Nantucket Essay
Nantucket Essays

The Touchstone

• by Robert P. Barsanti

Nantucket EssayHis father and I sat in the wicker chairs and considered Sunday afternoon from the living room of the family summer house.  We sat in fifty-year-old bamboo chairs, with cold drinks, and the ticking of the afternoon soft in our ears.  Sometime soon, he would be in a seat on a plane and I would be in a seat on a boat.  For now, the three of us were in the midst of a Sunday afternoon.

His house hasn’t changed much from the days when he was a young man.  It remains tucked into the bushes on the left of the Pocomo road, just as it has since 1940.   His grandfather built it and his grandmother decorated it.  You can tell it had the fine handy-work of a lawyer because there were gaps around the beams and the windows.  He had seen napkins blow off the table with the windows shut.  His grandmother liked to paint sailboats and hydrangea; sometimes one looked a great deal like the other.

His father inherited the house and ignored it as best he could.  He wrote checks to the caretaker when he had to, skipped them when he didn’t, and spent two weeks each summer sleeping in K-Mart lounge chair.  When the time came for Naples and the early bird specials, he put the house and land in a trust, wrapped it up in a bow, and delivered it to his son.   For all his generosity, his father also left him a few projects.  The outdoor shower only runs hot.  A storm door blew off this winter and shredded the door frame with it.  A watermark bloomed over the kitchen table, then dried just as mysteriously.  The drawers are filled with punch lists, contractors invoices, and stickers from Marine Home Center.

The house possesses the charms Pocomo is known for.  It looks up the harbor to the haulover and needs no air conditioning.  The dawn hits it like a hammer and the dusk burns on the Wauwinet sand.  He has lived in too many places, sat behind too many desks, and looked out on too many parking lots.  The Pocomo house was the one yearly constant; it remains his touchstone.  Each year he comes from the city for the Fourth of July, settles back, and takes stock.  His father sat in this chair as did his grandfather before him; they had bought it from the Wauwinet Inn the first time it went bankrupt.  At his age, he finally understood the importance of the Pocomo house.  It was the fixed pole; the only place in his life that didn’t spin.

The son lay back on the sofa and read something inscrutable on his phone.  It’s hard to watch the young. They drink from a glass you can no longer reach.  He is a young man at an age when speed and daring count for all.  He is tanned knees and elbows, hair blown off into a short hedge and clear blue eyes.  No chair can hold him, it can only hope to contain him.

To be young is to ride the nozzle of a garden hose.  You fling yourself about and bang against the ground and keep going until you get caught on something and the water eventually slows itself down.

He flashed his phone.  “David wants to go sailing.”

“So go.”

“I don’t want to.”

“What else are you doing?”

“Nothing.”

His father and I glanced at each other.  Forty years can define “nothing” in a way that a young man cannot fully comprehend.  Nothing sits in traffic five out of seven days a week.  Nothing waits for job interviews and shoe-shopping.  Nothing chairs a Goal Setting Meeting for the upcoming few years when they put the white paper sheets up on the wall and the brain storming session breakout is complete and the bagels are incoming.  That is nothing. Nothing is a conference in Albany, in Fitchburg, and in Scranton.

“You should go sailing.”

“I don’t really feel like it.”

“But you should.”

Because we can’t.  We can’t go out, put on the booties and the overalls and hop on a 420 and go dancing about the harbor.  We looked out that window into the warming waters and clearing skies and felt the wind tug on the boat and the water rise up beneath it.  We have to schedule the sailing.  We have to make an appointment two weeks ahead of time, steal our time from other people, and then protect those hours from friends, family, and children.

A car appeared and the young man left.

In an hour I needed to go.  I needed to fill a seat on a boat, then I needed to fill a seat on a plane.  Tomorrow morning, there were a list of other seats I had to sit in, in offices, in conference rooms, and in classrooms.  To be an adult is to always have a seat out there waiting for you.

His father and I spoke for ten more minutes.  We spoke of CIA eavesdropping, overthrows in Egypt, and the price of orange juice.  Then, while we lamented old and dear friends, a white sail comes around the point.  A blue 420 crosses the water, barking over the light waves of the harbor and crossing in front of our window.

The son was hiked out over the edge while someone else fired a squirt gun at him.  The boat held its line, in spite of the distraction.  His father stood up and waved out the window.  From the upper edge of the boat, with the tiller in one hand and two friends egging him on, his son absently waved back.

Beyond the two, the great world continued to spin.