Leah Brown’s parents, Kenneth and Leander Brown, first came to Oak Bluffs in the summer of 1963 to visit with their friends, the Sims, friends from Newark, New Jersey. They loved it so much that by 1965, with a little help from their own parents, they bought a house on Nashawena Park.
“From then on,” Leah told us, “we came up to the Vineyard every summer, from when school got out to Labor Day.” Most of the adults in Leander’s extended family — aunts, uncles — were educators, and free to spend the entire summer in Oak Bluffs, hanging out at the beach, joining the Polar Bears for morning swims. “We all grew up with our cousins,” Leah said.
Early on some mornings — early like 4 or 5 am — Leah’s father would rouse children and take them fishing at Wasque. “We’d come back in time for breakfast, and that fish was on the table — because we were helping feed five families.”
These days, there are five houses on Nashawena and around Waban park, and dozens of cousins — the children of all the original cousins and partners like photographer Doug Allen, who married into the family in 1988.
“We’re coming back to Oak Bluffs now from North Carolina, D.C., Virginia, Pennsylvania — all over the North, and the Southeast,” Leah said. “We’re all married, and we all reconnect once a year.” Last year, there was a “pod” of cousins working and living here during the pandemic — Doug Allen was here for 10 months (you can see his work from these months on Instagram @Dougallenphotography).
On the day we dropped in, Leah and family were in the middle of jumping in cars to go fishing. When we came back later, they were cooking up the fish for supper. “The tradition is the most important part,” she said. “We continue to fish. Today we went out for about three hours on a charter boat and caught enough scup and black sea bass for everyone.”
Every cousin, she said, has a different batter. Some like flaky, some like Cajun. “As we have grown up, separated, and gone to live in different areas, we bring back to Martha’s Vineyard a merging of tastes, an appreciation of where we’ve gone. We come back and share.”
This night’s batter was Leah’s concoction: “I always cook in flour, cornmeal, and use alllllll the different Reliable Market seasonings. We vary them — we use all the ones we can find.”
Then she says, when all the cousins disperse at summer’s end, “we take those Reliable seasonings home, so we can taste that same summer taste all year — we bring a little of M.V. back home.”
Until next year.