The past, with its pleasures, its rewards, its foolishness, its punishments,
is there for each of us forever, and it should be.
Last Saturday, Carol, Matt and I took refuge in Lillian Hellman’s overturned cabana on Gay Head Beach in Martha’s Vineyard. The wind drove sand into our faces and clothes. Without the cabana, our stay on the beach would not have lasted five minutes.
The cabana listed more and more each year I visited the Vineyard, our own little version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This year the cabana lay flat on its face, ripped from its moorings by the wind. We crawled in through the opening where the floor once stood, unfolded our army blankets and made our nest for the afternoon.
None of us knew exactly what took place there over the years. I imagined Lillian drinking wine with Dashiell Hammett and her Vineyard friends. She died before I ever set foot on Martha’s Vineyard and I could find no account of her time in the cabana. The only evidence of any recent activity was one pair of abandoned panties and a lone flip-flop. Somehow I imagine Lillian would appreciate of these artifacts.
For years the blankets lay in wait at St. Jerome Hospital for disaster use, but to my knowledge never came into service. They dated back to World War II. I wondered whether they always formed part of the reserves or whether they saw combat action. Could they have kept my uncle warm at night as his infantry truck rumbled from one European war zone to another?
Who knows what the blankets could tell us? Did war soak them in soldiers’ blood? Did they remain behind in the relative comfort of Army barracks? Did they make their way directly to disaster readiness in the hospital after the war? Or did they serve as veterans in an Army/Navy store such as The Army Barracks beckoning to customers on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs from 1980 to 2004? Their secrets lay in their folds. Grist for my fantasies.
Our short time in Martha’s Vineyard drew to a close all too soon as we waited in the stand-by line for the ferry to Woods Hole and our trek home. I recounted the people I met over the past few days, their stories and their adventures. I watched the Island Home unload passengers, cars and trucks. Who was here to explore the Vineyard for the first time? Who returned home from a weekend on the mainland? Who toted their lunch on the way to work in one of the many tourist shops? They all carry their stories with them, no more forthcoming than the blankets now safely stowed in our trunk.
Martha’s Vineyard differs little from any other place in the world at least in one respect. Everyone arriving and leaving carries a rich history of experiences shaping their lives and forming the context for their future adventures. I feel fortunate to form part of the convoy of story-keepers.
Life Lab Lessons
- What stories do your fellow life travelers carry with them?
- Do you take time to ask about their stories?
- What stories define you?
- How do they shape your life direction?
- Relish the shared treasury of life experience.