Back in the 60s, those of us teens and pre-teens lucky enough to have been able to stay in Oak Bluffs all summer learned quickly that what was important was to have something to do outside. If not, Mom was going to find something for you to do inside, like chores or reading a book or babysitting siblings who often changed from “Oooh, isn’t she/he cute?” to one of the devil’s disciples. Blueberry picking had usually ended by the time July came to a close, but delicious hours were spent with the searching and eating. We were much older when we found that what we thought were blueberries in August were really huckleberries. Catching crabs at Sunset Lake and Farm Pond seems to have seen its day but parents seemed not to mind all that time you wasted when you brought home a bucket of them. The old junkyard behind the dump brought us together with the history of automobiles because, in those days, cars made one-way trips to Martha’s Vineyard. I have a picture of my mom’s ’56 Pontiac when it was rusting in peace. Spearfishing blowfish, sea robins and rock bass around the jetties and making slingshots for birds and squirrels would probably be frowned upon today, but I’m not sure doing the same thing with video games is any healthier. Hiring ourselves out to rake leaves, pull weeds, wash cars and finding bottles to turn in for cash kept us busy and provided the currency for our appetites for fries, clams, donuts and candy.
Curiosity led me to the Old Variety Store behind the Flying Horses, the place that had the best penny candy money could buy at a time when 50 cents got you 50 pieces of Sugar Babies and Daddy’s, Mary Jane’s, Tootsie Rolls, Dubble Bubble Gum, bubble gum cigars, candy cigarettes, Bit-O-Honeys and, as we later painfully found out, the aptly named Jaw Breakers. Today the Old Variety Store sells Martha’s Vineyard souvenirs, gifts and ironic signs. Back then we called the store Janie Peters’s because of Jane Peters, now the proprietor who has worked there since she was four years old. She showed me old pictures of the place — one, from 1917 with her grand aunt in the picture and another earlier one when it was the Boston Herald building. It turns out her family has owned the appropriately named Old Variety Store for over 100 years! I’m pretty sure hers is the oldest family establishment in Oak Bluffs, even older than Giordano’s. I was tickled that Jane thought she remembered me from those days — since I’m much older. If you’re jonesing, you can still get penny candy at Good Ship Lollipop at the other end of Circuit avenue.
That great looking garden on Naumkeag avenue that belongs to the yellow house opposite the Norton’s manse also has parked in the driveway what has to be the coolest car in Oak Bluffs — a forest green, three-wheeled Morgan.
My friend Richard Taylor, a 30-summer Oak Bluffs resident, member of the East Chop Association and a trustee of Union Chapel, has a book coming out next year entitled Martha’s Vineyard: African American Women History Makers, which is devoted to women who have contributed significantly to the cultural, social, political, civic, philanthropic and intellectual life of the Island for over a century. He will be at the library at 10 a.m. tomorrow hoping you will join him to meet some of these extraordinary ladies and share your thoughts on who you think are the “Mount Rushmore” African American women of Martha’s Vineyard.
Tomorrow is Della Hardman Day in Ocean Park, which is another moment to savor starting at 4 p.m. This year the special guest is Khalil Gibran Muhammad, PhD, the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The Schomburg Center is one of the many things designed by my late father, Ewell W. Finley.
On Tuesday the Renaissance House at 31 Pennacook avenue features cookbook author and self-described foodie Jessica Harris — with whom we have shared several meals — speaking on “food as thought” at 7:30 p.m. Jessica surely qualifies as an African American history-maker. Dr. Harris, a tenured professor of English at Queens College, is a culinary historian and the author of over a dozen cookbooks and books on food.
The Camp Meeting Association’s All Island Art Show is looking for artists who want to show and sell at this year’s show on Monday, August 5. Get information at mvcma.org.
The effervescent Bettye Baker, who long endeared herself to us via this column, has returned to the Island with her husband, Bill, whose health has made great progress and is being assisted by the sea and ocean breezes, birds gaily singing and the blue skies above Oak Bluffs. They expect to be on-Island until September 3.
Probably everyone is thankful for NStar’s mini parking lot of trailered, portable diesel generators humming over at the Highway and Parks Department on County Road, much needed with the recent heat and humidity. But I haven’t yet found anyone who likes their mammoth new poles lining Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.
To the person or persons who decorated the roundabout with flamingos last Sunday: you’re my new favorites.
Keep your foot on a rock.