A living legend

Trina Kingsbury sold her "Wildflowers of Martha's Vineyard" posters at flea markets. — MV Times

The following is reprinted with permission from Holly Nadler’s book “Vineyard Confidential.” “She approved every word before I used it in the book,” Nadler said. “I agreed because I just found her so fascinating.” The book, which was published in 2006, is typically available at Vineyard bookstores.

When you first move to the Island you hear Trina Kingsbury stories.

Like the time she knocked six cops on their keisters.

Or when she wrenched the urinal from the men’s john at the Lampost and banged it down between the bar and the tables.

And what about the time she hijacked an Air New England flight so she could bring her sick pig to the vet in Hyannis?

“Oh, lord. I don’t know who invents these scenarios,” chuckles Trina when I meet her for tea and talk at her quaint farm called Swolley Hole at an undisclosed location in Chilmark. “Not that some of them don’t have a germ of truth,” she said, with a fond gleam in her periwinkle blue eyes.

These days Trina hardly looks like the bar-busting Valkyrie of what she herself calls her hell-raising days. Now her once dark hair has turned a uniform golden gray. She wears gold-wired glasses. Dressed in a hand-knit vest over a long country skirt, she more resembles the poet/artist/farm lady of her feminine alter ego.

Not that she’s unable even nowadays to hurl a guy across a room. “What sets me off is being groped in female places,” she told me. “Anyone who knows me knows: You get fresh, you go flying.”

In her younger days, the Vineyard native, six feet tall with flowing dark hair and what an Island male with a long memory described as a “formidable figure,” was quick to throw a punch, particularly after she’d spent the warmup part of the evening drinking. Looking back, she realizes she had set herself a mission: “Girls in bars were always thought to be looking for sex. I taught people that we had a right to enjoy a drink undisturbed. I was like the Carrie Nation of sex in barrooms, bringing in an ax to put a stop to boozing molesters.”

Trina’s brawling reputation devolved from her dad, the larger-than-life Craig Kingsbury, known to the world as Quint, the character played by Robert Shaw in “Jaws.” “My dad taught me how to fight and how to throw people without hurting them.”

Although today Trina looks, if not fragile, then smaller than the Amazon warrior of her youth, she maintains she still has the musculature to give someone a good pounding: “I first built up my strength from shoveling out barns at my parents’ farm.”

Trina’s gentler qualities came from her mother, Gertrude Tereski Kingsbury, long a nurse at the Vineyard Hospital. The split between the yin and yang influences of her parents can be seen in Trina’s yearly contributions to the Agricultural Fair: On the one hand, she competes in the chainsaw and ax-throwing competitions. On the other hand, she invariably wins blue ribbons for her knitting, crocheting, and sewing. Her crow-quill pen-and-ink prints of Island wildflowers and Island butterflies have adorned houses all over the country for years. Trina is also understandably proud of her lifelong certification in the British Horse Society: “I grew up on the back of a horse.”

As we mull over some of the tall tales of Trina’s Bunyonesque youth, she puts together the pieces that yielded the sick-pig/hijacking whopper:

“I had to spend some time in Maine, so I left my Swolley Hole animals with a critter sitter. I had these two pigs, a boy named Boris and a girl named Mildred. I got wind that a pack of vicious dogs had attacked both my pigs. Boris was dead, torn to shreds, and Mildred had run away. I was frantic to look for her, so I chartered a plane to come home. Well, I’d been partying, and the pilot had to think twice about taking off with me. Then he decided once we were up in the clouds, I’d pass out and everything would be hunky-dory. I didn’t pass out, so the back-and-forth shouting from the cockpit to the cabin must’ve sounded sort of raucous to the air traffic controllers. They told the pilot to abort the flight over Bangor, and when we landed, cops swarmed onboard to arrest me. I kept yelling about having to get back to my poor sow, so the papers had a field day with headlines like, ‘Girl hijacks airplane to find pig!’”

Over the years, Trina faced many stern judges, but for the most part they were charmed by her folksy manner and her own brand of logic that often put an appealing spin on her wild behavior.

While she never yanked a urinal from the Lampost john (that she recalls), she acknowledges that she waged her share of barroom battles that ultimately got her banned from Oak Bluffs taverns — although, given the passage of time, it’s safe to assume she’s been granted a tacit amnesty. One episode she told me about took place at the Ritz. “I was raising hell, and they asked me to leave. When I got outside, I remembered I’d left my keys in the bar, but they wouldn’t let me back in to get them. I zipped up my windbreaker, pulled the hood over my head, and walked back inside through the plate glass window. Crash! Bang! I didn’t get a scratch.

“Another time a bunch of us were up here at the farm, raising hell, drinking Napa Sonoma Manana — it cost 85 cents a half-gallon. My pals were starting to get on my nerves, so I told them all to get out before I went berserk. Then I went berserk anyway, and heaved this bottle of Napa at the coal stove. When I looked up, the bottle was intact, but the coal stove had split in half!”

The simplest statement falls from Trina’s lips with a zinger tacked on. A discussion of long-ago operation causes her to recall, “And the surgeon had to spend some extra time removing shrapnel under my ribs from the time I got shot on Nashawena Island.”

Nowadays Trina’s acreage resembles something out of a Beatrix Potter painting. A miniature windmill stands near a sylvan pond, and wind chimes tinkle from aged oaks. A tiny gravel pathway leads up to a storybook kittyhouse with hand-painted trompe l’oeil shutters and a wooden owl standing sentry duty just outside the door. Although at the present time no pigs live with Trina, her dog, Alice Von Wolftrapp, a Portuguese rabbit hound/German shepherd mix, trots his orangey body and round, green-eyed mug down the path to greet all visitors. A second cat, Cho, is absent on the afternoon of my visit.

These days Trina’s escapades are romantically pagan. “Instead of all-nighters drinking and carousing and sleeping it off in jail, I like to pull moonlighters. I do this with my pals on full-moon nights. We drink everything from tea to Gibsons and wander around the meadow in our jammies.”

Just as long as no male moonlighter lays a hand on her, Trina has definitely mellowed with age. Should someone be so ill-advised as to try, he would surely end up (in her words) “ass-over-teakettle” in the pond.