I did a lot of interviews during my three and a half years working at the Vineyard Gazette. I asked Steve Ewing how the Edgartown harbor had changed since he was a dockhand on the Chappy Ferry. I questioned Cynthia Riggs about the mysterious disappearance of her chickens. I asked Ted Box when the Seeker would be finished. Then I asked Ted Box again, and again, and again when the Seeker would be finished.

But David McCullough, sitting in a rocking chair on his Music street back porch, was by far the best. I never had to ask a question.

In many ways, as both a person and a writer, I don’t know where I’d be without the guidepost of David McCullough. I was a history major at Yale, where I roomed with David McCullough 3rd, who told me so many stories about his grandfather I felt I knew him long before I met him in person.

I arrived on the Vineyard in the summer of 2018 as a stranger on a strange Island, knowing no one and nothing except the ubiquity of the McCullough name. On my first day driving to work at the Gazette, I reached the T-shaped intersection of Middle Road and Panhandle, and made a right onto Music street. I saw an older man wearing a red cardigan and slacks, walking slowly but firmly down the side of the road. I wished I stopped.

By my second summer on the Island, The Pioneers was set to be released, and I convinced my former roommate to set up an interview with his grandfather under the pretense that we’d talk about the book. I arrived at the house and was greeted by David’s wife, Rosalee.

When David came down, walking slowly but firmly, he was laughing. I suspect he never really stopped laughing. He walked that same slow but firm walk out to his writing shed, and immediately started talking about his famous Royal Standard Typewriter. He couldn’t get rid of it, he said, because he thought that it was writing his books. Soon enough, I was laughing too.

We sat down on the rocking chairs on his back porch. He immediately got up and asked Rosalee to retrieve a copy of John Adams. He read me the first two paragraphs, which describe two men on horseback in the cold New England winter, one of them slightly older, slightly stouter, and doing most of the talking. It isn’t until paragraph three that he reveals the talker is John Adams. It’s genius. It was history coming alive.

“I have always loved beginnings,” I remember him saying. “That’s what gets you off.”

As he kept talking, about education, about the love of his life, about Martha’s Vineyard, I felt a deep reverence for this man, an octogenarian chronicler of the American experience who had become just as much a part of history as his subjects. Then he started interviewing me. He asked me about everything we shared, about Yale, about history, about education, about writing, about Martha’s Vineyard.

Despite being published weekly in the Gazette, it was the first time I truly started to think of myself as a writer. He liked me. I was still in my own first two paragraphs.

When Mr. McCullough spoke about history during those two hours on his back porch, he told me it should encourage two things above all else: empathy and gratitude. Back then, I thought he was talking about presidents and pioneers. I now feel he was speaking directly to me.

I cried on Monday when I heard about David McCullough’s death. But I feel so lucky that I got to spend an afternoon on his back porch, asking no questions and getting all the answers.