When it was announced on the loudspeaker that the nine-seat Cessna 402 would not be able to depart to Nantucket, for the island was “socked in” – meaning it was covered in impenetrable fog – the ticket agent peered into nine disappointed faces. Starting our vacation a day late was a blow to our well thought-out plans. She quickly surmised that she could instantly become a hero if an alternate plan could be devised, so with a confident smile she declared that she could send us to Hyannis, where we could hop on the last ferry of the day. Nine willing souls opted for the only choice offered us, and in no time we were leaving Boston’s Logan airport.
In the past we always took the two hour fifteen minute ferry ride for the sole reason of assuring our return to the island again and again. Legend has it that if you throw two pennies overboard as the ferry rounds the tiny Brant Point Lighthouse, your return to the island will be guaranteed. With my breathtaking gullibility this logic didn’t seem so far-fetched to me.
Before we departed we had to confess our weight at the ticket counter, and for the first time I didn’t dare to lie; our safety depended on our honesty. The little propeller plane that serviced the islands looked dangerously small. We lucked out with a laid-back pilot, who with an auctioneer’s speed spelled out the required precautions for our safety, adding a little levity by telling us that we can walk around and stretch our legs. He must have taken this route thousands of times, because appeared bored until half-way into the flight he removed his earphones, turned around and declared that he could take us to Nantucket for the fog has lifted somewhat. What joy!
So it happened that we landed safely at the Nantucket Memorial Airport, ACK for short, in a soupy dark evening. The Windmill Auto Rental was just a few steps away, where we loaded up our mid-size vehicle, and headed out to Tom Nevers in the middle of the island. Nantucket is small. If you go across from North to South, you can reach the waters in a little over three miles. Walking from East to West for fourteen miles will have the sea lap at your feet. My sieve-like memory was able to recall the approximate turn-off to the road leading to our upside-down house, so named because the bedrooms are on the first floor, with the kitchen and living room up above. The island vegetation is mostly low-growing scrub oak, so the view towards the waters can be enjoyed unimpeded from the upstairs windows. Most of the cedar-clapped houses have names, and since our proprietor hailed from Ireland, ours was christened Glennamaddy, posted on a gold-lettered quarter-board above the entry.
We celebrated our first evening with clam chowder and a great local wine at the Brotherhood of Thieves, an old and revered tavern with long history. After the pleasant meal we let the sound of the ocean lull us to sleep. No need for sleeping pills or warm milk with honey, no need for alarm clocks, just open the windows and sleep the sleep of the innocent until the resident rooster will announce a new day.
Because the constant moisture and salt spray, one of the things you immediately notice when you step on the island is the heavy rust, encrusted on everything metal. For years we struggled to move the grocery carts around. Not only the baskets were covered in orange-brown rust, but also the wheels had hard time turning. Now they are dipped in vinyl coating to prevent corrosion. Inside our house the venetian blinds are stuck half-way up, and the brass clasp on the sliding windows are unrecognizable. The houses are in constant need of repair. And because the siding takes on a mellow hue from the humid salty air, the island is called Grey Lady.
We spent countless hours getting lost and turning around. Navigating by the thick coating of moss on the pine trees gave us some hint of our direction, but road signs would have been more helpful. Consequently, in our quest to taste the local wine and beer, we saw a lot of the island, until on the last day we accidentally happened upon the elusive Hatch’s liquor store. Not to worry though! Nantucket has its own Brewery, Winery & Distillery for tasting libations, served up by laid-back young people, and provides the best directions to the tasting rooms in Cisco, where I sampled my first Hefeweizen, German-style wheat beer, and instantly became a fan of it. The wines were just as good, but to our surprise, the grapes came from Oregon.
Nantucket has ten public beaches and we allowed plenty of time to futz around all of them. Sitting in a beach chair, reading a favorite book, listening to the crashing waves, and wiggling our toes in the warm, silky sand is as close to paradise as one could get on this earth. Our holiday ended much too soon. I filled a small bottle with Nantucket sand, so when I’m suffering from separation anxiety, I can sprinkle some on the patio floor, sink my toes in, close my eyes and dream of Nantucket.