Two wonderful summers
Initially part of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs was once known as the Cottage City of America. Soon church folk from all over the country gathered here for the Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting. They came to preach, pray, reflect and repent in a spirit of religious fervor. As stores, hotels and larger homes sprang up around Cottage City, it developed into a seaside resort. Oak Bluffs is a relatively young town, by Island standards, and since its economy had more to do with recreation than with the time-honored whaling or shipping trades of Edgartown and Vineyard Haven, it evolved with a much more frivolous, light-hearted air. Instead of serviceable, weather-hardy salt-boxes or dignified captains' houses, Oak Bluffs filled with frilly, even gaudy, multicolored gingerbread cottages, unwinterized "wooden tents" erected to replace the earlier Methodists' canvas ones. Oak Bluffs businesses also leaned toward pure entertainment; there were theaters, a giant roller skating rink, hotels, and a carousel (still in operation).
In many ways, I have always been and still am "a country boy." Born in Mt Airy, NC and raised in a very protected environment, I had never been north of Southern Virginia, east of our Atlantic coast, south of Central Florida, nor west of Knoxville, TN when I went away to college. That was in North Carolina as well and only 135 miles from my home but I thought that I was about to become "King of the World" because it was such a prestigious university and there was no way that any of my family would have ever thought that I could go there. My parents even discouraged me from applying for admission. I applied, was admitted, got an amazingly generous financial arrangement, and spent four of the most wonderful years of my life beginning to grow up. (You city folks would probably say, "mature.") The couple who helped my father get into business after he finished trade school were literally the first "Yankees" that I ever met but there were a lot of them at my school and, although they talked funny, they were a big part of my maturation process. Through my experiences with my Yankee-classmates and fellow runners, I decided that I really needed to see the North. About this time the "Beach Blanket Bingo" genre (That's one of those Yankee words that I learned.) of movies was in its heyday, so I decided that I needed to "work" at least one summer at one of those "happening" resorts. I requested info from the state tourism offices in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine. After a cursory review of the brochures which I received, I sent letters to a few hotels asking about their summer hiring plans. All but one of the responses which I received were pretty much form letters. The only personalized letter which I received was a partially handwritten one from the owner of the Wesley House on Martha's Vineyard Island. He began by telling me that he was very reluctant to hire Southern guys because he had found that all they wanted to do was party and that he had been forced to send more home during the summer than had been able to complete their full summer term. I almost did not even apply but for some unknown reason (perhaps I just wanted to prove to him that he was wrong about Southern men) I did submit a letter of application in which I gave him specific dates that I would be available, pointing out that I would not be able to stay for the entire summer because I had to attend ROTC summer camp. Almost as an afterthought, I mentioned that I had been in Demolay. It seemed that by return mail, I received an offer of a job at a pay rate higher than I had anticipated and a reminder that I would not be eligible for the bonus which people who worked all summer received. I took the job and the most exciting, enjoyable summer of my life (to that point) followed. When I left for summer camp, the owner took me aside, gave me an envelope (which turned out to contain $250), and told me that if I wanted to come back for any future summers, I would always be welcome. At the end of the summer, I went to spend a few days with my summer love from Martha's Vineyard ... to be continued ...