by Robert P. Barsanti
Many years ago, I put on waders, floated the basket, and walked out into the October water to rake up a few scallops. At the time, picking up scallops was not just a pastime, but the duty of an islander. We walked out into the cool water and stepped carefully through the rocks and the eel grass without falling. Ten of us would totter through the water off of Abram’s Point in silence, as if we were all completing a biology lab. Later, there were beers and knives and a stunning small pile of the sweetest scallops in the world.
I no longer rake for scallops, and I don’t miss it. Like so many great fandangoes of youth, scalloping was an adventure that settled in the dust on the back shelf of my mind. I got my merit badge and I see no need to take food or money away from those who need it far more than I do. Should the time come when the young men wish to go out scalloping, I know where my rake is and the waders are still waterproof. They have been stored away. In middle age, I have set more than a few things on the shelf in the back of the shed. I don’t need to ski Tuckerman’s again, keep scorecards, or do any curling that doesn’t involve cans or bottles. I have driven 120 miles an hour on a twisting mountain road, swam at midnight in rolling sea, and spent the night with a crying baby. And I don’t need to do it again.
These days I walk the golf course by myself. I don’t keep score like I should, and a good round ends with more balls in my bag than I started with. If, along with the few lost golf balls comes a long fading drive, a well hit sand wedge, and a putt that falls into the hole with the last gasp of effort, then the day has gone well. In Autumn, I give up the word “should.” What can be changed has been changed, the rest is acceptance.
I have been lucky; I have lived in golden times that will disappear with the glaciers. Somehow there was enough money to send me to a good college, and there was a job waiting for me afterward. I lived in the time of Skylab, Tang, and Doctor Who. I grew up without the crowd stare of Facebook and Twitter and spent entire afternoons beyond the reach of anyone. I played Army and bike races until the street lights came on. I know what books smell like and what a pay phone sounds like. As our furious and ignorant future melts before us, I can finally appreciate luxuries that passed through my hands.
Others can’t. I know old men who dress in spandex in the starry dark, and then pedal through their mornings to the chirp of their watches. I know angry men who pick up a pool stick at a bar and consider fighting with it. I know old men who argue with cops, tip in change, and buy Viagra just in case. I know old men who swing at the incremental sun.
By Columbus Day, they have left the island. Like the golf pros and the Bertrams, they have travelled to Florida. Behind, the moors turn red, then lose their leaves. The silence fills and the waves tick by. The October sun settles in gold. We take the back roads to where we are.
You lean back into it and take stock. The air remains warm, the roof will hold, and the summer was good. You kept the important promises and forget the dumb ones. There will always be time for losing weight, reading Infinite Jest, and winning the member-guest. But the time for beaches, for The Avengers, for Watermelon Creams in the evening; those hours spun between our fingers before they sank into the water. That was plenty. On that middle aged shelf with the trophies and the traffic tickets, sits fear and shame. The season has run so much of its course now. If you don’t swim now, if you don’t walk the streets at sunset, if you don’t get that Madaket Mystery, you may never again. Fear eventually falls to time and shame loses its bite.
In the fading sun of the year, Nantucket has been the home of a hundred weddings. True to our calling, many of these are monstrous tented affairs with his and her free sandals and photo booths “for memories.” But amid the bouquets of the young and the midnights at the oasis, other couples come to the island for their second or third marriages.
They are heavier than they wanted to be. The gray hair, the kids, the credit card bills, and the mortgages and all of the horrible words the past has screamed at them blow by their feet. They know how little they have left. They know that the reception isn’t as good as the other one. They know the mistakes that they have made and will continue to make. They know it’s complicated.
Middle age comes with a callous. Your mother’s voice doesn’t bite anymore. The frat brother’s success doesn’t lecture you in the middle of the night. The scorecards and check registers don’t count as much as they once did; you what your duties are now. You can look at the man in the glass again and laugh and move on.
So the couples do. They stand at Brant Point Light, watch the drifting tide, then say the right words. They cling to the kids, kick away the fears, and smile into that October light. Much has passed, but much is to come. In that time, a bit of amusement, a bit of endurance, and the long walk together in the burning moors.