From the May 4, 1973 edition of the Vineyard Gazette by Margaret H. Freydberg:

In any small community there are usually persons who in their own ways are such vital, contributing parts of the community, such outstanding, integral —seeming threads in its texture, that one can’t, or doesn’t want to, imagine the scene without them. They seem as permanent, as necessary, as the church clock, or the village green, or the stream that flows under the bridge.

The Island has such people, many of them. And Barbara Seward is one of them. However, if compare I must, Barbara Seward, rather than seeming to me like a monument, or a bit of earth, distinctly gives me the impression of moving light. Possibly her blondness contributes to this impression, though I am sure only partially. More importantly, I think it is the clarity and directness and buoyancy of her disposition that makes her so visible.

Any woman who conducts her life with composure and grace is enviable; and exposure to her is valuable. For this reason, because a constructive life is important to know about, and to read about, this written impression of Barbara Seward came into being.

I went to see her one winter afternoon in the post office half of the Seward store in Menemsha, where she has replaced her husband, who has retired, as postmaster.

Barbara Seward is a robust pastel woman, in her late forties, pale short blonde hair that swings as she tosses her head, delicately colored, unlined skin, pale eyelashes, level brown eyes full of quiet curiosity. Her smile, visibly, is slight, involuntary, but its slightness suggests echoes of deeper smiles within herself. It seems like a smile for herself, for her own pleasure, though at the same time it is fully friendly.

I asked her, to begin with, about her past — her parents, her childhood, etcetera — facts that were important, I thought, in getting a sense of totality.

She told me, and I will note these facts briefly, that her great-grandfather Flanders had been a Gay Head lighthouse keeper, that her grandfather, youngest of 14 children, had been born in the lighthouse; that her father, Kenneth A. Flanders, had been born in Chilmark, and that her mother, Mary (Molly) Lavare, had been born off-Island, though had spent time in her young summers visiting an aunt here.

She herself was born in Fairhaven, and thence lived in Providence. Thereafter, for the major part of her young life, she lived in West Hartford. So, except for every summer which she spent on this island, her’s was an off-Island upbringing.

She met William Seward in Menemsha during the war, where he served five years in the Coast Guard, married him, had three children, a daughter, and then twin sons.

In 1947, she and her husband bought the store from the heirs of Carl Reed, who owned and operated it. And when the children were grown enough she began to share in the operation of it, taking more and more of the responsibility of running it as the increasing demands of the post office took more and more of her husband’s time.

I wanted to know about her business life. There is probably no Chilmarker, nor summer visitor, who doesn’t remember Bill Seward with his visored cap, behind the grille of the post office window, handing out Sunday papers; or Barbara Seward, moving unruffled and obliging through the mid-summer mobs two and three deep in the narrow aisle between shelves and counter, clustered like flies around the fruit and vegetable bins near the door, clogging the slender passage beside the meat and dairy counters, milling, shoving, stalling traffic to pass the time of day with one another. A madhouse? Not to Barbara Seward. “I enjoyed it! I like people.”

She took her necklace in her fingers and tapped the locket against her sweater, ruminating. Then she said, “Being loving and outgoing and cheerful and happy within yourself returns things to you from everyone you come in contact with.”

Barbara Seward has spent 30 years of her adult life on this island - Mayflower springtimes, peopled summers, suddenly still autumns, long brown winters. As in every life, there have been unhappy changes, and happy ones. Unhappily, her husband has been ill, though he is recovering. Happily, their fifth grandchild has just been born. “A girl!” she exclaimed radiantly, “after four boys, a girl!” Many changes...And yet she gives only the impression of entering upon a new, and again interesting, phase of her life.

No one knows what the future holds, though many of us waste an inordinate amount of time wondering about it, living in tomorrow, rather than today. But probably not Barbara Seward, I thought. And I said, “You’re not someone who is always imagining greener fields. You’re a realist. You live in the present, and take what comes. Isn’t that so?”

She shrugged slightly, and smiled slightly and wisely and with faint humor. “What else can you do?”

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox