Vineyard Haven doesn't announce itself. You have to know that William Street is the place to find the wonderful Colonial, Victorian and Greek Revival houses that were not taken out by the fire that scorched the old town center at the turn of the century before last. And if, like me, you're a cemetery buff, Vineyard Haven has some of the best. When the winds are too raw and blustery for the beach, I walk my dogs to the graveyards and commune with the island dead. There's a lovely little old cemetery up by West Chop, where some of the many writers who've loved this town are laid to rest. William Styron and Art Buchwald are there, and John Hersey. (Lillian Hellman, whose house was here, is buried up-island, as is John Belushi.)
The larger town cemetery is on a rise of land well back from the harbor. It's a leafy place, with a lighthouse-shaped memorial to sailors. Nearby, a newer monument moves me each time I pass it: a simple granite plinth, inscribed with a Star of David and a Christian cross, the names of two men and their dates of birth and death. On one face of the plinth, two circles interlock. Underneath, the words: "Since 1958." The churchyard on Center Street has some of the oldest gravestones: wonderful Puritan names such as Experience and Thankful and creepy little skulls to remind us what's in store.
For many years, I was one of the many summer visitors who dreamed of moving here. I credit a graveyard visit for focusing my mind on the need to organize my life so I could actually do it. The inscription that inspired me was succinct and to the point. It read: "At last, a year round resident."
Geraldine Brooks' most recent novel, People of the Book, is now available in paperback.