Last week, as is my custom, I was driving around locating and previewing as many new listings as I could. There was a property in Katama that I was trying to find. In doing so I drove down a named dirt road that transitioned into what appeared to be someone’s driveway – typical on the Vineyard. I was puzzled but forged ahead with the moxie that is typical in my profession. As I weaved my way along the cluttered road, all of a sudden standing in front of me standing firm in what I can only describe as a shooter’s stance was a diminutive white haired elderly figure of a lady with a very stern look on her face. She had her hands on her hips and I immediately scanned her person to see if she had a gun and was preparing to draw on me.
I stuck my head out of my window and with a big smile on my face I introduced myself and explained where I thought I was going. She replied, “That’s my property you are looking for”. With that she smiled and briskly walked over to the passenger side of my car, opened the door and hopped in like a young 20 year old girl. “Come on, I’ll show you” she said. As we crept along with me following her pointing the way she began to talk. (This is where the fun begins.)
She asked me how old I thought she was and when I guessed (wrong) she told me she was 87 years old and had lived here all her life. During WW II a local man asked her to marry him but she said no. “Why would I marry a man and have his babies when he was going off to war and might never return?” She proudly told me that she stayed single, worked hard and bought a huge tract of land with a house for $5,000.00. She eventually married her suitor when he returned from the war and had a family.
When we finished looking at her property and I was preparing to take her back where I picked her up, she asked me if I knew there had once been a herring packing plant in Katama. “The history books have it all wrong; they say it was an ice house. My sister used to work there.” I said, “Sure let’s go”. So off we went down Herring Creek Road toward South Beach. As we drove she explained how they would pack the herring there and then send them off Island along with the scales that she said were made into artificial pearls. We drove through one of the parking lots and she pointed to all that was left of the packing plant, a concrete foundation. “How many ice houses were there in Katama?” “Two” She answered before I could guess. She also made a point of telling me David Letterman lives on Herring Creek Farm and that she sees him often. She said one time she told him she had a present for him. When he asked her what it was she responded, “My tax bill.”
The next part of what was becoming a quiz was whether or not I knew about the Katama Hotel and where it used to stand. Off we went with her in charge as navigator and me totally enthralled. We drove down the Edgartown Bay Road to the bend in the road by the Land Bank property where there is now one lone Osprey pole. “That’s it, the spot where the hotel used to be” she giggled. She explained how the railroad from Oak Bluffs used to carry people from the ferry wharf along what is now Beach Road all the way to Katama and the Hotel. “Do you know what the original name for Beach Road was?“ she quizzed, “Paper Patch Road”. She shared all kinds of neat information with me, but I just couldn’t remember it all.
It was getting late and I needed to get back to my office. As I was driving her home she explained that she drove a taxi on the Island until she was 80 years old and she loved giving tours. She even teased me by beginning to tell me the ‘true story’ about who was really driving Teddy Kennedy’s car that fateful night on Chappaquiddick but she got distracted when we passed one of the many big houses along the road. She had two pet peeves: One was why on earth they decided to change the name of the area out by South Beach from Great Plains to Katama. “Look at it; it’s all flat like a great plain and it was all farm land.” Her other peeve was the big houses that nobody lives in more than few weeks in the summer. “Look at them; it’s awful.”
I think I will have to give her a call someday and ask her out for a cup of coffee or a soda. When we said good bye she told me she had not had this much fun in weeks. I responded, “Me too”.
After I got back to my office and I found this nice melancholy poem about the Katama Hotel
in a book of poems titled "An Old Fly Book And Other Stuff" published in 1913.
Living on Martha’s Vineyard is still a wonder to me and what seems like a never ending ever changing adventure. I am glad that I don’t know where I think I am going.