Back at home
After Thomas Wolfe wrote "You Can't Go Home Again," a novel whose central character returns to his hometown only to be spurned, the title became an often quoted and applicable catch phrase.
But clearly, Mr. Wolfe was not an Islander.
Young adults who, after being on their own, come back to their parents' Island homes usually find the latch has been left open. Lured by the practical and emotional benefits of returning to their families and the Martha's Vineyard community that helped raised them, they often recount positive experiences that speak to the idiosyncratic nature of living on the Vineyard.
Regional high school junior varsity football coach Keith Crossland, 24, who earned a bachelor's degree in business and landscape construction, admits, "I don't think I ever seriously considered not coming back. Not really. We're kind of like the Corleone family, two strong sons helping the father," he says, referring to his 26-year-old brother Kyle and their father, Mark Crossland, of Crossland Landscape Services in Oak Bluffs.
He adds, "We learned to share their values and we are deeply rooted in the Martha's Vineyard highlands. My mom (Bernie) has both Portuguese and Wampanoag heritage."
Mr. Crossland's comments echo the findings of a study done by Career Strategies, a national management and career-planning firm that compared his generation, called Nesters, with prior generations, including Boomers. The study, completed in 2003, found Nesters put lifestyle first, are loyal to their own skills rather than an employer, and seek to be self-employed. They also enjoy small groups, they want a multi-generational family, and in fact, enjoy living with their parents.
Mr. Crossland continues, "I enjoy the relationship [with my parents]. It's like we're all on the same page, doing the best for the family. We share chores and responsibilities. Basically, we understand each other's viewpoints. We eat together several times a week. It's a different relationship as an adult. We are on common ground, but discussion of personal issues mostly are what friends are for."
But Mr. Crossland observes that being raised by a village can also have a negative effect. "A lot of Island kids are a little isolated," he says. "They may be afraid whether they can survive off-Island. Some are comfortable here and don't know their life plan yet.
"Martha's Vineyard is very unique in that regard. You can't just drive off into the world. It's not that simple. It's difficult to be spontaneous, particularly if you don't have a plan."
Betsy VanLandingham is a West Tisbury parent who admits she is thrilled with Nester lifestyle. "I love it," she says. She and her husband, Paul, have two sons, Erik, 26, and Daniel, 23, who, until recently, when both sons found winter rentals, lived with their parents.
"They both went to college in Vermont, and both of them wanted to come back and live on Martha's Vineyard," Ms. VanLandingham says. "They'd love to have their own places, to buy property here, but it's so expensive.
"I don't know if it's just an Island phenomenon. But I know lots of Islanders who have good, strong relationships with their adult children, so it may be an Island thing. It's terrific to interact with adult children in the house. For example, this fall we watched the presidential campaign and talked together about [the candidates]. It was interesting to hear their perspectives."
The VanLandinghams share the home and the duties that go along with that. And as to the daily interactions, Ms. VanLandingham says, "We are all more on an equal level. I'm not telling them what to do. It's important that they make their own decisions and experience disappointment and failure without forewarning. That's part of life."
According to Ms. VanLandingham, the experience is positive: "It's exciting and interesting to see kids grow from infants into young adulthood and to watch them turn out to be great adults."
Dustin Shaw of Oak Bluffs was drawn back to Martha's Vineyard by the opportunity to be of service to the community he values. A 2007 criminology graduate of Norwich University and a September 2008 graduate of the Massachusetts State Police Municipal Academy in New Braintree, Mr. Shaw serves as an officer with the Tisbury Police Department.
"The timing was perfect," Mr. Shaw says. "I found out in mid-August that Tisbury had a full-time opening. The ad came out on Thursday in The Martha's Vineyard Times, and the department had my résumé on Monday."
Mr. Shaw knows he is fortunate to have his career and life goals mesh. "It's been a goal of mine, to help out the Martha's Vineyard community that I grew up in," he says. "Not a lot of people have the opportunity to give back in their profession."
Mr. Shaw lives with his mother, and explains, "Our relationship is structured in some ways. We have a very good understanding of our personal space. I have a furnished apartment in the basement. That's the start that people have to make to stay on Martha's Vineyard. We share expenses and chores. She understands that I have a good work ethic and values, but she is very motherly and protective and she'll be that way whether I'm 24 or 54," he says, laughing.
He adds, "I think it is part of a culture that when family life is good in the beginning, people are more willing to go back to their roots for comfort and when needs arise."
Gina James and her son, Michael, 24, live together in Chilmark. "We rent Clarissa Allen's mom's house. Mike's been working hard at landscaping, scalloping and stonemasonry...but his direction is turning to art," she says. "He's making plans to go to the Museum School extension in Boston in January. He'll be able to live with a friend of Clarissa's in Boston and go to school. Just another example of the incredible network of people on this Island."
Ms. James' daughter, Jesse, 21, is a senior majoring in sociology at the University of Vermont who lives at home during the summer. "We all share responsibilities. We work together," Ms. James explains. "They cook, contribute financially, we love being together. I love it.
"Jesse tells me a lot about her life, both kids do. We have open communication," Ms. James says. "As a single parent, I've worked hard at providing a safe place for my kids and for other kids, partly because I really never could come home again. My Dad died when I was 18, and my mom kept pushing us out. I remember that feeling so I've always been sensitive to making sure my kids felt secure."
Both Mr. Crossland and Mr. Shaw want to put their personal roots on Martha's Vineyard, and say their peers do too. "Most of my friends who live here are living with their families," Mr. Crossland says. "There is a lot of work for men in the service industries and in construction. It's more difficult for women to find high paying jobs on Martha's Vineyard, I think."
Ms. James reflects on living with her grown children, saying, "I know they have to make their own decisions, and I feel they know what to do. I bite my tongue occasionally but not very often."
Jack Shea is a regular contributor to The Martha's Vineyard Times.