Arlington Cemetery
Nantucket Essays

Remembering Who Earned This

• by Robert P. Barsanti •

This year, Boxed Water is the new thing.  On Sunday morning, the beautiful ones drifted down to the ferries wearing Vineyard Vines, loafers, sunglasses, and carrying white and black boxes of Boxed Water.  They swirled it, sipped it, set it back on the tables, and rested their aching heads against the still and peaceful walls.

Every year, some great capitalist dream comes flapping out of the high priced minds of the New England colleges and prep schools, then flies across the sound and lands on Nantucket with the flutter of investment and cash.  Maple Water came to the island last year in a similar way, as did Grapefruit Soda, and a thousand other ideas looking to become the next Nantucket Nectar or Cisco Beer.

For all I know, Boxed Water will become the next big thing.  My record in predicting the winners and the losers in the marketplace is decidedly spotty.  I didn’t think people would buy bottles of lemonade either.  And I still wear bowties and carrying dimes in case I need to use a pay phone.  My sense of these things is decidedly backward.

The beginning of the season, Memorial Day, brings all of these new plans out into the light.  The Downyflake tries out tasty Lemon and Coconut donuts, hoping to somehow grab even more of the donut marketplace.  Something Natural elbows Nantucket Nectars out of some shelf space for  the (excellent) Matt Fee Tea and three other juices and teas.  The Juice Bar has created a new geometry for doling out ice cream to people who don’t know how to wait in line civilly.  We all start anew at the end of May with free samples and open registers.

No business has re-jiggered itself for summer more than the Stop-and-Shop.  They have a Coffee Bar!  They have Seating!  They have twelve deli slicers and a wading pool for the lobsters!  The most mundane and prosaic of Nantucket stores creates a fun house mirror of itself, squints at the crowds of August, and hopes that some creativity and more checkout aisles will bring more joy and cash.

Hope burns bright on Memorial Day, for the grocers, for the Boxed Water purveyors, and for the rest of us hoping to pay our mortgages, credit card bills, and student loans.  We stride into the foggy future guided by the mistakes of the past and lit by the hope that this new lawnmower, this new set of radio ads, or this new box of water will be the better mouse trap that will drive the world to our doors.  Or will be the new Lemonade that Tom and Tom didn’t invent. The Boxed Water creators have the samples ready for those bright, loud, and dehydrated Figawi mornings.

In all of our hope for new supermarkets, new lines, and new teas, we forgot to hire the band for the Memorial Day Parade up to the Soldiers Memorials on Prospect Hill.  As a result we will have no parade.  I am sure that someone is steeped in shame and embarrassment at the oversight, as I am also sure that someone else will point out that we are all missing The True Meaning of Memorial Day.

Perhaps.  I know less about the mind of soldiers than I do about the fashions and desires of the shopping public.  I can only guess what drew those 73 young men to join George Macy and the Union cause back in the 1860s, or any other soldier.  I suspect, as in every war, they joined for a series of reasons, including boredom, friendship, and money.  Their community celebrated them, wished them well when they sailed off, and mourned them when they returned too soon.

However, those young men would probably agree with Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, that the goal of the soldier was to end war.  No family of the deceased would celebrate Memorial Day by recruiting new soldiers for new wars.  Instead, the reflection and grace of Memorial Day comes in the echoing silence after Taps is played.  The howitzer does not fire, the bugle does not call, and the drum does not muster.  The sacrifice of the soldier, as Holmes spoke, was to ensure that nobody else would have to get wounded, get sick, or die for that cause.  When we gather around their green and grassy graves, we thank them for dying so that we, and our children, don’t have to die in a trench or in a bloody field.  Every soldier, I suppose, goes off to fight in a war to end all wars.  Their deaths come in service to that great cause

The goal of the soldier is to be forgotten.  The goal of the soldier is to make war obsolete, so that sons, grandsons, and great grandsons never have to hear the bugle call or the wounded scream.
On the other hand, the goal of all of those great-grandsons should be to remember what coins earned this warm and sunny day.  The Figawi tent was fought for and earned by blood that has long since turned to dust.  It could have been otherwise.

In the new century, wars are no longer the great common cause that rends and knits the country together.  We do not have lint drives, blackout inspectors, or draft boards.  The young men do not spend their weekends marching and practicing.  Instead, we have created a group of professional soldiers that travel to foreign lands for their bloody work.  We follow them as if they were a professional sports teams.  We put stickers on our cars, wear their uniforms, and watch shows about them.  We are more likely to know a professional ball player than a member of Seal Team 6.

All new starts arise on the graves of those that went before.  The new restaurant opens in the same walls of the old one, the new Stop and Shop arises from the ruins of the Finast, and the “Boxed Water” comes from old plastic bottles.  The new May morning opens with the peaceful silence earned by those who rest below.  We should remember what a gift we have been given.

Articles by Date from 2012