West Tisbury: I don’t know what I expected

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Thanksgiving 1985. That Thursday was the 28th, the same as this year, and I remember it as the most special Thanksgiving ever. My niece, Charlotte, was 2 days old, born at the Vineyard Hospital on Tuesday, Nov. 26. Mike and I had gone to see her in the hospital, a tiny creature topped with a pink hat, swaddled warmly in a pink blanket. I fell in love with her at first sight, and have never doubted that love for a moment.

I don’t know what I expected, not being particularly interested in babies before Charlotte, or having much occasion to interact with them. But she was perfect. She wasn’t red or wrinkled. She was beautiful, sleeping peacefully, tiny fists, a good size and shape, I thought. I wondered what she would be like, what kind of a person she would grow into. But that’s getting ahead of my story.

Mike’s Aunt Janice lived in the little Cape on the Edgartown Road in front of us, and it was there we all were gathered. Her drop-leaf dining room table was extended to its limits, laden with the turkey and all the side dishes, Hulls arranged around its perimeter. Even as we enjoyed the company and the feast, everyone was waiting for the moment when Jared and BZ would stop in for a promised visit on their way home from the hospital. They would be bringing Charlotte to meet her family. It would be her first Thanksgiving.

Mike had gone over to their house earlier in the day to put up a door on the baby’s room, then to turn on the heat so it would be warm enough for her. We were all building our houses back then, living in stages of unfinished-ness. A door on the baby’s room was essential, and now she had one. One of their Labs ate Mike’s hat while he was working. I mention it as a part of the story; a family story must be told and retold exactly the same way.

I remember that story every Thanksgiving, our anticipation, thinking how she looked, wrapped against the cold and held closely in her father’s arms. We were all so young then. Janice and my in-laws, Bobby and Richard, were younger than Mike and I are now. 

That generation is all gone now, along with the contiguous houses on the Edgartown Road from our house across from the fire station up to Hannah’s at the corner of Dan’l’s Way, the little enclave that Olga Bryant called Hullabaloo. I think Olga was still alive then, too, still living in her house just across and up the road. Her grandson, Jeffrey, lives there now. 

Janice’s house and Bobby and Richard’s, the camp in between, have all been sold, making irrelevant the paths through the woods between us, “the nature trail” we called it, now grown over. We all used those paths carrying our drinks to one another’s houses at “drink time,” or just for general drop-ins throughout the day. My in-laws didn’t believe in using a telephone when it was just as easy to walk through the woods. I remember when Charlotte was old enough to walk by herself from Granny and Grandpa’s to Mike’s and my house. Bobby would call me to watch for her and stay on the phone till I saw her. We would repeat the process when Charlotte left. Mike’s cousin, Hannah Beecher, still lives in the Joshua Slocum house at the far end of Hullabaloo that had been the Hull grandparents’ house where all the children spent their summers. 

Charlotte will call us from her home in California. She is spending the holiday with her partner, Brian, their cat, Mila, and a group of longtime friends. Charlotte is a fabulous cook, and I am sure their meal will have a varied and unusual menu with vegetarian, vegan, and experimental dishes. Will it? Why am I so sure? It’s really all conjecture.

Ours will be as it always is, the traditional dishes much anticipated, and reproduced every year. I will make the pies as I always do, wishing that my nephew, Joshua Bryant, was still around to help me as he did when he was a little boy, then as he grew up into a young man. He lives far away, too, in Raleigh, too far to come home on Thanksgiving Eve to peel apples and mix up pumpkin custard. Remember the years we made turkey-shaped cookies, Josh, and you frosted them so beautifully?

I miss those years when Josh and Charlotte were small and I began making holidays for their memories. I remember the year that Charlotte was mad at me for taking a year off from making the big Thanksgiving meal. We went to Hannah’s that year. It was Charlotte’s senior year in high school, and she was angry that her last Thanksgiving at home wouldn’t be exactly like all the others she remembered.

For the past 20 years, Sunday Hull, Mike’s cousin Dan’s daughter, has been coming to the Vineyard with her parents for the holidays. She has been another special love. She is a sophomore at Harvard now, and will be here with us for Thanksgiving and the weekend.

I know I’m rambling, as I often do. Those children, and now my darling Iyla, so many of our friends’ children over the years, have all been such an important part of my life. For a person who didn’t have children of her own, I am blessed to be surrounded by them, with wonderful memories of their lives unfolding. Who could ask for anything better to be grateful for?

Happy Thanksgiving, West Tisbury, one and all.

The December Neighborhood Convention meeting will be held Tuesday, Dec. 3, 11 am, at United Methodist Church of Martha’s Vineyard, Trinity Park, Oak Bluffs. The Minnesingers and their director, Abigail Chandler, will be guests. All are invited to BYO lunch and attend the program.

The Federated Church in Edgartown is preparing for its annual Festival of Wreaths. Three work days are planned, Dec. 2, 3, and 4, from 9 am to 4 pm, for volunteers to make and decorate wreaths for the event. By Thursday evening, Dec. 5, the parish hall will be decorated with 75 decorated wreaths and freshly cut greens for sale. There will be beverages and hors d’oeuvres served between 5 and 7 pm, also raffle and auction items on display. Please call 508-627-4421 or email admin@federatedchurchmv.org for more information, or to volunteer to make wreaths.

On Wednesday, Dec. 4, the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury will hold the first of three Advent Evensong contemplative services leading up to Christmas. The Revs. Cathlin Baker and Mary Beth Daniels will lead the services. Music will be by Sean McMahon. The next two Evensong services will be the following Wednesdays, Dec. 11 and 18. All three will begin at 5:30 pm.

The West Tisbury library has set the date for the annual Holiday Party. It will be Monday, Dec. 9, from 4:30 to 6:30 pm. Put it on your calendar.

At the library this week:

CLOSED Thursday and Friday for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Sunday, Dec. 1, 3:30 pm, there will be a program featuring two local authors. Ben Shattuck will read an excerpt from a short story, and Jenny Slate will read a selection of short essays from her new book, “Little Weirds.”

Monday, Dec. 2, 11:30 am, Kanta Lipsky’s Balance Class will meet. At 7 pm, Writers Read will meet. Writers are invited to read their own fiction or nonfiction in eight-minute segments. To sign up for an assigned time, call 508-693-4307, or just come to listen.

Tuesday, Dec. 3, 10:30 am, dancers of all skill levels are invited to an Adult Community Dance Class with the Yard. At 4 pm, Rob Hannemann, chair of Vineyard Sustainable Energy Committee, will speak about the vision of the Vineyard becoming a 100 percent renewable energy island by 2040. The program is part of the “Climate Solutions for the Vineyard” series. At 4:30, there will be a sign language practice circle meeting.

Thursday, Dec. 4, 10:30 am, Laura Jordan’s Little Bird Music and Movement group will meet in the children’s room.