What he knew
Albion A. Alley Jr.
Here is a short list of the things Albion A. Alley Jr. could do. Beanie - the name he was most widely known by - was a mechanic, born and bred. He owned and operated what's now the Mid-Island Garage, and beyond what he could do for his repair customers, he could keep his old Jeep pickups running - albeit slowly, as he made his morning rounds - long after Jeep didn't make pickups any more. When no one stocked Jeep pickup parts, he could find junked parts and adapt them to fit. He could make a vacuum cleaner run a bubble system to keep the Lake Tashmoo ice from seizing the spiles of the dock he built in front of his house and lifting them until the dock looked less like a dock and more like a kid's Erector Set concoction that you or I might have built. He could use the same vacuum to jet the spiles back down into place when spring came.
He could keep an airplane running - airframe, engine, controls, and everything else - and he could fly it around the neighborhood, landing in pastures and big lawns, when such feats were required, for example to deliver tractor parts to Naushon Island. He could keep his boat and his outboard running and catch fish, when the tide and the current were right, and he always knew where to fish and when conditions were propitious. He was a commercial lobsterman, running a big string of pots in his open boat up and down the north shore. Later, he became a recreational lobsterman, although it wasn't recreation to him. When the seasons changed, he converted the boat for bay scalloping. He did it commercially for years, and became a family permit holder later in life. He opened his own scallops in his garage with his short, quick fingers flying through the bushel, and he joked and kidded his companions as he worked.
He was a gardener, raising vegetables and flowers, using each in its season, in efficient harmony with the sun and the rain and whatever those two decided about when the time was right for this or that to be planted, to grow, to bloom, or to be harvested.
He had a clever sweetness that he spread around those he liked, and a crisp, piercing way of cutting a swell down to size, when such pruning was called for, or even when it wasn't. He could do whatever he was doing with the stub of a cigar in the corner of his mouth, unlit but getting smaller as the day went on. He could flirt, and he practiced the art widely. Near death this week, 81-year-old Beanie applied this well honed skill to the nurses who looked after him. And, he always sang when he planted strawberries. All of these talents and preoccupations, and others I've undoubtedly overlooked, he shared with his son and grandson, though of course the unique brew that was Beanie will not be duplicated.
As a youngster, Beanie welcomed strangers to his world, as John Mayhew recalled in a conversation with Linsey Lee, for her second volume of Vineyard Voices ("More Vineyard Voices: Words, Faces and Voices of Island People," published by the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society, 2005). Mr. Mayhew, despite deep Island roots, traveled widely with his family as a child and young man, but he remembers, "When we were here I'll never forget the kindness shown to me by young Albion Alley. Albion, who lives in Tashmoo now, just took me under his wing and showed me all around, how to go trout fishing and perch fishing. And every Sunday during the season, Beanie and his father and Forest Littlefield and I would go in an old Chevrolet and go fishing somewhere, for trout or perch or pickerel or bass. Beanie really took me under his wing. It was the first time I'd been, you know, instead of being one of two Americans in British or French or Swiss school or something, here I was an American with Americans, and it meant so much to me."