When times get rough, year-round Vineyarders usually come through for each other in a big way. It’s one of the things I love most about us, and the reason that despite all the place’s aggravations I’d think at least five times before I moved anywhere else.
Tonight I went to a benefit spaghetti dinner and silent auction to benefit Lisa Ben David Scannell, who fractured her pelvis in a bad horseback riding accident in early June. Many, many of us on Martha’s Vineyard are either self-employed, seasonally employed, or employed by very small companies, which is to say that even if we have adequate health insurance, we probably aren’t covered at all for lost work time. On any given weekend, all year round but especially in the off-season, there’s usually a benefit for someone who’s been injured or diagnosed with a serious illness, or for a family hit by a house fire or other misfortune.
I came to know and admire Lisa during my decade of horse ownership. Lisa was also the much-admired mentor of the young woman who guided Allie and me through our first years together, so we’re in the same line of knowledge transmission — I’m sort of her grandkid, even though she’s quite a few years younger than I am. I’m largely out of the Vineyard horse world now, but when I heard about the benefit, of course I was going to go.
The benefit was held at the PA, the Portuguese-American Club, officially the Holy Ghost Association. When I got there, about a half hour after the event officially started, the large dirt parking lot was packed. The PA is a major nexus of island life: an active, down-to-earth social club (not “social network”) with more than 1,100 members and the host for so many parties and benefits that many non-members are regular visitors.
Spaghetti with sauce and abundant meatballs was served in the low-ceilinged lower-level room, and if you still had room for dessert, the cake and cookie selection was formidable. Many ate at the rows of tables; others carried their plates up the main level, where the silent auction lined the walls and the PA’s cash bar served all comers of legal drinking age. Plenty of those in attendance were well below it — young enough, in some cases, to find toddling upright a challenge. The age range probably spanned at least eighty years, not atypical for a large island gathering. Having been out of the horse loop for over a year now, I had a good time catching up with people I hadn’t seen in at least that long, as well as those I see more often. One of the latter was TA, a friend who’s got two miniature horses in her backyard and whose horsegirl daughter, an incoming high school senior, I’ve known since she was nine. Since TA is also my hairdresser, I was mightily relieved when she said my unruly curls were looking good and don’t bother to get them cut till September.
The auction offered an impressive array of items, some distinctively horsey but most of interest to anyone. Browsing, wondering how much money I had in my checkbook, I noted the connections between the donors and the island horse world. Cindy Bonnell, for instance, crafter of the exquisite lap quilt, is a horsewoman herself, as is her grown daughter. Ken Vincent donated a small painting — his wife is a horsewoman, and his sister-in-law’s a vet. The offerings included jewelry, all kinds of gift certificates, a wool vest from Allen Farm, and even two pygmy goats from Native Earth Teaching Farm, who went for $200 to someone who will take very good care of them. Bidding was brisk. I scored a freeform wampum pendant for a very reasonable price.
Volunteers busily tallied up the auction results and accepted cash, checks, and credit cards. It looked as though enough was raised to enable Lisa to focus on her physical recovery without worrying (too much) about paying the bills. If you couldn’t be there, contributions are still welcome. Make checks payable to You’ve Got a Friend and send them to You’ve Got A Friend, Inc., benefit Lisa Scannell, P.O. Box 1317, West Tisbury, MA 02575.
Charlie and Hal, worry not — I’ve got a lot more to say about this stuff. 🙂 I love this place (there, I said it), but it also drives me crazy and I’ve been threatening to leave almost since the day I arrived. In the mid to late 1970s, when I lived in D.C., the need for things like rape hotlines and battered women shelters totally overwhelmed the capacity of volunteers and shoestring nonprofits. Involvement by government, religious institutions, big nonprofits, and big corporations was absolutely necessary — but there were serious tradeoffs, including professionalization and estrangement from the grassroots. (Several friends of mine were on the front lines during that period.) Creeping professionalization was already happening on MV when I got here, and it’s accelerated in the last 15 years or so, I think. The reasons and the tradeoffs are similar in some ways, but we’ve also seen the influx of a professional class that tends to be much better at acting than at listening. Anyway, more TK . . .
You have touched me anarchist heart with your account of the community’s mutual aid as *the* safety net.
But your last remark about the same folks “not so great at organizing in our own behalf” may tangentially relate to my earlier query about the shredded safety net that goes beyond your immediate circle.
You make your MV community sound very good–the way the world should be.
In some ways, yeah, it is. At the same time, I know there are some people “the community” would never come through for — they’re too outside the web, too strange, too socially clumsy. The question I poke at a lot is “Why are we so great in responding to particular needs but not so great at organizing in our own behalf?” Guess I’ll have to blog about that one of these days. 😉
Please do write about this because it goes to the heart of what’s going on with every government budget that funds social services, education, arts, etc. A universal system may suck for everyone at some level, but a more humane and community-based one depends on who’s in the community (both as contributors and beneficiaries).
People think they have a limit for paying taxes. What’s the limit for bake sales and silent auctions?
Susanna…you so beautifully captured the spirit and intent of last night’s event. Thank you for posting this.
My absolute pleasure. Congratulations and thanks to all you organizers for doing a superb job.
==On any given weekend, all year round but especially in the off-season, there’s usually a benefit for someone who’s been injured or diagnosed with a serious illness, or for a family hit by a house fire or other misfortune.==
While this is admirable, it makes me wonder if the social network is attempting to make up for the shredded safety net that is supposed to share the risk for all of us.
In small towns, rural areas, and urban neighborhoods, events like this predate the safety net — they are the safety net. I’m lucky: in my life I only occasionally had to interact with the official safety net, but in recent years my interactions have gone up because I’m on Commonwealth Care, the state’s health-insurance plan. Almost without exception those interactions have been demoralizing; sometimes they’ve been humiliating too. Standing in line at the unemployment office or trying for an hour to reach an overworked bureaucrat on the phone — that doesn’t foster community. These events do. You eat, meet-and-greet (and sometimes dance and/or sing), and maybe spend a little more money than you thought you could afford, then you go home knowing that you’re a little part of something big and vibrant and wonderful — and maybe if something bad happened to you or someone you love, you wouldn’t have to go through it alone.
Meanwhile our official “safety net” is at the mercy of rich blowhards who have no effing idea what it takes to make do on an income just above the federal poverty level.