Then and now, & things that never change

Duncan Pickard
Duncan Pickard proves you can go home again. Photo by CK Wolfson

By Duncan Pickard - January 4, 2007

I know what this feels like. The atmosphere is familiar, even though I have been removed from it for the three months of my first semester at college. Like many of my peers, I hadn't been off the Island for more than two weeks at a time before I left for college. So what feels different during the first return visit? What changed while I was gone?

Not a whole lot.

This is Martha's Vineyard in its normal state of tedium between Christmas and the New Year. It feels natural to come back to the Island and ride around to old high school haunts. It feels almost automatic to sit at Mocha Mott's, sip a chai, and watch the parade of familiar faces pass in front of the window. Without having to think about it, my fingers remember the cell phone of the gone-but-not forgotten high school friends I spent most of my time with last year.

Being back at home with my parents for these few weeks provides a new retrospective on high school life. My parents still assume the same inquisitive tone when I leave the house as they did when I was in high school. Are they still maliciously questioning where I am going at 9 pm when I have been living unsupervised for the past three months? I think not. It seems to me they are genuinely interested in what I am doing instead of trying to be a couple of watchdogs, and now it occurs to me that it was probably like that in high school, too.

My first time back on the Island and things seem typical, not nostalgic - just the way you would expect to spend December on Martha's Vineyard.

Sure, things happened while I was away - Massachusetts General bought the Vineyard hospital, a truck unloaded tons of cement on State Road, the Steamship made preparations for the arrival of Island Home - but nothing essential changed that couldn't be reported in the local paper.

In some ways, it's good for things to stay the same. You appreciate some of the little things that you didn't even know you missed while you were away, like good seafood, beach panoramas, or, more practically, shoeless showers in a private bathroom.

It is also nice to rekindle relationships with high school friends. Many of my Island peers have been in my class since kindergarten, so it's good to see that being apart at different colleges doesn't dissolve those relationships.

Everyone changes at college, but we remain the same people at heart; the people the Vineyard helped us to become. Living elsewhere doesn't preclude my feeling part of the Island community. It would be impossible to separate myself from the Vineyard and from my Island friends. The Island community is lasting, and forms roots in people that are difficult to remove even after months in a completely new environment with entirely new people and unfamiliar routines. It is reassuring and comforting, especially after being away at college where people and events seem transient.

While Martha's Vineyard offers a lot, it is the perspectives and experiences learned off the Island that now seem to matter most. For many of my peers and me, it was our first opportunity to grow significantly in our worldview and apply it to the place where we grew up. For me, when the excitement of seeing old friends wore off, I began looking for something more, something intellectually or culturally stimulating. Something more like college. It's hard to find that on the Island in the winter. I am looking forward to returning to school to find that which is missing here.

Yes, the Island is familiar, but it no longer is my home. It has become more the place where I grew up and my parents live. I live in Boston and am preparing for my adult life and professional future.

There's nothing quite like coming back to a place that has remained unchanged to find how much you have grown. But I realize we can only take advantage of the Island's consistency if we can compare it to someplace else. We really have to leave the Island to fully appreciate it.

Duncan Pickard, a 2006 graduate of Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, recently completed his first semester at Tufts University, where he is majoring in history and political science.