Permit me a small digression before we get to the fuzzy-wuzzy pet part …
Putting aside all the usual categories of Vineyarders — the wash-ashores and the underwashed, the nouveau one-percenters and the gentry whose family names overrun our ancient graveyards, there are also the crazy dreamers who’ve been coming here since the Sixties and reinventing paradise. If you’re one of them, you knew the Vineyard Players — or you were a Vineyard Player — who put on “Barefoot in the Park” in the old Oak Bluffs School gym. You had your own hut in the dunes of Gay Head. You hitchhiked everywhere, and played naked volleyball at Philbin Beach. You broke hearts and had yours thoroughly drubbed at least once, you read “The Prophet” by flashlight under the stars, you met at least one of the fire-starting dwarves of Chilmark, and you fell in with a bad crowd who turned out to be the most honorable folks you’d ever known.
Many of these merry pranksters are gone now — farewell Michael Wilde, Maynard Silva, Craig Kingsbury, Trudy Taylor, and William Waterway. Our revels now are ending, and in a little while the rest of these madcap seekers will have flown the coop to wherever we go next, and handed over the Island to the vastly wealthy and the businessmen who have a firm grip over operations, for which plebs from the mainland will be shipped in and out daily to mow the lawns and bang the cash registers.
But for this brief time being, there are a few whirling dervishes left. One of them is Andre Bonnell who, among many other activities, drives the Tuesday-morning No. 7 bus from Niantic Park, where I catch it, all the way up to the airport and back down Barnes Road, where he lets me off at Featherstone Center for the Arts for the summer flea market (I give tarot readings — come see me, and we’ll make sure the Falling Tower’s not blowing up on you this week).
Andre grew up in Natick, or rather, as he puts it, he “attempted to grow up.” He came to Martha’s Vineyard for a weekend in June of 1970, and as he nimbly puts it, “I’m waiting for Monday to show up.”
Andre did a little bit of everything at the iconic Black Dog Tavern, where he washed dishes and cooked. He met Cindy, now a town administrator in Edgartown; they had Elyce, and then Eli. As I held open my notebook the other day at the Ag Fair to get the spelling of Elyce’s name, Andre said with great good cheer, “It’s spelled funny ’cause, when I went to fill out the birth certificate, I was hammered! ‘Put a C in there!’ I said! ‘Yeah, a C! And let’s finish it off with an E!’”
Thirty years ago, Andre, being a natural-born schmoozer — a little like a saltier Mr. Rogers, exercised his yuk-yuk ability by co-starring in bus tours with the inimitable Michael Wilde. To give you an idea of how wild was Wilde, one day he pulled his bus to a stop alongside our cottage in East Chop. With his microphone he called down to my [now] ex-husband Marty, sunbathing on the shore, “Excuse me, sir, these lovely people would like to know what a typical East Chop gentleman has for beach reading.” Marty lumbered to the road, and showed the 20-plus people his book, “A Baby Maybe.” He explained, “My wife and I are trying to decide whether or not to have a kid.” Michael Wilde turned to the people for a vote. The “ayes” had it. Hearing all of this across the street and upstairs, I thought with a sigh, “If it’s come to the point where tourists on the trolley are voting about our baby, I guess we’d better have one.”
Thank you, Michael Wilde!
Kooky Michael asked kooky Andre to pitch in with him on his yearly gig at the Agricultural Fair of judging critters brought by cute little kiddos for the Pet Show. And yes, there’s a proper dog show at the fair, but I ask you: Do children have only dogs on hand for unconditional love? No sir! There are ferrets and snakes and crickets in jars to provide all the unconditional love in the world. Michael and Andre had a blast introducing kids and their quirky pets to the crowd gathered below the yellow-striped tent and platform. “I like doing this!” cried Andre, so many years ago, as they packed up their microphone and table and sound gear. “Good!” said Michael, “because now the gig is yours!”
Over the years, daughter Elyce Bonnell, MVRHS class of 2002, has helped big time with a clipboard and a sign-in sheet for youngsters and pets, but it is now grandson Isaac, age 9, who looks to be the heir apparent for the annual summer Pet Show that may endure longer than the Island remains off the coast of Massachusetts.
As for me, a bus passenger of Andre’s, with our mutual and longstanding social circle of madmen and madwomen, I invited myself to help judge last Thursday’s Pet Show because I love nothing more than snuggling with sentient beings of the furry variety. The Gospel According to Holly is that God made the animal kingdom, not for us to have dominion over, and not to abuse, and certainly not to eat, but to grapple to us with hoops of steel, because they’re It, they’re us, they’re gifts of happiness and love. (Sorry to sound sappy but . . . I AM sappy!).
Andre, a.k.a. Dr. Milkbone (it says so right on his red T shirt), kicked off the proceedings with some “Fun Ag Facts” such as, “Small farms have dwindled and so have grange halls, so the last member of the West Tisbury hall was called the Lone Granger.” Behind him, young Isaac, like a diminutive Ed McMahon, clapped and snickered.
First to mount the back steps and proceed to the big white table was 8-year-old Brianna with her dwarf rabbit Emily, a snappy dresser in a red-vested harness. Dr. Milkbone asked for gossipy dish on Emily, such as, What does she like to eat? Answer: Carrots; And where does she live? In a hutch in the family’s backyard in West Tisbury. I’d already enjoyed a hugfest with Emily behind the stage, so I left her alone for her 15 seconds of fame on the white table.
Isaac Bonnell handed Brianna a suitably gaudy gold ribbon for her contribution. Everybody gets one, and no, I don’t want to hear about how kids are spoiled by an avalanche of awards: Why should a child leave a fair with a beloved bunny and NOT receive a memento?
Dark-haired 8-year-old Tripp popped up next with his dark bunny named Merlin. “What breed is it?” asked Dr. Milkbone. Tripp said, “A meat rabbit.” The assistant newbie judge — I — gasped, “But you won’t eat it, will you?!” Tripp vehemently shook his head: “Of course not!”
A 4-year-old boy named Griggs hauled up a fishbowl with a dark goldfish dog-paddling around the lower depths as if it had eaten a rock. “What’cha got there?” asked Dr. Milkbone. “Hamster!” cried Griggs. Dr. Milkbone said, “If this is a hamster, I have to go home to take a nap.” Turned out the fish was named Hamster.
Claire, 6, brought up an 11-week-old dog, Bo, from Madagascar, cute and white and fluffy. Next appeared a Birman cat (and not to put too strict a point on it, but I would have called it Burmese), belonging to 9-year-old Margot, and a sib of Bo’s, also Birman, named Pixie, belonging to Morgan’s 11-year-old bro Raphael (got that?). Morgan boomeranged with a guinea pig named Melon, and I discovered to my intense joy that a guinea pig propped against the neck and under the chin stays put like a snuggle-bug from heaven, and lets you know you’re its newest best friend. Morgan, by the way, like the young Ms. WT sophisticate that she is, pulled out a plastic bag of treats for Melon: fresh basil, mint, and sage leaves from her mama’s garden.
Have we left anyone out? Oh, 8-year-old Bailin brought us Pollo (yes, “chicken” in Spanish, and therefore pronounced Poy-yo), a rescue dog from the streets of Quito, Ecuador, weighing about 15 pounds, black and brown with a long elegant face and purple tassels tied atop each ear. Pollo not only cuddles like the best of them, but takes little nubby nips of your ear, which somehow drives home her devotion.
This year there were no snakes, lizards, caterpillars, or quahogs on leashes. One summer Dr. Milkbone had a little girl show him a mason jar filled with pretty twigs, and with a label reading “Swedish Invisible Light Bugs.” “But I don’t see anything!” Dr. Milkbone protested, squinting into the bottle. “Of course not!” snapped the little girl. “They’re invisible!”
Clap your hands if you believe in Swedish invisible light bugs!
I had a wonderful time, but I didn’t let on to Dr. Milkbone. Didn’t want to be tapped as the judge for the next three decades. Besides, young Isaac has the Burke’s Peerage title firmly in hand, with his own red T shirt reading “Mini Milkbone.” We’re all set for future decades of pet shows.