West Tisbury: Islander stories to remember

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— Kyra Steck

I am watching birds splash around in the birdbath in our backyard. Nuthatches, chickadees, a tufted titmouse, five or six of them at once, congregating and chirping in their communal pool. The birdbath sits beneath a small ornamental cherry tree that seeded itself. It may be a poor spot to a landscape designer, but its branches provide an umbrella of protection, and apparently a pleasant perch for birds awaiting their turn in the water for a bath and a drink.

I guess this past week would be called perfect summer weather. It’s been clear and not too hot. Pleasant. Three days of on-and-off rain gave us a break from watering for a few days, but now it’s time to drag the hoses out again.

The virtual Ag Fair was fascinating. I had no idea what to expect, but saw the winning hall exhibits, watched some demonstrations of quilting and spinning, saw lots of animals and antique engines, and listened to music. I miss the firemen’s hamburgers Mike brought home, but he wouldn’t have been able to work in the booth this year, and we can have hamburgers at home if we want to. All in all, it was an interesting experience, and I give the Ag Society a lot of kudos for getting it together. Thanks to you all.

My other outing this week, thankfully not virtual, was a visit to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum to see Lucy Mitchell’s exhibition, “Recollection: A Personal Museum.” It is breathtakingly beautiful, not only visually, which it decidedly is, but as a biography of the artist’s attention to her surroundings seemingly throughout every moment of her life, and as a natural history of our island. She writes that she was able to “choose, select, elect, pick, cull, prefer,” every object that attracted her artist’s eye. Every tiny stone or shell, grain of beach sand, twig or root or stout branch, gourds, pressed flowers and leaves, mushrooms, eggs, wasp’s nests, seaweed, some left as they were found, some wrapped or embellished with the decorated papers Lucy designs with markings that have become recognizable as her own visual language. It is profound. I plan to go again and again, and hope the museum will keep that room intact forever.

Louise Bessire called to invite me over to see a plant in her garden that she called Halley’s Lily; it supposedly was discovered the same year as Halley’s comet. It has lots of other names: Pink Ladies, Resurrection Lily, Surprise Lily are a few. Its real name is Lycoris squamigera. Ted Meinelt gave me a bulb from his garden many years ago, and it has reliably appeared ever since. Thick leaves come out with the daffodils, then disappear, and several tall stems of pink flowers show up every year around this time. Ever grateful for anything late-blooming, it is also reputed to be deer-resistant. It has managed to survive for both Louise and me, so maybe deer really aren’t interested. It also attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Look it up; it looks like a small-flowered amaryllis. Very pretty. And it spreads.

Our Massachusetts primary election is coming up on Sept. 1. In West Tisbury, voting will take place at the Public Safety Building. Hours are 7 am to 8 pm. If you have received an early or absentee ballot, you may bring it to Town Hall, either to town clerk Tara Whiting Wells’ office, or leave it in one of the two drop-boxes, one outside and one in the lobby.

Hunter Moorman planned to run for a seat on the County Commission, but has withdrawn from the race. His name is still on the ballot, so he asks that people do not vote for him. He said there are several good candidates on the ballot to choose from.

It is impossible to imagine a West Tisbury where Shirley Mayhew isn’t busy writing some trenchant article or book, isn’t available for a visit, a phone call or email, a welcoming hug for all in her orbit, especially for her great-grandchildren. I remember the night Isla Mayhew McMahon came home from the hospital to her new home, and the pride Shirley felt having four generations of Mayhew women living in the same house. Her books were like her conversations, stories of her life here in the town she moved to as Johnny Mayhew’s young bride, of places she discovered, observations of the natural and social world from those early days on through to the present. She took to Island ways. She raised her children, Jack, Deborah, and Sarah, taught school, traveled anywhere and everywhere that caught her imagination, wrote essays and books. My favorite was an essay stating that if she got old and had to go into assisted living, she would choose to take cruises instead; she could be well taken care of by the ship’s crew, and continue to live a most interesting life. And it might even cost less money. She will be missed by all who knew her as a dear friend and as a treasured keeper of West Tisbury’s memories.

Dennis daRosa filled much that same role in his town, effectively serving as Mr. Oak Bluffs all his adult years. No one was more committed to the town of his boyhood, to the printing company his family owned and ran, to actively working for every civic and business project that could enrich the lives of everyone in his community. I don’t think Denny ever missed a parade, a fireworks display, a concert, Illumination Night, Halloween trick-or-treating along Circuit Avenue, Christmas celebrations. He was a presence. He knew everyone. He was funny and warm. He died much too young at 71.

It’s hard for me to imagine anyone more engaged with life. Even after being diagnosed with cancer last year, he still traveled to Chicago to hear a performance by a musician he had always admired. He and Candy organized trips for their family to get away together. Of course, they were always together at their home in Chilmark, always ready to welcome their family: Stephanie and James and Iyla, Philip and Annie, Blue and Kurt, Cindy and Ernie, Mary and Jim, and any friends who happened to appear. There were brunches and dinners and outdoor concerts, birthdays, holidays with long traditions that must be maintained. Together, they made every day a special occasion, especially after their granddaughter, Iyla, was born four years ago. She was the bright light in Dennis’s life.

My love and condolences to the Mayhew and daRosa families.

If you have any West Tisbury Town Column suggestions, email Hermine Hull, hermine.hull@gmail.com.