The first time that I went to Martha’s Vineyard, it was just my Dad and me. We drove straight-through from Toronto, missed the last ferry, and had to sleep in the parking lot in Woods Hole. I remember my Dad looking at me sternly and saying, “Don’t tell your mother!” I didn’t see the problem. I thought that this trip was already the most exciting adventure that I had ever been on and we weren’t even on the island yet! Still, seeing the concern in his face—the fact that the concern was for his own hide was lost on me—I agreed to keep the secret.
Like most childhood memories, some details are vivid, some generalities are lost, and continuity is bad. I do remember waking up in the parking lot and the sun shining. I also remember Dad and I buying King-Dons for the first time at the snack bar. It was the first time either one of us had eaten them. They quickly became a recurring theme throughout the trip. King-Dons came individually wrapped in tinfoil back then—I don’t think they do anymore—and they were iced-cake-creme-filled-edible-oil-product-chocolatey-goodness. We loved them. Dad bought a box of them at The Stop-N-Shop when we hit the island.
I also remember the campsite. I loved camping when I was a kid. My family did it all the time. We set up our tent and ended up camping right beside a couple of young women that we had met on the ferry. Dad drove them to the beach a few times so that they didn’t have to hitchhike—hey, it’s the Vineyard.
We had a lot of fun at that campground. I distinctly remember being caught in a brutal rainstorm and playing a football game in our tent to pass the time. When the storm was over, we stepped outside only to find that my Dad’s shoes had been washed away in the rain—hey, it’s the Vineyard.
In the beginning we swam on South Beach; both of us were tumbled more than once by the waves. It was a lot of fun. When we got to Martha’s Vineyard I know I was already aware of JAWS and fascinated by sharks. We continued to hack around on South Beach until a fisherman caught a shark and reeled it onto shore. He wasn’t more than twenty feet from where we were swimming. I opted for the pond after that. Minnows nibbling my toes in the pond was far preferable to Great Whites nibbling everything else. I was convinced they were looming beneath the water’s surface. My Dad never got me back to the open ocean after that. He didn’t say anything but I think he was miffed.
A lot of other things happened on that trip. I got my first, and only, skateboard. We saw one of the mechanical sharks from JAWS 2. Dad and I walked around and took photos of all of the AMITY signs in Edgartown—they were still up from filming. We went to see the Gay Head Lighthouse, Menemsha, and as many other JAWS sites as we could. In Oak bluffs, I spent a lot of time in the arcade, on Circuit Avenue, playing the “Shark Killer” video game that was on the beach in JAWS. Like every other child on Martha’s Vineyard, I rode the Flying Horses Carousel and ate cotton candy that was bigger than my head.
All of this was forty-three years ago. And while I was already entertaining the idea of being a writer, I certainly had no idea I would end up writing about this island that already had me under its spell. I was just a little boy with his Dad. By the time we drove back to Toronto, I had just experienced the best vacation of my young life with more to tell my Mum than I could possibly imagine. But of all the things I could tell her, the first thing out of my mouth was, “We missed the ferry and slept in the parking lot!”