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I am the leader. I ride the first bike because I am the father, and I will handle any of the problems that may arise. An out-of-control car? I will take the brunt of the collision. A sudden dip in the topography, a patch of sand, a stone wall? I will meet the trouble first because my daughter is only five years old and this is her first bike and the training wheels have not been removed for very long and...no, this is not exactly the truth.
My daughter is 17 years old. She rides a bike very well. I am the leader because I don't know what else to be. I suddenly am the father of a young woman.
"Why do you keep looking back at me?" she asks.
"Just checking," I say.
"Well, I'm all right," she says. "Just watch the road."
This is the summer between her junior and senior years in high school. She was born about a week ago, and I think I remember taking her to kindergarten for the first time last Thursday. There was a nervousness about a junior high school dance just yesterday. Seventeen years old? A senior? I am the victim of some mad prank in time-lapse photography. I finished building that three-foot-tall green dollhouse only last night, wallpapering the rooms with pieces cut from a fat sample book. Why has a covering of dust suddenly appeared on the roof?
The last time I was on Martha's Vineyard, my daughter was not born. Her brother, Leigh Alan, who now goes to college (her brother goes to college?), was only a year old. There was a tidy clapboard motel on the edge of Edgartown that catered to young families. The motel featured a swimming pool and a kiddie pool and a set of big iron swings that looked very dangerous at the time. Who would let a kid ride on those swings? I remember picking up a killer sunburn in approximately 35 minutes, sitting by the kiddie pool, on guard against all danger.
"That motel we passed...," I say.
"I know, I know, you were there when my brother was a year old," she says. "You told me this three times already. You picked up a sunburn in 35 minutes. Sitting by the kiddie pool. The swings are still there. Isn't it amazing?"
Everything is amazing. Edgartown has not changed. Martha's Vineyard has not changed. A triangular-shaped island, 22 miles long and nearly nine miles wide, Martha's Vineyard sits off the shoulder of Cape Cod, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, removed from the modern commerce of the mainland by a 45-minute ride on a ferryboat from Woods Hole, Mass. There is still a Disney sort of perfection to the island on a summer's day. Looking for New England? Disembark from the ferry at Vineyard Haven, with the cars and the tourists and the hubbub, and disappear into the fantasy, which also is reality. The boats in the harbor are actual fishing boats, used every day by actual fishermen. The lobster pots collect actual lobsters. The various restaurants in the six Vineyard towns sell the lobsters, with actual college students waiting on tables, taking the orders with actual smiles.