Andris Boass — his own man to the end


Andy Boass died last week. I’ve been thinking about what a remarkable man he was.

We both married into the same extended family by marrying two of what John Alley liked to call “the Glimmerglass girls.” Andy married Susan Millett a couple of months before I married her cousin Nancy Pardy. So I knew Andy for more than 50 years.

Andy was fiercely independent and stubbornly self-reliant. He took care of almost everything for himself, to the point of refusing even the most trivial kinds of help. The well at his house is a good example. He was handy enough to maintain it himself, installing secondhand pumps from the dump or ones friends had given him, and repairing them over and over, using parts scavenged from other old pumps. It wasn’t so much that he was too frugal to buy a well pump or parts. In his life, he had once been poor, but that wasn’t exactly the reason. I think he took unusual pride in doing such chores outside of the resources that other, less independent people had to use. His superindependent style required that he maintain a warehouse of used pumps, but this Andy never saw as a problem. He could fix almost anything, and warehousing useful stuff was Andy’s joy.

Andy’s Hopkinton farm held dozens of old cars and trucks, and parts of cars and trucks, scattered over several acres. He drove on a farm license plate, which he transferred from vehicle to vehicle, not always strictly according to Hoyle, and he often added “just one more” truck when someone would offer to give him one or sell it at a foolish price. Like everything else, he did his own automotive repairs, which was usually good but sometimes bad. I remember that one of his pickup tricks sat for weeks at Glimmerglass until he could fetch a used radiator from Hopkinton. He also collected building materials and other articles he thought he might need someday: fencing, buckets, tarps, and hardware of various genres. Several more-or-less-watertight vehicles at Hopkinton doubled as storage sheds for building insulation and other goods that needed to be out of the weather. I suppose some would call him a hoarder, but the useful junk he collected was stuff he knew how to use, and might have used with considerable satisfaction if the right occasion had arisen. Hoarder or not, he left behind a monumental collection of articles for his children to dispose of. Some of his Vineyard friends have similar, though not so extensive, collections.

Andy could be querulous and opinionated, but he was also generous and charming, with a talent for chatting up strangers. He had hundreds of friends. I found him a paradox. He was pleased to offer me (or any guest) a drink or a meal, but he usually brought his own bottle to our house, and never accepted a dinner invitation when he was alone on the Island.

One summer in the mid-1960s sticks in my memory as quintessential Andy. He had a job off-Island driving a truck for a bread company. Early in the summer, the company union went on strike. Given Andy’s independent streak, I’m guessing he might not have belonged to the union, but he was out of work anyway, and came to the Vineyard with Susan and two small children (maybe 6 and 4). But they didn’t live with the rest of the extended family in the crowded old summerhouse at Glimmerglass, though they had their own beds there. He came with a panel truck, and lived with his family on various Island beaches. His family loved the adventure of living in a truck. This was a time when many young people tried to live in tents in the state forest or other out-of-the-way corners of the Island, but most of the flower children were not as successful at it as Andy, who was not a flower child but just himself. Andy’s panel truck never stayed long enough in any one place for people to become tired of them. The beach rules and commercial fishing rules were fewer in those days, and what rules there were were not strictly enforced. Andy could shmooze a cop or a landowner with the best. They ate a lot of fresh fish cooked on the beach, and sold fish to restaurants. His nomadic family actually did rather well.

Toward the end of July, I got a call from Andy’s mother: The strike was over, and Andy could go back to work. It took me a day and a half to find them. I checked all the beaches where I knew their truck had sometimes been parked, but eventually found them at the Gay Head dump, where Andy had gone to make repairs to the truck. Surprisingly, the little family was not grateful to get my message, despite the trouble it had cost me to deliver it. Andy called the bread company and quit his job, and they spent the rest of the summer on Vineyard beaches. After that summer, beaches started to be regulated or closed, the kids got old enough for school, and the idyll was over for good.

Andy died the way he did everything else — on his own terms. He didn’t want to die in a hospital, and he refused most medical attention except for Hospice, as he was wise enough to know that the end was near. He wanted to die at Glimmerglass, and he did, with his beloved wife and family around him.

Dan Cabot is a longtime West Tisbury resident and former teacher and school administrator.