Saturday, May 17, 2008

A bit from my bio

At the request of a cousin, some months ago I started writing my autobiography. It's been a tremendously interesting exercise, though it is going slowly. But I think it might be fun to post sections of it here. The following is from my very early years:
In 1954, my parents took me on the first of several summer retreats to Martha’s Vineyard, when it was as yet undiscovered by many but well-to-do black Americans. As an interesting side note, I was entirely oblivious to that historic fact, in spite of several return visits as an adult, until only perhaps 10 years ago. A neighbor and friend, a distinguished executive of African-American heritage herself, happened to mention her acquaintances who had a home there. She expanded a bit, and eventually I understood that black doctors, lawyers, educators, and businessmen have been the builders and occupants of many of the stately homes on that attractive dot in the ocean off Cape Cod over the last hundred years. The TV movie, The Wedding, with Halle Berry, is set there, more or less contemporaneous with my family’s visits. Happily, children, (and, apparently, some adults), are color-blind.
We went again in 1955, 1956, and in 1959. It was during those halcyon summers that I discovered Nature. We rented a little cinder-block “cottage” owned by a man named Sisson. It sat among a couple of others at the end of Shirley Road (this latter information is thanks to Google Maps, 2008; it was gravel and very sparsely inhabited in those days, and it would not be surprising if it had not yet been named then) in poison-ivy-filled woodlands adjacent to the Lagoon. On the shore of the Lagoon was (and still is) the State Lobster Hatchery, freely open to our explorations. It delighted me to see the Brownian flagellations of millions of hatchlings in small, smelly concrete tanks with their churning bubblers. Also for my viewing pleasure were a couple of adult specimens of gargantuan size or with especially bizarre claw deformities.
The Lagoon was Nature-made, resplendent with sea life. Every day we found washed up on the little beach live horseshoe crabs and dried compartmentalized strings of conch egg cases, with a thousand fully formed miniature shells inside. In the water itself, and in the brackish wetlands behind the Lagoon, were healthy scallops with neon-blue eye-dots and blue crabs that blithely came to eat the chicken legs my father tossed into the water on strings, only to be scooped up in his net and boiled for dinner by my mother. Elsewhere on the island were tiny wild blueberries, and on the unprotected Atlantic side, below the spectacular cliffs of Gay Head, dangerous Portuguese-Man-O-War jellies washed up on the beach, tempting curious little girls to touch, or at least to throw rocks at them. In 1954, hurricane Carol made her way up the coast and, besides terrifying my mother (whose experience with hurricanes in Puerto Rico informed her fears) lifted the pleasure boats and those of lobstermen alike onto the sidewalks and the docks, and caused much other memorable havoc.
Unfortunately, whether because of the interference of man, or because of Nature’s whims, the last time I saw the Lagoon it had changed extremely and was no longer the fruitful cradle of the 1950s. The outlet under the bridge was silted up, thus the source of fresh seawater and nutrients was choked off.

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