Dorothy Mae Gazaille West is an Edgartown farm girl. Born on Edgartown's Great Plains, on the shores of Edgartown Great Pond, the second-youngest of Joseph and Mary Gazaille's seven children, Dorothy West grew up in a world of fields and ponds and open land where neighbors in every direction, from the Vincents to the Salvadors to the Wallers to the Pradas, were farmers who knew each other and were quick to help each other out. The years of Dottie West's childhood were years of no car, no electricity, and a hand pump in the kitchen; a large family pitching together to raise all of their own food, in the days when an evening's entertainment consisted of a conversation around the dinner table.
Dottie West, who reached the venerable age of eighty on January 2, is a handsome woman. Her face reveals a life well-lived; a life of hard work and of losses; a life of determination and independence, and much joy. Dottie's conversation is freely filled with laughter, and her blue-hazel eyes twinkle - with mischief, with wisdom, and with life.
"I was born in the Square Rigger, the Old Wilson place, where the town landing is now. They moved the house [to the Triangle, its present location]. Mrs. Salvador delivered me. She stopped by to visit and my mother was in labor. I was born before old Doc Nevin [William] got there. I lived there until I was four, then we moved across the street to Meetinghouse Way. Growing up, my father was very strict. We had no car, and we had to be in the house for dinner - or else. At night, dad read out of the Bible and said the Rosary, and we discussed the day. If we wanted to go to town, we either walked or took a horse and buggy. Dad did a little of everything - he was a gardener and a plumber, and we grew our own vegetables, cut our own wood, and had our own animals; we were up at 4:30 to milk the cows. We had a hand pump in the kitchen and a well with a bucket outside. Mother made bread and butter and hung the laundry on the line - there were no Pampers in those days.
"Growing up on a farm is the best teacher in the world; it teaches responsibility and dependability. We kids all worked on the farm. It was during the depression, we would pick blueberries and strawberries - we had to pick ten quarts a day. If we wanted spending money we could pick more.
"It was a different world. It was all open space, and there was no such thing as 'no hunting or fishing;' you could go anywhere, we had free run of everything. If you were putting hay in the barn your neighbor was there to help you. We had big barn dances, lots of square dancing. My father was a fantastic caller and my mother was a fantastic dancer. It's different out here now [Dottie still lives in the neighborhood, on the ten acres she bought when she was nineteen years old, West Acres, where she and her late husband, Bob, raised their five children], I'm rubbing elbows with the elite, with David Letterman."
On January 10, in honor of her birthday, Dottie's children, Wayne; Nanette Lynch; Ronnie; and Cindy Sequiera hired a hall - the American Legion Hall in Edgartown; a band - the Ray Band; and invited friends from near and far to what was originally planned as a surprise party.
"Who told me?" Dottie's eyes twinkle, she laughs her deep, infections laugh, and says, "I'm not telling. I'll never tell. I went and had my hair done, and Donna [Honig] said, 'Who told you?' I danced every dance. My legs were so sore the next morning I couldn't move. I love to dance. It was a fantastic party. I wasn't counting, but Nanette says there were around 150, from all over; from New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, California, Canada, New Bedford.
"What keeps me going? Being active, driving the taxi [her son Wayne's Stagecoach Taxi]. In the summer, it's seven days a week; early morning runs, tours. It's a fantastic job - believe me - meeting different people like President Clinton and Walter Cronkite - now there's a gentleman. I'll keep driving as long as I'm able. I have my health and a wonderful family. I thing it's wonderful to be eighty and healthy and alert. My advice is to stay active; once you give up you don't live."
Almost nine years later, closing in on 89 years with ten grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren, and number eleven on the way, Dot is as cheerful and chipper as ever, and is still pushing her "stay active" mantra. She told me today, "I walk 3-4 miles a day. You gotta keep moving. A body in motion stays in motion, a body at rest stays at rest."