In Print : Chappaquiddick
"Chappaquiddick: That Sometimes Separated But Never Equalled Island," 2nd edition, edited by Hatsy Potter, published by Chappaquiddick Island Association. 347 pages. $35.
This stylishly presented second edition of the original book of the same title, is a compendium of essays, family photographs, excerpts from the Vineyard Gazette and the Dukes County Intelligencer, personal recollections, maps, and ephemera. New voices have been added to the original volume, augmenting the book with another generation of Chappaquiddick memories. The book is organized like a travelogue, circumnavigating this small separate spit of land once inhabited exclusively by Wampanoags, which, in the late 19th century, became the playground of summer people. Chronology begins in the early part of the 20th century and the subsequent decades between 1920 and 1950 are a feast of memory for the reader.
After a few bits of introduction, preface and a very good overview of Chappaquiddick history by Edith "Edo" Potter, the narrative begins where most people first come ashore, at the Point.
The first portion of the book is devoted to the reminiscences of the summer people who were once children in this beautifully described idyllic setting. Most everyone interviewed includes the same benchmark recollections: Tony Bettencourt, the ferryman; the horses waiting patiently for their people to return from Edgartown; the fresh unpasteurized milk from local cows; Sampson's Hill; Chadwick's bathing beach; hurricanes, and a childhood of running loose and free all summer long. They recall the arduous trip from New York or Boston, the fabled clambakes, and chicken dinners at Mrs. Jeffers' Outlook restaurant. They speak of being privileged enough to have long summers on an island where luxury was a hand pump and the freedom to explore, swim, fish, quahog, play tennis and, especially, sail.
Scads of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins appear in those stories told by people whose names, some of them, have become synonymous with Chappy: Marshall, Welch, Pinny, Tilghman. These are lifelong summer people, many of whom have converted to year-round living. Here, summerhouses have names in the way boats do: The Ancestral, The Big Camp. The Cottage.
Reading between the lines, or in an occasional gentle reference, the reader realizes that these summer people were privileged not just in terms of their idyll on Chappy, but financially. Everyone had his or her own boat. Everyone played tennis. Many brought their 'help.' Dads arrived on Friday nights and left for the city on Mondays.
The travelogue swings up and around the more coastal portions. The other Chappy is revealed when it moves inland. We meet more 'native' Chappaquiddickers. The Jeffers, Belains, Bettencourts, et al, who provided much of the infrastructure to the summer people in transportation, food, and entertainment. Their stories are equally appreciative of the freedom and closeness of the people of Chappy, summer and winter alike.
The relationship between the wealthy yachting, berry-picking set and the year- rounders was symbiotic. The children enjoyed an equity that runs through the narrative on both sides. But life was appreciably harder for the year- rounders - a fact of pride. These Islanders describe a hardscrabble life of quahogging, fishing, scalloping, earning a few bucks working for the summer people - making a living in any way that presented itself. Throughout these recollections these stalwart Islanders make the statement, "We never went hungry; we had what we needed." This is in contrast to the summer folks who arrived with a summer's worth of supplies at hand.
Various characters thread through the stories like recurring characters in a novel: Sally Jeffers plays a feature role in nearly everyone's tale. As does Tony Bettencourt and, as the century ages, Foster Silva and Manuel Swartz Roberts become staple characters in the stories. It speaks of the intimacy of life on a small, not easily accessed island off another small, almost as inaccessible island in the early 20th century. People really did know one another, knew one another's children and their livestock.
Because so many of the recollections involve the same landmarks, people, activities, and sense of nostalgia, the stories do become a bit tedious. But the joy and fondness for the old days, is obvious and precious. This reader isn't sure if it's the nostalgia for youth, or a real longing for a time gone by that informs all of these reminiscences. This compendium is best sampled, not read like a novel. This sometimes separated, but never equalled island may only exist in the memories of those who enjoyed it while it was unfettered by private property signs and belonged to everyone who wandered barefoot down dirt paths. When sheep and cows were set loose to graze. When the price of a ferry ride was a nickel and you summoned the ferryman with a bell.
Author Susan Wilson is the Development and Publications Coordinator for the Martha's Vineyard Museum and a regular columnist for The Martha's Vineyard Times.