by Robert P. Barsanti
She had been here a month.
From an Ivy League school, emerging from two years of pandemic college education, she stopped off on the back of the vegetable truck on Main Street. By this time in the morning, she was only selling zucchini, broccoli, and a few odd wildflowers. But it was a good day. She was wearing a tie-dye work shirt, white sneakers, and a big smile. “Everyone has been so…nice.”
We have a similar taste in premium Berkshire ice cream. Her path had crossed with mine, ever so slightly during her high school years, and, based on that thin reed, we struck up a conversation.
Almost everyone passed her with a smile. The sidewalk had women in seersucker jumpers, men in paisley shorts, and workmen delivering a refrigerator. Babies brought us through the morning. They came wobbling up the bricks, bouncing in carriages or carried in Dad’s hands. One young man, in an outfit that only a grandmother could have dreamed up (baby blue shorts and a white shirt with a red cap), stopped and picked up a stem of broccoli. He waved it like a wand.
“Do you like broccoli?” She asked.
His mother bought it for 85 cents. He went down the street in his own little adventure, casting vegetable spells on the cars and dogs.
She had a question.
“I could go to grad school this fall or I could stay here for a semester…What do you think?”
“Stay. Absolutely. You’ll never get to do this again. And say yes.”
Now, as she packed up the friendless, unmusical broccoli stems and the other unloved vegetables, envy dropped me down the canyon of the years. I was sitting on Jack Pignato’s bench, after all, where he was stationed while he worked at Tonkin, and where he and I would drink illicit Budweisers many, many years ago. He would elevate his pinkie finger as he drank the long-neck, and I see him now, in the mist, with a brown bottle at a forty five degree angle. And the benches held other ghosts, their names etched on plaques under my back. I knew them as well.
She floated free of the weight of this history. This downtown was hers now, with all of its bikes, babies, and bodies. Her Main Street had flip-flops and halter tops, not the creaky echoes of my history. I have visited this same corner and this same bench dozens of times over dozens of years. Her time is fresh and her time is now.
I would love that. Imagine coming to the island for the first time when you are 22, with a job and housing and no expectations. Her first time at Cisco in a storm, her first time when the music makes the house rise on Dave Street, her first time in the Madaket sand, scooping up scallops. The island lay before her as a new found land, ripe with stories and little adventures.
I am an old man, I savor familiar fruit; I look at the present through a rear view mirror. I have picked the blueberries and the blackberries, I have shucked the scallops and caught the bluefish; each new experience echoes the old ones. The taste remains rich, but it is reassuring to me. This tastes as I remember; it’s neither particularly better nor worse. Some tastes from the past are gone, like the Deep Fried Chicken Sandwich and the Madaket Mystery. But this only adds to the pleasure and familiarity of the Watermelon Cream.
She has no echoes. It’s all new to her. From deep in the canyons of memory, I look up at her on the ridge and envy her descent. I would lose all of my familiar ghosts if only to see the island strange and new again.
The island, with its strange land and its stranger people, reveals itself with humility and serendipity. Around the corner, you will find a story that you will tell forty years into the future. At the edge of this bench, you will drink a beer with a man you will only have this moment with. We live in the presence of tiny adventures, that we either accept or ignore. Nantucket, the far away island, sprouts these scrub pine and rosa rugosa. On every street, a little boy waves a broccoli wand. You have to have the mind of a beginner, of a visitor, of a girl on the vegetable truck, to see the magic work.
Unfortunately, too many of our visitors ignore the magic. They have been shouting down teenagers in the markets, running down bicyclists on the roads, and blowing up on the sand dunes. They come here with champagne wishes and caviar dreams and are faced with salt water and ocean air. They let the little adventures pass in service to their Instagram fantasies. Perhaps the pandemic has given them a mistaken sense of what they have earned and what they deserve.
Instead, on Nantucket, we are all lucky. We got to this elbow of sand out of good fortune, good timing, and privilege. Out here, our little adventures await to fill our stories. Years from now, we won’t be talking about the rude person who wouldn’t let me park in the FAA space or the afternoon they had no Creme Fraiche at the farmstand. We’ll tell about the afternoon we chatted with an old man about ice cream, we’ll remember the golf lesson grandpa gave on the driving range, and the last dinner we had with our parents, when they taught the kids how to eat lobsters.
A little boy has enchanted the day with his bunch of broccoli. With the eyes of the young, we can see the magic grow. When we accept his little adventure, we will have stories to tell.