A couple encounters a character in Martha's Vineyard
Or Not To Be
Iris worried when Grumps ran toward the two people just parking half way down the slope in Owen Park. Would his barking anger them? Would they complain? She should have kept him on his leash. Too late now.
They didn’t look scared. Getting out of their car, they both leaned down to pet Grumps. His bark welcomed rather than warned them and they had the wisdom to know the difference.
Grumps followed them to the picnic bench on the bay side of the pagoda, hoping they might have something for him in the picnic basket. The couple, just recovering from the dog licking and sniffing them, wondered what next. Up the hill lumbered what appeared to be a huge woman moving as fast as possible, in her case, closer to a hippopotamus waddle than a racehorse gait.
Iris secured her wide-brimmed straw hat and hiked up her gingham skirt in order make faster time. Then she struggled up the hill as quickly as her legs would carry her, now not as fast or reliably as they once did.
After catching her breath, Iris managed to wheeze, “Don’t mind me. I’m crazy, says you. I’m sorry if he bothers you. He likes me to let him free from his leash from time to time while he chases sand crabs. It seemed safe. I saw no one else around. He saw you arrive before I could get him back on his leash.
“I’m sorry. I did not introduce myself. Where are my manners? Name’s Iris. Born and bred on the Vineyard. I know most of the people who live here. You must have come across on the morning ferry.”
“Glad to meet you, Iris. I’m Karen and this is my husband Josh. Actually we came on the Katama yesterday afternoon with the tanker trucks. We just walked down from Nancy’s Auberge a few houses up Main Street.”
“How is Nancy? I don’t see her much lately.”
“She told us she doesn’t get out much any more. How do you know her?”
“She used to sit here in the park every day watching the sailboats and ferries coming and going.”
“We told her we planned to pack our wine, cheese, hummus and crackers for lunch. I thought she looked wistful.”
“I’m sure she would perch on this very bench if she got around as well as she once did. She said she would love to join us but walked very little now.”
“Well, I thank my stars I can still walk at all. What would Grumps do if I had to spend the whole day sitting at home? What would I do?”
“So your dog is named Grumps?”
“My heavens. Once again I apologize for not properly introducing you. I would ask him to introduce himself, but he’s not partial to formalities. Me neither, come to think of it. I guess he did introduce him in his dog way.”
Karen felt a need to reply. “No harm done. Glad to meet you and Grumps. Do you live here in Vineyard Haven?”
“Too snooty here except for Owen Park. No. We hail from Edgartown. We don’t live on a main street, but hidden away a few blocks back from the Harbor View. Do you know the hotel?”
“Sorry, we just arrived on the Vineyard for the first time. We plan to explore Edgartown tomorrow. So you live near the hotel?”
“More behind it than near it. Tourists don’t bother with our street much. Who wants to drive a big car on a narrow one-way street if they don’t live there? Why bother. While I’m on the topic, why bother bringing a car to the Vineyard with all the crowds this time of year. Anyway, there’s just houses up there where I live Nothing much to see. Say, your husband doesn’t say much, does he?”
“My turn to apologize. Josh is still catching his breath after his stint as my pack animal all morning. He’s about as worn out as your Grumps.”
Josh counted himself lucky that Karen carried the bulk of the conversation so far. He merely stood, mouth agape, wondering what kind of apparition stood before them and wondering what to say. He managed to stammer, “Glad to meet you, Iris. You and Karen had such a good conversation going, I hated to interrupt. But I did listen.” He tried to think of something semi-intelligent to add. “How did you come to live in Edgartown?”
“Come to live? My parents birthed me there. At first they lived Up Island but moved to Edgartown around the time Harold came along. That’s my brother, of course. Their move had nothing to do with Harold however.”
“My father wore himself out fishing on the Menemsha boats and came here, that is to Edgartown I mean. Somehow he landed a job shuttling the On Time Ferry back and forth between Edgartown and Chappy. He didn’t make much money but my grandfather died and left us his house in Edgartown. We couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage. The taxes burdened us quite enough.”
Josh felt proud to keep up his end of the conversation. “Did you work in Edgartown?”
“Off and on. I worked as a maid at the Harbor View. Didn’t last long though. Maybe I didn’t act the part. All the other maids looked so demure all the time, don’t you know, curtseying, bowing and scraping. Not for me. After they let me go, I found jobs cleaning shops after hours. That suited everyone just fine. I needn’t deal with anyone except to collect my paycheck and they needn’t look at my ugly puss.”
“Do you still clean at night?”
“Heavens, no. I gave that up when I reached sixty-two. Social Security you know. I don’t get much but at least it’s enough for my vittles and dog food for Grumps.”
Karen wondered about her life. ”How do you spend your time now?”
“Well, after I gave up on working for a living and started on the dole, I tended my gardenias. Every morning all summer I loaded my bicycle basked with the flowers and worked my way up and down the street delivering one to each house. After a while, people knew when I would be by and waited out on their front porches for their deliveries. In the winter, I just waited for summer so I could pump up my bike tires and get back to my route.”
Karen never heard of such a pastime. “That’s very sweet of you.”
“Oh, I got something from it as well. I had constant offers of morning tea and biscuits or muffins depending on the ladies’ fancy that day.”
Josh struggled to stay involved in the conversation. “Do you still make your rounds?”
“Heavens, no. As you can see, my body hardly waddles now. I’d be a sight to see on a bicycle. You see right now what we do all day. Grumps and I travel from beach to park to trail to see what we can find, and of course greet whoever we meet on the way. I have quite a collection of jetsam I found mostly after storms. Some folks want what I find as souvenirs of the Vineyard and I let my findings go cheap. Of course, not many people wind up in front of my house as I said on account of where I live. But those as do sometimes take a notion to buy what I have for sale. Then Grumps and I splurge on a little extra treat. Both of us have always been partial to crab cakes. ”
Karen made an effort not to leave the total burden of the conversation to her husband. “You sound like you still enjoy life.”
“Grumps and I both do. Neither of us has stayed as spry as in our younger days but we do our best. There’s no rush. When we get where we’re going, that’s soon enough.”
Karen who, when she originally spotted Iris, hoped she would not stop to talk, grew fonder of her as an island icon, and thought a little more highly of the human race realizing there were still people who would go out of their way to please others. She looked at Josh but had trouble reading his thoughts. She decided to chance it. “Iris, we have plenty of food if you would like to join us. Maybe we can even find something Grumps would like.”
“Thank you kindly, but Grumps and I have gotten behind on making our rounds. Thank you for the offer but we have our hearts set on making it to Menemsha sometime this afternoon. Nice chatting with you. If you get a chance while you’re in Edgartown, stop by my house. I might have something you would like to take back with you as a souvenir. Better deal than the shops, I would think.”
Josh and Karen waved to Iris and Grumps after her Buick Roadmaster roared to life. Josh promised himself he would not be so quick to judge by appearances next time. What would people make of him when they encountered him wandering around in his retirement?