At Large : Two for the record books
Jackie Sexton, The Martha's Vineyard Times' Chilmark town columnist, set down her weekly burden on March 19, after 25 years gathering and annotating the human affairs of her town. Every town should have such a devoted chronicler.
"This is to let you know," Jackie wrote me, "if you don't know already, the astounding news that after 25 years I'm retiring from the Chilmark column." She's right, it is astounding. After all this time, one is nevertheless undone by unexpected and unwanted change among one's dependable colleagues.
For Jackie, this is not retirement in the sense that many people understand the word, because Jackie's long career as Chilmark's community historian has not been a career in any ordinary sense. It was like a career, because it was as relentless as the calendar and as inescapably demanding as the passing of time and the arrival of a Thursday each week. It was as demanding as a career might be and as everyday life itself often is. But to Jackie, her column for this grateful newspaper and its readers was her avocation, one that she embraced in her genial, knowing, neighborly way. It certainly wasn't merely a job to describe, as she did so faithfully, the most intimate and ordinary business of her town, the comings and goings of friends, even strangers, and the small affairs of daily Chilmark.
In her note, Jackie explains why she did it, so well and so long. "My long association with The Martha's Vineyard Times has been a lot of fun and also rewarding. I've met people and seen places I never would have done otherwise. I'm going to miss it all." And we will miss her. As June Manning, Jackie's Aquinnah counterpart at the Gazette, wrote, "Bless you. Thank you for keeping us well informed about the news in Chilmark for all of these years."
Perhaps you've wondered at the mysteries behind the preparation of town columns. Jackie revealed the truth in a modest addendum to her column last week, her last column.
"A lot has changed dramatically in the 25 years since I started the column, when we typed our stories on typewriters and hand carried them to the paper once a week, more or less at deadline. Early town columns were headlined like a news story and designed, of course, to keep readers reading. One was 'Surging Surf at Squibnocket Attracts Crowd.' Exciting stuff, even though at the time, a 'crowd' consisted of perhaps two or three people. I think Don Lyons wrote the headlines." He did, and Don, a Times colleague since the beginning of Times time, still writes headlines.
How did Jackie get the job? "Kathy Norton was an early columnist for Chilmark but quit quite quickly, saying simply, 'I didn't like doing it.' So she told me everything that was going on in town, and I did it instead." Management of these things has often been rather laissez faire, apparently.
"One of the things [Kathy] may not have liked," Jackie continued, "was the stunning pay, which amounted to a few cents per column inch. We've grown and prospered since then, and no one measures column inches any more." True enough, but newspapering has never been a lavishly rewarding trade, and town columnists will certainly lead us all in attesting to that sad fact.
The claim on the town columnist is a claim of friendship and sociability. Such a column is one of several mechanisms that neighbors use to plait and strengthen the bonds among them. It is an act of community and of fond, encouraging regard for the friends and acquaintances with whom we spend our days. Jackie Sexton was perfectly suited to the role, and we, her longtime colleagues, will miss her genial weekly contribution.
You may not know Bernie, but you'll know who I mean
Bernie Holzer, a sailor in deep water and alongshore for 59 years, will come ashore for good next month. Bernie, who lives in West Tisbury, last went deep-sea 29 years ago. His next berth was aboard the Steamship Authority's vessels. He has often served as purser on SSA ferries. You have heard him explain, in that joyful, screeching tone of his, "This is a non-smoking vessel. That means that for forty-five minutes, you will not smoke." Or, "Gather all your belongings before you leave. And don't forget those crumb-snatchers of yours. Don't leave 'em with us."
Among a host of longtime ferry crew, Bernie stands out for his good nature, his easygoing helpfulness, his broad acquaintance among his passengers, and his remarkable longevity with the line. A sailor who served in freighters and tankers and was briefly at home in nearly every seaport worthy of the name during his long deep-sea career, Bernie made a second career out of the Steamship Authority and made his home ashore on the Vineyard. A stroke of good luck for us.