Vineyard Midnight: Even earlier than usual

Sunset in Chilmark.

What’s Vineyard Midnight? We say just those words to people and let them take it from there.

“Vineyard Midnight” makes me think immediately of Mike Wallace. Always the first to want to leave from any event (except tennis), and to make sure all other guests at our Vineyard summer parties during the 20th and 21st centuries followed suit, Mike would look at his watch promptly at 10 pm and announce “Vineyard Midnight. Everyone go home!” And often in the middle of a most stimulating conversation, everyone would.

We were pretty jolly throughout those gatherings, but I recall one night, chez Styron, Mike at the opposite end of our crowded table from his son Chris, who was seated next to me. Mike sat looking doleful, head in hands, rare for Mr. Fun Lover — he was convinced that Chris, already famous in his own right, and loudly proclaiming a less liberal series of opinions than most of ours, was browbeating me and dissing Ronald Dworkin, whom Chris did not know.

I love Chris, and thought the banter pretty funny. And Ronnie, ever the confident intellectual, didn’t seem to notice Chris’ challenges. But Mike was hypersensitive to his friends’ feelings, and felt the need to protect us from his warrior offspring; he stood up and announced Vineyard Midnight! Everyone promptly left. Dessert remained untouched as the clock struck nine.

Closer to true Vineyard Midnight in early June and September, a number of weddings wind down at the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club next door. Their guests often spin fantasies above our seawall and the waters of Vineyard Sound, to our delight. Balloons — and paper lanterns set afire — jewel the dark sky, augmenting moonrise and its brilliant trail on the waters from East Chop to our shore. As the last celebratory song soars and dies, silence reigns. Vineyard Midnight seems to belong again to just our family, observing it from our seaview porch.

So many summer midnights over the decades have found us — our friends and neighbors, our children, now our grandchildren — on the porch or beach or dock, playing music, or stretched out on quilts on the lawn, asleep under the stars.

Here’s a poem I wrote one midnight long ago. I was content watching from my moonlit lawn chair our younger pair of children, boy and girl, asleep on the far edge of our dock:


Goodnight, Great Summer Sky

Goodnight, great summer sky
world of my childhood and the star-struck sea.

white chaise from that ancestral southern
porch my raft,
white goose-down quilt my ballast,
under Orion on the green-waved lawn
I float, high —
new moon, old craft
tide strong as ever to the sheer horizon.

Over the seawall, on the dock
Andromeda their strict and jeweled guard
as tall Orion (seas and lawns ago)
chose to be mine,

our children sleep: Alexandra, Tom
under their folded goose-wing sails
true friends in dream,
the folly wrangle of their sibling day
outshone by starlight.

Calm island evening, never-ending sea—
our lovers’ rages, too, are quiet,

Miracle of midsummer: the trust of dark
sails us beyond this harbor.

(Published in By Vineyard Light, Rizzoli, 1996)

Leave a reply

Theme developed by TouchSize - Premium WordPress Themes and Websites