Visitors Remind Us

by Robert P. Barsanti

On a night in August, a yacht named The Podium was tied up at the end of Straight Wharf, just beyond the swinging saloon door that protected “Yachtsmen and their guests” from the rest of us. The Podium is a 197 foot Lurssen super yacht tied stern first in what has become the pole position for the new whaleships. Her owner was probably home in bed up near Wauwinet, under a fifty million dollar roof and lighthouse. Or, perhaps, he was in town because his runabout was tied up next to The Podium and in the way of the Hy-Line ferry. The Gray Lady IV reversed out of the slip, came to a stop, pulled forward, angled, eased back, pulled forward, and finally reversed out into the harbor, pivoted, and headed back to Hyannis.

Over the years, the moat got wider and the walls got higher. Nantucket has always been a far-away island, but the biggest of money have been pushing us further and further out to sea where only the G4’s and the 200 foot yachts can reach. Summers on island once were celebrated by the demo derby, fishing tournaments, and the carnival. Now, it our celebrations remain “for the yachtsmen and their guests.” We have traded families for fundraisers. Every seat is reserved for the mighty. For thirty bucks, you can bring a blanket and sit behind them.

On this night in August, I was at the epicenter of August, waiting for houseguests to filter through the winos and workmen on Straight Wharf. They were the best of houseguests; they were only with me for a night before their rental house opened up in Madaket. They arrived with a bottle of bourbon, a bag from Trader Joe’s, and a contract for a rental car. I drove the old jalopy passed the summer special, braved the Yukons of Connecticut and the Escalades of New York, collected the luggage and the loved ones, then negotiated downtown traffic, with texting bicyclists, madras walkers, and meandering Mercedes and, after a long moment behind a Suburban trying to squeeze into a space far too small, I zipped around the rear bumper, scurried up Washington Street, and came to rest behind a NRTA bus and 3 scooters.

“Wow.” They said.

My mind leapt to all of the astounding things they had seen tourists do in traffic during the last fifteen minutes. Instead, they looked up beyond me. A waxing moon rose over Shimmo and Monomoy, floating just beyond the swaying masts. Moonlight and moonshadow glowed in the inner harbor. A wind blew up and riffled the waves.

A higher wind blew a thin sheet of cloud over the moon.

Over the next few days, I helped them settle into an older Nantucket along E Street. We went shopping at the dump and found six beach chairs that would make it to Labor Day. When the children and grandchildren arrived, we dangled chicken legs for the crabs under the bridge. We dug littlenecks, shucked corn, and grilled swordfish. They strained their muscles on the bikes, burned their backs and shoulders in the sun, picked ticks off each other. A wonderful time was had by all.

They had over-invited hot and sweaty mainland friends. The porch became a wooden pack-and-play, with gate, high chairs, toys, and plastic riding buses. They pitched a tent in the back yard, rotated the kids on the sofa, and rode their rented bikes for milk and the paper.

Whether we have time for it or not, our visitors kick us out of our ruts and send us rolling down the meadow. The laundry will mildew, the bills will mellow with age, and the answering machine will glut itself to a beeping and flashing silence.

Meanwhile, the visitors have dragged us out for a few hours at Fat Ladies Beach. In the quiet of the boiling surf, we see the island as they do. Uninterrupted miles of beach punctuated by a few hundred towels. Children giggling in the cart-wheeling violence of the breakers. Surfers standing and riding a few seconds before the cresting wave.

To them, the beach is what it isn’t. It’s not backed by a road and a honkytonk T-shirt/salt water taffy/tattoo mall. It’s not hedged in by fences, white ropes, and discreet security guards. It’s not jammed with every mouthbreather in the tri-county area. Our landscape is their luxury. And it takes an afternoon in their eyes to see that it is our luxury as well.

The true wealth of a Nantucketer is counted out in calendars. For us, island living is a thousand year picnic, but to them, it ends in a few hours. We will always have tomorrow’s sunset and next year’s blueberry harvest. If fog rolls in, we can go to the beach or the golf course tomorrow or even next week. But our houseguests will be back in New Haven then, waiting in traffic on the I-91. Nobody plants daffodils, or hydrangea, alongside the interstate. In the end, I went with them to the Pops. We sat far from the swells with the cocktail bar and closer to the ones on the sand bar. We spread towels, poured champagne for everyone around us, ate meatball subs and deviled eggs, and waited for the orchestra and fireworks to interrupt the evening and the sunset. My old friends clustered the sunburned children, the grateful grandparents, and the rest of us into a photo in front of the Sound. And we became the touchstone for the next fifty years, the Christmas Card, the framed print, the desktop background, the time when we were all together on Nantucket.

Some people work fifty-one weeks a year in order to spend one week on Nantucket. Those people take the four-thirty fast ferry back to the mainland. The line extends down to the Gazebo, but is polite and orderly. They file onboard, find a seat, and discreetly make camp. They are sunburned, they are smiling, they are a touch sad. As the boat makes its turn in the harbor, they get out the books or phones. But, before they submerge into their own worlds, they walk out onto the back deck and throw pennies at our treasure.

If the boat can get past The Podium.