Welcome to the Island (Well, Sort Of)

You know that if you have a home on Martha’s Vineyard, you occupy a special place in the hearts of your mainland friends – a place that coincides neatly with their weeklong summer vacations.

You’ll recall it was barely springtime when the phones started ringing. “We were wondering. . . .” “Hey, what are you doing. . . .” “We had a fantastic idea! Why don’t you plan to come and visit us in the fall, but this summer, we. . . .” You’ve heard it all before, right?

There’s no way to dissuade them. I’ve tried “We’re Buddhists now.” Or “Fantastic, I can’t wait to have you stay so you can join us at Pilates class every morning at six.” Even the enigmatic but powerful “Huh. . . if we’re still married by the time you get here.” Nothing works.

If you’re like me you’re probably not very good at saying no. What we should be able to say – Dear Abby-style – is: “We’re flattered that you want to spend time with us, but we’ve made the decision that this summer we really need to spend time together as a family without distractions.” What we end up saying is, “Okay, mid-August is fine, and is there any special kind of cream cheese you like with your bagels in the morning?”

This year the clamor is especially loud. The weak dollar, the war on terrorism, the down economy have combined to inspire more of our off-Island pals than usual to come up with the ingenious idea of coming to visit . . . us.

Chances are that guests are an inevitable part of your summer and you wouldn’t have it any other way. I enjoy showing people around as much as the next person, but I’ve done it so many times that I realize I’m losing my enthusiasm. I sometimes sound like I’m on autopilot, as in: “Okay folks, here we are at the Gay Head Cliffs. We’ll be stopping for half an hour. This SUV will be leaving promptly at noon.”

As you’re probably aware, your house-guest experience depends in large part on what’s going on up in the sky. If the weather is good here, then playing host is a cinch. There is no shortage of beaches to hang
out at, hikes and bike rides to go on, darling Edgartown side streets to perambulate beneath a lacy parasol (okay, the last one I made up). You know what I’m saying – when the weather’s fine, guests can virtually take care of themselves.

But if it rains? Well, let’s put it this way – you find out pretty quickly that there ain’t much to do on Martha’s Vineyard in foul weather. Being a host becomes a challenge. There are only so many games of Monopoly and Scrabble you can play, only so many times you want to watch family-friendly fare on the old VCR. Go ahead: test me on anything to do with Shrek!

One of the problems is there’s not enough to do indoors here to make it worth leaving the house for. Ten minutes after wandering around a cubbyhole-sized boutique and it’s time to head back out into the deluge – or buy something. Some notable exceptions are the libraries and the thrift stores where you can hang out indefinitely without feeling like you have to make some form of financial transaction.

Another place you may find yourselves hanging out on rainy days is at the supermarket. That’s not surprising, because if you have guests and the weather turns inclement, you seem to spend a good part of your day discussing what you’re going to eat that night and wandering up and down the aisles at the supermarket crossing things off that shopping list.

There are the bars, and these are usually packed on rainy summer days. But from personal experience I can tell you that the only thing more boring than being cooped up at home talking to your guests about the weather is being in a bar full of drunken people discussing the finer points of meteorology: “It’s not El Niño, I tell ya, it’s El Niña – it was Niño last time and now it’s Niña. Geddit!? Niña, not Niño!”

It can be stressful, but we do love our summer visitors. Sometimes during the bustle of summer, showing people around is our way of reconnecting with the Island. Otherwise we might decide to stay home and avoid the crowds. Who among us hasn’t at some point taken our beautiful Island for granted and then been suddenly reminded of why we live here when we’ve been touring the Vineyard with friends from away?

Still, it can come as a relief when the season ends. Summer visitors become a distant memory; the only sign they were here is some weird salad dressing languishing in the back of the fridge.

As a chill enters the air in September and then October, one’s mind turns inevitably to thoughts of winter. And I think to myself: I really need to call my friends in Vail and see if they’d mind if we paid them a visit at Christmas.