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Authors: Philip R. Craig

A Fatal Vineyard Season


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For my daughter Kimberlie, who lives in the faraway mountains of Colorado, but keeps part of her heart on Martha's Vineyard

. . . The seed of wisdom did I sow

And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;

And this was all the harvest that I reaped—

I came like water, and like wind I go.

—The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

— 1 —

We had spent the night anchored up at the far end of Lagoon Pond and were heading back down toward the drawbridge at midmorning when I saw the big, black-hulled powerboat coming fast toward us, throwing a wide wake toward both sides of the pond. I don't like speeding powerboats, and I particularly don't like them when they're speeding at me. We were ghosting along in front of a small following wind and were in no shape to get out of anybody's way, so it was a relief to me when the boat curved off to our right and pulled smoothly alongside a dock on the Oak Bluffs side of the Lagoon. Beside the dock was a boathouse, and behind that was an embankment that was topped by a big, new house.

As the boat swept toward shore, I saw the swordfishing pulpit on her bow and then the name on her stern:
. A moment later we were rocked by her wake, and Zee and I hung on to the kids until the waters quieted, making unkind comments about people who drove their boats the way the skipper of the
drove his.

“You and your sister won't ever sail a boat like that, will you, Joshua?” Zee, holding Diana the huntress, who was hungry as always, looked at her firstborn, who was hooked in one of my arms while I held the tiller with my other.

Joshua shook his head. “No, Mom.”

“Joshua isn't going to race stinkpots,” I said. “He'll be a sailor, like his father. Won't you, Josh?”

Joshua, quick to catch on to parental biases, nodded. “Yes, Pa.”

“Nice-looking boat, though,” I said, looking at the
as her skipper made her fast to the dock. She was a yacht, but with several features more typical of a fishing boat.

“I like a pulpit and a trawler hull,” agreed Zee. “Too bad the guy doesn't know enough to keep his wake down when he comes in from outside.”

We sailed slowly on toward the drawbridge under a fine fall sky. Labor Day was behind us, Martha's Vineyard was pretty much emptied of its summer people and its summer yachts, and Zee and I were on the last leg of an experimental test cruise to see how well we'd hold up with two little kids on board. We were amateur parents who had just begun to think we might survive Joshua when Diana the huntress had made her appearance, and we were right back at the starting line again. Still, it had seemed to us that the
Shirley J.
would be a good boat for kids; being beamy, she offered a good deal of room for her size, and because of the jiffy reefing system I'd installed, she was pretty easy to keep flat even in a breeze. Besides, catboats were pretty rough-and-ready vessels, and we didn't think the piles of gear that go with babies would do ours any harm.

And so we'd packed up and taken the little ones on their first cruise because you're never too young to go sailing and because Zee and I wanted to know if we were up to being a family afloat. We'd sailed from Edgartown to Hadley's the first day; then, the next day, we'd reached along the north shore of Naushon, had ducked through Robinson's Hole back into Vineyard Sound, and had pulled into Tarpaulin Cove for the night. Then we'd sailed back to Vineyard Haven, passed through the open drawbridge, and anchored far up in the Lagoon. And now we were headed home.

And we'd found out that we could, indeed, sail together, as long as we didn't mind tight quarters, for our little
eighteen-foot Herreshoff, none too big for Zee and me even before we'd added Joshua and Diana to our household, was pretty stuffed with the essentials needed for children under two. One of the things that made the cruise possible was keeping some gear, and particularly the plastic bag full of used disposable diapers, in the dinghy we towed behind us. Without that dinghy, who knows what our feelings about family sailing might have been?

But we did have the dinghy and we were happy as we headed for home.

The drawbridge keeper opened his bridge for us, and we sailed into the outer Vineyard Haven harbor, then hooked to starboard, toward Nantucket Sound, rounded East Chop outside of the Oak Bluffs bluffs, and reached southeast, toward Edgartown.

As we passed the bluffs, I could see the big house that belonged to Stanley and Betsy Crandel up there at the top. It was one of the places I closed up in the fall, opened in the spring, and kept an eye on in the winter. I also took care of some boats, caught and sold fish, and did a little bit of a lot of things to supplement the small checks I got from Uncle Sam and the Boston PD as a consequence of having been blown up and shot while working for them earlier in my life. When I got home, I was scheduled to replace a leaky faucet at the Crandel house, in a bathroom off the kitchen, because a Crandel niece was coming in a few days for a short Vineyard holiday.

But that was later; this was now. Under light blue skies and over dark blue water, we headed down to Edgartown, tacked into the harbor, and made fast at our stake.

Zee buttoned her shirt and wiped Diana's mouth. “Home again, home again. Your girl child eats like a horse, Jefferson.”

Like mother, like daughter. Zee, too, could eat like a horse and, much to the annoyance of her women friends, never gain an ounce. Moreover, it wasn't long after her babies were born that her belly was as flat as ever. It was
quite unfair, said her friends. I thought it was just fine, but I doubted if Zee thought about it at all, any more than she thought about being beautiful.

I rowed us all ashore, then walked over to Manny Fonseca's woodworking shop and got the Land Cruiser, which I'd parked there so it wouldn't get a ticket from Edgartown's eagle-eyed parking police. Edgartown is getting so advanced in its thinking that it's no longer possible for a sailor or a fisherman to park on a side street and go to sea for a few days. You have to find some private place to put your car. I complain about it to the chief of police whenever I think of it, but a fat lot of good it does me.

“Good trip?” asked Manny.

“Finest kind.”

“Timed it right,” said Manny. “The one they call Elmer is down there in the Caribbean someplace. Wouldn't want to be out in a boat the size of yours if it comes this way.”

“You won't get any argument from me. I don't want to be out in any size boat during a hurricane.”

Hurricane Elmer had just been Tropical Depression Elmer when we'd left for our cruise, but the little portable radio we'd taken with us had informed us that he'd gotten bigger since.

I drove Zee and the little ones home, where they were welcomed by Oliver Underfoot and Velcro, the cats, who had been living alone while we'd been gone, but who hadn't suffered much because we'd left them plenty of food and water, and their little cat door had allowed them to get in and out of the house whenever they wanted. Then I went back to Collins Beach, where I ferried our traveling gear off the
Shirley J.,
tidied her up, put on the sail cover, filled out the log, and went ashore again.

Another successful sail, a successful sail being defined as one where you go out and come back again in one piece. It had, in fact, been more than just a successful sail. It had been a fine sail.

I climbed back into the truck and drove home.

Home. Where the heart is.

Zee had a vodka martini waiting. She put it in my hand. It was cold. “Ice,” she said. “We haven't had any for a while.” She touched her glass to mine and smiled her dazzling smile.

We sat on our balcony, holding a kidling apiece, and looked out onto the water we'd just sailed over. On the far side we could see the low line that was Cape Cod.

“Before the Derby starts, I've got to take these sprats over to visit with my folks,” said Zee.

“And I've got to install a faucet at Betsy Crandel's place.” I yawned. “So much to do, so little time. Sailing and visiting America and pursuing bluefish and bass. We lead a frenzied life.”

Zee bounced Diana on her knee. “You can check out all our fishing gear while I'm gone so we'll be ready to hit the beach on opening day.”

“I can do that,” I agreed. The annual Martha's Vineyard Bass and Bluefish Derby was one of the East Coast's finest fishing tournaments, and we fished in it every year in hopes of one day getting the biggest fish. So far, it had never happened, but so what? This might be the year.

The evening light slanted from the west. We finished our drinks and went down for supper. Shrimp baked with sherry and garlic. What could be finer? I felt good. Later, glad to be in a double bed again, I slept wrapped in Zee's arms. On the morrow I'd go up to the Crandel place and install that faucet, little guessing how that mundane act would change my life.

— 2 —

The Crandel house is out on East Chop, on top of the Oak Bluffs bluffs. It's a big, rambling Victorian place, with weathered gray cedar shingles, a round tower on one corner, and broad verandas. From the front of the house you can look out over the Sound and see Cape Cod on the far side. It's a pretty snazzy place, all in all, and various Crandels have been summering there since the early twentieth century.

The current senior Crandels usually came down in May, when the Vermont snow was gone from the last ski slope, and usually headed elsewhere around mid-October. They were retired and seemed to split their time among New York City, Middlebury, and the Vineyard. They had a lot of kids and other kin, so the house was full of people all summer long. Or so it seemed when I happened to drive by between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Perhaps having missed Auden's irony when he wrote of how each in his little bed conceived of islands where love was innocent, being far from cities, I had retired from combating the evils of the urban world and moved to Martha's Vineyard to live a peaceful life. By doing various odd bits of work, I managed to avoid taking a steady job, so I'd be able to go fishing whenever I wanted to, or take time out for dadding, which was a business I was still learning, just as Zee was still learning the momming game.

It had been no surprise to me that being a father would take some study and effort, but for some reason I'd always supposed that women just naturally knew how to be mothers.
It was something in their genes or hormones, I'd thought; like their natural ability to keep house and tell when one color clashed with another.

Not so, I had discovered, as both Zee and I blundered our way through tyro parenthood, first with Joshua and then with his sister, Diana, the huntress, who sought food night and day.

“I thought you women were born knowing how to take care of kids,” I'd once said to Zee, after both our darlings were temporarily asleep at the same time and we were lying in bed, a bit on the worn-out side. “I thought it was part of the great master plan, so us menfolk could go off hunting and fishing and know that everything was hunky-dory at home.”

“Fah!” Zee had replied. “Don't be fooled by the Barbie dolls in frills that little girls play with. Personally, I think they should fit Barbie out with waders and a fly rod, so she can get rid of all those pink dresses and have some real fun with Ken. As for me, I wish I did know everything about children, but I don't.” We were in the two-spoon position and she'd wriggled a bit closer. “That's why we have Dr. Spock.”

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