible heart, this book is a great memorial to her and a great inspiration for people everywhere. Your age, your condemning inner voice, your nay-saying baggage that you haul around — toss it away and feel, as she says, “immense in your capability.” I take a deep breath and fill myself up with my memories of her and I feel her inspiration. “Underneath cold winter bone, the flesh of summer sleeps … beauty is everlasting.”

A celebration of Peggy Freydberg’s life will be held on Saturday, June 13, from 4 to 6 pm at the Chilmark Community Center. Peggy’s family has asked for all to come share their memories.

Memories of Peggy Freydberg — another time and place

By Niki Patton

Margaret "Peggy" Freydberg shown at her 100th birthday party in March, 2008. – Courtesy Tamara Sloan
Margaret “Peggy” Freydberg shown at her 100th birthday party in March, 2008. – Courtesy Tamara Sloan

The first time I met Peggy Freydberg, she was walking up a hill near her home on Stonewall Pond. A gentle afternoon ocean breeze blew from the other direction, and as she came toward me, her long skirt and hair wafted back in the wind. I thought to myself, “She looks like a sylph!” — a spirit of the air — walking into our world from another time and place.

It was 1978, and Peggy was 70 and ageless — a characteristic she retained until the end of her life. I was 27. My companion, Charles Close, and I were annual summer visitors to his family home on Stonewall, and she would be a summer neighbor for the next two decades in the then relative wilds of Chilmark. Peggy turned out to be much more than that first vision — but that sense that she had come from another time or place persisted, and was a little startling each time I saw her at the beginning of the season. She was ethereal but grounded, childlike but wise. Along with a grace and authenticity went a contemporary quality of speaking her mind. When the world had gone wrong or she’d heard something she didn’t like, a frown would “gather on her brow” (a somewhat Victorian phrase, but the best way to describe it in her case). She would ponder, concerned, and then speak her mind earnestly, always to the point and honest, sometimes surprisingly blunt. “Plainspoken” is the word she used. Equally moved when she was happy, she would smile broadly and laugh heartily when something was to her liking.

As we returned each summer season, one of the first things Peggy would reveal was the status of whichever of her books was in process. It might be just started, or published, or just about to be published; the news was always related with a sense of expansive delight. (It simply didn’t enter the picture that she was 70 — then 80 — her spirit was too young for that to be possible.) For a number of years, the short trip down the hill to the Freydbergs and a knock on the door might be answered by the door opening, or by a voice in an A-frame tent that was pitched just next to house: “Hello?” Peggy would call from her writing desk inside the tent. Like many writers, at some point she had decided that she needed a secluded place where she could put down her words and thoughts without interruption — actual or anticipated. Her pondfront home might be light and airy, but the simple tent almost hidden in the brush was for a time her truly private workspace.

I left Stonewall Pond in the mid-’90s after becoming a year-round resident, and as Peggy began her next writing chapter at age 90, her poetry phase. We were no longer up or down the hill from each other, within easy reach, but we remained glad to see each other in Island travels. Each time I saw her, that sylphlike quality remained unchanged.

As a young businesswoman when I first met her in the late ’70s, Peggy’s earnestness, authenticity, and grace were alluring in more ways than one; born into the suffragette era of the early 1900s, she appeared to have surpassed my own emerging ’60s feminist generation as we struggled to find our voices and act in the world in a mature, balanced way, neither too submissive nor too strident. Peggy looked to have mastered the secret to our quest long ago: “Just be who you are.” She did it well.


Nikki Lou Youngblood, right, and her mother Keli Youngblood embrace one another on Friday, May 22, at Santander Bank, Chilmark. – Photo courtesy Kim Klaren

Last week I stopped at the Santander Bank, the second to last Friday I will ever be able to do so. Nikki Lou Youngblood took care of me, and as I was leaving I urged a man and woman lingering by the door to come into the empty bank. Keli Youngblood had driven from Dunmore, Pa., leaving at 4:30 am to surprise her daughter for a visit. As Nikki took in the reality, she came around from her desk, and she and her mom cried in each other’s arms, thrilled to be seeing one another for the first time since Christmas. Nikki can also thank her fiancé, Jay Roth, for helping pull off this magical reunion. The holiday weekend swell brought a steady stream of visitors, huffing and puffing on bikes along our hilly roads; families, friends and lovers shopping, dining, and taking in perfect Menemsha beach sunsets. It’s so wonderful to have doors open for business, be greeted by familiar smiles and feel the pulse of Chilmark return.

The Women’s Symposium never fails to deliver great stories, putting new faces with familiar names, and everyone has an enlightening morning. Mark Saturday, Nov. 7 in your datebooks for the next Women’s Symposium.

Sunday evening’s Tribute to Poet Peggy Freydberg at the CCC launched Laurie David’s publication, Peggy Freydberg’s Poems from the Pond, into the larger world. One thing Laurie David shared about violinist Atziq Marquez (who played before the readings began) is that anyone can attend his open rehearsals, every Friday evening from 5 to 7 pm, at Trinity Church across from the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs.

A celebration of Peggy Freydberg’s life will be held on Saturday, June 13, from 4 to 6 pm at the CCC: Come share your memories.

If Island musician Andy Herr gets his way, we’ll all be able to enjoy a little piano playing outside our public library until the fall; let’s hope the library says yes. Andy was inspired by a global project installing pianos in public spaces.

It’s pizza time at Orange Peel Bakery, at 22 State Road in Aquinnah, beginning Saturday, May 30, from noon to 3 pm. Bring a topping and share some pizza; cost is $10 to $15. Call 508-645-2025 for more information. And on Tuesdays from 6 to 7:30 pm through June 9, come to the Chilmark Community Church for their free Pizza Nights. Call 508-645-3100 for more information.

Monday, June 1, new stickers are available upstairs at Town Hall: Dump stickers will now cost $20 per year unless you are a senior citizen (then they are free) and beach stickers for cars and walk-ons are available from 9 am to 1pm. Both are available at the Beach Sticker office. Expect a couple of days of road closures along Middle Road next week.

A Women’s Spring Retreat with Saskia Vanderhoop will take place Wednesday, June 3, beginning at 12:45 pm at Camp Sassafras in Aquinnah; cost is $10. Join other women for an afternoon “Talking Circle” — a healing experience. Call Wendy for more information at 508-627-4368. If you are interested in checking out the June open Women’s Fire Circle, contact Saskia at 508-645-2008.

Tom Dresser is coming to the Chilmark library on Wednesday, June 3, at 5 pm to speak about his eighth book, Martha’s Vineyard: A History, which covers “the major events of Island history, but also delves below the surface, reporting on the visit of John Adams to Chilmark, exploring the deaf community of Chilmark, the visit by F.D.R. to Menemsha, and many other lesser-known events.” He will have books available to sell and sign; they are $20 each. The event is free.

Kara Taylor’s Gallery is now open Fridays through Mondays, 11 am to 5 pm. Stop by and say hi!

The Yard interns have arrived, and morning dance classes have begun, daily at 9 am except Sundays. Check their calendar at

Our local farm stands offer up plenty: Mermaid Farm has fresh milk, yogurt, and cheeses, plus plants, greens, and some frozen meats. North Tabor Farm has small plants, greens, eggs, and shiitake mushrooms. You can now sign up for fresh organically-fed chickens, which will be available June 26 to 28 by calling 508-645-3311. Grey Barn and Farm has fresh milk, cheese, and assorted meats. All are open daily. Hope everyone has a good week.


A collective smile spread across everyone’s face for the weekend with idyllic weather, leaves bursting forth, our world finally green, and so much more. So happy to be swimming outside again, and running into the regulars who also welcome the seasonal shift to outdoor activities. Monday evening I dropped by Richard Limber’s wonderful art exhibit opening at the West Tisbury library; be sure to stop by this lovely show, up through May. And it is hard to believe Memorial Day weekend is here already. The good news is our local eateries and restaurants open their doors, though after the weekend it’s still best to check times until late June. Last week I said the Aquinnah Shop is open for breakfast at 8 am; in fact they are opening at 8:30 am — we enjoyed a Sunday-morning family breakfast outside, and what more could we possibly ask for?

Joseph Queen, boatswain’s mate at the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Menemsha, is looking for year-round housing for himself, his 24-year-old employed girlfriend, and their Bernese Mountain/Shepherd mix puppy who “stands duty some days,” otherwise is home. If you can help, please contact Joseph at 843-995-3397 or

It’s the Friends of Family Planning’s annual Memorial Day Weekend Art Show & Fundraiser at the Agricultural Hall, West Tisbury. Come to the wine and cheese fundraiser Saturday from 6 to 8 pm; tickets are $50 per person, or stop by over the weekend (free Friday and Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm, and Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm) to get great deals on work donated by our wonderful Island artists. For more information see

Hurray ladies; I look forward to seeing you this Saturday, May 23, at the Woman’s Symposium XXXV, from 9 am to noon at the Chilmark Community Center, and hearing our four surprise speakers address “Just When You Thought …” The event is free, but donations are welcome to help cover expenses.

If you’re planning to head up Island on Saturday, May 23, stop by Chilmark Chocolates, then head to Joan LeLacheur’s Open Studio in Aquinnah (42 Old South Road, 508-645-9954), from 10 am to 5 pm for fantastic wampum jewelry, mosaic tiles, imported silks designed by Aquinnah Witham, and handmade African dolls, before heading up to see the Gay Head Lighthouse moving project and enjoying the best view, great snacks, and gifts from the cliffs.

Join the Chilmark Community Church on Sunday, May 24, for their annual Blessing of the Fleet and Memorial Day service at 9 am at the harbor by Menemsha Texaco. All kids and adults are welcome.

Come and celebrate Peggy Freydberg and the publication of Poems from the Pond at a poetry reading on Sunday, May 24, from 5 to 7 pm at the Chilmark Community Center, featuring Peggy’s granddaughter Tamara Sloan, Brooke Adams, Nancy Aronie, Geraldine Brooks, Kimberly Cartwright, Laurie David, and Jorie Graham. The event is free, but you must RSVP to

On Wednesday, May 27, the Bread and Puppet Theater and Brass Band comes to the Chilmark Community Center with its new show “The Public Access Center for the Obvious Presents: The Situation.” This puppet play features an anti-extinction angel, the union of brooms, a 100-watt lightbulb, and a ship of fools, all for the purpose of urging the not yet uprisen masses into existence. The event is free to the public, with donations greatly appreciated. A potluck dinner will begin around 6 pm, so please come with a dish to share.

I heard Eric Glasgow on NPR talking about his farm, Chilmark’s Grey Barn and Farm, last Sunday while cooking dinner. Grey Barn’s Friday-morning one-hour farm tours at 10:30 am have started up again; kids are free and adults are $5; just show up. Judging from Cathy Walthers’ last sold-out class, I highly recommend signing up early if you are interested in veal. On Friday, May 29, from 6 to 9 pm, enjoy a quick Grey Barn Farm Tour followed by a cooking class focused on traditional preparations of veal dishes. For more information or to sign up, call 774-521-8406, or go to