ISLAND MEMORIES: NANTUCKET IN 1970
a look back with Richard Cary
Nantucket has always been home to Richard Montfort Cary. He grew up summering here in his family’s Hinckley Lane farmhouse, and his island roots go back to the 1800s. It was in 1970 that Cary moved himself, his wife Mara, and his son Donick back here to escape the theatre. He lived and worked on-island until 2004, with just a few intermissions. Many here remember Richard as the founder of Actors Theatre of Nantucket and as vibrant contributor to our community with his talent in music, writing, and all aspects of theatre. Richard chatted with me recently from his current home in North Carolina to reminisce about Nantucket duri ng 1970…
“I had been doing professional theater and I thought ENOUGH OF THIS. I was going to retire to Nantucket and be a carpenter, raise a family, and let the Mainland sink… I’d always known I’d come home to Nantucket eventually.”
It was March 1970 when they moved back to the old Hinckley farmhouse. “We slept in the living room by the fireplace. Donick was just a year-and-a-half old. Elmore Taylor was building a house down the land, so I got my first job with him. What a great crew: Erik Erikson, Dick Caton, Peter Haigh, Leon Lancaster, Mitch Blake, Dennis Dreher, Bruce Killen, Nils van Vorst, Albert Dole… I know I’ve left out so many not to be forgotten…Here I am, 78 this summer, and I’m still walking around like I was a hippie on Nantucket.”
Richard remembers 1970 as a summer of hippies: “we were the hippies in 1970 who came to change the Republican island… Nantucket was very conservative then… Us guys with long hair and beards and babies in tow. Carl Borchert was the king hippie [Richard chuckles] 6-foot-five with a full beard and mane…” On November 5 of 1970, the Town of Nantucket enacted “anti-hippie” bylaws at a special Town Meeting that prohibited hitchhiking and sleeping in the open.
That summer on Nantucket “was heavenly: going to work in the early morning with the light and the dew and the rabbits and the seagulls. It was peaceful… a wonderful, friendly place with a good social mix. Granger Frost was out on Madaket Road, across from the Franklin Fountain. He would host very sophicated parties. Mac Dixon brought in the erudite crowd.”
As Richard recalls, in 1970 “everything was on Main Street — it was the heart of Nantucket… the A&P, the Bosun’s Locker… There was awe in living on the island then: when you went downtown, you were going back in time 100 years. There was community, and it meant a lot to be part of that community… it was important to be a Nantucketer despite knowing that you’ll never be a native.” Nantucket in 1970 “was romantic and absolutely beautiful, with a lot of heart.”
Cary sent several poems he wrote during his time here in 1970 to share with our readers. We are reprinting one here: you can read more of his Nantucket poem s online at YesterdaysIsland.com
– Suzanne Daub
by Richard Cary
On this Island, on this day,
I stand up instead of sitting down.
I stretch and watch the sweet sun set.
I will not see the sweet sun rise,
For I will wander long into the night
And sleep as long into the day.
I’ll wake and walk the oceanside,
Recalling cities I w ill see no more.
This season is the 50th year for Yesterday’s Island/ Today’s Nantucket. We’ve seen many changes on the island during the last half-century, and over the years we have made many changes to our publication. As part of our anniversary celebration, we are publishing memories of our island in 1970 that readers have shared with us. If you have a reminiscence of Nantucket in 1970 to share, please email it to us at email@example.com or
give us a call at 508-228-9165
And here are 3 more of Richard Cary’s Nantucket poems…
|Hinckley Farm House|
by Richard Cary
A sense of permanence floats about this house,
Where sailors’ tongues lapped waters of dreams
Through their salty words and their antique love
For a woman who feared tomorrow’s voyage
Would take her children where young men begged to go.
Many of whom would return no more.
A slow impatience owns this house of dust—
Oak members, thick pine sheathing,
Cut nails, hardwood pegs, leaning floors,
Cedar shingles, and a banging screen door.
Set on stones no longer waiting to be sand,
Beside a sea that stops here only for a while.
Last winter, pine trees whipped their windy arms.
Now they stand in an Island-twisted show of green.
They declare, “This is mine until it’s gone.”
The fireplace no longer cooks an evening meal
But warms the feet of our exhausted souls.
We are refugees from the modern land of doubt.
Stand strong, dear Hinckley Farm House.
We share you with the landlord, the mouse.
Thoughts from Sherburne Hills
by Richard Cary
Early morning on the foggy fields
Of Sherburne Hills, Nantucket Island,
I hear the oracle I heard at birth:
“Go, Child, go on your way, go near and far;
Return and tell me what you thought you saw.”
Dear Consciousness, Dear Mother-Father Force,
These hills are any favored hills
Where any town with any spire has pierced
A blanket of mist in search of any sun.
I am transported out of place
Where crying gulls and children sound alike,
And choirs of Protestants, and Buddhists,
Moslems, Unitarians and Catholics,
All sects sing forth in birdlike trill their truth.
Upon this Sherburne property, where man
Once built a barn by axe and peg,
I swear the only thing I think I learned
From seeing what I thought I saw
Is that the adults of this planet are weird
With brilliance and with darkness.
The children caught in the middle
Are sweet notes bowed on a fiddle.
Poem at the End of Summer
by Richard Cary
Embraced by this glad mystery of time,
I tug on a wine jug and mull my memories,
Our first summer on Nantucket Island,
We moved to a golden field, into this old barn,
Full of dead starlings and straw.
We shoveled it out,
Put in some dump-found windows
And shingled it anew.
No electricity, fresh loads of fire-grilled bluefish,
Evenings of mosquitoes outside the netting,
Waking at daybreak in this heavenly setting,
Far from civilization’s noise.
Now summer is done.
The wind pulls at these double barn doors.
Soon, we’ll be heading to the house on pilings,
Out in the beach grass dunes of Madaket
With the mighty northwesterly winter winds;
Then spring will come with daffodils;
Then summer fogs burned off by sunny days.
This acreage looks forward to the seasons.
For now, nothing sounds like hard blowing rain
Against these shingled walls,
While the deeds that raced through yesterday
Untangle into written words.
— September 1970