Yesterday's Island, Today's Nantucket
Nantucket Essays

We Came Here Because of Here

~ by Robert P. Barsanti ~

The rain continues to fall.

Heavy rain does funny things to the island; there is no place for all of that freshwater to go, other than the ocean. But before it gets to the ocean, it puddles in the parking lots, cross streets, and old pond beds.

To me, and most of the year-round contingent, rain is merely another annoyance. It keeps the kids inside, closes up the job sites, fills the bars downtown, and leaks in the west facing windows. But for the visitors who count each day as if it was a rosary bead, the rain steals money and time. The family stands downtown in raincoats and shorts, dodging from toy store to ice cream to museum with one furtive eye on the sky.

I remember those days well. When I was green and wild in my youth, the parents brought us on vacation to the Vineyard. In order to prolong our stay and save money, we stayed in a gigantic tent. Bedouin living was fine in good weather. We bopped to the beach in the morning, showered and played softball in the late afternoon, grilled in the evening and fell into a salty, sandy sleep on an air mattress.

But when the rains came, tent living became a precarious, soggy nightmare. You couldn’t touch the sides of the canvas tent for fear of causing leaks. Trenches, dug with admirable energy by my younger brother, had to be redug and fortified, otherwise the water would pool up under the groundsheet.

Everything inside the car stayed dry, everything inside the big tent got damp. Everything under the flap filled and flopped with standing water. You haven’t lived until you have eaten soggy cereal in a limp paper bowl on a wet picnic table for dinner.

We spent the rainy days sitting in the main building shooting bumper pool and reading, playing interminable board games inside the damp tent, or driving from one town to the next in search of a cheap indoor amusement. Well within our earshot, my mother often wondered why we ever came.

Like most of my mother’s questions, I only started thinking about it seriously once my hair turned steely. The older I get, the wiser my mother gets. My memory is only now letting go of her experiments in yogurt making, Transactional Analysis, and garbardine vests. With her dumb ideas getting boiled away in the try-works of time, her wise oil will remain.

Thirty years later and twenty miles to the south-east, other parents must ask the same questions. The intervening thirty years has given us great wonders. Now, instead of bumper pool and cribbage, the kids can watch “Dumb and Dumber” on DVD, listen to their Ipods, text message their friends, and play marathon Halo 2 marathons on the X-Box. In never rains on Super Mario Sunshine. Children are now household appliances. Plug them in, keep them fed and clean, and show them off to the neighbors. My mother’s questions echoes and reverberates in the new millennium of personal electronic amusement parks; “Why did we ever come here?” We could plug the kids in more cheaply at home.

We came here because of “here.” Nantucket has held itself back from the ebb tide of consumers and corporations. As a result, the island remains different from America. Anonymous American life is stuck in Hyannis with the traffic lights. Even with a billion dollars in real estate sales and three local cable channels, we remain the “little town that time forgot.” Everyone who returns to Nantucket comes to find their own lighthouses and channel markers. Cisco Beach, Bartlett Farm, Altar Rock, Great Point, Striped Bass at sunset. Then, with the compass and chronometer reset, they can return to the world of touchscreens, PIN numbers, and Zip Code marketing.

We came here, then, because it wasn’t home. Home has bills, soccer practice, and drive time DJ’s on the radio. Home comforts us in an endless box step: work, kids, store, bed, then slide back to first position. A vacation not only ends the music, it tosses you off the dance floor. For better or worse, there you are with the spouse and the kids looking out a rainy window. Whatever you are going to do, it is going to be different from what you did last week or last month.

Or it should be. The Personal Electronic Amusement Park has its attractions, particularly for the parents. But the kids can watch “Old School” at home while you do the box step. Vacation might be a good time to listen to what the kids are listening to (briefly), drag them to things they don’t want to see, and walk places they don’t want to go. Even in the rain. At the very least, it will give their thumbs something to write.

My mother’s question answers itself. We came here so that my family could become a “we” again. An overweight, over-sugared, bored, and damp “we,” mind you, but a unified group nonetheless. On island, the family goes skating together, goes to the Maria Mitchell Aquarium, visits the Lifesaving Museum, and drives to Sconset for ice cream and a view of the waves breaking on the Rose and Crown Shoal. Off-island, the family spins about on a child’s mobile, circling the circles. On-island, and in the rain, the spinning stops and the strings break. We are left with the only things we really ever have: each other.

Soon enough, the rosary beads and credit line will run out and we will have to return home. As sure as death and taxes, the last day will be one of transcendent clarity and warmth. With the car packed and the kids belted into the back seat, we will drive to the boat and hear, in the far off distance, the breakers rolling into the beach, the golf balls flying off the tee, and the sails luffing in the southwest breeze. Next year, we can enjoy this. Again.

Articles by Date from 2012