A note on hosting visitors on the Vineyard


Fifty years ago, my grandfather sat down at his typewriter with a mission. At the prompting of my grandmother, who was fed up with entertaining a few too many unruly guests in their Chilmark summer home while trying to relax on vacation, my grandfather wrote a letter to take care of their self-invited guest problem. His letter is regarded by my family as something of a masterpiece.

Titled “Outline for Fun (Or — How to Stay Friends),” this letter included a thorough list of Island hotels and other accommodations. It also stated that cars are a must for the Island, so the prospective guests had better get a ferry reservation soon, or else arrange to rent a car.

The letter, intended for acquaintances seeking vacations, explained that my grandparents don’t meet ferries, cook meals for armies, sightsee, have sleep-over guests (as if that wasn’t already obvious), or do anything that would fit their lives into a fixed schedule of doings.

One way or another, my grandparents’ summers became much more peaceful, so the letter did its job — maybe a bit too well.

Whether an Islander or a summer resident, many of us have experienced the joys and tribulations of hosting guests. Just as a species of animal evolves to suit its habitat, those who call the Vineyard home for the year or for the summer have developed their own strategies tailored to the Island to deal with their houseguests. The Times recently spoke to several Islanders about their strategies for coping with an influx of summer guests.

Seek solitude, encourage independence

The Vallecorsa family from Latham, N.Y., lent a sympathetic ear to my grandfather’s tale when I found them relaxing at Menemsha beach last week.

“We don’t do guests,” said Nancy Vallecorsa, whose family has been summering on the Island for 24 years, mainly in Katama. “I don’t want to be the director, and I’m not here to entertain anyone,” she continued. “I’m just here to relax. I come here to be secluded.”

Of course, summer residents are not the only ones wishing to be secluded.

One up-Islander, who asked to remain anonymous in order to maintain a lower profile, said his guesthouse was built 200 yards away from his own house and is connected to the main house only by a path through the woods. “It’s very important not to be able to see the guesthouse,” he offered as a tip to others wishing to preserve their privacy while still hosting guests. The guesthouse has its own driveway and laundry facilities. “People who live on the Island and aren’t vacationing here really like the solitude. They wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

Though he may partake in some activities with guests, our anonymous friend finds his guests generally content with a spare pick-up truck with beach stickers on the window and a map. A true win-win situation for this Islander, he is happy to have his time to himself as well.

Others are more enthused about offering their futons and spare beds to guests.

“I love to fill up the house with guests,” year-round West Tisbury resident Daisy Pattison told The Times. “But I think they know me well enough to know they’re on their own, more or less.”

Ms. Pattison said the key to hosting is to have independent guests who, if given a car, are able to drive themselves to the beach and back.

Corey Kirkwood, a California native staying at his family’s summer house in West Tisbury, expressed a similar sentiment. “I’ll tend to drop people off in town more often than I’ll walk around with them,” he said.

Sue Silk, a West Tisbury resident who writes for The Times, gives guests a tour of the Island on their first visit. The extensive tour often includes sights such as the Gay Head Cliffs, South Beach, the lighthouses, and Martha’s Vineyard Glassworks. “We really knock ourselves out on the first visit,” she said. “The second trip is when you really get to put the hammer down.”

Staying friends

One West Tisbury native interviewed outside up-Island Cronig’s at the end of a long workday laughed a little when asked if she hosts guests often. She asked to remain anonymous so as not to offend a relative staying with her. “It’s so seasonal here,” she said. “Those of us who make all our money in the summer months can’t be entertaining guests at the same time.”

Indeed, with rent as high as it is on the Vineyard, looking up an old friend or relative can be an economical alternative, but not all Islanders are happy to oblige. One Chilmark couple quipped that to prevent those who would represent themselves as long-lost high school friends from showing up at Islanders’ doorsteps, they would advise homeowners not to put their names on their mailboxes.

Many Islanders and summer residents felt the need to program every moment of their guests’ days during visits. Perhaps that is why, at the end of my grandfather’s guidelines, he inserted the catch-all item of generally not wishing to fit his life “into a fixed schedule of doings,” to which he added that “Vineyard living is casual living, nothing formal.”