In my last blog, I strongly implied that I rarely go out in summer. This week I’m making a liar of myself: having just got home from Spirituals Choir rehearsal, I’ve now been out five nights in a row.

Liar, liar, pants on fire? Maybe not. Maybe this week is “the exception that proves the rule.” I’ve never been sure exactly what that means. Maybe it means I’m not a liar, I’m just exceptional.

Monday was Jemima James’s annual variety show at Featherstone Center for the Arts. Featherstone is a hub of year-round creative activities: gallery shows, readings, lectures, classes in all sorts of arts and crafts. Summer’s Monday night performance series always draws a crowd, not least because the setting is idyllic: a natural grassy amphitheater with some majestic trees on it.

The outdoor stage and some of the audience

The outdoor stage and some of the audience

The tree Travvy and I sat under

The tree Travvy and I sat under

People come in ones, twos, and family groups. Admission is $10 at the “door,” and anyone under 14 gets in free. Some bring picnics, or pizza, or soda and beer. Kids have a blast chasing each other, blowing bubbles, and rolling down the gentle slope, close enough for adult supervision but far enough away that they don’t interfere with anyone’s listening to the music.

Even dogs are welcome. For the second year in a row I brought Travvy along. It takes him a while to settle down amid the kids running and the music playing and the people clapping, but he likes people making a fuss over him. A couple of times he woo-wooed along with the music. One guy told him he sang better than some of the singers.

Grace Burton-Sundman. That's part of dad John Sundman's head in the foreground.

Grace Burton-Sundman. That’s part of dad John Sundman’s head in the foreground.

Tuesday night it was off to the Vineyard Haven Public Library, which hosts excellent programs all year round, thanks in large part to programming director Betty Burton. (Travvy stayed home.) Tuesday the speaker was one of Betty’s two daughters, Grace Burton-Sundman, a 2006 grad of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. She’s been living and working in Rwanda since last December.

All I knew about Rwanda was that in 1994 it was the scene of a horrendous genocide in which an estimated million people were killed, many of them gruesomely. Why would a young white USian with many other options decide to take up residence in such a place? I was, in a word, curious.

Miniature animals and baskets crafted in Rwanda, and samples of the beautiful cloth Grace brought back with her.

Miniature animals and baskets crafted in Rwanda, and samples of the beautiful cloth Grace brought back with her.

Rwanda, it seems, has been making a remarkable comeback in the ensuing two decades. During her short time there, Grace has had a variety of experiences and gotten to know an impressive array of people, Rwandan and expat alike. She’s an intelligent observer of both big developments and personal connections, and she organized her material so well that her audience — most of whom knew as little as I did about Rwanda — came away informed but never overwhelmed.

Rwanda quilt

Rwanda quilt

Five nights out in a row: On Saturday, The Moth, slick, professionally produced, including stories told by three Vineyard residents, for an audience most of whom paid $40 a head. On Sunday, my writers’ group, where we read our own writings and listen to everyone else’s; no charge for admission, but you do have to write. On Monday, the Jemima James Variety Show — good live music for $10 and the chance to hang out in a beautiful spot and watch kids and adults all having a good time. On Tuesday, a fascinating glimpse into a world I knew nothing about, no charge. And tonight the weekly rehearsal of the Spirituals Choir, 20 or so Vineyarders, some summer residents and some year-rounders, learning songs the slaves sang all so we can offer other people a glimpse of their lives.

We tell each other our own stories, we sing each other our own songs, we lay out our own skills and wares and whatever else we’ve got. If I had to identify one, just one, thing that makes the Vineyard a good place to live, a place worth saving, that would probably be it. Summer residents and occasional visitors are welcome, and welcomed, at these events. I bet they absorb more of what the Vineyard is about than those who spend all their time and money on events that happen on the Vineyard but could easily be taking place in Boston, New York, or the Berkshires.

It’s flattering that high-powered outsiders think our stories — some of our stories — are worth listening to, but let’s not get carried away. We aren’t telling our stories primarily for them. We’re telling them for each other.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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5 Responses to Outings

  1. susan robinson says:

    I love the sentence that begins, “We tell each other our own stories”. The whole piece is interesting to me and makes me hope that it encourages readers to get into the mud of their own places. Here the feel of all that is different for me in that it has an Indian tint. And we have great all-day Indian dances and market weeks–at the latter we even see silkily-dressed people step out of limos for a few moments of intense shopping. But to live here year-round is to get the sense of what I think is mostly non-alliance of Indians, Latinos, and Whites/Anglos who have ferocious histories that have left a tension in the air. Along with the ways some of us find ways to welcome each other into our lives. Thanks for the view.


    • “Ferocious histories that have left a tension in the air” — this is such an evocative phrase. The histories here are less ferocious and the peoples (Wampanoag, Anglo, Portuguese, Cape Verdean, African American) more intermingled, but there are faultlines under the surface. It’s not hard not to see them, or to not-see them, or to act as if they aren’t there.


  2. Hal Davis says:

    ==“the exception that proves the rule.” I’ve never been sure exactly what that means.==

    Poor translation from the Latin. “Proves” should be translated at “tests.” At least that was Ambrose Bierce’s take in The Devil’s Dictionary.


  3. Betty Burton says:

    Susanna, That was a great post. So glad you were able to make it. You have had quite a week! I guess you have the winter to rest up. Best,Betty

    Date: Thu, 8 Aug 2013 02:18:02 +0000 To: burtonsundman@hotmail.com


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