Slide08_0070Growing up in northern New Jersey, it was almost a given that you would vacation somewhere along the Jersey shore. Unless, of course, you were me.

My dad? He didn’t like the Jersey shore. It was too commercial with its boardwalks and cheap motels, and you could be sure all we’d ever want to do as kids was head to some amusement pier. That could get pretty expensive with four kids.

When my family went on vacation, we headed north to Martha’s Vineyard, a little island off Cape Cod. My dad had first gone there with a friend from college back in the stone age, and he loved it’s rustic beauty and the fact that is was so unspoiled and natural. Once he married my mom and began spitting out kids, it became our summer vacation spot.


The cliffs at Gay Head, many, many moons ago.

We’d usually head up in August. The drive up was always fun because we’d usually leave in the middle of the night. You have to take a ferry to get to Martha’s Vineyard, and if dad got a reservation on a boat leaving at 9 am, we had to leave Jersey at 2 am or so. I can remember going to sleep dressed in my shorts and a tank top so I could spring out of bed and get in the car when it was time to leave.

This was before the days of mandatory seat belts, and us kids would sleep in the back of the station wagon which was outfitted with blankets and pillows. We always stopped at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut where dad would get some coffee at Howard Johnson’s and we’d use the bathroom. Then it was back in the car and next thing you knew, we were in Wood’s Hole waiting in line for the ferry!

The ferry ride was another thing that made going to the Vineyard so special. You parked your car in the belly of the boat, and then scramble up the stairs to the deck, gather up a bunch of chairs and enjoy the ride. It takes about 30 minutes or so to reach the Island, and it was fun to try and guess whether the boat would dock in Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs. I always hoped for Oak Bluffs.


On the Ferry to Martha’s Vineyard with our friends the Moriellis. I am sitting on my mom’s lap in the background.

My dad would rent a house somewhere on the island – that in itself was an adventure. Some houses we got were great. Others? There’s a story of one house we rented when I was rather young that was infested with bugs. I got lost in the woods that summer too. That part I remember – I had followed our dog Alfie into the woods and before I knew it he was gone and I was surrounded by very tall trees. I can clearly remember looking up and seeing them tower over me – as if I were looking through a wide angle camera lens. My family found me eventually.

But when it came right down to it, the house didn’t matter all that much because we didn’t spend a whole lot of time there, especially when I was really young. Our typical day went like this; wake up, pack a lunch, head to the beach, stay there until 3 or so, head home, eat dinner and then walk/drive to town to shop or get ice cream.


Driving in style on Chappaquiddick

They were blissfully long days filled with sand and sun and adventures that we just didn’t get to have in northern New Jersey. Take the photo above – the box attached to our station wagon was used to haul all of our luggage to the island – remember, us kids were sleeping in the back. But once it was emptied, it served as our penthouse view when we were on less populated areas of the island.

But there is a deeper element to our summers on the Vineyard that I’m not sure I’m a good enough writer to capture. Going there each year was both familiar and new. As the years would pass, things would change – a store you loved might have gone out of business, or a new restaurant would open and become a family favorite. It was constantly evolving as it gained popularity.


The good house – I am the little thing in pink

Each summer, linked to a specific house we rented that year, holds it’s own set of memories. I can remember staying at an A-Frame house in the woods where my siblings and I invented the song “Bicycle Mary” inspired by a girl riding her bike down the dirt road. There was the beautiful pond-front home we got one summer (due to an error on our realtor’s part) where we could go crabbing right in our backyard. And there was the Amaral house, which had a pool table and was within easy walking distance to Edgartown. I think we rented that house three years in a row.


You can’t climb on these cliffs anymore – but in our day it was nature’s jungle gym.

My memories are many and varied – it is impossible to put them all into one blog post. Going fishing with dad at 5 am and catching nothing but sea robins. Climbing the cliffs at Gay Head. My brother crashing our car hours before our ferry was to depart for the mainland. My sister Judy almost drowning and being saved by a handsome stranger. Trips to Chappaquiddick and the Dyke bridge. Half the family getting food poisoning from bad mussels at Giordanno’s. And hours and hours spent riding the Flying Horses carousel.

I always loved that carousel. Have you ever been on a carousel where you try to grab for the brass ring? It’s fun on several levels. The rings are metal, but the last one to come out is brass. If you get the brass ring, you get a free ride. As a kid I’d sit on the horse and let Dad grab the rings for me because my arms were to short to reach the holder. When was around 6 or so, my dad missed the brass ring and slammed his hand down on the horses head in frustration. Problem was, each horse is outfitted with a metal spike to hold your rings on. This spike went through my dad’s palm – we spent the next few hours in the parking lot outside the hospital.

MV 3

Me at the Flying Horses – circa 1982

But as a teenager, The Flying Horses was a place to meet guys and show off your ring grabbing skills. My sister was the best at it, but I could grab 5 or 6 rings each time around. The crowds that were waiting for their turn in line would ooh and ahh as you tried to snatch grab as many rings as you could. By the end of the first week my fingernails were ragged stubs, but I had caught the brass ring at least a dozen times.

MV 1

For years the foyer of The Island movie theater had this mini tribute to Jaws.

Then there was the summer 1975 – the summer of Jaws. Anyone who saw Jaws in the theater knew how scary it was back then. I saw it in the theaters – at the Island in Oak Bluffs to be exact. Do you have any idea how hard it was to swim on the same beach you saw Alex Kintner get chewed up into little bits on the big screen just the night before? The fame of the movie did ruin the island for a few years, though. Businesses who had changed their signs to read “Amity” whatever for the sake of the movie kept those signs up to lure customers. It became a little cheesy after a while – especially after Jaws 3 came out.

MV 7

See if you can guess what I am now…
A disrespectful teenager!

I did my fair share of hitch-hiking on the island too. Dangerous? I didn’t seem to be back then. My parents thought it was easier than having to drive me to and from town, especially when we rented a house that wasn’t in walking distance to civilization. I made friends that way too. Many of the folks who gave me rides were islanders and knew all the cool, unknown spots. That’s how I was able to find Belushi’s grave. It’s in a small cemetary up island, and the average Joe back then wouldn’t know where to look. I’m a tad ashamed of the above photo – sitting on someone’s tombstone isn’t exactly showing respect, but I was a dumb kid and wanted to be cool. Maybe it’s no accident that the photo is such crappy quality.

MV 6I went to Martha’s Vineyard for a week or more almost every summer until I was in my 20’s. I remember one year when I was living in Arkansas, my mom called and said they were getting ready to leave for the Vineyard in a day or two. I cried for a week knowing that they were up there and I couldn’t be with them. That might have been my first summer away from the Island.

MV 5

Edgartown Light House

Many times other families came up with us. Dad was always trying to convince someone to invest in a house with him, and I’ll never understand why nobody would. I bet they are all kicking themselves now. What you could buy for $60,000 back then is worth 10 times that now.  He did manage to cause a cousin of ours to fall in love with it. She and her husband now own two houses up there.

MV 4

The gingerbread cottages in Oak Bluffs

I’ve only been back to the Vineyard 3 times since getting married in 1994. The first time I was pregnant with my first born – we went up there to spread my mother’s ashes. We’ve brought our children up there twice since then, but the last time was too long ago; probably 6 years. We keep trying to plan a trip every summer, but something always goes wrong. Being unemployed doesn’t help – it’s super expensive to go there, even if you have family to stay with.

I really hope I make it back up there again. Yet, when we go up now, it’s a vacation too jam packed with activities we have to fit in before the week is up. I rarely get a glimpse of places and things I remember before it’s time to move on to the next photo op. And my husband? He doesn’t really get it, and that sort of detracts some of the joy for me.

MV 2I’d love to stay for a month, and take my time to retrace so many steps I’d taken over the first two decades of my life. A month…walking the streets of Edgartown, wandering along South Beach, maybe going topless at Gay Head. Oh, and I’d ride the Flying Horses over and over again. My fingers would bleed, but it would be worth it. I’d have caught life’s brass ring.