Wondering Where Those Blankets Came From

Carol Waving Army Blanket

Carol Waving Army Blanket

The past, with its pleasures, its rewards, its foolishness, its punishments,
is there for each of us forever, and it should be.

~Lillian Hellman~

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.

4 thoughts on “Wondering Where Those Blankets Came From

  1. Very insightful post. I happened to have a life-long history of spending summers on the Vineyard (50+ years). My family has been visiting the Island since the 1930’s, and the tradition continues to this day.

    What I discovered is that certain facets of who I am and my perspective about life has, to some extent, been a direct correlation to those experiences that I had there as a child. The lessons learned, thoughts, feelings, opinions, memories – all have been touched by the Vineyard.

    I have often contemplated the very questions you ask as I observed, year after year, countless individuals arriving and leaving this enchanting Island with a story of their own to tell; all uniquely relevant and inspiring.

    I cherish this gift of life as an opportunity to learn from one another; to be respected, shared, and lived to the fullest!


    • Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for your post. I am glad others have the same fond memories of the Vineyard. My girlfriend started going there as a teenager and still gets excited every time we step onthe ferry. I am working on a novel, Marital Property, and hope to find it on the Bunch of Grapes shelves in the not too distant future.


  2. Hello Joe –

    Good luck with your book – I’ll be sure to look for it…let me know when you publish it!

    I just finished a memoir that I’ve been working on for about 3 years entitled: ‘The Vineyard We Knew’, which is an account of the summers I spent on the Vineyard with my siblings and cousins. I’m going through the editing process now and I how to have it out sometime in 2012.

    Thanks for your response.


    • Hi Kevin,

      Good luck with your memoir. It sounds good. maybe you will end up at the Bunch of Grapes with it. I think I forgot to mention that my book Marital Property is set in the Vineyard.


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