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12.1.04

Great Island Couples

Lynne and Allen Whiting of West Tisbury
Allen is a painter and farmer. Lynne is education coordinator of the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society. Married twenty-seven years

Lynne: I met Allen’s artwork before I met Allen. He was having a show at the Field Gallery; I was working at the Field Gallery. I showed up early on Sunday morning, and I walked into this room and was surrounded by beauty. I didn’t know who he was, and my immediate response was, “He must be really old, and had a really good life to be able to communicate such serenity and tranquility and beauty.” And a little while later he walked around the corner with his little son kicking his shins, going, “Dad, I don’t want to go in here!” He had on a pair of dirty khakis and a gray T-shirt, and I thought, “Wow. This is kind of unlikely.” But I figured, he’s got a little kid, he’s married –

Allen: – Will and his mom lived in Vermont.

Lynne: I loved his artwork. And he asked me to come sit for him. And my first thought was, “I’ll keep all my clothes on.”

Allen: That was my thought too.

Lynne: So I showed up with scarves and hats and stuff. But the first time that I really knew, I was driving down the street in front of the West Tisbury Congregational Church, and Allen was walking to his studio the other direction, which was on Music Street. And we hadn’t dated or anything – I think I came over and had one sitting with you – but I remember thinking, “Oh, my God.” This thing came down and came over me: “That’s the man I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.” I almost had to pull over in my little white Toyota truck. That day you had on white painter’s pants. And
probably the same gray T-shirt.

Allen: I think we’ve been blessed with really good fortune and good health, too, which has been a wonderful thing. We’ve inherited land and money and talent, and we’re able to work hard. If our lives had been stunted or twisted or something because one of us was sick, or we had no money, or one of the kids was sick, or there was a lot of discord, maybe it wouldn’t be such a lovely looking marriage.

Lynne: I would agree that we’ve grown into this position or status. But I want to remind you how sick I was when we were first together. And we weren’t living together. I was living in that little one-room house in Chilmark, and you came to my bedside, and you said, “I’ll do anything. I’ll build you a house in my woods if I can. I’m there for you.” The issue of trust: I remember one time wanting to make a Chinese calligraphy symbol for trust, and there’s no direct translation other than –

Allen: – faith.

Lynne: It’s knowing that that unconditional support is there. Periodically there will be a situation – jealousy is a real emotion that I feel sometimes, and I think Allen does too, but I think emotions are a result of what we think. One of the things that I’m learning to do better is when those thoughts come into my mind, put them out front, and say, “Allen, I keep thinking about this situation.” Without judgment. And I’m less likely to find that I’m getting swept up in my own feelings of jealousy or envy that someone else is getting to have more of him.

Allen: Sometimes it’s women. I had a way with women. I loved women. And I love their company.

Lynne: And they love you.

Allen: Yeah. But because I am so –

Lynne: – available –

Allen: – well, because I feel so safe in my marriage, I’m free to flirt, because I know I’m not going anywhere. And Lynne can’t always know that. Ultimately, I always have to realize that I am with the person that I want to be with. And I have everything that I need, and if I can’t find a way to get what I need out of this life, then it’s probably my fault, and not Lynne’s.

Lynne: I love coming home. I love to go to work because it means I get to come home.

Allen: The personal-comfort side of marriage – Lynne’s better at that. I’d live like a bachelor if left to my own devices. I might have nice pictures on the wall. But the wall would be peeling.

Lynne: But he knows how important candlelight is at dinnertime. He knows the importance of setting the table, not just grabbing a bite to eat. Life is full of pet peeves – the business of life – but I’ve learned that if I don’t like where his laundry is, I can just quietly move it instead of making a big deal out of it.

Allen: I use that strategy a lot in life. I have my righteous side, but most contests – whether they’re political or whatever – I always assume I’m perfectly capable of being wrong. It’s an escape valve to be wrong. I think the people that suffer the most are the people that think they have the answers, and the rest of the world doesn’t.

Lynne: I think that’s something we’ve been working on too, Allen: the deep personalization of things. If I’ve been bitching and moaning about something, and you’re the only one in earshot: is it about you, or is it just the fact that you’re there? You care so deeply about me –

Allen: I take it way too personally.

Lynne: But I think it’s getting better.

Allen: I’m learning not to listen. I’m learning to shut it out.

Lynne: There were times when I needed that, and you just needed not to listen. We’re willing to work at it. I think we’ve grown in depth.

Allen: I don’t think too much has changed.

Lynne: I don’t recall doing a lot of imagining. I wasn’t one of those girls who grew up wanting to have a certain kind of wedding, or looking for a certain kind of man. I’ve really been a person – at times I maybe wished that I had more goals than I set out for myself. I know about them now. But when we got together, it was sheer love. We went to Utah – I try to go once a year, and I was taking him to meet my family – and on the airplane, I said, “And by the way, if anyone asks you about your intentions, I’m not bringing you here to say we’re getting married. I want to prepare you. My grandmother’s going to ask you.” Well, what does he do? He goes and asks my dad if he can marry me before he asks me.

Allen: You’ve got to do the right thing, don’t you?

Marge and Jamie Harris of Oak Bluffs
Jamie is a surgical assistant at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Marge is assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools. Married thirty-eight years.

Jamie: I was just coming out of the military service, between Korea and Vietnam. I did four years in the Air Force.

They taught me how to be a cook. So I was working at the Sheraton at the Prudential Center in Boston. She was a waitress, a student at Boston State Teachers College, which no longer exists. I thought she was kind of cute, to be honest with you. We liked what we saw.

Marge: And it was only because, I think, we just happened to be working in the same place and we were interested and we had good conversations. We were open to it.

Jamie: Also, you’re probably getting into a racial issue here. For us, at that age, in that era, it was still taboo to cross the color line. Late ’65, early ’66. It wasn’t an issue for us. It was an issue for everybody else.a n issue for everybody else.

Marge: I had grown up in a very working-class, Irish-Catholic family, and this just hadn’t been done. I lived in a three-decker in Dorchester. It was all working class. The only time you saw black people is if you went to another neighborhood. So there was terrible segregation in Boston. Once we started to become a couple, you’d be in a restaurant, and people might comment to you. Walking down the street, people would fall off the sidewalk staring at you. And our worlds – we were only, what, miles apart. He grew up in Roxbury, I grew up in Dorchester, and the worlds never met.

Jamie: We started our lives together working at a place called Haley House, started by a young couple in the 1960s who
believed in the Catholic Worker philosophy.

Marge: They basically got a storefront and started serving the poor. I brought him into it.

Jamie: She was heavy into civil rights, and into anti-war. Those were two of her strong points. I’m malleable. I’m very susceptible. I think between the two of us, Marge has very strong opinions. And I’ll either agree or disagree with whatever she brings up.

Marge: I don’t know. Because he’s very strong-willed, and strong-opinioned. It’s just that he’s not public about it. I’m much more public. I’m the one with the bumper stickers. Jamie will vote probably the exact same way. But he just doesn’t like to go public about it.

Jamie: That’s true.

Marge: When we lived in the city, we lived in a project, a housing-development project, in Roxbury. An all-black community, totally. We lived there about five years, after we left Haley House. The people were wonderful, but there was a lot of crime. So we were used to putting up boards on our windows at night. We had four kids. We realized we had to get out of there, because even though our neighborhood was fine, the situation that we were living in was just not safe. We were held up a couple of times. A very close friend of ours said, “You need to look at Martha’s Vineyard.” We never even knew about Martha’s Vineyard – either one of us, do you think? I came down, checked it out – Jamie hadn’t been here yet – and I came home and I said to him, “It felt like I was going home!” I ended up working at the grain store, SBS, thanks to Ethel Sherman, who believed in me. Jamie had a job right away, but only as an orderly. He had trained as an O.R. technician. So we were living on nothing our first year here, with four kids.

Jamie: I think that’s one of the good things about living on the Vineyard. The Vineyard tends to support you if they see that you’re going to stick around.
Marge: When Jamie came down here looking for the job, Dr. [Russell] Hoxsie and a couple of others took him out for lunch. What he said was, “If you trust the Island, it will take care of you. But you have to give something to the Island.” So we really wanted to be here. Jamie worked as an orderly, and I worked at the grain store. And within that first year, the one O.R. technician at the hospital decided he wanted to go back to school, and Jamie was all trained for the position.

Jamie: An orderly is a job, but it’s less of a job than a trained tech. It was a foot in the door. When I got here, there was a nursing director; she said, “This is the job that I have for you. Are you going to take it, and we’ll see what happens after that?” And I said, “Yeah, I’ll take it.” I needed a job, needed money, and it worked. So when the young man took off to become a physician’s assistant – in his mind, he was moving up – that left the position open for me. So I moved into the operating room as a technician, and I’ve been there ever since. It’s fine with me, because I like playing behind the scenes.

Marge: He is not “public,” but he is so well known and respected. People constantly stop me and tell me, “Oh, your husband was so wonderful to me.” If anyone overheard us, and wondered why!

Jamie: Some people don’t know the work that I do, because they’re asleep – sound asleep – when I’m doing my work. But I’ve held their hands before they go to sleep.

Marge: I think the best thing about Jamie – the thing I like the most – is the fact that he’s so solid. He’s so much the center of me.

Jamie: What do I like best? She’s adventurous. We do a lot of traveling that I wouldn’t do on my own. She will get on a computer and pick out everything that we need to go on a trip to Denmark or to Vancouver. She’ll set it up, and I’ll pack my bags and go. And she brings me out. Most definitely. For that, I’m most thankful because I could, given my own devices, be a grump, be reclusive, and she doesn’t allow me to do that.

Marge: I could never have predicted my life. Oh, God, no. We didn’t have a clue. We were so young. What was I? Twenty-two? You were twenty-four.

Jamie: We didn’t chart a course. We are married, we know we’re committed to each other, but we sort of played it as it came. Whatever came, you and I are in this together. Marge and I think about that every once in a while – the fact that it wasn’t so random.

Marge: I do believe in fate. I do believe in a “way.” But I’m much more of a pragmatist. I think faith must also be a part of it. Sometimes things happen in a way where you think there must be a plan. And I don’t say this loosely. But you think, “Jeez, this is interesting.” Tell what I always say.

Jamie: “Think of the worst and hope for the best.”

Marge: It’s a real Irish thing I grew up with. And you’re never disappointed. When the kids went off to college, I said, “Now, listen. You’re probably going to have a terrible roommate, you’re probably not going to get what you want the first time around as far as courses, but work it out.” The thing with us is, I think, if we’re facing something, we work it out. We don’t get overwhelmed by it.

Lloyd and Mary Niederlitz of Oak Bluffs
Retired. Married forty-eight years.

Mary: My first time up here was at the sailing camp. Back in ’38. He was here the same year.

Lloyd: And I most likely sailed against her. Some friends who lived next to the cottage we rented had a little sailing rowboat and we used to race the girls.

Mary: We followed similar paths, never meeting until we met through his wife. I worked at the same place his first wife did – making cards at Norcross Greeting Card Company in New York City. She was head of the packing department and I was one of the card editors. I didn’t know him for a long time. When we first got to know each other, I knew he was the type of person I wanted. We didn’t want – I didn’t want to break up his marriage. And he didn’t want to. But eventually we got together. Once we finally were together, I knew.

Lloyd: We had a courtship for a couple of years, I guess. I really didn’t think about it much – staying together. I just knew after we were married, we were happy.

Mary: It’s enjoying the same things.

Lloyd: We bicycle to the beach every day, down to the Inkwell. So I’ve been going to the Inkwell sixty-six years now. From mid-May to mid-October when we go back to Florida, we swim together every day.

Mary: Well, when the weather’s decent. After we get back from the beach, which is about four o’clock or so, we have our yogurt. Then I usually sit and read.

Lloyd: We have cable with all the movies.  

Mary: We don’t have a lot of friends.

Lloyd: Our friends up here, they’re beach friends. People we see at the beach.

Mary: We basically have each other.

Lloyd: Things have gone pretty smoothly for us.

Mary: Although – [Laughter.]

Lloyd: You would never know it, but we’re rather impulsive at times. We went to Florida to see my folks on vacation, and we said, Why should we wait until we retire? ’Cause I didn’t like the winters in Jersey.

Mary: It was 1969. Our kids were eight and nine. We put a deposit on a house and then came up and sold our house in New Jersey.

Lloyd: We figured we had it made. People were going to send us free-lance work. After about six months, that ended.

Mary: It got easier for them to find somebody closer.

Lloyd: We had sold our house in New Jersey and moved down there, and suddenly we were broke.

Mary: He was a house painter and got a job with a roof company. I got a job with a magazine, a tourist thing.

Lloyd: She became the art director there. I bought this house in 1949. This was the Island laundry. And it was blown down, the main part, in the ’38 hurricane. What I bought was three walls and a roof. We had the foundation put in. Mary and I did the rest – this dining area and the back section in 1965. She still paints, tries to get in the Island show every year. Where I haven’t done anything except house painting in years.

Mary: He’s more of a perfectionist. If he can’t do it right, he doesn’t want to do it.

Lloyd: I know. [Chuckles.] I get too upset so I said to heck with it.

Mary: He painted beautiful portraits. He likes to do other things. The big deal up here is gardening.

Lloyd: It’s a joint thing. She does most of the digging.

Mary: Turning the stuff over. My back is in better shape.

Lloyd: She starts a lot of the plants, then I plant everything, just about. And we have always cooked together.

Mary: When you get up to do a meal, he knows what he does, and I know what I do, and we get it together.

Lloyd: Sometimes we don’t say a word.

Mary: What’s the secret formula to a good marriage? Just patience and understanding, and you’ve always got to put – not fifty-fifty – but you’ve each always got to be willing to do seventy-five percent, at least.

Lloyd: Share everything, just about.

Mary: And not sweating the little things, the everyday things. I know I do things that annoy him. And he does things that . . . But you don’t keep mentioning those little things. Over time they sort of whittle down.

Lloyd: Be patient. Yes, yes, yes. We just pretty much think alike. And we always think of the other.

Mary: He’s not much of one for getting presents.

Lloyd: I’m afraid I was never one who brought her the bouquets and things like that.

Mary: That one time you brought me a Valentine. That fancy nightgown. That red –

Lloyd: That’s what I was thinking. I bought you one of those fuzzy things and you said, “That’s going to tickle my nose, and I won’t wear it!”

Mary: That was the only time that really shocked me, when I opened that thing.

Lloyd: [Laughter.] That was in New Jersey.

Mary: The kids were babies.

Lloyd: It’s great. We like everything the same.

Mary: I think we’re basically the same. We don’t criticize little things. We rarely will get into arguments. He’s not the arguing kind. I’m the arguing kind. What was the last disagreement we had?

Lloyd: [Laughs.] Some movie we didn’t like. I – we really don’t. We kiss good night and that’s it. Some of our best friends, they’re arguing all the time.

Mary: Constantly!

Lloyd: And we still sleep together. . . .

Mary: [Giggles.]

Lloyd: In the same bed. Whereas, in fact, everybody I know, they have separate beds.

Mary: Or separate rooms.

Lloyd: We look at other people and feel we’re so lucky. We have our health.

Mary: What are we doing for our fiftieth? How many more years is that?

Lloyd: If we make it.

Mary: He said, “Aren’t you afraid of flying?” And I said, “No!” You know, at our ages, what a better way to go. I’m serious! That airplane crash some years ago off Long Island. There was a couple from the Vineyard in their eighties. And everyone was so, “Oh, no!” And I thought: they were both healthy, they were doing what they loved together. We have a neighbor who’s got Alzheimer’s, and now she’s sort of out of it.

And the husband says he feels so isolated. There’s no communication any more. And I certainly wouldn’t want that to happen to him. I just feel inside I’m the same. And I look at my outside and go, That isn’t me!

Lloyd: Yeah, I’m not that skinny thing anymore.

Mary: When you can’t hear, I speak a little loudly.

Lloyd: Raises her voice. I’m quite deaf and I can’t hear without a hearing aid. When we go to the beach, it’s like the muffler has come down.

Mary: I think I’ve adjusted.

Lloyd: She doesn’t say, “Why can’t you hear me?!”

Mary: I’m used to it.

Lloyd: We’ve done beautifully.

Mary: According to us we’ve done beautifully, but other people –

Lloyd: You know, we can’t afford to eat out. Especially up here. It’s tough on some of us old folks who don’t have much income anymore.

Mary: He’s a good investor.

Lloyd: I was lucky in the investment area.

Mary: Well, smart.

Lloyd: Like this property here. In 1965, it was valued at $350. And now it’s $720,000. Just the property! We could have more money but not live in this beautiful spot.

Mary: Fortune. If you could bank closeness, we’d be billionaires.

Cheryl Stark and Margery Meltzer of West Tisbury
Partners, C.B. Stark Jewelers, Vineyard Haven. Together thirty-two years. Married June 7, 2004.

Margery: I moved to the Island December 1 of ’71. And we met June 7 of ’72.

Cheryl: We were really young. She was just twenty-three and I was just twenty-six that week. I had been living here year-round since ’70. I started the store in ’66. I couldn’t make a living, so I closed the store Labor Day. I worked as a painter, I cleaned houses, I scalloped, I worked with a guy learning how to do carpentry.

Margery: I was working at the Gazette, I was doing modeling, some house painting –

Cheryl: – taking care of people.

Margery: Was I impressed by what she was doing?

Cheryl: You told me today you were.

Margery: Was I impressed? I guess the first time I saw Cheryl, she was shingling Leslie’s Drug Store. And in the spring of ’72 there were not many women shingling buildings on Main Street. It was very different. So I was impressed by that.

Cheryl: From our first encounter –

Margery: – we’ve been together ever since. And so our anniversary is marked by, um, our first date, shall we say. [Laughter.] I was working in Chilmark for Catherine Allen, Clarissa’s mom, at Allen Farm. Cheryl was invited over to the house.

Cheryl: She brought her toothbrush to my house the next day.

Margery: I didn’t know that when we started being together that we would be together for more than thirty-two years. We didn’t know that. We were having fun.

Cheryl: I think it’s luck, and I don’t want to feel that I’m any luckier than you are, or anyone else that doesn’t have a partner. We both have a lot of things that could have gotten us to thinking about not being together because it would have been easier to break up, but neither one of us have ever thought –

Margery: – to be in a gay relationship thirty-two years ago.

Cheryl: It was fate. I don’t know what happened.

Margery: I’ve always liked doing things with my hands, and so when we started hanging out together at the store, Cheryl started showing me how to do some things, and I started working there. We were enjoying spending time together, and as she showed me, I really enjoyed it. I actually had another profession for about eleven years; I was a Jungian therapist. That stopped about fourteen years ago when I became very ill. I got three kinds of cancer at once, and didn’t really know how long I was going to live at that point. I had chemo for months, and I was really knocked out. My perspective changed; I wanted to take more time for myself. So I slowly got back to the store, which increased over the years, but at the same time, a few years ago, we started taking longer vacations because we said to each other, Who knows how long each of us has to live? We bought an old house in Florida on Longboat Key twelve years ago. We renovated it, and absolutely love it. We actually still have it after all these hurricanes. So we get to do a lot of things there that people do here on vacation.

Cheryl: We’ve started going there for a month in the fall and from the third week of January to the third week of April.

Margery: We started off with a couple of weeks of vacation a year. It just keeps building and building.

Cheryl: We have the same values, but we’re so different. We have totally different taste in music. I like soul music and rock and roll, and she likes folk. When I met Margie, every album I had was a black person or group, and every one of hers was white. I’ve always been Motown; she’s always been “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore.”

Margery: My parents’ first love was opera; their second love, bridge. They were tournament-champion bridge players. My mother’s from Brooklyn, same place as Cheryl’s mother. But I grew up in western Pennsylvania, and Cheryl grew up –

Cheryl: – I grew up in Brooklyn and Scarsdale. But my parents had no interests. They just liked to party. My father liked boating, but he never really had his own boat. But they liked to drink, and they loved to entertain and make parties. And I do too.

Margery:  Am I “surprised” that I’ve been with her all these years?

Cheryl: I’m totally surprised by the person I’m living with. The way she looked, the way she was dressed, where she lived, how she lived. Everything about her was something I never thought about being involved with. She’s the same person she was. And we’ve both accepted that we’ve gotten older.
Margery: We’ve been through times when we had other problems and we pointed the finger at each other. But we never doubted our love. We needed to take a walk or something.

Cheryl: Taking care of ourselves is something that we’ve been working on.

Margery: Going through the health issues, it made life more precious. I’d like to say each day I live to the fullest. I would be lying. But I think of it more than I ever would have.

Cheryl: When we celebrate our anniversary next year, we’ll celebrate our thirty-third. The marriage was great and we feel really great about it. We did it because we could. And we’re really happy we were living at a time to be able to do something as great as this. And we’re so grateful to be in Massachusetts, where we could do it.

Margery: I feel like we were meant to be together.

Cheryl: We’re both double-Geminis, so it’s cuckoo time. We have a moon in Gemini and Gemini rising. Multiple, split personalities. We’re not really into astrology –

Margery: – changeable. In another words, we think one thing, and then we think another. We both have pretty active minds. I’m the introvert and she’s the extrovert.

Cheryl: But it works.

Margery: We argue all the time. But we’re basically in synch with all the major things.

Cheryl: I’m more impulsive. Like in Florida, we bought the house, and we didn’t have any money. She said, “How can we buy this house?” I said, “Get the credit card out.”

Margery: Sometimes we’re impulsive and it doesn’t work out. I think, basically, we’re pretty trusting people.

Cheryl: I believe very strongly in the jigsaw puzzle of life, that there are pieces. I really fit into a piece, and Margie really fits into a piece. And our pieces are right next to each other. I feel that way. There’s not going to be anyone greater or better or more meaningful for me to spend my life with. And the thought of ever doing anything but just growing older and older and wiser and wiser with Margie – it feels really good that we have that.

Margery: I just feel we’ve both accepted who we are, and worked on having more grace, more spirituality, more acceptance.

Cheryl: If something happened, I’d feel like we’ve lived such a wonderful life together, and we’ve done so much together – I would feel complete. I wouldn’t feel that I wished I had said something, or I wish I had done something differently.

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