Nantucket Essays

It’s Later Than We Think

by Robert P. Barsanti

While the rest of the world starts the New Year in January, we should turn the calendar and start the clock on Memorial Day.  Something Natural has re-opened, the Bake Shop is making donuts again, and the rest of the storefronts are shiny and clean, ready for the new year.  The financial crush of last year is finally over and suddenly, people want bicycles and sandwiches, beach towels and summer houses, mulch and lawn furniture.  Dick Clark should host the Figawi Tent and the ball should drop over the Pacific National Bank.  The new year is here, thank God for that.

This Memorial Day should start a new year.  The first bloom is over and the landscape has risen to green.  The car (and my sinuses) are thick with pollen.  The bees drift slowly in the air currents, and then rise into the holes in door frame.  The year should start with green shoots, honeysuckle, and lilacs, not wind, cold, and football.  This spring in particular, with its climate enhanced blue skies and warm winds, bodes well for the upcoming summer and year.  The realtors talk of the best spring in twenty years and, in the spirit of the season, I will pretend to believe them.

One of my sons was born near Memorial Day, as was I.  His birthdays have been outside, albeit often with fog and polar fleece.  His second birthday came out doors in the blinking sun, complete with plastic tractors, dump trucks and backhoes.  That year, his cake was decorated with teddy grahams and stars.  In the years that followed, his cake had Rescue Heroes, matchbox racecars, Thomas the Tank Engine (several times), Speed McQueen, and now, this year, Lego Ninja Warriors called Ninjago.

For his birthday, we have gone on trips to see cement mixers, we have fed rabbits and goats, but mostly we have hung out in the back yard.  We have driven trucks in the gravel, chased bubbles from the bubble machine, hit wiffle balls, and got hit by frisbees.  This year, as the next decade calls out to him, he and his classmates climbed atop the cedar swing set and danced with the impunity of Peter Pan.  This year, the boys led a game of “Dare, or Dare”; they assembled in a pack at the rear of the house and ran around it.  Sometimes they ran backwards, sometimes skipping, sometimes in an army crawl.  The pogo stick got a workout from arcing youth.  After the cake and the presents and the crawling, he had his final pinata explode on the tree.

Birthdays start the year off right.  My birthday is hard upon Memorial Day, as is my father’s.  I don’t remember any of my childhood cakes, but I remember breaking my mother’s heart with a fondness for Grammy’s Lemon Meringue Pie.  Our yard was far more wooded than the one my son grows up in, so we had a lot less army crawling and a lot more hide and seek.  My eleventh birthday was spent at Hago Harrington’s Pitch and Putt in Stoneham, but the Polaroids don’t show who won the tournament (although my sister is in tears, so it probably wasn’t her.)  Since then, my birthdays have included a rodeo, several rounds of golf, Red Sox games, and a trip out to baffle blues with Captain Tom.  These days, birthdays have become more sedate affairs of dinner and seven-layer chocolate cake.

For me, another year—the next year—begins at Memorial Day.  It begins when school ends, when winter ends, when the course opens, and the smell of fresh donuts blows down Orange Street.  This year, like all the others, will include another school year, another winter, another gray twilight, but those moments are off in the future.  One of our mistakes on-island is that we remember the circle of the months and we forget the cycle of the years.  We remember that every year will come with a birthday and a Memorial Day, but we forget the birthdays that we spent working, the long weekends swamped with rain, wind, and fog, when no cakes were made and the bartender needed to look at your license for proof.

The year is not a circle, but a spiral.  We spun forward into the dark future, reaching back into the familiar and luxurious past.  Our recent past has not been so luxurious, the great Billion dollar real estate years have receded with the miniature golf and Thomas the Tank Engine.  Like the birthday pinata, those days have burst, we have gorged on  the fallen candy and now cry for the unfairness of it all.  We broke the pinata, there won’t be another.

Still, though, Memorial Day brings that new season.  The heroes of Normandy, the Somme, and Korengal Valley all fought to allow us to live freely and richly in the spring of the year.  Their sacrifice insures that the only army crawl my son needs to do is on his birthday with his friends.  The planes are flying again, our children graduate into colleges and jobs, and the desert and mountain wars are winding down.

In this new year, when lilacs bloom again and the inns are full, we should learn from the mistakes of the past.  Our watchwords should be sustainability and independence, not selfishness and ignorance.  Memorial Day will not sell us the Atlantic Cafe back, nor will it roll gasoline prices back under two dollars a gallon, nor give work to all the idle sail lofts and cement mixers.

The year has turned and we are both a year older and a year wiser.  This time, let’s leave some work for our children, some land on the moors, and some time in the evening to enjoy ourselves.  It’s later than we think.

Articles by Date from 2012