On Saturday, September 27th, The Ambassador to the United States from St. Vincent and the Grenadines came to Martha’s Vineyard to sign a Memorandum of Understanding as part of the Sister Islands Initiative, and Her Excellency La Celia A. Prince, stayed here at the Cleaveland House, the bed and breakfast Howie and I run.
We don’t often get visitors of such high rank. Our clientele usually runs to poets, writers, artists, and other creative types who don’t mind an ancient house with shared baths and no TV.
However, this is the time of The Derby, the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, and housing on the Vineyard is as scarce as hens’ teeth.
So a few days ago, the Dukes County manager, Martina Thornton, called. “Do you have a room for this Saturday, one night? It’s for the Ambassador of Saint Vincent.”
All of our B&B rooms were booked. We have only three. “Ambassador?” I repeated.
“There are no available rooms on the Island,” she said.
Of course. The Derby. “Well,” I said after thinking a few seconds, “there’s the Woodshed.”
“Oh?” A significant pause.
“It’s actually the former woodshed,” I explained. “My husband, Howie, prefers to call it the Garden Room, because that’s where all my plants are.”
A longer silence on the other end of the line.
An explanation was in order. My great grandfather added a woodshed to the original house around 1850. That was where the family stored wood, coal, and miscellaneous things that didn’t belong in the house. A century later, around 1950, my father enlarged the woodshed and made it into a garage for their 1954 Willys Jeep and a workshop for the interminable house repairs. A half-century later, I enlarged the woodshed still further, replaced the deteriorating south-facing wall with windows, and replaced the roof. I intended to use the space as a getaway for me when my children moved back to the Island. I left all the evidence of woodshed, garage, and workshop. Old tools and worm-eaten beams. In the meantime, the Woodshed, now spelled with a capital “W”, is where I store my books and plants.
I explained all this to Martina. “It’s rustic,” I said. “The ceiling is bare boards, and the floor is cement.” I paused. “But it’s spacious and private and has its own bath.” I paused again. “I’ll send photos.”
I could imagine what was going on in Martina’s mind. Members of the diplomatic corps are not usually offered housing in rustic spaces, even ones with their own baths. “I’ll contact the embassy,” said Martina.
Apparently, the ambassador was willing to rough it. The next correspondence was from Sharen Wynne, Attaché of the Embassy: “This is to confirm that Her Excellency La Celia A. Prince will reserve the Garden Room for the Saturday, 27th September, 2014. . . It is an honour for Her Excellency to be able to stay at such an historic location in Martha’s Vineyard.”
Her Excellency arrived. A very young, very beautiful woman wearing jeans and spike heels. “Rustic is good,” she said after my apologies. “I’m tired of hotels.”
The afternoon of her arrival, Howie and I attended the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, where we not only learned about this Sister Islands Initiative, but learned a lot about our own Island. The initiative links the two islands with an exchange of information on such vital issues as fire prevention and firefighting, emergency response, education, economic development, tourism, agriculture, fisheries, and the arts. Also, it means a possible exchange of teachers and students from one island to the other.
Two of our Vineyard firefighters, Glenn DeBlase and Tim Carroll, described their visit to St. Vincent to learn what we, on the Vineyard, could do to help firefighters on St. Vincent. Breathing apparatus, was a first critical need, and our Island’s firefighters assembled 35 breathing devices that will make their way down to St. Vincent.
“We’re working on a way to transport them,” said Glann. “It’s about four-hundred pounds of equipment.”
Her Excellency left this morning after donning flip-flops to inspect my overgrown garden. True to our new Sister Island Initiative, we compared our gardens’ plants, the ones we have in common and those unique to each island.
I continued to call her “Your Excellency” throughout her stay. It’s a lovely title and one she’s earned.