Courtesy of the Harbor View Hotel
President Clinton and his family concluded their summer vacation on Sunday night with hundreds of handshakes and a heartfelt goodbye for the people of the Vineyard who had so genially hosted them for 11 days.
“My family never needed a vacation more and it’s hard to imagine how this one could have been better....Now we are going home and we are immensely grateful for all you have done. We are refreshed and renewed for all the American people,” said Mr. Clinton in a brief address to a crowd of more than a thousand cheering, waving people on the tarmac at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport just before the departure Sunday night.
Just as they had come to welcome the President, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and daughter Chelsea on their arrival, hundreds and hundreds of Vineyard well-wishes turned out to see the Clintons off in an extraordinary outpouring of patriotism.
“I think it’s exciting that they chose to come here. I hope they come back,” said Barbara Polleys as she watched the scene at the airport.
It began on Sunday after the sun went down on a glorious late summer day. As the evening sky gave up deep streaks of pink and lavender a huge crowd gathered at the airport along with the horde of television, radio and print journalists who had camped out on the Vineyard for nearly two weeks to cover the presidential vacation. The First Family basked in the crowd’s glow.
“We are going home immensely grateful to all the people who have been here, for your hospitality, your warmth and your understanding of the problems we caused on occasion,” said Mr. Clinton, who wore blue jeans and a striped polo shirt. For the first time since the vacation began the President publicly brushed at national politics but then quickly turned his remarks back to the people of the Vineyard and a bit of humor.
He said: “We have a lot of work to do. We’re going to take up the health care issue, which I think is the most important thing out there facing our country right now...but I don’t want to give a political talk tonight. I just want to tell you, that on a very personal level, this was a wonderful 10 days for us, and we are grateful to all of you. This has been a great time. This is a great family place. I wish everyone in America could see it, but at times I thought everyone in America was here already.”
Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wore a cobalt blue pants suit, also had ardent parting words. She said: “We’re really grateful to the Vineyard...We could not have had a better time. We are taking back some momentos, and when times get hard in Washington, as you know they will...we can just pull out that picture or pull out that remembrance of what this time here was like - and it was so special.”
As the First Lady spoke Mr. Clinton put his arm around Chelsea and kissed the top of her head.
The Vineyard vacation for President Clinton and his family began on August 19 and ended on August 29. From golf at Farm Neck to ice cream at Mad Martha’s to shopping at Brickman’s clothing store, the vacation was marked by an array of both public and private outings, some elegant and serious, others casual and frivolous. Virtually all were unscheduled, much to the consternation of the national press corps which invaded the Vineyard to cover the vacation.
Photo by Alison Shaw
But by all accounts the vacation was successful and although the Clintons attracted huge crowds whenever they ventured out, there was not a single incident. The Summer White House was the summer compound owned by former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, situated deep in the Oyster Watcha Midlands in the rural coastal limits of Edgartown.
“We crabbed in Oyster Pond, sailed in the Vineyard Sound and rode horses along the Atlantic Ocean. Our walks along the beach restored our energy as did the naps we stole,” wrote the Clintons in an open letter of thanks to the people of the Vineyard which appears in today’s Gazette.
On Saturday the Clintons played miniature golf in Vineyard Haven and later had drinks and dinner at Carly Simon’s house.
On Sunday they attended the church service at the historic Tabernacle in the Oak Bluffs Camp Ground. They were greeted by Camp Ground president Peter Dawley, who gave them a history of the Methodist camp meetings. Later the Clintons walked into the Camp Ground and greeted cottage owners on their front porches. They went inside The Ark, the largest cottage in the Camp Ground, and chatted with owner John Firestone and his family.
Then the Presidential entourage drove to the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury at the Red Barn Emporium to view works by photographers Alfred Eisenstaedt and Alison Shaw and painter Lois Mailou Jones, among others. Mr. Eisenstaedt, the venerable Life Magazine photographer who is 94 years old, used his Leica M4 to take formal black and whit photographs of the Clintons.
Gallery owners Brandon Wight and Bruce Blackwell offered the Clintons many gifts from the gallery. After careful consideration the family chose Mr. Eisenstaedt’s 1951 photograph, Drum Major at the University of Michigan. Mr. Eisenstaedt presented Chelsea with his 1947 Future Ballerinas of the American Ballet Theatre, and Mr. Blackwekk and Mr. Wight gave her Alison Shaw’s 1993 color photograph of Murphy the cat. The family chose a Lois Mailou Jones’ watercolor titled Breezy Day at Gay Head and later Mr. Blackwell and Mr. Wight spontaneously gave Chelsea a bronze statue of Mikhail Baryshnikov by West Tisbury artist Marion Kinsella, after they observed her admiring it.
Yesterday Mr. Blackwell and Mr. Wight received a handwritten note from Mr. Clinton which was hand-delivered by a White House courier. The note thanked the gallery owners, “for the genuine friendship you showed us.”
Just before the Sunday visit to the gallery Mr. Clinton bought three glasses of orange-pineapple juice from six-year-old Gabe Robinson-Lynch, who runs a juice stand named Gabe’s Cold Drinks. And in the parking lot of the gallery all three Clintons signed the flamboyant gold Cadillac driven by Anthony “Junior” Mendes. Mr. Mendes drove his bespangled automobile to every public outing throughout the vacation, and his persistence finally paid off. “This is the happiest moment in my life, I’ll tell you,” he said minutes after the President signed the car with an engraving pen.
Early in the afternoon the Clintons had brunch at Starbuck’s restaurant at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown.
And then it was time for the Presidential vacation to end. A smiling, sunburned Mr. Clinton walked through the crowd at the airport, clasping and shaking hundreds of outstretched hands. Among the press corps there was endless speculation about whether the Clintons will return to the Island.
Mr. Clinton only fueled the speculation in his closing remarks. He said: “Bless you. I hope we’ll see you again.”
One Island resident held a homemade sign which gave the reply. It said: “Thanks for Coming.“