Fun in the Sun

From an October, 1994 Just a Thought, by Art Railton:

At least a dozen times since Labor Day I’ve been asked, “Did you have a fun summer?” I never know how to respond. How would I know? Those of us who live here don’t spend much time thinking about having fun in summer. We’re too busy making sure that everyone else is.

For us, summer fun is a joyous half hour of quiet when everybody else is out sailing or at the beach and we have nothing to do but the crossword puzzle or to watch the boats. And wave as they sail by. Might not sound like much fun, but it is. July and August are happy months because we’re watching everybody else have fun. We’re here all year.

For them time is short. Got to keep doing things. Going to the beach, building sand castles, riding the waves, golfing, sailing, rowing. Others with even less time to spend have to “see” the Island in a day. And they will, all in one day. Fun for them is riding a buzzing moped, dodging tour buses, getting a great view of asphalt. They can’t see the Island’s beauty, they’re so busy watching the road and the traffic. What’s important is to be able to go back home and tell friends they’ve seen the Island, and wearing a T-shirt to prove it.

The more athletic of the fun-seekers rent bikes and head for Gay Head, huffing and puffing up Chilmark’s hills, wondering why they ever decided to do this. It looked like such a small Island on the map, why is it taking so long to get there? After a few minutes at the Cliffs, time enough for a cold drink and a view of distant Cuttyhunk, they’re back in the saddle, back to the pedals. Got to get to Vineyard Haven in time for the ferry. It’s known as having summer fun.

Fun is not easy to define, even when you’re having it. For lots of folks it’s just strolling along Main street, looking in the shop windows, licking an ice cream cone. Something they could do anywhere, even at home. But it’s better here on Martha’s Vineyard. Strolling down Main street is something those of us who live here never do, at least not in July or August. We’re the ones you see walking fast, dodging in and out of the strollers like open-field runners, looking worried, wondering if we’ll get back home in time to start the grill for a fun-filled family cookout. We’re the only ones who aren’t smiling. But that’s our way in the summer.

For some it’s fun to bounce along in a noisy tour bus, listening to the driver’s version of our Island: it’s all in fun of course.

But I have more fun in winter, walking along those same streets on a cold, crisp morning when the sharp west wind makes my ears tingle, my nose drip. It’s always nicer to walk in the winter. But when you come in the house, stamping the snow from your boots, nobody asks, “Are you having fun?” You are not supposed to be; that’s something you’re allowed to have only on sunny days in summer.

Why is it when the sun is hot and the wind is warm, we drive around in air-conditioned cars? And sleep in air-conditioned rooms? And eat in air-cooled restaurants? We drive around in our own little ice cubes and watch movies on TV in a frosty family room. Summer’s heat, we love it, dream about it all winter, but do our best to get out of it when it comes — except, of course, when we’re having fun jogging at high noon or toasting ourselves on the beach.

Why is it that nobody ever asks, “Are you having a fun fall?” Or a fun winter. Instead they ask, “Are you having a rough winter?” Especially on postcards from Florida. Folks down there are hoping it’s rough. The rougher, the better. After all, down there everybody is having a fun winter, standing for hours in a lukewarm swimming pool or playing bridge in an air-conditioned playroom. But the most fun of all is reading in the morning paper that a “Blizzard Cripples New England; Roads Impassable.” That guarantees a fun winter, when you’re in Florida.

As for me, I have fun all year, whether I act like it or not. Sometimes, I have fun in the library stacks, poring over a pile of books. Sometimes, I’m in the yard listening to the chesnuts fall. Or the squirrels growl. Sometimes, I’m raking leaves or shoveling snow. And I’m having fun.

Fun comes easy right now in the fall. There is hardly a day when I don’t tell myself how much fun I’m having just being alive, especially here on our choice bit of geography, surrounded by the bluest water, speckled with lacy whitecaps that bring it to life, making it into a happy and joyful ocean. How much more beauty there is in an autumn ocean than in the calm, quiet ocean of summer. Ask a windsurfer. That is when the wind brings the ocean to life. It’s fun just to stand on the beach and stare at it. No sunblock required, no beach umbrella needed, no cars to block the view. It’s just plain fun.

So how come nobody asks, “Are you having a fun fall?” Indeed I am. And if you ask me in January, I’ll be having a fun winter, too. Just don’t ask me in April.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner