The immediate family spent the past several days on Martha's Vineyard as the guests of some friends. Perhaps not surprisingly, we had a fine time.
Between the episodes of beach-going and the grilling of fish, I would casually drop into conversation the possibility of visiting the grave of local poet and eccentric Nancy Luce.
"So, people are going to ask me what I got to see on Martha's Vineyard," wife B. said at one point as I was attempting to cajole the members of our party into an excursion to West Tisbury. "They're going to want to know if I got to see Edgartown," she continued, "or if I got to see the cottages at Oak Bluffs. And I'm going to say, 'No, my husband said we had to go see where they buried the chicken-lady.'"
I protested that the choice was not quite so stark as that. I pointed out that if everyone hadn't decided to spend their afternoons napping or playing on the beach or whatever, we would have had plenty of time to hunt around the island for the grave of Nancy Luce. And at the close of our last afternoon on the island, after I had spent a couple of hours poking my head at frequent intervals into the bedroom where my wife and daughter lay napping, it began to appear my necro-literary obsession was not going to play out on this visit and I blush to admit that I spoke sharply to my wife as she left the house that afternoon on an errand to buy dinner.
But as the evening shadows began to lengthen and everyone came back to the house, my wife came over to find me on the couch where I had retreated with the kids to look at pictures of the toilets of the world. She told me that she and the other adults in the house, out of both kindness for me and concern for their own conversational sanity, had decided to delay dinner and send me off in search of the grave site. Wife B. was to accompany me and at the last minute the two four-year-olds in the house decided to come along as well.
After only one missed turn and some fairly vocal complaints of minor car-sickness, I spotted a turn-off leading into a small cemetery. We let the kids out to run among the headstones and in pretty short order they were at the far end of the cemetery under the supervision of wife B.
I worked my way across the roughly chronological topography, noting the angels and winged skulls of the colonial era giving way to the weeping willows of the Federal period and then I looked down into a hollow and saw from a short distance the ceramic chickens and I broke into a trot.
 The only brief sketch of Luce's work and career I have readily to hand is the description I did of one of her pamphlets, which I handled about five years ago:
Luce, Nancy. A Complete Edition of the Works of Nancy Luce, of West Tisbury, Dukes County, Mass. New Bedford: Chas. W. Knight, Printer, 1883. Small 8vo, original printed yellow wrappers, 33 pages. Original carte de visite portrait of Luce (with one of her chickens on her lap) mounted on the verso of the title page. The fourth edition published under this title; three earlier versions were published in 1871, 1872 (12 and 16 pages, respectively) and in 1875; there was also an 1888 edition.
Collected poetry and prose on the physical and spiritual welfare of the pet chickens of this famed Martha's Vineyard eccentric. Luce (1814-1890) spent much of her life plagued by illnesses (real or imagined), living alone with her fowl and a succession of milk cows. She supported herself in part on the sale to curious tourists of her pamphlets and photographs. Despite the subject matter, Luce's writings are in fact quite touching and include rough meditations on ethics, the epitaphs erected over her hens' graves, and prayers and lamentations after the deaths of favorite chickens:
I hope I never shall have a hen, to set so much by again,
From over sea, she was brought to me, one week old,
I raised her in my lap,
She loved me dreadful dearly.
As Walter Magnes Teller notes in his sympathetic treatment of Luce's life, Consider Poor I (Edgartown, Mass., 1984):
Unable to conform to schoolbookish English, she wrote in the colloquialisms she spoke, steered clear of conventional subjects, stuck to what she felt and knew. . . . A New England indoor setting, domesticity, maternal love and pride, surrogate children, lost battles with death--grief and loneliness--dignity, honesty--so much rides on so little until one takes the symbolism into account.
Front wrapper and title chipped and nearly detached due to the mounted carte de visite on the flimsy title leaf; cheap paper rather browned throughout; a good, sound copy. Aside from a trunkful of Luce's papers and pamphlets given to the Harris Collection at Brown University in the 1940s, and some scattered holdings on the island and in a few other institutions, Luce's ephemeral pamphlets are quite scarce.
Barring the discovery of another trunk, I suspect I will not handle another example of her work.
 One intriguing photo spread from the book Material World, which I highly recommend. Trying to see which families included baby-dolls in their pictures was itself a pleasant way to pass twenty minutes with my kid.