• by Robert P. Barsanti •
The wedding party was leaving.
On Friday, they had fallen out of the catalogs and arrived at the back bar on the Gray Lady II. Then, over the course of the weekend, they drifted from church to beach to “Where-O-Where House” to Chicken Box to Inn to Downyflake and points unknown until they coalesced on Sunday night at the Hy-Line Dock. We spotted the Bride because she was wearing a white t-shirt that proclaimed her name and she stood in the center of four women. The Groom was still being a good sport, wearing his matching shirt and standing alongside, carrying two bottles of water.
The Sheriff and I watched the group line up. They were impossibly young, impossibly good looking, and clad in impossibly tight pants.
“Another set of happy customers on their way back home.” He said.
They weren’t all that happy right now. The sun glasses had been put to good use, everyone carried a small bottle of Poland Spring water (possibly from a gift bag) and they weren’t happy with the line. Yet, they posed handsomely at the very edge of youth. Age had only touched them, with a gentle change of color. Strollers, budgets, and diets waited for them. But for now, they had friends to text, selfies to send and see, and the last swigs of youth to guzzle.
I patted the Sheriff on the back. “I hope they tipped their waiters and waitresses.”
He smiled and walked away.
Eventually, the Gray Lady II returned and welcomed the wedding party back on board. The bar, I suspected, would not be quite so busy on the way back. They had a distance to drive on Labor Day evening and Captain Morgan doesn’t navigate as well as you would think he would. The bride and groom would have to take the t-shirts off sooner or later. I thought of him pumping gas in Bourne in his bright white shirt, or the two of them sitting down to Big Macs at the Charlton rest stop on the Mass Pike. Someone was going to drip the Special Sauce down the front. Then the shirts would go into a bag, the bag would go onto a shelf, and everyone would get along with the rest of their lives.
The island does not make it easy to leave in September. The air remains warm, the bluefish are biting, and sidewalks are empty. On Saturday, the beaches and the parking lots are full of the usual Connecticut geniuses and New York wise men. Then, on Sunday, the lots are half full with rusted out island cars.
Summer remains, like a baseball game going into extra innings. The fans file out, looking over their shoulder for one more miracle. The heat will build again, as will the surf, and the southwest breeze. But the surfers and the kite boarders will be back in Boston and Washington D.C. They will step aboard a boat, like this one, and watch another perfect sailing day pass as they toss their pennies and head out past Brant Point. The wedding party continues to roll, even after all of the guests have left. They stand on the rear deck even as the DJ continues to play.
For many years, I spent the summer off island. As soon as the crowds started to build for the Fourth of July, I would slip off and head to graduate school in Vermont. Then, in the beginning of September, I would ride one of the empty boats back. I missed the clown show that August could become, but I also missed the beauty and grace of an island summer. I came to the wedding just after the bride had changed into her regular clothes.
In September, the party has calmed down. The waitresses and bartenders have cleaned up the tables and are sitting in a corner. The tent remains, the dance floor has been swept, and the left over cake slices wait on small plates. Most of the guests have filed out before Sinatra has finished with “The Summer Wind” but the candles burn, the flowers are in bloom, and wine is still cold.
In those early days of school, when we were just learning the student’s names and hadn’t put all the posters up, the heat of summer would loom just outside the windows. In those moments, I would put off putting borders on the bulletin boards and posting my classroom rules so that I could drive out to Madaquecham and ride the empty waves into the shore. I would swim out to the sand bar, ride the wave all the way into the sand fleas, and then swim out again. After enough waves had passed, I sat up on the beach, read whatever book I carried with me, and eventually napped. Nobody talked to me, saw me, or bothered me. Only one car was parked in the lot and he left plenty of room for everyone else.
The party slowly ends; the bride and groom put away the t-shirts and return to the world of credit checks and validated parking. The wedding dress goes into storage, along with the tuxedo, the party favors, and even the photos. In the end, what is left, is each other. The leaves turn and fall, the frost comes before the snow, and then the stars burn bright and unblinking in a December sky.
To live on Nantucket is to have a marital love. You remain beyond the party and the photos to the bills and the cold and the hot coffee in mugs in the winter mornings before you go to work. To live on Nantucket is to press on through the years, wing-to-wing and oar-to-oar.