Pink Umbrella | Nantucket, MA
Nantucket Essays

Once Upon a Time on Labor Day

by Robert P. Barsanti

Labor Day comes late this year. For most of my life, Labor Day was my true birthday. When I was much younger, it marked the moment when I got a year older; suddenly I was in sixth grade or I was in high school or was out of college. My first Labor Day without school spun me about. If I wasn’t in school. how old was I, really? Could I just stay twenty-one if I didn’t buy any back to school clothes and didn’t need a new locker? Then, I had children and the same calendar turning and churning came with them. Turn around, and he is in Kindergarten, turn around, and he is filling out his summer reading notebooks. The years walk by like the ducks on Orange Street.

Once upon a time, Labor Day marked the end of the summer season. The cars would fill with boogie boards and boys, then the boats would fill, then Route 6 would back up and everyone would crawl across the bridges then race into the winter on Routes 93 and 95. Our modern and digital age has concentrated the summer down from the three months between Memorial Day and Labor Day to the six weeks between the Fourth of July and the Rainbow Fleet. This year, before the Opera House Cup even started, sixty cars and families-waited on standby at the ferry dock. The summer ended for them even sooner than they planned on it. The off-season, with its coaches, principals, partners, clients, and overlords, squeezes the season into a smaller and smaller bottle.

Boyle’s Law, like gravity, is immutable; the smaller the volume, the higher the pressure. The champagne bursts from the bottle. If summer is crammed into a long weekend, then the sun better be out, the waves need to be big, and they better still have glazed chocolate donuts left at The Bake Shop. Perhaps, if summer were to ease itself over three months, a day or so could be spent inside with the rain, perusing a James Patterson novel without a cover and eating stale potato chips. Spread over time, a few non-profitable days could work.

Instead, in six weeks, perfection must emerge from the sand and the moors. The hydrangea must be in bloom, the tomatoes must be ripe, and the meteor shower should begin as soon as the back door closes. To the island’s amazing credit, perfection slips in with the morning tide. You can stand at Easy Street Basin with a cup of coffee, a Sailor’s Knot, and a sunrise. Billions of people would happily trade places on that bench. Yet, time and tide have smiled on you this morning. For some, the closer you get to perfection, the more glaring the imperfection. As a result, we see all sorts of fun seeking behavior. Chad, from Connecticut, railed at a $20 parking ticket on Main Street given to his Range Rover in the crosswalk. He gave an operatic full on performance for a minute before an older island gentleman asked him if his father was a lawyer? Hopefully, for Chad and the rest of the high pressure vacationers, the summer has deposited him on a soccer field an ivy covered institution that knows who his father is. Godspeed, Chad.

What the modern calendar has robbed from the realtors, shopkeepers, and bartenders, the rest of us have gained. Donuts get a little stale by ten o’- clock and the chocolate chip cookies cool off on the stacks. The shopowners stand behind the counter, taking the shifts given up when “Ceci had to go home to her sick mother.” Successful friends take a few days in the relative quiet of a lake in Maine or New York, while the rest of us kick off work at noon on Friday, then drop into the warm water and easy swells on the south shore. We stop for the turtle at the bottom of Hummock Pond Road and wait for the young man to carry him to wet and green safety on the other side of the road. Soon enough, he will cross the road in peace.

The end of summer has other pleasures. The great bluefin tuna hunters go out looking for fortunes and return with sushi from two hundred miles off-shore. The fox grapes have turned green in the moors and the pear tree in the Quaker Cemetery drops its fruit onto close passing pickup trucks. Out on the beach, the remaining visitors rest in squads and squadrons, with umbrellas, boogie boards, and the occasional inflatable raft rolling over the somnolent waves. Their boys grabbed handfuls of rosehips and waited to bombard their sisters on the raft.

I will get a year older on Labor Day, as I always do. The Hope For The Future wants to run cross country this year, and he will be out on the moors. On one morning, like any other, he will walk into the old building at an old time with old faces and the clocks will restart and the calendar will roll over. The old year waddled on out the door and the new one came in, with back-to-school clothes and a homework notebook.

But not yet. Not for a week or so. Until then, time floats in the breathing waves of Cisco, looking at its toes in the warm Atlantic. It passes overhead in rolling tufts of fog and settles in like the mist in the webs of the ground spiders. In the suspended hours of an August afternoon, I sat at Cisco Brewers, listened to a Hawaiian sing reggae tunes, and slurped littlenecks like a Walrus. Two women from New York sat next to me as they shared chips and guacamole. “It’s a great place,” they said. “We decided to stay until Labor Day.”

Articles by Date from 2012