Marthas Vineyard: My Island, My Memories

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I wanted to do it forever. Working with an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Cambridge as a community advocate for housing for the homeless, she also created what has become a nationwide program aimed at linking the federal Women, Infants, and Children WIC Program with local farmers markets. Continuing this call to public service, she made the difficult decision to set aside her oral history work and enroll in divinity school in California. But fate intervened. In August , the week before her planned departure, a bicycle accident changed her life forever, and ultimately brought her back to the Vineyard.

My tire must have gotten caught between the tracks and I flipped over the handlebars, landing on my head. Linsey was unresponsive at the scene, and not breathing. The resulting traumatic brain injury put her into a deep coma for days. Her parents were told she might never recover, and would most likely suffer extensive impairment of brain function. She would spend months in the hospital. At first, the rehabilitation was slow, but Linsey soon made extraordinary progress. I was so determined not be a brain-injured person, I really focused on all my therapies to retrain my brain.

Ironic for being an oral historian. But in attempts to restore its function, I would spend weeks not talking. I would have to write to communicate. It gave me a realization of the kind of attitude that people with disabilities are faced with daily. She returned to her home on the Vineyard with no guarantee of full brain-function recovery, so she turned to what she knew she could do — work on gathering oral histories. Of not being able to get a word that you have in your head. Of trying to connect disjointed thoughts.

It helped connect me to the process older people often face. It made me understand both the elusiveness of memory and the strength of memory. Although Linsey now functions at a high level, working to deal with the challenges of brain injury will always be part of her life. I was capable. A second volume, More Vineyard Voices, was published in I go to the Gazette and read from their library, and try to learn about the person and their history. Then I sit down and think of questions, and organize them, usually chronologically.

You have to listen and think on your feet. In the end, I feel my responsibility is to the interviewee. I always have them read through the edits to review and approve.


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Linsey is a professional listener. She says she encourages students to look for lessons in the oral history. People struggled. Their strength and personal resilience comes through in their stories.

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How they adapted, and learned to overcome their challenges, is relevant today. These voices remind you that we can make do with what we have or, when change is necessary, we can do this by working together. Linsey has witnessed dramatic changes on the Vineyard in recent decades. I think that living in harmony with a place, with the land, is still a powerful tradition here.

But the future holds great challenges. The beauty of the Island draws more people from many places, and the lure of remaking this place in their own image is great. Awareness and understanding of the past will hopefully help us sustain some kind of balance into the future. And we are always looking for more interviews to add to our collection, which is available to the public for research and enjoyment.

This year, she begins work on a third volume of Vineyard Voices. I especially try to seek out interviews with the people whose stories have not been heard.

It makes you realize how special every life is. Many of the interviews I do are with older people.

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That spirit can inspire all of us to keep going, to keep exploring, to keep reaching. And I hope that hearing the stories and experiences of the past can help us make better decisions in the future. She currently lives in Washington, D. For oral historian Linsey Lee, the tale is with the teller. Linsey Lee in