Time Well Spent
Nantucket Essays

Time Well Spent

by Robert P. Barsanti

In August, if you catch the weather right, you can enjoy Billionaire Beach Day. Last week, at Fisherman’s Beach, the sky glowed, the ocean glistened, and the parking was available. After several days of a pretty heavy southerly wind, the waves wobbled in from the horizon until the hit the shallows, when they climbed to head high and collapsed into a rolling tube. Above the wind and waves, the Bombardiers, the G-7s, and the commercial jets landed and took off over Nobadeer. The people came.

The southwesterly wind flung an ant in the picnic. It whipped the tops off the waves, sent the sand flying, and, in one perilous moment, caught a poorly anchored beach umbrella. Three wiry pale cousins ran after the cartwheeling hazard until it paused, and they stood on the fabric. Order was restored and peace regained.

The cousins threw together like boys of an age will, and heaved themselves back into the head high surf. They played a game without a name. It involved leaping to the top of wave, splashing the other cousins, pulling each other underwater, and, of course, getting boiled in the surf. After one particularly forceful wave flipped a cousin, he popped up on the sand “Did you see that! That was awesome.”

The tide sped the cousins down the beach to the rip. Just as fathers and onlookers were getting out of their chairs and looking for rescue equipment, the young men ran out of the sand and back up the beach for Round Two (or Round 600.)

Their other cousins, in two piece bathing suits, amassed around a sand castle. They built turrets and walls, then decorated them with shells, pebbles, and the detritus of time. They crab-walked over wings of the castle then perched to put either a sand dollar or a sand flea at the top of the tower. Sand fleas were a particular specialty: they dug into the sand, found a flea the size of their thumbs, and dropped them in the moat. Good of builders and hunters, they were lousy captors. In the summer of Barbie, the women were creating while the boys were getting boiled. But the girls had to get the sand off one way or another, so they dove into the neck of a rolling wave.

For most of my beach days this summer, I have been joined by families the size of hockey teams. Today, the pack of cousins had emerged from a large semicircle of sisters, their boyfriends, fathers, uncles, aunts, mothers, and a grandmother. In the semi-circle, the olds monitored, with one ear to the gossip and a hand on the novel in the lap. They had come well equipped for the afternoon. They used a set of YETI coolers, Tommy Bahama beach chairs, and Cisco Brewers visors and hats. For lunch, they had made sandwiches which emerged from various reused plastic bags. They had chips, carrots and celery, a tin of cookies which made the rounds, and many pastel boozy seltzers. For when they felt athletic, they had kadima paddles, lacrosse sticks, and one faded, well-loved Spikeball Net.

One umbrella had been set up and anchored just to the back of the semicircle, amid the YETI’s and the toys. Under it, and under a wide straw hat, an older woman slept.

Above and beyond her, the adults talked. When the wind gusted, they raised their voices. They talked about lunch downtown, and dinner, and Negroni and whiskey. They talked about lacrosse and who went to Cornell and who wanted to go and who got turned down. They talked of marriages that were failing and had failed, of kids born and not, of jobs and commutes, and this new opportunity in Georgia. Then they whispered about how She bought another storage unit that would cost four times as much as the stored stuff was worth. She thought She might have Christmas here, which would be a pain since the kids were sleeping in tents in August. Where would they stay in snow?

She shifted under her umbrella.

Then they talked of cancer and oncologists and treatments and remission.

Then they stared at the ocean or picked up their books. She continued to nap.

Rather, she appeared to nap. She had been taught that the appropriate phrase was resting her eyes. So she was. She absorbed the words and the shadows of her children. Through the sand, she felt the running footsteps of her grandchildren. She smelled the mayonnaise and the lobster, the chips, the cookies, even the pastel seltzer.

After the drippings of pain, wisdom reveals itself. There had been other luxuries: of money, of attention, of affection. But all of those luxuries paled, melted, and slipped away. She had traded time for them and, in the end, watched them melt. She was left with an unteachable wisdom: The Only Luxury is Time.

She had seen folks in her life, both held in their warmth of her heart or left in the cold of her shadow, spend their last seconds after letting decades disappear on a conference table or a golf course. She was no better, she had let her time go like popcorn. She had spent so much time in front of televisions. She had loaned out that time over dinner tables and sofas. She had unspooled a king’s ransom on the 84 in Connecticut, on 95 in New Jersey, on 128 in Massachusetts. She had sat alone in a room overlooking the driveway and pushed second after second out of her purse. The world had taken regular deductions from her savings until, now, her savings had grown scant.

So, she brought them all down to their father’s old house. She coaxed, indulged, and, frankly, threatened. She hired cleaners. She rented beds. With the distant memory of August beaches, the golden promise of Nantucket, and the fear of an empty will, they came. They brought the children before they were old enough to go to camps, summer school, or Jamborees. They brought their spouses. They brought their troubles and their worries and their anxiety that made them fret about Cornell, storage units, and Christmas.

Here they were, in a moment well spent.

Soon enough, this time will end. It will end with tears and a dorm room. It will end with a slam and a lawyer. It will end with a cough or a fall. It will end in silence in an empty room, reaching for change in empty pockets. The tide sweeps all of us away. The wind eventually lifts us up and sends us somersaulting.

But for today, while the waves can be out run and the castles will stand. The tongues will speak and ears will listen, and there is still one last lobster salad sandwich in the cold of the cooler. There is still time enough in the account to make the check good.

Articles by Date from 2012