BETTYE FOSTER BAKER
Oak Bluffs has no rocky coastline, or well-heeled casinos, no four-star restaurants, or dapperly dressed regulars, except for a well known 91-year-old character affectionately known as CJ (Charles Jones), whose classy dress has been legendary in this town since 1942. This is not Marseilles, though we do have our understated rich who play basketball unnoticed and ride around town in state-of-the-art two-wheeled contraptions.
But what we do have is real and we like it that way. Oak Bluffs reminds me of a child’s favorite teddy bear, whose eyes are loose, body worn, and its stuffing easing out from so much love. It is the one place I know on the Island where pretense is off-limits, where stores enjoy their customers because they’re one of them, where being who you are is the greatest compliment to be paid. There are no unwritten dress codes and everyone is welcomed to the tradition of the simple life with a down-to-earth invitation, “Please stop by.”
So here we are, gearing up for the Fourth of July. As we pull out the beach towels and fire up the barbecue, may we always remember that this day is the celebration of our nation’s birth — that this great experiment in its imperfection continues towards that more perfect union which Abraham Lincoln spoke of; that regardless of race, color, or creed we have a fundamental belief in those immortal words in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and that there is a deep and abiding faith held by the people that we can achieve a union consistent with those principles.
Crowds have been on the Island surveying the Oak Bluffs beaches far in advance of today, the busiest of the season. Messages were sent from their lips to God’s ear that the weather today will indeed be perfect. Whether it’s the Eastville Point Beach, Oak Bluffs town beach, Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach or that slip of public beach in East Chop, beach folk instinctively know their ideal spot and they are claiming them early to erect their cabanas, stake richly colorful umbrellas, and park their coolers filled to the brink in the sand.
One of the activities I enjoy watching are the small children testing the water, particularly the 3-year-olds. It’s a spectator sport in itself. They walk to water’s edge and cautiously move a toe towards the incoming sea, then jump back. This goes on for a while until they actually make contact, then they turn quickly to throw a punch at the water as if to say, “Take that! I’m not afraid of you!” They rarely go in unless a helping hand appears and in spite of that help, some remain cautiously close to the edge. The older children will hit the water floating every blow-up animal and raft imaginable, undaunted by pebbles, other bathers or reprimands, ignoring everything around them. On this day, the beach is theirs alone, and when the call is made to come in, no matter how tired, they ask for more. For those that shun the sun and begin their adventure at sunset, seated in wide circles of friendship, their voices are carried by the water and an infectious laughter goes on, and on and finally dies down sometime close to midnight. Let us enjoy this long-awaited summer day and record that the relaxing season is here: summer vacation is officially launched.
The Tabernacle has much to crow about this season. This year is the 173rd year for the Martha Vineyard Camp-Meeting Association — one and three-quarters centuries — and they’re still going strong. Highlighting MVCMA Camp Meeting Week from July 6 to 13 will be the Rev. Dr. Liz Walker, award-winning journalist, ordained minister, humanitarian, documentary film maker and producer, and Robert Sims, a renowned, gifted baritone. Robert Sims will appear Sunday, July 6 at 7:30 p.m. He will sing African-American spirituals, Americana songs (Stephen Foster, Aaron Copeland), Broadway tunes and patriotic songs. Mr. Sims will be featured with the Georgia Guitar Quartet. He is the Gold Medal winner of the American Traditions Competition, and recipient of the Friedrich Schorr Opera Award. This program is not to be missed.
On Friday, July 11, at 7:30 p.m., the Reverend Dr. Walker will speak about her new documentary on Darfur, A Glory from the Gods. The film is designed to draw attention to human rights issues around the world to bring about change on a global and personal level. She has uniquely established a forum by creating conversations for discussion of these issues in homes, churches, and synagogues to build a kind of constructive awareness that will bring hope and change. The Martha’s Vineyard NAACP Choir will join her on Friday, July 11. She will preach on Sunday, July 13, at 9:30 a.m.
How exciting it was to learn this week that Arleigh Prelow has completed her widely anticipated feature length film on Dr. Howard Thurman, who Arleigh describes as one of the preeminent spiritual and intellectual figures of the twentieth century. For the past two summers, Arleigh has worked on aspects of this project here in Oak Bluffs as a filmmaker in residence at Renaissance House. On Tuesday, July 8, at 7 p.m., she will show clips from the pending film on his life. On this same evening, Jim Thomas will present the U.S. Slave Song Project and panel discussion on Christianity and Islam. This will be a very exciting evening.
Other special events at the Tabernacle will include the 50-member Millennium Gospel Choir of the New England Conservatory on Saturday, July 12, at 7 p.m. Every Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. is community sing and every Tuesday evening, same time, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society will present its movie series.
The Cottagers are on the Island along with president, Dr. Thelma Hurd, for their first meeting of the summer on July 2. Bettie Eubanks and her team of gardeners will be meeting early in the week to share fellowship and ready the front garden for the season. The first of the Cottagers’ ambitious summer fund-raising activities will be the Benefit Trivia and Treasure Yard Sale on Saturday, July 5, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Cottagers Corner, 57 Pequot avenue, rain or shine. Come check out household items, jewelry, food and more.
Get ready for the Cottagers’ 25th Annual House Tour Benefit, Thursday, July 17, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., rain or shine. It is going to be terrific. Five spectacular cottages will be featured. Two Ocean Park cottages, The Kelly House, 93 Ocean Parkway, and The Biggers House, 89 Ocean Parkway; the historic Shearer Cottage, operated since 1903, and the Walton Cottage, 18 Myrtle avenue (both in the Highlands); and the Dixon Cottage at 18 Wendell avenue. The cost of the tour is $20 with all proceeds going to Island charities.
The library will kick off its summer reading program on Saturday, July 5, at 11 a.m., with the very funny Bill Ross and his “Book ’Em” act. He juggles unicycles and jokes! This is his 3rd kick-off and the children love him. Admission is $3 per person at the door of the agricultural hall in West Tisbury. Many Island children’s librarians will be there, since this is a group effort. Afterwards, there will be face painting for $1. Proceeds will go to the Martha’s Vineyard Library Association. Karen Achille has stepped in as interim children’s librarian for the summer, so the children’s room is in good hands! Irene Tewksbury will volunteer in the summer reading program.
On Sunday, July 6, Charles Ogletree, professor at the Harvard Law School and director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, will speak at Union Chapel at 10 a.m. The institute under the direction of Professor Ogletree hosted the memorable Gathering of the Elders: Sheroes, Heroes, and Survivors last year at the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center.
On Monday, July 7, at 5 p.m. there will be an important public hearing regarding initial, current, and future plans for Sea View beaches and Dennis Alley (formerly Waban) Park at the council on aging building, 21 Wamsutta avenue, Oak Bluffs. The meeting is sponsored by the Oak Bluffs Parks Commission.
Penny Norris’s niece, Monica Evans of Washington, D.C., will have arrived for a short visit July 1. Penny is thrilled and though her visit will be short, she said, “Every moment will be a treat.” Monica has set her itinerary to travel to Europe to see several friends after she leaves Oak Bluffs.
Cousen Rose Gallery invites all to an artist’s reception for photographer Debra Gaines on Saturday, July 5, from 7 to 9 p.m. Christine Alesch (pastels) Lori Austill (gouache) and Larry Johnson (watercolors) works will also be on exhibit.
Traeger diPietro and Elena De La Ville are featured artists at the Dragonfly Gallery, 91 Dukes County Road. Their work will be on exhibit through July 6. Call 508-693-8877 for more information.
Planning a wedding, anniversary, family reunion, special tribute? Have guests coming? Let me know. This column shares memories, coming events and all that’s new and exciting in Oak Bluffs. And by the way, don’t forget to open your gifts.