Who doesn’t love families?
Or Mom or apple pie, for that matter?
And Martha’s Vineyard is a major family destination — what fun! Oh we may have a reputation for hosting celebrities and nothing but celebrities, but quite honestly, if we crunched the numbers, we’d find that the Hamptons or Miami or Las Vegas has a higher celebrity-per-capita count. And another demographic, college kids, have made their post-adolescent bones here, but they’re socked away in summer jobs or nursing hangovers on sagging couches — so unless we’re 19 ourselves, we don’t encounter too many of them either.
What we’ve got mostly in our tourist-scape in all our down-Island towns during the 14 or 15 hours of sunlight in our July and August days is a festival of baby strollers. Parents look harried as little kids run amok on the sidewalks. Tiny throats ululate with squeaky demands at all the lunch spots. And isn’t it all dandy?
I admit that come the end of each summer, I’m a little family-ed out. Oh sure, you’re thinking, she’s a crotchety old non-granny, but the truth is you won’t find anyone more maternal than this writer. I positively beam at babies and puppies and sea lion cubs on Animal Kingdom. I’m happy for families, even the families of people of whose politics I disapprove. And yet . . .
There are times on the Vineyard when I long for a good gay pride parade or an Indian restaurant, for heavens sake, or a bohemian bookstore where down-and-out writers are put up for the night on mattresses in the attic.
It’s just so wholesome here! A person without a current brood of tykes of her own can positively jump out of her skin.
And then I remind myself that all families have their struggles. In fact, whatever a family’s resources and blessings, its reserves of patience are sorely tried during a vacation.
I remember a family holiday of my own, long ago in 1960 — I was 12, my sister 10, my brother 8 — when our folks sold our little tract house in Reseda, Calif., and launched us on a one-year road trip in Europe.
We landed in Rotterdam and took possession of a small German station wagon called a Borgward. We plied the roads of Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France. Germany, then France again, before ending up one sunny weekday afternoon in the outskirts of Canterbury, England.
Three kids in a narrow back seat — with me constantly on the left, sister Cindy on the right, and cute little Tommy on the humpy part in the middle — equals ongoing squabbles. Our parents offered bribes and threatened penalties, to no avail.
It was bedlam in the backseat.
Mostly we needed Tommy to shut up. The original motor mouth, he read every sign we passed, dragging the words out every which way, like an old-time radio announcer warming up his vocal chords:
“St. ETIENNE des Trois Etoiles . . . St. Etienne des TROIS Etoiles . . .” You get the picture.
He was also, like all eight-year-olds, a stinky fellow and every time the air in the car grew fetid, the four of us with access to windows rolled them down, as we lamented, “Oh, Tommy!”
So as the fairytale hill town of Canterbury glittered in the distance, its famous spire lofting above gabled rooflines, all we could think about was, number one, our delayed lunch and number two, hushing Tommy up after untold hours of endless babble (except when he was napping — hard to do, poor fellow in the middle seat, normally his little head would descend to one of his sister’s shoulders and this, too, made us cranky.)
All at once, Tommy cried out: “I don’t want to be with this family anymore!”
“Fine,” snapped my dad, stopping the Borgward at the side of the road (in my mind’s eye, it was on the righthand side, but English road travel would of course put it on the left). “Why don’t you go find yourself a nice English family to take you in?”
Next thing we knew, Tommy was ambling up the hill toward the ancient cathedral.
As I watched from the backseat I thought, what a charming town! And I loved English accents! It seemed to me a lucky break for my kid brother that he was destined to live there. Plus . . . good riddance!
We watched him cover a good 100-yard distance. There was nothing but fields and stone walls on either side. Then our dad fired up the engine and took off after him.
“No!” shouted the two sisters.
It seemed a waste of a fabulous opportunity to retrieve the young lout. Yet retrieve him we did.
Funny to think — brother Tommy would have an English accent by now, and considering his political proclivities, he’d be voting the straight Tory ticket.
So remembering our own family trials, we need to be extra big-hearted to the summer stroller crowd as it brings its good cheer — and its own inner tribulations — to our Island.
Only thing is, for those families clearing out on your final day, please count heads. Make sure you take everyone with you.
This ain’t no Canterbury.
Gazette contributor Holly Nadler lives in Oak Bluffs.