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Martha's Vineyard Times is a weekly publication.
July 14 - July 20, 2005 Edition
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The Bishop's wife
The kernel of this story is true to life, an actual happening during
my first years of practice on the Vineyard. Conversation contained
here must be assumed to be my own invention since memory does not
carry so far back in that detail.
The first jarring bit of information my wife Mary Ann and I received
soon after we moved to Vineyard Haven from Boston in 1955 involved
the immediate aftermath of the Tisbury town meeting which vetoed a
school bond issue that had been approved by the other five Vineyard
towns. The hopes for a new and regional high school were once more
to be postponed by what many thought was the unreasonable intransigence
of Tisbury voters. And, talk in Vineyard Haven was rife with the rumor
that the Bishops house had been stoned! The Bishop,
a kindly but determined retired Bishop from the Midwest had been outspoken
in his opposition in town to the expenditure of so much money for
the establishment of a regionalized high school. Conservatives were
not only against the indebtedness that would be incurred and its effect
on the tax rate but they feared the loss of their towns identity;
they had treasured their independence for generations. Tempers were
high everywhere: husbands and wives had stopped talking to each other
if they found themselves in opposite camps; discussion of Tisburys
political climate was heard everywhere; and the most dramatic effect
on us as newly arrived off-Islanders was the worry that someone unknown
had thrown stones at the Bishops house directly across the street
from our new home. What were we to expect?
We were swept up in the controversy and not surprisingly, with youngsters
on the way toward school, we joined the movement for the new school.
Tempers cooled. No further assaults were noted and within a year the
bond issue passed at a tense Tisbury meeting. Looking back on that
struggle is surreal, but many similar cases were recounted in New
England newspapers for many years afterward. Regionalization is always
a big issue. Ask any member of the various police and fire organizations
what they think, even today. For over 50 years the Marthas Vineyard
Regional High School has functioned in peace, although not without
controversy but thats school business of a normal variety.
It has served our family well.
Now to the Bishops wife: We were good neighbors who met occasionally
at social functions, never discussed school issues but maintained
a good across-the-street amity. The stoning episode was
never solved. I wondered if anyone could hold a grudge over the issue.
The only sour note I noted was that the bishops wife told me
how she hated the wind in the off-season. I never appreciated her
concern, wondering if age hadnt taken hold of her sensitivity.
I finally understood her complaint after we had spent several years,
12 months at a time, in Menemsha on the shore of the pond. Nothing
buffered the wind from the Atlantic to the southwest except the low
hills of Gay Head. The wind moaned and groaned for days at a time.
Months later, my phone rang about the time I thought I was drifting
off to sleep for the night. Hello, Russell, the Bishops
voice came through. I hope youre not in bed. I realize
its late but Im worried about my wife Margaret. Im
in Nashua at a regional conference and I cant raise her on the
phone. Shes always at home and in bed this time, usually reading.
Could you possibly dash over to the house and check to see shes
all right? The front door is unlocked and her bedroom is at the top
of the stairs to the right. Id be much obliged.
It seemed a simple request as I grumbled a little walking across the
street and through the hedge to the front stoop. Not until there was
no answer to my three hard knocks on the door did the first small
anxiety rise in my chest. I pushed the door open with some squeaking
noises. Indeed, it was unlocked. Hello, Margaret, hello!
I called up the stairs, in very dim light from an old fashioned lamp
on the hall ceiling. Hello, hello! No answer. I climbed
the curved staircase and reached the landing where several doors opened
off a long hall. Only one was closed, on the right. I knocked again
and no response. By then I wondered whether I ought to call the police
or go back to my own bed and let the Bishop know that all was quiet
at his house. No, of course not, I thought. That would be quite absurd
considering I am a physician and on a genuine call of mercy, more
mercy perhaps than I had counted on. I opened the door to the bedroom
and heard the softly curved body in bed breathing. At least I might
not have to administer emergency treatment. Hello, Margaret,
I whispered without response, not even a slight shift in the bodys
position in bed. Margaret, hello; its Dr. Hoxsie from
across the street. Im here to see if you are all right.
As I touched the shoulder, the form rose abruptly to the sitting position.
It was the Bishops wife all right and she was awake now from
a very heavy sleep complicated for me this evening by her moderately
severe nerve deafness. Occasionally in the past I had heard her husband
calling to her in a rather loud voice. Im so sorry to
startle you, I said, now composed enough to speak. The
Bishop called me upset that you hadnt answered his call on the
phone. He asked me to come across the street to see if you were OK.
Are you OK?
Oh, its the doctor, Russell. Oh my, I must have been asleep.
I didnt expect you. Thank you for coming over. My husband always
worries when he goes away like this. Now, if you would be so kind,
please go home so we both can get a good nights sleep.
I called the Bishop to tell him that all was quiet at home and I had
had a pleasant chat with his wife.
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