To my recollection there is only one time in my life that I spent Christmas on the Vineyard. I was probably around 5 or 6 and my mother and I went to MV to be with my godparents.
Edward and Gertrude Norris (Nana and Pop) were my godparents. They lived part of the year in their house in Oak Bluffs which is where I spent my childhood summers. The other part of the year they lived in Newark, NJ downstairs in the same house we lived in. They were the most important people in my life besides my parents. They never had children of their own and they thought of us as their family. I’m not sure of the actual connection to them except that Nana was my grandmother Albra Mae’s best friend when my grandmother moved to the Vineyard. When my mother graduated from high school on MV in 1926 she moved to Newark, NJ to live with them and to find work.
One Christmas when Nana and Pop were elderly, having health problems and living year round on the Vineyard and missing us my mother decided she and I should go and spend Christmas with them. I was too young to realize this might be the last Christmas for one or both of them, all I knew was that I was going to wake up Christmas morning ON THE VINEYARD. How great would that be. The only glitch was that my dad couldn’t get off work to come with us but he insisted we go. Talk about being torn.
I seem to remember there was a dusting of snow on Christmas morning… even if there wasn’t I like to think there was. There were presents… one in particular I remember because I asked for it every year. A nurses kit. It was a white square box with a red cross on the side. Inside were band-aids, gauze bandages, a wooden thermometer and a stethoscope, a name tag… and the most important article.. a nurses cap. I spent the most of the morning bandaging people up whether they wanted to be or not.
All of a sudden I heard a faint knock on the front door !! I ran to open it and let out a shriek… it was my dad standing there with a big smile and a shirt box. A shirt box !! Yes indeed that’s all he had with him. No suitcase. No duffle bag. Just a shirt box with a couple of clean shirts and other essentials in it… he obviously liked to travel light.
It turned out to be one of the most wonderful Christmases of my childhood.
A few years ago I found this letter that my Pop had written to me for my 6th birthday. After Nana died he pretty much lived alone except for the two summer months we spent with him. I loved to listen to his stories of working on the steamships in Massachusetts and later being a bank guard in NJ. Pop couldn’t walk without the aid of a cane and even then couldn’t walk far, certainly no further than the front or back yard. Almost everyday we’d have our lunch together under a tree in the backyard and then in the evening we’d listen to the radio together. He liked programs like ‘The Shadow’ which scared the bejeebers out of me and made it hard for me to walk down the dark and seemingly endlessly long hall to my upstairs bedroom.
The hardest part of my summers was saying good-bye to him… I wouldn’t cry in front of him but the tears spilled out of my eyes the moment we left the house. I still find it sad and emotional to leave the Vineyard and I’m sure those moments from long ago have a bearing on it.
I am blessed to have the memories of that one Christmas on Martha’s Vineyard and of Nana and Pop, two people who were such an important part of my life.