Even though it was a beautiful day on Martha’s Vineyard, I spent most of Tuesday in bed, reading. It’s hard to do that on this island without feeling deep pangs of guilt. There’s a grand irony in a novelist feeling guilty for spending the day reading but when you are living your summer on a seaside resort island, you are expected to fill every minute of every sunny day taking full advantage of your surroundings. How could I possibly lie on my bed with a book when there are beaches to swim, trails to hike, margaritas to drink, and lobster rolls to consume? Does it matter that the book I’m reading is by a local author? Does it matter that the book takes place on the island? No. I’m still lounging around in my room while the world sails, swims, drinks, kayaks, and eats past my window. It doesn’t matter and the truth is that my guilt, like almost all of our emotions, was self-imposed. Still I read. That all changed around dinner time.
Wanna Go To Menemsha?
This summer, I have been staying with my friend Lisa. This is the first time I have spent the entire summer on-island and it has been fantastic. Lisa and I both have very busy lives, so it has been like having a roommate rather than she seeing me as company or me feeling like company. “Company” comes with the burden of entertainment. That gets tiresome on both ends very quickly. Like my Aunt Duffy says, “Company is like fish—it goes off on the third day.”
On Tuesday night, Lisa and I found ourselves at home without dinner plans around six. I looked at her, shrugged, and said, “Do you want to go to Menemsha? It looks like it is going to be an amazing sunset!” Lisa looked out the window at the cloud coverage and said, “You’re right. It does. Are you up for it?” Lisa knew I had been recharging my batteries all day reading and relaxing. “Definitely,” I said. “Alright! Let’s go to Menemsha!” said Lisa. As Lisa ran upstairs to change her clothes, I promised to buy us both some of Stanley Larsen’s famous lobster bisque for dinner. It was going to be a spectacular evening although at that point, I didn’t know just how spectacular.
Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard
Lisa drove her Jeep down toward the Menemsha basin and like a shark, we began circling. Our prey—a parking spot. Parking was not what they had in mind when they designed Menemsha Harbor and aesthetically, I’m grateful. Practically, I’m less grateful. When I go to Menemsha—to see the sunset or swim the beaches or just take photos—I’m usually on the bus, so it just doesn’t come up. It didn’t take long to get one, a family was pulling out and we slipped in like it was meant to be! Right up by Menemsha Blues and a very short walk from our destination. We reached into the back of the Jeep—his name is Henry—grabbed two fold-out beach chairs and made our way toward Menemsha Fish Market for some lobster bisque!
Menemsha Fish Market was closed!! Apparently, a relative of an employee had tested positive for COVID and to be safe, they closed everything down until they could ensure that all employees were negative. I was very impressed by this. In fact, I have been nothing but impressed by all of the island businesses and how they have handled these difficult times. It has not been easy for anyone and they have all handled it beautifully. Not to be deterred, Lisa and I opted to walk just a little farther—literally one building—down to Larsen’s Fish Market. We would pick up our lobster bisque there. No harm, no fowl. Lisa said she would head down to the beach and scout out a spot for us to sit while I waited in line to order bisque. I thought that sounded perfect. I watched Lisa head toward the beach and then directed my attention to the order window. I couldn’t make out what the girl in the window was saying. I turned to the man in front of me and asked, “Are you in line to place an order?” to which he responded, “They’ve stopped taking orders already. They just don’t have the staff.” I felt my face blanche. I turned to look in Lisa’s direction. “LISA!” I called. “They’re not taking anymore orders!!”
Only On Martha’s Vineyard
I ran to catch up to Lisa and explained the situation. What was to be done? We weren’t going to get our lobster bisque but we were still on Martha’s Vineyard, we were still in Menemsha, and it was still promising to be a glorious sunset. Lisa and I shrugged and decided to walk down toward the Menemsha Texaco in the hopes of finding some chips or popcorn or any snack food that tickled our fancy.
Due to poor planning on my part, I had just foraged for my dinner at a gas station the night before and I wasn’t thrilled about doing it again, but there are worse things than eating popcorn on a Martha’s Vineyard beach. I decided to stay positive and laugh it off. Lisa and I poked our heads through the window of the Menemsha Texaco Station and perused their wares. Plain salted popcorn? Cape Cod Chips? Pretzels? We commented back and forth giving pros and cons to each choice when we heard a voice behind us say, “The best we can offer you is grilled cheese sandwiches.”
Menemsha Has The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
“Pardon?” I asked. I turned around to see a middle aged man wearing a slightly frayed straw hat on his head and a pleasant smile on his kind face. “All we can offer you is a grilled cheese sandwich,” he repeated. I was confused. Did he own Menemsha Texaco? Was this a new menu offering? The island had been more than a little off the wall this season with eratic hours, limited menus, outdoor eating, pop-up trucks. Discovering that Menemsha Texaco now served grilled cheese did not sound out of the realm of possibilities. “I love grilled cheese sandwiches!” I said. Lisa chimed in, “Yeah! Who doesn’t love a grilled cheese?” The man continued, “Well, my wife Mary and I are having grilled cheese for dinner and you are more than welcome to join us!” I was beaming. “That’s so awesome!” Lisa and I said in unison. “Thank you so much!” The man nodded and with a courteous “Follow me!” we headed toward the docks.
I’m not sure where she came in from but the man’s wife, Mary, was a gregarious ball of energy that seemed to swoop in out of nowhere when we hit the base of the dock. Where are we going? I thought to myself. At first, I thought we were heading toward a car in the parking lot but when the lot was behind us and we were clapping our sandals down the wooden planks of the Menemsha pier, I knew that wasn’t the case. We were headed for a boat.
Mary stepped down into a pontoon dinghy, Lisa followed, and then myself. The man stepped in last and it was then that I realized that I didn’t even know his name nor did he know ours. I extended my hand, “My name is Crispin by the way and this is Lisa.” He shook it. “I’m Brewster and this is my wife Mary.” The cautious city dweller in me was somewhat relieved at knowing my hosts’ names. Let’s not forget, I do write murder mysteries and that voice is always in the back of my head. “This is really nice of you!” I said. “So, where is your boat?” Mary swung her arm up over her head in a sweeping motion toward the outer harbour. “She’s just out there. If we can make it out through the current in the channel, we’ll be fine!” she laughed. The current was strong in the channel. Menemsha is known for it. As we rounded the breakwater, our destination came into view: Frenesi—a sailboat and a beauty.
Mary climbed the ladder on the side of Frenesi and we all followed in turn. Mary disappeared almost immediately below decks while Lisa and I folded out the seat cushions in the cockpit and Brewster tied the dinghy to the stern. “Do you need any help down their Mary?” Brewster asked. “Seeing as I just kind of threw this party upon you!” he laughed. Mary who always seemed to be smiling, “I love it! Besides, we have all of this food to use up before we go home tomorrow—so this is perfect. You guys just relax.”
Brewster, Lisa and I did relax and we started with the usual small chat. Brewster told us that Frenesi used to be his father’s boat but now she was his. He and Mary came out from San Fransisco every year to sail New England. “What do you do Brewster?” I asked. “I’m the founder and chairman of the Internet Archive which is essentially a global on-line library,” he said. “Really?!” I exclaimed. “That’s so awesome!” Mary laughed and popped her head out of the galley door. “I love that you’re so excited about it! Most people aren’t.” I motioned toward Lisa and myself. “We’re both authors!” I said. “Oh my god! How cool is that? You run a library and you pick up two total strangers on Martha’s Vineyard who just happen to be authors!” In almost no time at all, Mary presented a plate piled with grilled cheese sandwiches and stepped out onto the deck. She sat beside Brewster and we laughed and talked as we ate. The sun was beginning to set.
Menemsha Sunsets…It’s A Thing
“Look at all of the people on the beach!” said Brewster. “I swear there are more people there now than there were during the afternoon…when people were swimming!” Lisa and I nodded our heads. “Oh absolutely!” we chimed. “Menemsha sunsets are a thing on the island. People pack up a picnic, a bottle of wine, and a blanket, spread it out on the beach and wait for the sunset! It’s awesome!”
“Oh, I love that!” said Mary. I told her I loved it too. As the sun sank lower, we sat in moments of silence. Not because we ran out of things to say but rather we were overtaken by the beauty of our surroundings. I have been down to Menemsha for a few sunsets but never for a real corker, never for a really breathtaking sunset. That was about to change. Not only was this sunset spectacular but I was watching it with new friends and an old friend aboard a sailboat. What could be better? As the sun disappeared over the horizon, a cacophony of cheer erupted from the beach. “Oh listen!” Mary exclaimed. “They’re cheering!” Lisa and I laughed. “That’s what you do when the sun disappears—you cheer!” The four of us joined in clapping and hooting before collapsing into laughter. Mary sighed, “Oh, that was great!” she said.
Eventually, we knew we had to say good night. Lisa and I climbed into the dinghy with Brewster and we said our good nights to Mary. We thanked her profusely for her generosity and hospitality. Brewster made his way back through the narrows and deposited us back on the dock. We all promised to keep in touch. Laughing, filled with utter joy, Lisa and I walked arm in arm back toward the car. On the way, we bumped into my friend Kevin Shea, the artist, and we told him the story of our evening. Kevin laughed in this laid back, flower child way that he has. “Oh that’s so great! This island is a magical place, man!” I knew he was right. I’ve known that for years. Every lagoon, beach, pier, street, and human being is brimming with magic on Martha’s Vineyard all you have to do is watch for it and let it in. Learning to say ‘Yes!’ opens your life to endless possibilities. Hey, it’s the Vineyard!