Editor’s Note: The following column by Louise Aldrich Bugbee was first published in the Vineyard Gazette, and later appeared in a collection of Mrs. Bugbee’s essays and poems titled There Is an Island That Owns Me.
February — 1967
Oak Bluffs again and it certainly is fine to be back on the avenue — Circuit avenue.
Still can’t figure out why I like this place. It isn’t the climate, that’s for sure. The weather gave me the cold shoulder when I arrived the last part of February. And that wasn’t the worst of it. I’m not too proud to wear a shawl for cold shoulders. The weather also gave me cold feet, a cold nose, cold hands, and a chill up and down my spine.
Arriving in town by way of New York avenue, I glanced at Sunset Lake and could have sworn the waterfowl were frozen solid in the ice. This wasn’t the case. Some were standing on top of the ice. But ice it was and, compared to the air, it was pretty warm stuff. Most unusual weather, they all told me. Should have been here the first part of the winter when it was just like spring.
They just said that to make conversation and I didn’t take any of them seriously except Earl Peters. He meant it most sincerely when he said, “This is a very bad time to come to the Island. Why didn’t you wait until spring?”
I still have a feeling that my respect for Mr. Peters’ intelligence and skill is much greater than his respect for mine. Also that I was a lot happier to see him than he was to see me. That, of course, all depends on position. I was standing in the doorway of a chilly cottage, after riding over icy roads for twelve hours and not having slept in something more than twenty-four hours.
Mr. Peters, lying on the floor fixing the oil burner, looked real good to me because he meant warmth and comfort in the near future.
Lying there on the icy floor I can imagine that “one of those crazy summer people” arriving and begging for service in the middle of the winter was not a pleasant sight. He didn’t go into any flowery speeches about how glad he was to see me, but he did fix the oil burner without being asked. He said, “You can’t get along without having the stove working good.”
Maybe that’s one reason why I like the Island. Islanders don’t have to approve of a person to be kind to that person.
Manny Francis is an exception. He didn’t waste any time in starting up an old feud. I was walking along on the opposite side of the street, minding my own business, when Manny came out into the street and greeted me with “Here for a day, I hope.”
I couldn’t defend myself. Stopped in the paper store and Sidney Gordon asked, “Here for the weekend?” Really am sorry to disappoint Manny but I can’t be expected to travel 800 miles over icy roads for a weekend.
George Cohen of the G. and B. clothing store restored my sense of identity by saying, “Welcome. Glad to see you here so early.”
Cottage living in the winter time is an entirely new adventure. I’m becoming an expert in the conservation and direction of heat. Casual curtains have always been enough for my simple loose-framed windows but I now have the whole works. “Glass curtains” of old newspapers, then the drapes, then overdrapes of Turkish towels and blankets. Blankets and tablecloths are used to cover archways and direct the heat where it is most needed at the moment. Need a little heat in the middle room while I write.
For years I’ve been haunted by a nagging doubt. That’s the worst thing in the world by which to be haunted. I felt sure that my love affair with Martha’s Vineyard was a high and noble thing, worthy of mention alongside of the classic romances of the ages and not a casual summer flirtation. Still, I kept hearing these nagging doubt-makers such as, “But you’ve never been here in the winter.” “It takes a certain kind of person to stand it here year round.”
I won’t repeat the unflattering things that were said about winter living in my cottage,.
I didn’t stay all winter. I missed Christmas on the Island and the January thaw, but it was still winter when I arrived on Feb. 24. On the 26th the Oak Bluffs harbor froze for the first time this winter. A number of highly respected citizens assured me that we were having the worst weather of the season. There was snow on my front doorstep, icicles hanging from the porch roof, ice on the floor farthest from the heater, curtains billowing in the breeze (with the windows closed).
I caught the kind of cold that invariably ruins my disposition. I’m happy. I love the Island. Now whenever anyone says, “It takes a certain kind of person to live here year round,” I can say, “Yep, and there ain’t many of us.”
No more nagging doubts. The Vineyard in brown or white is as fine as the Vineyard in green. The ocean was never a brighter blue than on that chilly February Sunday. On the road near a beach that is crowded with cars in the summer, a solitary hen pheasant claimed the right of way.