It is a truth universally acknowledged (to borrow from Jane Austen) that Island kids tend to grow up, fall in love, and coax their partners to marry here on the Vineyard. Another big fact of life in these parts is that the same popular months for weddings — the balmy, beautiful ones, especially September — are when big ol’ tropical storms roll in.
As Island wedding planner Joanna Fairchild noted in an email to me: “Weather hangs large over any big wedding when there is a threat.”
Three weekends ago, our own family experienced the perfect storm of A Wedding and Three Hurricanes.
Here’s the timeline: On July 11, 1984, our son Charlie Nadler (first name Charlie, nickname Charles) was born here at our hospital, specifically in that dark, ruined area alongside the spanky new facility. Dr. Jason Lew used a forceps to remove the recalcitrant infant, and a couple of days later, daddy Marty and I brought baby Charlie home to our house on East Chop Drive.
Stuff happened. We also lived in Los Angeles because Marty and I both worked in television, Marty much more profitably than I, but who’s keeping track? When Charlie was only a year old, his dad worked two staff writing jobs, one on “Perfect Strangers,” the other “Valerie” (as in Harper), and because the run-throughs and tapings took place on different days, he was able to zoom around town to both studios in his little blue VW Rabbit, with no one the wiser that he held two full-time jobs.
In his early years, Charlie considered himself mostly an L.A. kid, but ah! — those East Chop summers. And then in the summer of 1991, before young Nadler was set to enter the second grade, we realized we could no longer afford bicoastal dwellings. Which to choose? L.A. with its massive traffic grids, smog, and gangbangers in souped-up cars tooling past our front lawn? Or the Vineyard with its seasons, neighbors who know you, geese flying overhead, and the Ag Fair every August?
When we told Charlie we were moving to the Vineyard, he burst into tears. We promised him a TV set in his own room and a puppy. Bribe accepted.
Some 10 years later, we took Charlie to start life at Boston University. I said to him as we strolled onto the Oak Bluffs wharf, “Never forget you came from an island.” I’m not sure what I meant to impart by that, but it needed to be said. Almost immediately he learned he came from a special place, a place he and his high school buddies had always derided for its shortage of malls.
“You grew up on Martha’s Vineyard?!” cried his new dorm mates. “Can we go home with you for vacations?” And so they did. Sometimes so many B.U. buds flocked to the Island for Charlie’s July birthday, I’d leave my house to them — Marty and I had, sadly, parted ways by then — and I’d find somewhere quiet to stay.
Along the way, Charlie nodded hello to a cute girl who lived in the dorm, Cary Kandel from Ormond Beach, Florida. Fast-forward to Charlie living in L.A., working as a production assistant at Castle Rock studios, and trying out his mad passion, standup comedy, in clubs and open mics around town. One fine day, Cary called him from Long Beach, California, where she was working on a PhD in physical therapy. They fell in love, moved to New York, adopted a street cat with AIDS named Miso, and began the next great chapter: Cary with a top-notch job at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Charlie writing screenplays, doing standup, and presently pursuing a glam day job at the Rockefeller Foundation.
Would they marry? “We have a handshake agreement,” said Charlie. And then one day last fall, they flew up to Boston, their favorite metrop, tied the knot in town hall, and placed some phone calls to their next of kin. We got it. They were looking for ways to simplify what had become an incredibly baroque celebration. Now, all that was left to enact was a wedding party.
But where? They sniffed out a few New York venues, but “Man, they were expensive!” reported Charlie in a recent interview with his mom. They loved the Berkshires, and even checked out the far north town of Troy. “It’s an up-and-coming area,” said Charlie, which probably means it has some good gangsta rappers in its clubs.
Did they consider Florida? Charlie gave an emphatic negative to this question, and a good thing, considering that what the national press named “the biggest hurricane season on record” would be sending its first uninvited guests to that state. “The Vineyard called to us,” said Charlie. “Cary had loved it from the get-go. We sent everyone a crib sheet [actually a link to a Facebook page] with transportation info, hotel listings, really everything they needed to know.”
Days before the event, cue the coming tempests: A brutal hurricane named Irma was heading for Florida, and three-quarters of what Charlie called the “parental units” lived in that state. Mother of the bride Paula and her husband John made the prudent plan of leaving Ormond Beach a few days ahead of the gale. So did the father of the groom, Marty, now based in Coral Gables, but who, fortunately for him because he’s the world’s biggest worrywart, arrived on Martha’s Vineyards on the storm-safe Thursday before the party. The father of the bride, Martin, thought he’d do the smart thing and head over to the west coast of Florida before he left the state. Big bad Irma outfoxed him and, as we all now know, also veered west. Somehow Martin made it out ahead of the storm, showing up on Island with his hair only slightly wind-tousled.
Plans for the weekend involved giving everyone a taste of the Vineyard. “We knew it would be expensive and a hassle for people to get here, so we wanted to make it worth their while.” Friday night featured a picnic in Ocean Park with a heap of Giordano’s pizza. (Charlie’s first job, at the age of 6, was working for Richie and Buster assembling pizza boxes.) Some optional plans followed — postprandial drinks at Nancy’s and the serpentine line at Back Door Donuts.
Saturday offered golf at the nine-hole Royal and Ancient Chappaquiddick Links. Then, at 5 pm sharp, festivities began at Atria Restaurant in Edgartown (Christian and Greer Thornton are old pals of Marty’s, so Charlie grew up on their truffle fries, among other epicurean delights.) Even without having shown up at the Royal and Ancient Links, I myself was exhausted by the time dancing and dessert rolled around. And meanwhile Marty, who’d caught some kind of nasty hurricane flu churning up fungus from Florida swamps, had developed a 1,000-yard stare. Dragging him around from table to table was starting to feel like “Weekend at Bernie’s.” We slipped out and caught a bus back to Oak Bluffs.
Sunday the troops assembled at the East Chop Light for pastries and egg salad sandwiches from the Scottish Bakehouse. The skies were gray, but so far the storm threatening the Island, young Jose, was still making its way up the coast. Come evening, most of the off-Island guests had gone. Mission accomplished.
The batch of weddings scheduled for the following weekend were under high alert from Category 5 storm Maria. On Friday, the 22nd of September, the seas were roiling and stranded wedding guests made the best of their time by packing into Falmouth bars and waiting for Steamship news. Over on this side of the sound, manager at the big hotel Summercamp on the Oak Bluffs harbor front, Viktoriya Fedossenko, said so many cancellations poured in for that Friday, the hotel was almost completely empty.
But Maria eased off on Saturday, delayed wedding guests were able to sail over, and while Friday receptions were largely dashed (at least one caterer reported having to leave his provisions of food on the mainland), wedding bells rang — inasmuch as wedding bells ring anymore — on Martha’s Vineyard.