|Storm approaching the lone vendor.|
Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard has more than a bit of magic. The Methodist Campground is encircled with gingerbread cottages which were formerly simple tents. The Tabernacle, a historic wrought iron structure, today accommodates concerts and lectures, but once hosted fiery preachers. The guest houses lining Lake Avenue were built in the nineteenth century to lodge the overflow crush of visitors come to attend religious meetings. Today, they attend to tourists from around the world.
Situated on the cusp of Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sound, Oak Bluffs (one oak, many bluffs, as explained to us) features gorgeous beaches, scenic vistas, fresh seafood, and great restaurants. It’s enough to explain why tens of thousands of Massachusetts adventurers have been traveling there for over 150 years.
We were there for the wedding of a dear friend, having embarked from Quonset Point on a fast ferry that deposited us in Oak Bluffs in a quick ninety minutes. A short walk later, we found our lodging, the Attleboro House. Why, we asked, was it named so?
The owner regaled us with some depth of island history. Many guest houses were named for the home town of the original owners who built them. At one time, there had been a Providence House, a New Bedford House, a Hartford House, and a Brockton House.
The Attleboro house had originally been built by the Babcock family of Attleboro in 1874. It was later sold to the Pike family, and is today owned by the Reagans. History runs deep here.
When visiting, you will be struck by the ease with which people of all hues and persuasions are accepted, not by virtue-signaling, but matter-of-factly. African-Americans have long been welcome on the island, it is a favored vacation spot. Gay and straight and white and black people mix and chat, converse and dine, swim and sun bathe, a microcosm of what our entire country would hope to be.
The aforementioned wedding was conducted at the Trinity United Methodist Church. This gorgeous structure was built in 1878 and is now a National Historic Landmark. Our groom, a Scotsman, arranged for a Scottish piper to lead the wedding party to the church, and then after the ceremony, to lead us back to the reception on the harbor. The piper seemed strangely normal on this eclectic island.
The details of the wedding are unnecessary, you have certainly attended several. But the reception, on the verge of the harbor, held a surprise.
While the day had been beautiful, a brief, somewhat violent afternoon thunderstorm quickly spun up. Rain and hail and strong gusty winds swept across the harbor, and ashore.
A Saturday afternoon gathering of vendors selling artisan goods had quickly packed up, but one poor woman had delayed a bit too much. A powerful gust upended her tent, and unfortunately, her as well. She was knocked into the street, banging her head on the pavement, her goods swirled and scooted by the winds.
And here was the Oak Bluffs magic. Bystanders who had been sheltering from the storm emerged into the rain, running to her aid, becoming soaked and buffeted. First, she was quickly assessed and attended to, then her goods retrieved. The Samaritans, bedraggled and soaked, made sure that she was not seriously injured and then attempted to retrieve her wares.
Later, with the clouds receding and the sun sinking, a glorious sunset seemed to thank those who had risen to the need. This was a picture of what America could be, caring for a stranger, responding to an exigency.
Later at the Attleboro House, we contemplated the long history of this island paradise, and the human kindness that it seemed to encourage. If only that tendency could be bottled. We would all be the better for it.