More Vineyarders

In celebration of our twenty-fifth anniversary, we continue to revisit profiles and stories from past issues of the magazine. Here are three more icons of the Vineyard.

Norman Bridwell: Clifford the Big Red Dog
Author and illustrator

From 2000: We came here on our honey-moon forty-two years ago, and then we came back nine years later with our children. Originally, it was just supposed to be a summer place. My freelance art business in New York was going very slow, and the book royalties were only just starting to build up. We thought, well, maybe we could just live here and save the New York rent. So we moved here.

My wife came up with that name, Clifford. She had an imaginary playmate when she was a little girl, who got the blame for things that went wrong. His name was Clifford. I didn’t put too much thought into it, because I didn’t even think the book would ever get published. So I called him Clifford – and it seemed to work perfectly. In Canada, they don’t call him Clifford, they call him Bertrum, because Clifford wasn’t a funny name to Canadians. It was too English. In France, his name is Ketchup.

Emily was about a year old when I wrote the first book. Quite a few years ago my son asked me, “How come you never put me in a book? You put Emily in a book.” I said, “Because when I first wrote the book you weren’t born yet. By the time you came along, the books were already established.” I started to make it up to him by calling every little boy in the neighborhood Tim.

If somebody were to pick up a book after a hundred years, I hope they’d think Clifford was the kind of dog they’d like to have. I hope the world won’t change so much and people become so cynical that they can’t see Clifford as a loving friend. I hope they still have that capacity to appreciate goodness in a dog or in other people.

Update: Norman Bridwell, at eighty-two, still lives with his wife, Norma, in the same Edgartown house they bought way back in 1967. His life has slowed down somewhat, as he recovers from a heart attack he had this spring, but he is illustrating a series of learn-to-read Clifford books written by his longtime editor, Grace Maccarone. Clifford, his most famous creation, with more than forty-four million books in print, continues to travel the world. The big red dog recently appeared in a series of subway posters in Tokyo encouraging riders to use good manners; one included the following admonition: “Getting too drunk really bothers everyone around you! Woof!”

The edited excerpt above is from an interview by Rebekah Blu that ran in July 2000.

Bridget Tobin: The friendly face of the ferry

Thirty-seven years after she started working for the Steamship Authority, Bridget Tobin stands firmly at the helm. As terminal manager for Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, her job requires a delicate balance of authority and compassion – qualities she has gained on the front lines during her near four-decade tenure.

In 1991 when the magazine profiled Bridget in our May–June issue, she was the Steamship’s port agent on the Island, hailing and farewelling passengers with her inimitable spirit and personal touch as they traveled to and from the Island.

“On a busy day we have a lot of fun here,” she said nearly twenty years ago. The same, she insists, holds true today. Promoted to terminal manager some fifteen years ago (she’s lost track of the exact date), Bridget says she loves the challenge of keeping the boats running smoothly.

“It’s a relief to be in charge. I think it’s important that I live on the Island and know the community. I understand what people think the Steamship should do for us,” she says.

Patrolling the dock or exchanging banter with customers from behind the ticket counter, Bridget isn’t one to hide behind closed doors. “I like to be visible,” she explains. “I see everything doing this job, and what you see is not always easy. I have to know how to handle people at their worst moments: dealing with death, illness, or other crises. I’m in charge of a staff of fifty-eight, that’s the dockworkers, ticket sellers; safety issues; emergencies,” she trails off. “I like to be visible,” she repeats.

“And she is enthusiastically dedicated to making the bottleneck known as the Tisbury Steamship Wharf bearable, and even enjoyable,” our 1991 article stated. To that end, Bridget cites a handful of recent improvements to Steamship operations, including more preferred space on each boat for Island residents, increased flexibility for same-day ticket exchanges, the larger, state-of-the-art Island Home, and modifications to the standby policy that have dramatically reduced summer logjams.

With a year-round population of 15,000 who rely on the Steamship for trips “off the rock,” a summer population of more than 100,000, and day-trippers accounting for another 25,000, it’s no simple task for the woman in charge to keep her sense of humor. Yet Bridget is known for her distinctive friendly style. “I like to see them off with a smile and welcome them back the same way,” she says.

As for retirement, not to worry. Bridget says she has another ten years to go. “I don’t see anything but this for now,” she says. And that seems just fine with her.

An article on Bridget Tobin by W.C. Platt originally ran in May–June 1991.

John Alaimo: Jazz pianist

From 2001: “We try to make the music accessible. I mean, people get afraid of jazz.”

The son of a musician, the Boston-area native was thirteen when he started playing professionally. He was just eighteen and working at a rubber manufacturing plant when a management error and a lack of protective equipment resulted in an accident that left him with only a thumb on his right hand. Matter-of-factly, he remembers thinking, “That was that for me as far as playing the piano. Up until then, I’d been sort of the child prodigy. But I had no thoughts that I would ever be a performer on the piano again.”

He admits he still gets frustrated sometimes, but adds, “Because of my limitation I’ve learned how to get a big, orchestral sound. It’s a whole combination of things. I don’t know how I do it. It’s not something I sat down and thought about.”

More than once he attempted to relinquish performance ambitions, but each time talent, passion, and his wife, Holly, intervened. “Holly always told me,” he says, “‘You have to do it. You’re not the same person unless you do it.’”

Bunny Smith introduced him to the Vineyard and in the early 1970s got him a job playing at the Sea View Hotel in Oak Bluffs. “I felt as if I was coming home. I just loved it,” John says. “Even before we moved here in 1994, the music was happening. I started getting calls and I’d come down. I developed a whole group of friends.”

He smiles. “We really are living the good life,” he says. “People ask me often, ‘What would you really like to do? What’s your dream?’” He laughs and says, “This is it. We’re so happy.”

Update: John Alaimo has produced seven CDs (solo, duo, trio, quartet) in the past nine years. He performs regularly on weekends at Atria’s Brick Cellar Bar in Edgartown with his trio and duo, and he plays many special events, including a YMCA fundraiser last summer when he opened for Dave Brubeck’s quartet.

The edited excerpt above is from an article by CK Wolfson that ran in Fall–Winter 2001.