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The role of primary care physicians (family doctors and internists) at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital is going through a big change. Primary care doctors will no longer treat patients while they are admitted to the hospital. Adult patients who are admitted to the hospital will be cared for by internists whose job is to care for hospitalized patients. These doctors, who are called hospitalists, do not have office practices. They are on the hospital floors throughout the day, from 7 am until 7 pm, seeing all of the admitted patients, and they will be on call to the hospital during the night. Your primary care doctor will therefore work only in his or her office.

This system in which patients have different doctors for hospital care than for office care started about 15 years ago and is now a usual practice across the United States. Martha’s Vineyard Hospital is one of the last hospitals in New England to adopt this system.

Nonetheless this is new both for Martha’s Vineyard patients who have always known that their doctor will be responsible for their care in the hospital, as well as for the doctors who expected to care for their patients if hospitalized.

Let me say that this is mostly a good change, and with the transformation that is taking place in medicine there is really no choice. Hospital medicine is in many ways different than office-based medicine, and it is a field that is changing rapidly with new tests, new medications, and new ways of caring for many diseases and conditions. Hospitalists have received special training for this kind of medicine, and because they do it every day they are able to keep up with new developments. They are on the floor all day long and therefore more available to patients and their families. They will usually have more time, and are not held to an office schedule with certain times available to go to the hospital, usually at the beginning and end of the day. Family meetings can take place at any time. Coordination of care among different professionals is easier, and transfers to larger hospitals if necessary are more easily arranged.

Patients understandably will say, “but my own doctor knows me better,” which is true. However, the hospitalist and the primary care doctor will coordinate the patient’s care together, and the primary care doctor can speak to the hospitalist to review special issues. Also as many patients realize, patient care in the past 20 years has become more complex, and each visit takes more time, more paperwork, and now more computer work. This is true in the hospital and in the office. A primary care doctor can no longer “do it all” and “do it well.” Although the system will be different, I have no doubt that patients admitted to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital will continue to receive high-quality care.

Dr. Henry Nieder practices family medicine at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

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I would like to respond to a recent spate of Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) bashing, particularly as it relates to the current review of some developments of regional impact and to the commission’s budget. As chairman of the MVC, it concerns me that these criticisms seem to be largely based on misinformation about these issues, as well as about what the commission can and can’t do. I must admit that before joining the MVC as the appointed member from Oak Bluffs five years ago, I was perhaps equally uninformed.

I think that most Islanders continue to believe in the mission of the commission as described in the enabling legislation that created the MVC 40 years ago, namely: “preserving and conserving for the enjoyment of present and future generations the unique natural, historical, ecological, scientific and cultural values of Martha’s Vineyard…by protecting these values from development and uses which would impair them, and by promoting the enhancement of sound local economies.”

The Commonwealth gave Islanders and towns special authority — through the commission — to regulate development. This has been remarkably successful in preserving the environment and character of the Island, which are the basis for the Vineyard’s strong economy, property values, and tax base. The commission has two regulatory tools, developments of regional impact (DRI) and districts of critical planning concern (DCPC).

DRIs are new building projects, subdivisions, and other developments that require a permit or permission from an Island town and have a regional impact. If the project triggers the commission’s checklist defining Island-wide impact, the town must refer the application to the MVC before issuing a permit. The commission then reviews the application based on the procedures, sometimes admittedly a bit cumbersome, dictated by our enabling legislation and the Commonwealth’s Open Meeting Law. As a result, dozens of projects every year are significantly improved, thanks to the commission’s DRI review, by ensuring they don’t negatively impact the water quality of coastal ponds, traffic, parking, affordable housing, scenic values, and many other concerns that are largely beyond the scope of individual towns to address.

When the commission reviews a DRI application, it must not only look at the big picture, but it must also look at the details — such as the specifics of how much nitrogen is in the wastewater or calculating the appropriate affordable housing mitigation — to determine whether the project’s anticipated benefits outweigh the detriments, the standard for project approval. These details are also important since they will be included in the project approval that the community will live with for generations to come.

Usually, the MVC completes its hearings in one or two meetings, as was the case for the Cottage City Bowling application. Clearly, the Stop & Shop hearings have stretched out much longer than the MVC or Stop & Shop would like, due to the fact that it took Stop & Shop six weeks or more to go back to head office each time it revised its plans in response to community concerns, to the time it took for the traffic studies and peer reviews, and to the fact that the applicant asked for several delays waiting for the town of Tisbury’s resolution of the design of the town’s adjacent parking lot.

The Commission’s other regulatory function, DCPCs, provides additional protection to special areas, generally at the request of towns. DCPC designation gives towns the authority to write special regulations to protect these critical districts. After approval at town meeting, these regulations are administered exclusively by each town.

Some people criticize the commission for going too far with its regulatory authority, others for not going far enough. Notwithstanding the high-minded goals of our mission statement, the commission does not have unlimited authority to right any wrong and prevent anything that anyone sees as a threat. The DRI and DCPC processes are for new development and do not include regulating existing buildings, businesses, or other situations.

In addition to funding the MVC’s two regulatory functions, two thirds of the commission’s budget is spent on planning, serving the Island as a whole and assisting individual towns. This is where we make some of our greatest contributions to achieving the goals of our enabling legislation.

We work on a wide variety of planning challenges, most of which do not stop at the town lines. Almost all the watersheds of the Island’s coastal ponds extend across several towns and our water resource planner, Sheri Caseau, works on protecting the water quality of our coastal ponds and single source aquifer. Our transportation planner, Priscilla Leclerc, works with Mass DOT and towns on efforts to improve transportation across the Island. Our economic development and affordable housing planner, Christine Flynn, spearheaded the recent Housing Needs Assessment and has been instrumental in working with towns to apply for grants. Our DCPC coordinator and coastal planner, Jo-Ann Taylor, is completing a Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan for the Island, making towns eligible for a range of grant opportunities. Our GIS (Geographic Information Systems) coordinator, Chris Seidel, not only makes maps supporting a wide range of MVC planning efforts, but also provides assistance to all towns on GIS issues and supports various town departments’ map requests. The DRI coordinator, Paul Foley, is the only planner who works exclusively on the regulatory side.

The cost of these important services to the Island is modest. The commission is funded largely by assessments collected by the towns on behalf of the commission. This year, a typical property assessed at $500,000 pays $23.68, regardless of what town it is located in.

For the fiscal years 2011, ‘12, and ‘13, the MVC had no budget increases because we knew the towns were in dire financial conditions because of the recession. However, that caught up with us in 2014 and 2015, when legal expenses for defending MVC decisions so greatly exceeded our artificially low budget line that we had to take money from our general reserve fund to meet legal expenses. Even though our FY 2015 budget includes a one-time obligatory replenishment of the reserve fund, the MVC’s average budget increase over the past six years is only 2.2 percent. And since the replenishment of the reserve fund is a one-time expense, all town assessments will go down next year.

The MVC continues to play a vital role in protecting what makes the Island so special and not the “Anywhere U.S.A.” it could become without the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Fred Hancock of Oak Bluffs is chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

The MV Times addiction series, which began on January 2 with“Opiate addiction on Martha’s Vineyard hits home” and the on-target Editorial of February 27 [Time for concerted action, community strategy] bring home the base reality and attendant consequences of substance abuse. The recent rash of heroin-based overdoses and associated deaths focus public attention on what is a long-term and persistent health problem.  The prevalence on Island is exacerbated by seasonal employment and isolation.

The question posed in last week’s editorial was: “How to do better?” Reaching more of our neighbors, coworkers, and family members with this condition requires three broad strokes:

First, while the Island has specific components for treating addiction — e.g. prescribers, outpatient counseling, sober living, 12-step meetings for adults, and youth prevention efforts — the Island doesn’t have a funded, coordinated system of care. The Island lacks a capacity to detoxify and establish medical stability, that can hand the patient off to an intensive outpatient or residence-based continuing care system, that is followed with integrated medication and counseling based outpatient care for family and patient as appropriate, and where recovery is supported by peers over time.

Second, concerted and more consistent screening and identification of substance abuse by primary care physicians, school staff, the emergency department, first responders, and other related parties can increase the opportunity to connect people with local treatment resources.

Third, as with any chronic health condition, the key to controlling and improving the condition is ongoing follow-up. This is difficult to achieve when detoxification is done 50-plus miles across the water; where no organizational or other connection between a medication provider and counselor exist; where the primary medical provider is not connected to the whole episode of care.  At the crux, this isn’t about collaboration between organizations; it’s about making continuity of care into a seamless, coherent experience for the patient and their family — here, locally.

Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) and our partners, including the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Island Health Care, Vineyard House, Youth Task Force, Vineyard Health Care Access, law enforcement, and the court system, schools, town boards of health, private practitioners and other interested parties have participated in several planning efforts over the last decade that have come to the same conclusion — a seamless system of care is vital, and each iterative effort has resulted in meaningful, but small steps.

A case in point.  The New Paths Recovery Program run by MVCS, the only intensive outpatient recovery program on-Island — and the result of the most recent community effort to do something to address this problem — has served more than 350 Island residents since its inception in late 2010. New Paths is funded in part by a generous Martha’s Vineyard Hospital grant, which will expire in January, 2015. The program’s future is unknown, as it lacks the requisite financial base.

The long-term funding of New Paths and increased coordination of current services, as well as the addition of services not currently available on-Island for those suffering from substance abuse and their families, will take a determined focus that cannot waiver.

Substance abuse and the devastation it causes to individuals, their families, and the community is not new. Substance abuse will not simply go away.  As a community, we can do better and we must do better, and the time is now.  It will take money, time, community commitment, and creativity.  Let’s take a giant step forward and actually create the necessary system of care and ensure its long-term sustainability.  Attention to this issue must be defined in years, not months.

Victor Capoccia is the board president of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. Juliette Fay is the executive director.

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A photo illustration shows how the latest design for a new grocery store in Vineyard Haven would look.
A photo illustration shows how the latest design for a new grocery store in Vineyard Haven would look.

Stop & Shop has proposed to replace its current tired and inadequate Water Street store with a beautiful new store that, beyond all measure, will meet the needs of the community, benefit the town of Tisbury, revitalize the center of Vineyard Haven, and in the process encourage future investment in a downtown area that sorely needs reinvestment as the gateway to the Vineyard.

There is no need for word pictures here. Just walk up Water Street for starters. Quaint and inviting are not defined by peeling paint, narrow sidewalks in disrepair, and rundown structures. The before and after of Stop & Shop’s proposal is stunning by Vineyard standards.

The Stop and Shop Company plans to expand into the space now occupied by a former restaurant and clothing store.
The Stop and Shop Company plans to expand into the space now occupied by a former restaurant and clothing store.

As a former Tisbury selectman and a citizen of our town for more than 30 years, I know firsthand about failed efforts over the years to revitalize the downtown, and I fear the consequences of allowing further deterioration. We’ve asked commercial property owners to simply do the bare minimum upkeep, put a coat of paint on a tired building, to

replace loose shingles, very simple measures to enhance the beauty of our town. We enacted a town by-law to provide the local building inspector some enforcement authority and a penalty structure to force business owners to maintain their buildings. Yet, for all of those efforts, today as I write this we have not one full-service restaurant on Main Street that serves dinner, no movie theater, and one rundown grocery store.

Tisbury has a loyal partner in Stop & Shop, one who over the years has contributed generously to our schools, seniors, and community programs. In Stop & Shop, we have an anchor for revival of the downtown — renovating an entire block, keeping in the character of Tisbury’s rich history, and attracting visitors back to Vineyard Haven who are now bypassing the town for Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, and beyond. Sadly, Tisbury has become, for many summer visitors and locals alike, just a waiting line for the ferry.

It’s time we do something about this. There will be those who remain resistant to change on Martha’s Vineyard. For reasons I cannot explain, we will always have a group of people who want to keep the status quo, even when the status quo is rundown, dilapidated buildings. From my perspective, change is a good thing, when done smartly. The proposed renovation of Stop & Shop is smart development.

Some in opposition have unfairly criticized Stop & Shop for the lengthy permitting process. The reality is that this site is perhaps the most unique development site on Martha’s Vineyard. We are adjacent to the main port for vehicular and pedestrian traffic to the Island throughout the year. We are adjacent to the worst intersection many of us will ever know, the infamous Five Corners. And we are abutting a town property, the

municipal parking lot that services the entire downtown area. We have been working closely with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, town of Tisbury officials, the business community, and residents of Tisbury to make this a better project. We are thankful for the input and the directions provided from many different and varied sources.

The most recent deliberation that has delayed our bringing our project to a final hearing is the result of ongoing discussions, since October, between Tisbury selectmen and a special town subcommittee over recommendations for improvements to the adjacent municipal parking lot. When Stop & Shop first applied to the MVC we had a vision for the parking lot that was included in the proposal. We were advised to bifurcate the project and focus on only the Stop & Shop property, and to let the town decide what they wanted to do, if anything, with the town lot. That has simply proved impossible. This project does not exist separate and apart from the lot. They are inseparable. Ultimately there are too many issues that interconnect between the lot reconfiguration, or the lack of a reconfiguration, and the proposed renovation, to provide a final product for a decision from the MVC.

Therefore, Stop & Shop has asked for the MVC to delay a final hearing until the town of Tisbury has had a full and complete opportunity to vet the proposed changes to the municipal lot. Once the town has made its determination, whether to change the lot or not to change the lot, Stop & Shop can button up its final proposal and head to a clean, and complete, MVC review.

As for the facts of this project:

• The footprint of the new building is just 6,500 square feet larger than the existing footprint of the buildings currently on site.

• The Water Street footprint of the proposed building is the same length as the present Stop & Shop and the rundown Chinese restaurant that now serves as storage for the store.

• The Norton Lane footprint of the new building is the same length as the current Stop & Shop, now a hodgepodge of three entrances for groceries, personal and hygiene products, and natural foods.

• The rear andwest side of the new building, blocked from view for the most part by surrounding buildings and proposed structures, will be extended the length of the Prouty house and yard.

• Stop & Shop is fully committed at its own expense to relocating the deteriorating Prouty house that, discovered as a part of this application process, is hidden from view, and years from now, if left in it’s current state, will collapse in disrepair.

• And yes, the building is higher, as will all renovated buildings be along Water Street, given new state regulations for the flood plain. Taller buildings along Water Street are unavoidable, a minimum of eight feet taller. The proposed Stop & Shop building height at 33 feet, in fact, is lower than the proposed new Island Housing Trust building next door and below the current zoning requirements.

There is a reality here. All buildings in the Water Street location will, at some point in our future, be raised approximately eight feet so that they don’t wind up in the harbor.

Project benefits:

• Stop & Shop is smartly utilizing the space beneath the building created to comply with the proposed floodplain elevation to provide 42 parking spaces beneath the structure. The proposed plan relocates the truck deliveries from the Norton Lane side of the store to a completely enclosed receiving area to the rear of the building.

• Stop & Shop has reduced the originally proposed store size by close to 15 percent, thus creating much wider sidewalks and pedestrian friendly gathering spaces along its Water Street frontage.

• All of the proposed development will be on Stop & Shop’s property, thus eliminating the current easements that are in place.

• The company has also committed to contributing to traffic studies for Water Street and the downtown, and to working closely with its neighbor, the Island Housing Trust. Results of collaborative studies with traffic consultants have indicated the replacement store will only increase in traffic at Five Corners by about six percent.

• This project creates new jobs: with its proposed new Vineyard Haven store, Stop & Shop will employ 160 in season (30 full-time and 130 part-time) and 100 in off-season (20 full-time and 80 part-time). Part-time workers will have regular opportunities for increased hours. At present, the Vineyard Haven store employs 96 in season and 57 in the off-season.

• And finally, the impressive architecture of this proposed building: architect Chuck Sullivan of Oak Bluffs has designed a supermarket in keeping with Tisbury’s vintage architecture, in tone, scope, and aesthetics. This will be one of the most attractive supermarkets in all of New England.

The downside of not moving forward with this project is business as usual in Vineyard Haven, and that is not in the best interest of anyone — the town of Tisbury, its residents, and Stop & Shop.

Geoghan Coogan of the Edmond G. Coogan Law Office in Vineyard Haven represents Stop & Shop and is a former member of the Tisbury board of selectmen.

‘Tis the season for gathering with family and friends, exchanging gifts, attending concerts and worship services, and sitting down together for a big holiday meal, but as you pack the car to go off Island or prepare your home to receive extended family, your anticipation is mixed with apprehension.

You’ve got to bring it up, but you don’t know how, and you’re dreading what’s going to happen when you do.

What’s “it”?

It could be anything. Maybe your 90-year-old dad has had two fender-benders in recent months. You think it’s time for him to stop driving, but you know he’s going to hate the idea.

Or perhaps the sibling who looked after grandma in her last year is still living in her house. The house now belongs to all three of you. Now what?

Or perhaps your aging parents are struggling to keep up the home you and your siblings grew up in. Would they be happier in a Woodside Village apartment?

Or perhaps Mama has been complaining incessantly about her next-door neighbor in the group living situation she moved into last spring. Is there anything you can do to help her out?

Such matters are hard to bring up, but if they aren’t addressed, the situation may deteriorate. Relationships fray. Family members stop speaking to each other.

Here is where a facilitator can be indispensable. Facilitators are neutral third parties who have been trained in mediation techniques. They help focus the discussion and keep everyone on track. They ensure that all participants are heard. When a party can’t be present for health or other reasons, they make sure that person’s interests are represented at the table. Facilitators trained in elder affairs are familiar both with the issues facing adult families and with the community resources available to them.

One service offered by the Martha’s Vineyard Mediation Program (MVMP) is facilitation for family meetings. The elder population on Martha’s Vineyard is growing. Studies suggest that as much as 80 percent of elder care is provided by families, not institutions. Accordingly, the MVMP has designated elder affairs a priority for the coming year.

In mid-November, 11 Vineyard mediators and elder care providers attended an all day workshop run by Elder Decisions© of Norwood. The trainers, authors of the book “Mom Always Liked You Best: A Guide for Resolving Family Feuds, Inheritance Battles and Eldercare Crises,” emphasized that elder affairs involve more than elders. Adult family members are very much part of the picture. These may include former spouses, half siblings, and others who either don’t know each other well or haven’t spoken in years. They have different expectations, needs, and resources, all of which must be taken into account.

Where the disposition of property and other family assets is concerned, these differences can lead to serious conflict. As the authors of Mom Always Liked You Best note, “these dilemmas account for some of the most vicious family feuds and court battles in our society.” With the help of trained facilitators, families can work together to identify and solve potential problems, thus avoiding future bitterness and litigation. The best time to do this is before declining health or depleted finances precipitate a crisis.

With facilitation, a meeting dreaded by all can become an opportunity to solve problems, resolve disputes, and improve relationships among family members.

“It was amazing,” said one MVMP client. “We were able to vent, have our feelings validated, and then get reinforcement on the topics we needed to discuss and make decisions on.”

Led by the Dukes County Health Council and its Healthy Aging committee, Martha’s Vineyard is mobilizing to better serve its aging population. Its priorities include health care, transportation, and housing. They also include helping families and caregivers deal with the challenges that can come with aging. As part of this effort, the Martha’s Vineyard Mediation Program offers facilitation services to help Vineyard families work through these issues and emerge with solutions acceptable to all parties.

Pete Meleney and Susanna Sturgis are mediators with Martha’s Vineyard Mediation Program Inc. Reach MVMP at 508-693-2999 or by email at

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As I watch the MVC struggle to deal with the proposed Stop & Shop and the traffic, both current and anticipated, I want to shout “Move the Steamship truck and car traffic.”

Such a proposal is not a new one. It was first broached by the Tisbury selectman John Schilling in the late 1970s, in a plan put before the MVC. It has been recently proposed again by the Editor of The Times in an editorial [Editorial : Keep the supermarket, lose the SSA’s auto and truck traffic, August 14] and by letters and comments. There are various possibilities in such a move, and they should be investigated before the traffic problems become terminal.


Move the big boat car and truck traffic down Beach Road beyond the R. M. Packer Company complex so that cars and trucks would disembark in two possible directions — to Oak Bluffs or back to Tisbury. This would ameliorate the jam-up at Five Corners and facilitate travel for those heading to Oak Bluffs.

Keep foot traffic coming into the existing SSA terminal in Tisbury by encouraging the Steamship to use more pure passenger vessels as it reconfigures its fleet. These could run more frequently and be attractive to tours and those who park in the SSA lots. They could be small, fast ferries and would provide high margin revenues to the Steamship while fueling the merchants in Tisbury and the tour operators. In addition, the big ferries would not have to be the “birthday cake” giants like the Island Home. The existing Steamship building could remain and be a ticket purchasing point for all passages.


There would be a need for a jetty into the harbor to protect the new truck and car terminal on Beach Road from northeast wind. New slips would need to be built to accommodate the discharge of traffic on to Beach Road.

All of this would be costly. But would the alternative be cheaper? The Island population grows inexorably. It has become a destination for countless activities: vacation houses, retirement houses, weddings, tours, presidents (unfortunately), aspiring presidents, fishing contests, wealthy entourages of all stripes, and, of course, all the maintenance and service personnel to make them all happy. We are no longer the sleepy, little, informal Island of the past. This population explosion will plug up Five Corners and make the Oak Bluffs SSA terminal exit more and more difficult to navigate at ferry arrival times.

How to pay for it

Assuming the various town, regional, and ferry line planners subscribed to moving the Tisbury car and truck terminal, how would we pay for it? State funds? Federal funds? Bond proceeds? Assessments on each of the towns? Special add-ons similar to the various taxes in Boston on room rates? Fare hikes on short term turnaround auto visits? It would probably take all of the above, but these are issues for the planners, once the political leaders of the Island submit it to them. Feasibility studies are needed, and we have the MVC for that. This is clearly a regional issue suited for that body.

Do we have the will to make such a change? Or are we content to just let the traffic pile up, the huge delivery trucks jamming up Five Corners as they try to turn right at State Road, the tour buses and VTA challenging all and sundry trying to frequent the new Stop & Shop?

This is where we live. We should at least examine the possibilities of this plan, first made so long ago and then laid on the shelf to age. Is it time to move the SSA? Do we have the will to try? Is this not exactly the kind of regional impact plan the MVC should take on — especially since they are being confounded by the traffic issue on Water Street as it is?

J. B. Riggs Parker of Chilmark is a former Martha’s Vineyard member of the Steamship Authority.

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— Photo by Lynn Christoffers

Thunder Ben David of Chilmark died on July 25, after seven glorious years as the biggest attraction at Native Earth Teaching Farm, owned by Rebecca Gilbert and Randy Ben David.

“He was our rock star boar,” Rebecca said.

Thunder was born in 2006 at a farm in Pennsylvania known for breeding Berkshire pigs since the 1950s. “He came from a good blood line,” Randy said, “and I’m pretty sure he was the first Berkshire pig on Martha’s Vineyard.” He weighed upwards of 800 pounds, had a fine black coat with random white patches, and sported distinctively notched ears — one way pigs are branded when they are little.

During his lifetime, Thunder was well-known as a desirable stud, and his services were in high demand with other pig farmers. He sired dozens of offspring around Martha’s Vineyard until the summer of 2010, when his stud services were officially taken over by his son, Thunder Jr.

From 2010 to 2012, Thunder was employed to root out and create a pasture at Tupelo Farm in West Tisbury. He happily consumed an acre of poison ivy and cat briars, rooted up old stumps and large rocks, and dug numerous wallows. He loved to be scratched with a flexible metal rake and would lie down and shut his eyes in happy abandon during this treatment.

In his spare time, Thunder delighted visitors to the Native Earth Teaching Farm, won several blue ribbons at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair, and was the star attraction at a parade in West Tisbury where he upstaged the selectmen. He was also featured in “A Pig and a Pumpkin,” a short documentary shown on MVTV that captured his prowess at consuming pumpkins down to the very last seed.

During this past winter Thunder appeared in the MV Times when he escaped from his pen on Christmas Day and was heroically retrieved by officer Garrison Vieira of the West Tisbury Police Department. Clearly an expert with livestock, Officer Vieira lured Thunder with a bucket of corn a quarter mile down a dirt road, in the dark, back to his pasture.

Explaining Thunder’s death, Randy said that it is not economical to keep an animal you don’t use, and it is not good practice to have two boars on the same farm. Ordinarily Thunder would have lived only five years, but due to his rooting job at Tupelo Farm he had another three years of service.

“He was a good pig,” Randy eulogized, and many will miss him.

Thunder will be fondly remembered by his owners, Randy Ben David and Rebecca Gilbert and their extended families on and off Martha’s Vineyard, Jim Sullivan, also of Native Earth Teaching Farm, Joanie Ames of Tupelo Farm and her extended family and neighbors, the crew at Seven Gates Farm, and many others too numerous to name, who brought him leftovers, especially corn and watermelon — two of his favorites.

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Each summer, my family journeys to Martha’s Vineyard from our middle class New Jersey suburb for our annual vacation. We now spend three weeks during the summer in an effort to enjoy the bucolic surroundings of this Island in an attempt to forget the daily grind and recharge our batteries. I’m responsible for having increased the length of our stay, trying to heal the emotional scars of my youth that have been left raw due to my lack of a two-month summer vacation from school. Despite my efforts, I can’t seem to recapture those glory days.

Each year, I lie awake at night in our rented vacation house after a day of conference calls or reviewing and editing documents pondering whether our prolonged trip is fulfilling the so-called purpose of vacation. With the advent of Blackberrys, and now the new and improved smartphones, which seem to send and receive data faster than the speed of light, does anyone actually recharge their batteries anymore? Sure, I wake up every day after another fitful night of sleep to go for a run or play some tennis. But it would be sacrilegious for me not to check my emails before and after my hour of recharge. From that point on, barely minutes go by before I feel the need to electronically check in with the world. Although I can only surmise, I’m sure that is what an addict must feel like before his next hit. And when I hear the well-known buzz of an incoming email or text, I feel gratified that I have instantaneously picked up the message, even if it is just an advertisement for back to school sales. A chocolate chip ice cream cone doesn’t seem to have the same medicinal effect anymore. Does anyone in the working world really remember what it was like not to be so connected?

It has gotten to the point where if I don’t respond to an email or text within minutes, I feel as if I’m just outright rude. And who wants that reputation? Or, suppose one doesn’t respond to an email for a day. Other than you passed away, the only potential excuse for such an egregious act is that someone stole your phone. It is the 21st century version of the dog ate my homework. We have become the child generation — one that needs, at the very least, instant acknowledgement. We crave instant gratification, but at this electronic warp speed, we’ll take what we can get.

Years ago, families went on vacation. Vacation used to mean that you left your home so that you could relax and get away from it all. Now vacation means you take your laptop, iPhone, iPad or the latest electronic wizardry even if it should be to a galaxy far, far away, so that you can do your work in a more relaxed environment. Heaven forbid, you are out of phone or email touch for more than an hour. I’m not sure, but I believe the world would come to an end if that should ever come to pass.

Recently, I decided to conduct an experiment as I walked the streets of Manhattan during lunch — of course, having my newest iPhone in my firm grasp just in case someone tried to contact me. I decided to see how high I could count before I saw someone talking on their phone or typing away on their mobile device. Having only gotten to three, I was certain it was a data point outlier and attempted another test run. This time I counted to two before multiple cellphone users passed me on my stroll. When did we become so important that we can only go minutes, if that, without communicating to someone?

It has become the norm in my town that the rite of passage to your tenth birthday is that you become connected to the telecom network through one of Steve Jobs’ collaborations. It is the 21st century electronic version of “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Connect to the pod-like flowing data network, or be ostracized by your peers.

And yet, I’m conflicted by this extreme technology advance from the days of my youth. My mobile gadgetry has allowed me to work from virtual offices around the world. But most importantly, it has allowed me to work from home on those lazy Fridays in the summer when I don’t feel like commuting into Manhattan. It also gives me the opportunity to see my son in living color when he attends college out of state this fall. I have to admit that I like to know how my Knicks are doing through my multiple sports apps. But where does this leave me?

Hold on, I need to take this call.

Lee A. Goldberg lives in Wayne, New Jersey. He and his family have come to the Vineyard for the past 18 summers. They rent a townhouse at Mattakesett near South Beach. He is co-founder of Goldberg Cohen, a law firm specializing in intellectual property and based in New York City.

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Monday night, the last one in May, the Sox were laying a thumping on the Phillies, and the Blackhawks were pounding the Redwings, forcing Game 7 — more than enough to keep me up past 10:30.

During a TV timeout, I was in the front room on the phone when I noticed, peripherally, an odd flash in the hall. Light bulb blew, I figured. Ten minutes later there was another flash, this one preceded by a loud, angry buzz. A puff of smoke lingered near a double wall switch, along with an unmistakable electrical odor.

“Could this start a fire?” my wife asked.

“Not really,” I said, whatever that meant.

“We have to do something,” she said. “This could start a fire.”

“No it won’t. Take it easy.”

Damn. I just wanted the evening to proceed along its usual path — she heads to bed, I snooze in front of the tube, rally long enough to let the dogs out, brush my teeth, and slide into bed hoping not to wake her.

I went to the basement to throw the breaker for the offending switch.

“Okay, we’re all set.”

I resumed my slouch on the couch. “I’ll call Sheila in the morning.” Baird that is, the force behind Berube Electric who always manages to steer Frank Baird out our way before the sparks start to fly.

Laura hung around, drawn by the intensity of playoff hockey, which she’d never noticed before.

Ten minutes later, the switch buzzed again, flashed, and puffed out another acrid smudge.

Laura cursed. “Can you call Berube?” The emphasis on “you” sounded as if I’d somehow caused the problem — and I’d definitely better do something about it.

“They’ll never answer this time of night; just the machine.”

“You have to call somebody. What about the fire department: can you call Manny?” Estrella, that is, the chief in West Tisbury.

“What’ll they do?”

“We might have a fire.”

“But we don’t.”

“We can’t stay here like this. We need help.”

My cue, right? But I was flummoxed, and irritated. I hate electricity. I know nothing about it — always a good reason to hate something — and I’m scared of it. It can kill you. Plumbing, I’ll take a shot at. You screw up, you get a mess. But electricity…

“We have to do something,” Laura said, meaning me. “I’m not staying in this house tonight.”

“I can shut off the main switch, but the breaker should have already killed power to this switch. I don’t get it.” She wasn’t listening.

“Hey this is the chance I’ve been waiting for.” I’ve joked for years that torching the place was the only way we could afford to improve it. “We’ll get all the valuable stuff, the sentimental stuff, out and stand back and let ‘er rip.”

She didn’t bite. “Please call the fire department. Please?”

What was I waiting for? To avoid looking foolish because there was no fire? Having to admit that I couldn’t figure what was going on? Two days earlier I’d had an electrical triumph, running a wire through 190 feet of conduit and splicing it to the leads down to our submersible pump. Other than slicing my left thumb when I was stripping the wire with a jackknife, I was so pleased with myself that I’d kept eight inches of the wire as a memento. Was this payback, just rewards for a lucky do-it-yourselfer? No, no, I told myself, get real.

Finally, defiantly, I admitted — to myself — that hoping this would all go away was hopeless. It might even get worse.


“Okay… Okay, okay. I’ll call Communications,” I said. “But I’m not calling 9-1-1. This isn’t an emergency.” Was it?

Within ten minutes, Manny Estrella and a police officer appeared. No flashing lights, they just drove in.

I thanked them for coming out, which Laura doubled down. I showed them the offending switch and described its behavior.

“You got a screwdriver?” Manny asked. He removed the plate with the other three of us looking over his shoulder, rapt — though none of us knew what we were looking at.

“There’s your problem,” Manny said, pointing at a dirty switch. He pulled something out of a pocket and held it up to the switch. He shook it, then walked into the room and peered at it under a light, muttering.

He came back and now the gizmo shot a red laser at the switch. “See? It isn’t hot.”

We stared at the switch, trying to understand. I glared at it.

“Are we safe staying here, Manny?” Laura wanted some reassurance.

“You better have an electrician look at this,” Manny said.

“I’ll call ours first thing.”

“I can call one,” Manny said. “Just a minute.”

“Now? An electrician?”

“I know somebody.” Manny headed into the kitchen, pulling out his cell phone.

“He’ll be over in ten minutes,” he said when he returned.

While we waited, Manny demonstrated the laser gadget, somehow registering temperature remotely. He aimed it at a lamp across the room, and I watched the needle go up. Same thing when I asked him to zap one of the dogs. Cool. Then he went out front to wait for John. Cotterill, that is, an electrician in town and a fireman.

“I’m so glad we called,” Laura said. We? “Do we have to pay for this?”

“Manny comes out of our taxes,” I said. “But the electrician…”

John arrived and listened to our story, in triplicate. When he took my word for it that the breaker was off, I felt like a half-fledged electrician.

“So if it’s still shorting, it’s getting power from somewhere else,” John said. “Has to be. Is this a three-way?” That is, connected to another switch.

It came back to me. “Wait a second. There used to be a spotlight on the way over to the Little House, the place next door. Maybe this was the switch for it. I always thought it was dead.”

The house next door used to be the guesthouse to my parents’ main house, which Laura and I now own. To light the path through a stone wall between the two buildings, my folks installed a spotlight 60 years ago that could be turned on at one end and off at the other — a three-way switch.

“And there was a switch for it over there?” John asked.

“Probably. No…yes, there was. In the bedroom.” It was coming back clearer now.

“Can we check the breaker over there?” John asked.

“Sure. Well, actually it may be locked, but we can check. I used to know where they hide the key.”

The three of use headed over, through the wall, through the bushes. I was about to step up on the stoop, when John noticed a light on inside.

Odd… Oh no, the tenants. They’d just arrived that day, I’d seen them earlier.

We retreated. Back in our yard, I figured Manny and John would head home. But then I wondered aloud if I should wake the tenants and let them know, at least, about the problem.

“I would,” John said.

“I would, too,” Manny said.

I headed back over and tried to open the screen door, so I could knock on the main door. It was locked.

I rapped on a window until the bedroom door opened and a couple appeared, she pulling a robe around herself, he in boxers, apparently not modest about his substantial torso — or maybe just still asleep.

I explained what was going on, apologizing all the while. Manny and John and I squeezed into the bedroom to check out the breaker panel in the closet. The fellow with the belly explained that the lights in the bedroom had gone out, so he’d thrown the breaker a couple of times and they’d come back on for a second and then the breaker would flip again.

John looked at me and I looked at Manny and we all thought “so that’s it” at once. The breaker had done its job after all, only it was the breaker in the house next door, which used to get its power and water and inhabitants from ours. I thought it had been on its own for 20 years, but some kids never grow up.

We backed out, again apologizing, and Manny and John and I parted in the middle of our yard. I thanked them once, twice, told them what a comfort it is to have them ten minutes away, day or night, and asked John if he had a card, so I could track him down to settle up.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said.

“I’m not worried, but I want to. It’s almost midnight, and you’re out here helping us out.”

“Don’t worry,” John said. “Manny called me, and I came out.”

by -
— File photo by Carlene Gatting

I am writing to thank you for providing me with a once-in-a-lifetime experience — the chance to go to the National Scripps Spelling Bee. From the moment I arrived in Oxon Hill, Maryland, at the Gaylord Resort, I was excited, overwhelmed, enthusiastic, and filled with anticipation, and that was all at once. You first enter the hotel in a grand marble lobby, with a 17-story glass atrium overlooking the sparkling Potomac River. It is breathtaking.

The lobby and surrounding courtyards were filled with women with their heads carefully wrapped in scarves and many in floor-length robes with only a rectangle of their eyes showing. I expected there to be many spellers of Asian and Middle Eastern descent, but this was ridiculous. I later learned that the King of Saudi Arabia, where they provide billions of dollars in scholarship money to Saudi students, had flown many Saudi families over to America to celebrate the graduation of their Saudi college students. They were not there for the Bee.

After checking in, we went to check out the “room” where the Bee takes place. Well, it is a ballroom that must hold 2,000 people, with a colorful stage that stretched the width of the ballroom, and 281 seats on center stage for the spellers. Butterflies began to flutter in my stomach. Everywhere I turned there were kids from all over the country and as far away as China and Guam wearing their “Spellebrity” tee-shirts, and their families wearing their “Bee On” tee-shirts. We were an easy group to identify in this big resort.

When Bee day came, I could not lift my head off the pillow. My mom had given me some kind of cold medicine the night before to help my cold, allergies, and fever — and I never take medicine — and I was knocked out. I finally dressed quickly, splashed cold water on my face, and took my place on stage. I sat between two towering, giant boys. The lights were bright, and the ESPN cameras everywhere. The words started to come fast and furious while I waited for my turn, as No. 117. Some words that other spellers got, I knew — Beethovenian, meiosis — some I didn’t — brankursine, acervation. Really the luck of the draw. My luck ran out with “asana.” I did my best and learned to accept elimination gracefully — kind of. I really felt bad for the very first speller to be eliminated, who was from China, although he got a big round of applause, and then your parents meet you by the side of the stage. My mom just about carried me back to the room, where I slept for hours.

Then the real fun began. I visited more memorials, monuments, and museums and ate more frozen yogurt in two days than I have in all of my 11 years. My favorite was the World War II memorial, where I learned about where my grandfather fought and was a prisoner of war. It was also cooling to stand by the giant pool with fountains there. Did I mention that it was 90-plus degrees and that I learned that Washington, D.C., was built on a swamp and is therefore humid? As you can see, I learned a lot more than spelling while in D.C.

I feel really fortunate that I got to be a part of the National Spelling Bee, thanks to the MV Times. Scripps does such a great job of making all 281 spellers feel like champions. It was really well-organized with lots to do to mingle and get to know the other spellers. Everyone gets a Beekeeper picture book, like a yearbook, to get all the other spellers to sign. It was eye-opening for me to see the level of commitment and discipline the top spellers have to get where they did. All of the finalists had been there at least once before, and some three times before.

I’ll be at Falmouth Academy next year, so I won’t have a chance to compete again, but I have some triplet friends that I’m going to coach so they can be as fortunate as I was to get to the National Spelling Bee. I know one out of the three can make it.

Thanks to the newspaper for your generous support. Thanks, too, to Janet Hefler for the thoughtful article she wrote.

I hope I haven’t misspelled any words.