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.
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.