Farewell, Downton Abbey

IMG_4752The shock is beginning to set in. After next Sunday night, the wonderful PBS series Downton Abbey will be history. Done. Only to be viewed again in . . . re-runs.

Enter the Edgartown Public Library.

The building on North Water Street officially closes next Saturday—coincidentally, the day before the final episode of DA airs—as it begins its move to a magnificent, new facility. In preparation for the last hurrah of both DA and the equally beloved library, a screening of the show’s finale was in order, to be followed by High Tea.

Given the tight quarters in the basement of the old place, seating would be limited. The sign outside declared that the event was “Sold Out,” though the price of admission was merely enthusiasm and early registration. About 20 folks scored a “ticket.”

A decked-out gentleman greeted us at the door and presented himself as “Foster, the Butler.”

Women comprised most of the audience. There were a few hats, and I noticed that at least one lady was wearing elbow-length gloves. The room was abuzz with conjectures: would Mary run off with Tom, the former chauffeur? Would Robert drop dead? Would Marigold ever seem happy to be there?

IMG_4753The lights dimmed; the fish tank was unplugged, eliminating both a fluorescent glow and the drone of its filter; our hostess appeared. Good grief, it was Mrs. Patmore! Or was it? Dark hair, not blonde, peeked from beneath her cap. Her apron was cleaner and crisper than Mrs. P.’s. And when she spoke a few words of welcome, she sounded suspiciously like Virginia Munro, who is known to have choreographed more than a few terrific events in the basement.

No matter. We chose to believe that, indeed, it was Mrs. P., not Virginia. Whoever she was, she pushed a button and . . . ahhh . . . the music began, the long shot of the grounds of the estate and the hind end of the yellow lab guided us toward . . . well, I’m not going to say anymore. No spoilers here. Suffice it to say, if you are a fan, be sure to watch next week.

As for our group, two hours later we watched in stunned silence as the credits rolled. DA was over. A distinct sound of rustling tissues filling the room; sniffs were sniffed; low murmurs were murmured, if that is a word.

The lights came up again. Foster called for our attention. Then he announced: “Ladies and Gentlemen, tea is now being served in . . .” wait for it . . . “the Library.”

Of course it was. Tiny sandwiches, tea cakes, pudding tarts. And yummy tea, poured into a colorful array of delicate porcelain teacups that had once belonged to Virginia’s . . . er, Mrs. Patmore’s mother, and had been rescued from a carton in a basement for this most fitting occasion.

The best part is, as with M.A.S.H, Cheers, and, of course, Seinfeld, I will always remember where I was for the Downton Abbey finale.

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Sea Glass and Other Stories

One of my favorite books for writers is Lawrence Block’s TELLING LIES FOR FUN & PROFIT, which taught me it’s okay to make stuff up.

So I do. Take my novel, TIDES OF THE HEARTIMG_4707. Early on, we see an odd young woman named Karin, dressed in a long sarong, aimlessly strolling the beach at West Chop on the Vineyard, picking up colorful bits of sea glass—lots of sea glass—that she later click-clicks whenever she remembers the awful thing she’s done.

I lied. Aside from the fact I never met such a young woman, I knew that the act of her collecting colorful bits of sea glass on an aimless stroll simply would not be possible.

Sea glass is hard to find! Wampum is a dime a bucket but sea glass? Oy.

Over the year, my beach-walking has turned up only three or four pieces, all about the size of a pinkie fingernail: one blue, a few green, one clear piece that was bigger than the others but turned out to be a rock.

Yesterday, however, was a different story.

It was a warm-for-February afternoon. I chose Bend-in-the-Road Beach for its relatively flat surface and its views over to Cape Cod on a clear day.

As I walked, my head, as usual, was bent, my eyes grazing the sand for wampum because as I’ve said before, I can’t help myself. (An ad in the MV Times for C.B. Stark Jewelers of Vineyard Haven says they’re buying wampum; maybe I’ll make my fortune there!) Anyway, I’d brought a bag on my outing because I’m sick of trying to remove grains of sand from inside my pockets. Besides, like with eating chocolate, I usually end up with more than I intended.

So there I was, walking along, eyes peeled, when suddenly . . . suddenly . . . a powder-blue-colored round thing—almost the size of the bottom of a jar of peanut butter—was at my foot. It wasn’t moving, so I decided it wasn’t a living organism. I leaned down for a closer look; I saw that it was frosted, often a telltale sign that what once had been an ordinary piece of glass had since been tossed and tossed by salt water tides and transformed into . . . yes! . . . authentic sea glass!

I said something out loud. I quickly scooped it up. Holy cow, it really was a magnificent specimen! I didn’t dump it in my wampum bag but instead held it safely and kept walking. Not ten feet away was a slightly smaller, but equally lovely, pale aqua piece of sea glass. Then a dark green one, followed by a bright green one, which was the tiniest, but still thumbnail size.

What a day, huh? Karin would have been elated.

I snapped this photo as proof. I put a quarter in the shot to show what my engineer friends would call “spatial relationship.”

I went back to the same beach today, walked almost an hour, bagged a bunch of wampum. I thought I saw a small piece of red sea glass (the rarest, I’ve been told), but it turned out to be plastic.

And that’s the truth.

Pardon my Doornail Cliché

IMG_4674Anyone who lives East of, oh, I don’t know, L.A. perhaps, is aware of the wicked freezing temperatures this past weekend. And few folks will be shocked that my car refused to start.

Sadly, no one knows a car has a dead battery until one is going out. Needing to be somewhere. Having stuff to do.

I had a list. Errands. Not fun, but necessary.

So when I turned on the ignition and heard that dreadful . . . nothing . . . I groaned. It was as dead as a clichéd doornail.

AAA no longer services the island. (That’s another story.) But they reimburse you, once someone defibrillates the thing.

A nice man showed up quickly. (Hooray!) He got it going. Then he told me I should drive it for a while without shutting it off.

I’d like to pause to mention this happened here a few years ago when I stupidly failed to turn the car lights off after dark. (I was still getting used to the utter blackness of the nights and was concerned, well, okay, terrified, of skunks.)

When AAA arrived (that was before the “other story”) and solved the problem, I was told to drive my car for an hour. Problem: I’d been heading for the boat. “Not with this car you’re not,” the AAA guy said. Huh? It’s only 15 minutes to the ferry, but once on board, I’d have to shut my car off. The folks behind me might say mean things when we reached Woods Hole and my car couldn’t disembark. (Not sure if AAA serviced the Island Home.) Anyway, I drove in circles around the island for an hour and took a later boat.

Fast forward to this weekend. “But I have errands to do,” I whined after the nice man echoed his predecessor. Then he added, “Well, luckily you’re on the Vineyard. Just leave it running.”

Leave it running? My car doesn’t lock when it’s left running. (Thanks for the safety factor, VW.) Still . . . I had things to do.

First, the post office. I dashed in quickly, one eye peeled on the parking lot where telltale smoke puffed merrily from the exhaust pipe into the frigid air. I made it back before car thieves could arrive.

Next stop, the pharmacy. Unfortunately, the things I needed weren’t by the window. My heart pounded just a bit, but when I returned, my car awaited, nice and toasty, as I’d left the heater running, too.
Last stop: the seafood market. The owner stood inside, peering out. “Let me know if anyone steals my car,” I said. He chuckled, shook his head.

I paid for my clam chowder. On the way out, another woman entered. She, too, was alone. As I got back to my car, I realized she had parked beside me. And she’d left her motor running. With no one else inside.

Moral of the story: This is Martha’s Vineyard, Jean.

Warning: Wherever you are, I don’t recommend trying this at home.

SPOTLIGHT on the Vineyard

IMG_4634Anyone who works at home knows there’s no such thing as a snow day . . . so, though buckets of nasty white stuff are once again blowing around outside with the kind of gusto that promises gargantuan accumulation, I am at my desk. Working. But that’s okay because there’s news to tell!

For fans of the film SPOTLIGHT, tomorrow evening promises to be special. The Vineyard Gazette has a terrific series called “Tuesdays in the Newsroom,” where islanders gather to learn interesting (and fun) bits about the ins and outs of this amazing weekly (twice weekly in season), 170-year old newspaper. On tap tomorrow is a guest speaker: Walter “Robby” Robinson, editor at large at the Boston Globe and head of the now famous SPOTLIGHT team that exposed the horrific story of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The team’s work earned them a Pulitzer Prize; their story was captured in the wonderful film SPOTLIGHT, which has been nominated for six Academy Awards. (Robinson’s part was played by Michael Keaton.) I’ve been told he’ll talk about investigative journalism, which should be terrific . . . as long as this blizzard is out to sea and the boat can get him here!

Speaking of Hollywood . . . in other news, a movie is apparently in development about the “Chappaquiddick incident”—that sad and tragic accident in the summer of 1969 when a young woman drowned in Senator Ted Kennedy’s car, as the headlines screamed back then.

I remember it clearly. I even referred to it in my novels a few times, especially in PLACES BY THE SEA, when two of my characters stood outside Duke’s County Courthouse and watched media frenzy as the story played out on Main Street, Edgartown—a scene that wound up changing both their lives. Most folks on the island don’t, or won’t, discuss the topic now. But Hollywood has knocked on the Vineyard’s door again (please, no references to JAWS), and it will be hard to either anticipate or disregard the antics sure to follow.

Enough said from my end. For details, read the Gazette article at: http://vineyardgazette.com/news/2016/02/04/coming-big-screen-near-you-chappaquiddick-movie.

Time to make more tea and get to work. I refuse watch the weather channel that will surely tell me there are sunny skies today in western Massachusetts!

Stop and Smell the Sea Air.

Stop and Smell the SeaSometimes I forget where I am. I get so busy, have so much fun, work so hard, go to so many movies and lectures and book groups and you-name-it, that I forget to remember what brought me here in the first place.

The sea, of course. The vast, empty beaches in winter, where you can walk for what seems like forever, with only the roar of the waves (they really do roar in winter) for your companion, and the only thoughts in your head the ones your imagination can dream up.

I learned that two decades ago when I came here to write my first Vineyard novel. Back then, a solitary walk on the beach helped de-stress my mind, helped set my imagination free. I “met” new friends like Jill, Rita, and Ben—I imagined their lives lived on an island, removed from the world and yet not. Over time, I met dozens of new friends while I strolled on the sand: Liz, Will, and BeBe; Jess, Richard, and Ginny; Mary Beth, Nikki, and Gabrielle. Some politicians, some trust fund babies, some just plain people, like me.

Yesterday, it was almost 50 degrees here. (Nice change from last weekend’s blizzard that limited visibility to your hand in front of your face.) I knew it would be a fine day for beach walking.

I went to South Beach, climbed over a sand dune (it used to be easier to do that), and there it was: the forever-stretch of barren beach, the gray, roaring waves, the tide either coming or going—I’ve never been sure how to tell which way was which. Sort of like life, I guess.

A long time ago, the great Olympic gymnast and wonderful friend, Tim Daggett, said, “If someone tells you they don’t have a dream, you’d better check their pulse.” I moved closer to the water and checked mine. Surprisingly, it was still going strong.

I breathed. I smelled the sea air. And I let myself feel open, once again, to all possibilities, to anything I could imagine. I looked far to my left, far to my right. I saw no one, but I started to walk. As you can see by the photo, I wasn’t the only one who’d been there. Apparently lots of people—perhaps some real, perhaps some imagined—had thought it was a good day for dreaming, too.

Advice of the day: Find your own kind of beach. Then watch the magic happen.