How I Got Here

Six Vineyarders tell how they came to live on the Island.

Sian Williams

I was such a free spirit. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be. [My then-boyfriend and I] got to the Vineyard and we rented a tandem bike and went up to Circuit Ave. And there was [the former Oak Bluffs shop] Take It Easy Baby, and I just stood in front of it like, “Oh my God, this is it. I’m home.” I went in and Larry Bilzerian emerged from the back smoking a cigarette in his uniform: a black T-shirt, 501s, and a black flat cap. He offered me a job that day and a week later my boyfriend flew back to London alone and I moved in with Larry. Seven months later we were married and the next summer I was pregnant. And it seemed like I just stayed pregnant for years. I love this Island, and I never wanted to leave.

Sian, originally from Manchester, England, came to the Island twenty-four years ago. She is a mother of five, a writer, and a yoga teacher at Pandavine Yoga at Island Cohousing in West Tisbury, where she lives.

Ashley Hunter

I wound up in the Coast Guard because it was during Vietnam. I sort of had a choice of what was I going to do, and the options were leave the country, or go into the Army, etcetera. So I chose the Coast Guard because it was service-oriented around saving people instead of killing people. [Reporting for duty in Boston] they said, “Yeah, we figured out you were supposed to be on this ship and it’s already on its way to Vietnam.” There was always that potential. Instead they sent me here. I docked in February, and I remember I went over to the post office to see where I got mail, and they said it was closed for the winter. Back then most everything was closed for winter. That didn’t help the feeling I was in the middle of nowhere. But I grew up in rural Pennsylvania where my nearest neighbor was a mile away, so in some ways I was ready. And obviously I liked it. I stayed forty years.

After his tour of duty as an engineer in the US Coast Guard, Ashley spent thirty years as a marine mechanic at the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard and the last twelve as a mechanic at the Edgartown Yacht Club, where he does “a little bit of everything.” On Sunday mornings the West Tisbury resident leads the Vineyard Off-Road Bicycling Association (VORBA) trail rides.

Fillipi Gomes

We knew about the Vineyard because my uncle had come here before us and scoped it out, like thirty years ago, before there was a Brazilian population.
When we came, my mom’s sister already lived here so we stayed at their house for the first couple of months before Mom was able to rent a house for us. I was really the one Brazilian kid in school at the time so I had to learn English pretty quickly for me to fit in. It was easier for me because I was so young, but my mom used to work a lot to get us on our feet and get what we needed. At one point she was working three jobs and I would only see her in the early morning, like four or five. I have a lot of admiration for her. There were some tough times, but it’s been good. I can’t foresee myself leaving anytime soon, and I can go back to Brazil and visit whenever I’d like.

Fillipi was six years old when his mother brought him and his little brother to the Island on a visa fourteen years ago. He now lives in Vineyard Haven, works for Baumhofer Builders, plays volleyball once a week, and is a member of the softball team Sons of Pitches.

Krista Elliott Riley

I decided the window was at hand and I needed to jump. The Vineyard has always felt more like home than many places I have lived. I wanted my boys to have what I had growing up, which is a long leash – to let them get dirty, to live in a place where neighbors look out for each other. I called my year-round friends, and they sold me on the schools and what a great place it is to raise children. When we were little, my best summer friend and I said we would grow old together sitting on a front-porch swing on the Vineyard. Now that’ll probably happen.

Krista grew up summering on the Vineyard; her parents live year-round on West Chop now. Recently divorced, the marketing consultant and mother of three boys – ten-year-old Wilson and eight-year-old twins Sam and Jake – moved her children from Davidson, North Carolina, to Vineyard Haven in February of this year. She loves sailing and gardening, and being actively involved in her community and her children’s school.

T. George Davis

I took a few trips to the Vineyard and I really loved it. It got to the point where I wasn’t vacationing anywhere else. I took the woman I was dating at the time – who would become my wife – and we both loved it. One time we were here on vacation and not happy in our jobs – working crazy hours. We had an early ferry the next morning and the car was all packed to head back to DC. We were out to dinner in Edgartown and the question came up: “Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a place like this?” You know, as opposed to what we were going back to? Three months later we were here. When I got divorced years later, I never thought about leaving. I really love it. I find it beautiful and healing.

A Georgetown Law graduate and Oak Bluffs resident, George moved here fifteen years ago and now practices on the Island as a civil litigator and criminal defense attorney. When he’s not in court, he’s criminal on the guitar and plays the occasional show. But being a father is his main gig – his two young daughters provide him with endless joy.

Polly Brown

We came to visit my grandmother here every summer. With my father in the service, we moved around so much that this was always home to me. I have childhood friends and relatives here – it’s where my roots are. When my husband died in 1995, I was living in Mashpee and that never felt like home. I moved here for good; I moved into my grandmother’s house right on Main [Street in Vineyard Haven]. It’s a single-story ranch house with a screened porch, and living here is absolutely fabulous. What did I feel when I moved back? Tremendous relief.

Polly first came to the Vineyard when she was three weeks old. A retired lawyer who loves sailing, tennis, and walks with her golden retriever, Lieu, she is active as a member of the boards of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Windemere Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, and Vineyard Village at Home, a nonprofit organization providing day-to-day support for the Island’s retirement community.