Something to talk about: Conversation at Howes House
Good company, shared thoughts, stimulating conversation - nourishment for the soul. Oscar Wilde once said, "Ultimately the bond of all companionship is conversation."
That is being demonstrated weekly in the large meeting room of the Howes House in West Tisbury where the Tuesday Morning Conversations Group gathers for an open group discussion. Many of the participants have been meeting together for years, when the group formed after branching off from the Oak Bluffs Conversation Group about 10 years ago.
"We are an assortment of talking buddies," says Ned Orleans of Vineyard Haven. "There are usually about a dozen regulars during the winter, but in the summer we have had crowds of over 60 people."
Among the interesting members of the group is seasoned veteran Riley Deeble, a venerable character quick with a joke (he has many) and lively repartee. Mr. Deeble was a tugboat captain during World War II in France. At one time he piloted a coal-burning vessel, "a pretty messy venture." Born in Boston, he taught in The Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., for years. His most famous student? John McCain, who he saw again at a school reunion in 2004.
The room is lively with an easygoing rapport. Toss in some mild ribbing, salty wit, and provocative thoughts that pepper the morning's conversation and you have a sense of the flavor that makes it all work. While anyone is encouraged to attend, what keeps this group coming back year after year is that they eventually become friends who might not spend other time together, but who nonetheless appreciate each other's companionship and intellect every Tuesday.
Everything is open for discussion, be it social, psychological, even political or religious. Ike Russell of West Tisbury, the group's convener, schedules the various speakers - experts on various topics, spanning all ages and locations - that interest the group. The occasional open sessions entail a free-flowing exchange of thoughts and ideas - no mundane chitchat about the weather. The current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the Korean and Viet Nam are currently topics of particular interest, particularly to the veterans in the group.
Subjects run the gamut from anything you always wanted to know about architecture led by architect Joseph Eldredge, to Brigette Lent sharing her extensive knowledge of war poetry from Troy to Kandahar. Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Solow gave a series of summer talks. Oak Bluffs resident Leonard Kapungu, a mediator for the United Nations, spoke about his recent mediation efforts between Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and the opposition party; and Dr. Jordan Cohen has expounded on "Health Care Reform 101."
Local speakers include Martha's Vineyard Times editor Doug Cabral, Vineyard Gazette business manager Joe Pitt, Mark London of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, and local mediator Judy Salosky. Dukes County Sheriff Mike McCarthy spoke on "Offering Offenders Alternatives to Doing Jail Time," and Leslie J. Stark spoke on jazz greats while playing music by George Gershwin. Last September, J. Chadwick (a.k.a. Joe Eldredge) came dressed as Edward, the Earl of Oxford, and proceeded to speak on how it was he who wrote Shakespeare's plays. He only answered questions relevant to the early 1600s, the time period he represented.
It is an informal but purposeful gathering. Not many rules govern the meetings: the speakers are usually limited to about half an hour with the remaining time consisting of conversation and discussion. As Mr. Eldredge says, "You are supposed to raise your hand, but people get so excited that often they don't."
"Somehow we all get along," Ms. Lent says, and Bob Knight chuckles and adds, "Although a few people have been on the verge of getting thrown out."
Some people say conversation is a lost art, but it certainly is alive, well, and engaging in West Tisbury.
The Tuesday Morning Conversations group meets at the Howes House in West Tisbury from 9:30 to 11 am.
Lisa Vanderhoop is a photographer, artist, and freelance writer living in Aquinnah.