Thursday, July 19, 2012

Nantucket Redux

A flood of memories rushed over me when I saw Nantucket Island from the air.  I’m returning to the island for a vacation with daughter Michelle and her kids.  It’s been years.  Such a tiny place for so many larger-than-life memories.

We spent summers there when my kids were growing up, the best way to see their dad’s family and get in lots of fresh air, ocean breezes, cool nights.  We had family picnics on the South shore, collected tons of seashells,  picked blueberries on the moors, stalked ghosts at the Lucretia Mott house and the Whaling Museum.  There were movies at the Dreamland,  icecream at the Sweet Shoppe, shopping up and down Main Street from the Harbour to Orange Street and the Nantucket Bake Shop. 

The gray shingled houses, blue hydrangea, and  winding cobblestone streets echoed with the sounds of whaling ships coming home after two years at sea; of women searching anxiously from their “widows watches, ” those look-outs atop houses; of whaling captains and owners building mansions still standing; of  Quakers manumitting their slaves and Frederick Douglass speaking at the Athenium; of black Nantucketers building their own schools, churches and burial grounds; of fog horns warning boats and fishermen to come ashore.    

My girls still love the Island, though the house they might have continued to visit every summer, that they might have inherited, on property once part of farmland owned by the family for generations, was sold to strangers.  They  will never forget that. Nor will I.  They were broken hearted. The rest of the family tried desperately to save the place, an almost sacred piece of land,  but they couldn’t raise enough money to meet the sellers’ demands.  Just another dream shattered, another expectation dashed.   

My girls still dream of Nantucket.  They still see, hear and feel the sights and sounds and scents.  It’s in their blood, they say.  They get back to the island rarely, when they can.   A few summers ago and this summer Michelle rented a place across the road from the house and grounds she remembers as a child.  She wants her four kids to have the Nantucket experience she cherishes.  My granddaughter Alli says she wants to buy a Nantucket house for her mother, a place she and all the kids can go every summer. She knows how much it means to her mom.  Family values.  The power of honoring legacies.  Elissa hopes to get there sometime, too, maybe next year, she says in a whisper, but it’s awfully expensive.  I want it to happen because I know how much it means to her, too.  I told her I had mixed feelings about going back.  “At least you get to smell the ocean,” she said.  “I miss that.  I will always miss that.”

So here I am back in Nantucket after so many years. We've all made peace with our island history. In many ways it is just the same as I remember it.  Sure there's more building, less oceanfront, more houses, less open space.  But the Island retains its beauty. The flora and fauna, the bayberry and wild roses, the privet and scotch broom have grown up enormously, joyrfully, and the island looks lush.  The honeysuckle and bayberry still line the sandy road to the cliffs and the beach on the North side of the Island.  It feels like it did some 40 years ago, when we were young and hope sprang eternal. 

The foghorns blow forlornly through the gray night.  The eagles circle the moors, and the vultures dive into troubled waters.  Sharks cruise the shore.  Dreams have a way of shattering into a million pieces, where they float on  ocean waves under a full moon.  Peace has a way of dawning, and that's the best thing of all. 

I wrote a poem about the sale of the Nantucket house and property, responding to my girls’ pain, shock and sadness.  I’ve long since reconciled with the reality, and so have they. They will always have Nantucket in their blood. Now their kids do.  The poem reflects the heat of the moment, anger that has passed, which as we know, as we learn as we go, is just a small marker on life’s path.

No sentimental attachment to familial obligations
stood in his way.
He rode roughshod across generations,
Flung sand in the eyes of dreamers.
Watched impassively as honeysuckle choked roses 
along the lane to the ocean.
The dreamers watched, too, as a bayberry-gray fog rolled across the moors            silencing the stories of ancestors and the dreams of the  living.   

Now, on to new chapters and new adventures. Looks like Michelle is going to make it back every summer.  Nantucket is in her blood.
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