Says Him, Says Her

Arnie Reisman and Paula Lyons, the husband-and-wife duo known for their appearances on the weekly National Public Radio quick-wit game show Says You, talk about their shift from seasonal residents in Menemsha to year-rounders in Vineyard Haven.

Paula began visiting Cape Cod from birth, to Falmouth, in fact. Arnie started going to the Vineyard in 1961. They married in 1982 and at that point, the Cape had taken on more of a suburban look and feel, whereas the Vineyard reminded Paula of the Cape of her childhood. So they were Vineyard-bound together, renting on Middle Road in Chilmark for a series of Julys. Then they decided it was time to put real roots down – time to buy.

ARNIE: In 1987 we bought a cottage in Menemsha. Over the years, we fixed it up to our liking. We fixed it and refixed it. We painted and repainted. We shingled and reshingled. We moved the furniture this way and then that way. We dreamed of expanding and expanded our dreams. But mainly we plopped. We made our car ferry reservation, drove the two hours from our home in the western ’burbs of Boston, drove onto the ferry, drove off the ferry, and continued nearly a half hour more until we reached our Menemsha cottage, and then plopped.

We love Menemsha – the seclusion, the walks up Flanders Lane, the views of Menemsha Pond from the stone walls of Cove Road. The walks to the beach and on the beach, life on the porch of the general store. The burgers, lobster rolls, and soft-serve at the Galley. Over South antiques, the sweatshirt and dress shops, the dueling fish markets. The deli, the Home Port, and the Bite. And the occasional use of the bike ferry to Aquinnah. But there, I’ve said it: The key word in all of that is “occasional.”

For the most part, our commitment to the Island was seasonal. At best we felt like the restful versions of weekend warriors. We primarily inhabited Menemsha when Menemsha shined – June through September. Let’s face it, the rest of the time Menemsha is closed. You might as well lock up your money. You can’t buy anything but gas. On the few off-season weekends when we came to visit our house, we walked the dog, snuggled, ate, visited friends, got reinvigorated, and shared fond memories of what life was like there “in season.”

As time went by and we gathered more full-time Island friends, we toyed with the notion of living closer to the ferry, where the neighborhood stays open.
In April 2011, we ventured from sometime up-Island living to full-time down-Island living. We moved from cottage to real home, from pond life to town life, from the status of off-Islanders to wash-ashores. We are now year-rounders in Vineyard Haven.

PAULA: Menemsha, to me, was always my idea – no, ideal – of summer heaven! It still is. I am sure I will miss it, especially our wonderful neighbors there. But Menemsha in winter? Great for a restful weekend, but a bit isolated for year-round living.

Vineyard Haven is just perfect for that. We can walk to so many things and walking often takes my breath away. My morning routine (when I’m on my best behavior) is to walk to the Mansion House health club. After my workout, the walk back on a sunny day, no matter the temperature, is a delight. Up Main Street to Owen Park where nearly every time, I stop, sit on a bench, and say, “Wow, are we lucky to live in such a beautiful place.”

As far as I was concerned, to make the move, “the house” was all. If we couldn’t find the right one, we were not going to give up a house we adored outside Boston or our little, charming Menemsha cottage. It had to be right. Deal-breakers were many in Vineyard Haven in our price range. For example, who needs a $350,000 renovation? (Quite common in such an old town.) Forget it! Too far out of town and into the woods? Deal-breaker! Our friends would feel sorry we’d sunk so low? Deal-breaker!

It took a while, but we found it. Tucked away in a can’t-be-seen-from-the-street but walk-to-everything location was a lovely house, built in 1980, added to in the nineties, needing our touches and some updates – but this was it!

Still, what would we do with all of our furnishings from our big house on the mainland? Dear friend, Realtor, and interior designer Lowely Finnerty (of Injoy Interiors in Vineyard Haven) to the rescue! She came to our big house outside Boston, measured every stick of furniture, and laid the facsimiles out on this house’s floor plan. Et voilà! More pieces fit in the new house perfectly than we had reason to hope, so we said yes and were off to the Vineyard full time.

ARNIE: The first thing we did after moving in was to start fixing things – specifically, those demerits found in the inspection report. When you start that, the next thing you know you’re singing “This Is the House that Jack Built.” You remove the rotten gutter, which exposes the rotten shingles, which expose the rotten window frame, which eventually explains the leak in the basement, which requires several barrels of sealant. Of course, all of this requires hiring people to do the fixing. I’ve told Paula (the handy one) that the only item in my toolbox is a telephone.

PAULA: My first year was filled with nesting decisions, changes to the house, meeting wonderful new neighbors, and encouraging our many up-Island friends to make the trek, see the house, and try not to forget us. (We willingly “make the trek” to them too.)

ARNIE: Make the trek? But where we now are, tucked into Vineyard Haven, is heaven enough! So all friends and family should come to us.

PAULA: I’m working part time as an executive coach, hopping planes and visiting with a few clients scattered all over the country. I still don’t know exactly who I am going to be here, though Arnie has jumped in with both feet! But I’m in no hurry. I’ve worked my whole life. Not working full time means reading sinful amounts of books, getting the exercise I need, being able to say yes to last-minute trips. I find nothing wrong with any of that! And I am seldom bored. When I am tired of working on the house’s inside, I often head outside.

It is a great relief to us to have a smaller yard. We had an acre and a half outside Boston, and I have a husband whose mind would never come around to as much as pulling a weed. “Weed, what weed? Who cares about weeds?” I did all I could with my limited knowledge and not-so-great knees. As a result, we ended up owing more to the landscaper than the oil man! We were happy to give that up.

But this yard had a lot of mature plantings and, because it had been for sale for a couple of years, a lot of overgrowth to be dealt with. Not that I understand gardening. I often don’t have a clue. But I find my search-and-destroy missions therapeutic. Cut those vines! Better, pull them out by their very roots! Take a spade to every dandelion! Get rid of that brush! Expose that stone wall! Fill pots with rich soil and colorful flowers! Yes, that’s better!

And that’s about all I know how to do. That’s when I need the professionals to help me figure out what to do next. Once I’m away from potting soil, I really don’t know the right way to plant anything. But I’m learning, thanks to Roxanne Kapitan of Vineyard Organic Perennials in Oak Bluffs. She not only designs and plants, but lets me learn by working alongside her. Let’s just hope the knees hold out!

ARNIE: Paula is addicted to yard work and cleaning and weeding. Inside the house she is into presentation, whereas outside she is into the destruction that makes way for someone else’s presentation – a professional. So she weeds, pulls, tugs, clips, chops, and yanks vines all the way from someone’s property in West Tisbury. She’s pulled up so many weeds, roots, and vines, she even managed to uproot the hot line to the Kremlin. But that was all right. They don’t need a connection to us as much anymore.

My idea of yardwork is to watch her and have the glass of water ready with the two capsules of Aleve. I do all of the cooking.

PAULA: The fun of a new house is bringing it all together so it feels like home. This house was beautiful when we first saw it. It was, however, only a summer home for the previous owners, with pastel walls and backgrounds that spelled sunshine and sand. I myself had used those colors in Menemsha. But here I wanted and needed to create a combination of the Menemsha cottage and our more formal house outside of Boston.

Painting many of the walls was my first step. I wanted colors that warmed the house in winter but also worked in the summer sun. Again, Lowely to the rescue. She helped with the colors and found me a painter, Rick Padilla of Vineyard Haven, who did a meticulous job.

To match my living room furniture, we chose Ceylon Ivory, a lovely, gold-toned beige. We added built-ins around the fireplace for much-needed storage, and blinds for the windows (drapes perhaps will come). They made for a homey room for year-round use.

We loved the original kitchen tile work and cabinetry, but we needed more storage, a new sink, faucet, countertops, and almost all new appliances.

ARNIE: Her idea of change is to constantly decorate and redecorate. My idea of change is what’s left in my pocket and keeping it there.

PAULA: Lowely knew just what to do. First, she hooked us up with Joe Grillo and Wally Gold of Tashmoo Restoration in Vineyard Haven. They designed and created the built-ins in the living room and also the new appliance wall that bought us more storage cabinets above and drawer space below.

We also extended the cooktop island by twenty-four inches to create more space for serving pieces and to give us a cabinet below. We chose for our countertops, on Joe Grillo’s recommendation, honed green granite that blended beautifully with the existing backsplash tile, and then added a warm terra cotta color to the walls in the kitchen and TV sitting area. We love the result.

We painted the master bedroom a warm, buttery yellow that we had used in our mainland home. Then we simply settled in.

ARNIE: I love living in walking distance from the town center. I can make my daily rounds, and go to the bank, pick up the mail, shop for some groceries, grab a coffee to go, pick up lunch, buy a kitchen gadget, a couple of shirts, and some books, and have my toes treated royally before heading back home on cushions that were once callused feet.

And when I’m home, I can kick back in our sun-dappled family room where, if there’s nothing worth watching on TV, I can always find Mother Nature’s handiwork to treasure, looking out our wall of windows. Or I can plop in our his-and-her office to contemplate my next column for the Vineyard Gazette or my next rant for the Huffington Post or my next idea for a stage play that won’t run on for three and a half hours. I love this house. And I love our new life.

PAULA: It’s better than we thought. It’s busier than we thought – all the time. Friendships old and new are more interesting than we expected. We had a wonderful first year. Yes, the 2012 winter was exceptionally mild. We got payback this past winter – even had to say goodbye to our beloved lab, Floyd. And we have no illusions about winters to come. But as far as that goes, if you live anywhere in the Northeast, you need to escape for a time in winter. Needing to do that from here seems no different. But what a great place to return to! I too love this house and love our new life.

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