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Two Grey Ladies and a Sandy-Haired Blond

Tired from unloading suitcases, fishing gear and coolers of food from two  cars to one tiny Nantucket rental cottage, I cringed when my 19 year old daughter, Lizzie, begged me to stop organizing.
“Come with me to put my  kayak into  Polpis Harbor, Mom. This nice weather won’t last forever,” she said.” You can do your ‘ship- shape’ thing tomorrow.
My 56 year old back ached from the 5 hour drive from New Jersey to Hyannis, and 2 plus hours on the freight ferry across the Nantucket Sound—more than seven hours door to door. I just wanted a nap. But her young body practically vibrated with energy and excitement.
“I’m high on the smell of Rosa Rugosa ,” she said, twirling around , face to the sapphire blue sky.  COME ON. Let’s go.”
“Okay. But let’s take a drive and check things out, first.” I said,  to delay the labor of the launch.  
She pushed me into the passenger’s seat of her now empty black Commander and drove out of our weedy  driveway, crunching over white shells and bouncing across pot holes, onto  Pocomo Road.
“Ah, smell that Mom? Best perfume ever” she said, sticking her head out the window like a dog, breathing in the sweetness of an island in full  bloom.
“Uh huh. Watch the road” I said, wondering what time the Stop and Shop closed.
“Hey, everybody’s got their flag up.”
Which means everybody will be calling for cocktails, I thought, making a mental note  to stop at Hatch’s Package store for wine.
“Come on Mom,” Lizzie said, reading my mind, as she so often does.
“Stop with the to-do list. Smoke is coming out of your ears,” she laughed. “We’re here to relax, aren’t we?”
She was right, of course. I’d spent so many summers (39 to be exact) on Nantucket in every phase of my life--girlhood, footloose young single, wife, new mother- but for the first time, I  didn’t feel the thrill at returning  I usually do, so I was flailing around for errands to keep me preoccupied.  Recently, my in-laws had sold their house on Miacomet Pond, a pretty south shore spot where for more than twenty three years, we had enjoyed bird watching with morning coffee  on the deck .You can see the ocean from the bedrooms upstairs. It is where Lizzie took her first steps. I was sad, when as a quorum, the family decided to sell and now I felt as unmoored as boat loose in a storm. Now, it was back to rentals-someone else’s version of Nantucket.
The Island and I suddenly felt like two curmudgeonly sisters, kibitzing back and forth about the crazy- high cost of living here, the closing of so many favorite restaurants. The  ‘Under Construction’ sign still posted on the Dreamland Theater. The lack of parking spaces in August on Main Street. Every year I come back, I over react to the inevitable changes I see- from the demise of Butner’s Five and Dime, to mink coated weekenders parading  the cobblestones during Christmas Stroll. I want things to stay the same. I don’t want to get old and grey, I want Lizzie to stay young and unjaded, and I want Nantucket to be my safe, unchanging harbor, my own best kept secret. But the secret got out sometime in the late 80’s and she is in full-throttle change mode now. In 1991, when Lizzie was born, there seven hundred and fifty moorings on Old South Wharf ,and this year, there are  more than 2,400.
Love and frustration knit together and pull onto me like a scratchy sweater over sweaty skin. This dyed in the wool New Englander and I have an imaginary exchange of words.
“I see you’ve lost more of your cliff out in Sconset,” I might say. “Not good.”
Had to, big Nor’easter in March, she might reply.
“You’ve changed; I really think I have  had enough of you.”
No you haven’t, and you never will.
“Please, let me go. I don’t want to grow old with you; and I hate my hair.”
And I hate the storms that take the sands from my beaches, shrinking me every year. Time passes, things change.
I looked out  the Jeep’s window, and knew it was the truth. Lizzie and I detoured past the wild and open moors, preserved by the Nantucket Conservation Foundation in the 60’s and 70’s. That was a good change, I reasoned, acres  added to the foundation every day.  There were other good changes too –the bike path, alternate energy sources, new and emerging artists, historic preservation.
My waters are still clear and the sailing is good.
“My skin looks crepe-y and I miss the pond.”
Across the Polpis road, swift Peregrine falcons circled alongside single engine planes, and red tailed hawks swooped beneath them, low and fast, searching for dinner. Sun through the windshield warmed my legs, soon to be the color of wild honey from days anchored in the dunes at Madequecham, Cisco and Ladies Beach. Along the roadsides, budding hydrangea competed with bayberry, primroses, rhododendrons and ferns. Gulls made check marks against a cloudless sky, as if to say, good. You’re back. I felt my body  relax back to island pace.
The jeep did a bump and grind along the rutted road to the harbor, eel grass tickled the oil pan; scrub oak scratched its doors. I’ll need a visit to Nantucket Auto Body to get the paint buffed.
Just as I was about to complain aloud about this addition to my list of things to do, I stopped  and looked at Lizzie’s face. But I saw myself, circa 1975, about the same age, not grey haired but white blond, with a purple Plastic Fantastic  surf board strapped to the roof of my light blue Ford Bronco, headed out to Nobadeer for some low tide rides to shore. I longed for the heady excitement of a Nantucket summer I knew Lizzie was headed for – Sea Breeze cocktails after work at the Chicken Box, pool games and dancing into the early hours of the morning at the Muse, sunset surfcasting on Great Point with a bonfire and sandy burgers, and all the while, a zillion stars overhead. Wasn’t it just yesterday I was the one catching bluefish on Coatue with the boys? I looked down at my wrinkled hands, then back out of the window at a cloudless blue sky, jade green water, sparkly sand, pink roses, eel grass the color of beach glass.
Before Lizzie and I left for Massachusetts, my husband had asked me, “Why do you keep going back there? Haven’t you had enough? Our home is so beautiful in the summer.”
He’s right. It is beautiful; our own piece of heaven, right in the middle of the Garden State. I thought about that again as Lizzie pulled the jeep into the sandy parking lot at the harbor. Although we have a lovely house in New Jersey surrounded by hay fields and horses, heaven to me will always be The Opera Cup race--ten of us sailing a 100-foot wooden yacht from Martha’s Vineyard to Coatue the first weekend in August; fishing the rips at Smith’s Point from a bouncing, tossing Whaler; making beach plum jam for the neighbors, picking blackberries for cake on ‘Sconset roadside bushes; heaven was feeling like that flip-flopped, Ray-Banned twenty-year-old girl each summer I spent on Nantucket, no matter how old I was.
We unlashed the orange kayak from the roof of the Jeep and dragged it over the sand and into the salt water creek. Happily gliding in the shallows, Lizzie looked for horseshoe crabs beneath her boat.
From my on shore perch, I surveyed the new houses on the horizon. The wrappings of an $11 sandwich lay on my blanket. I shivered from the mist of an already thickening fog, then sighed in resignation. Time will continue to pass, things will change and Nantucket and I would grow old and grey together, our sisterly bones creaking like so many ships in the harbor.
You’ve changed too don’t forget--not so young anymore.  Hair’s more white than blond… and how ‘bout your middle?
“You’re a bit over-grown yourself, old woman.”
“See the Osprey feeding her chicks, Mom?” Lizzie says, interrupting my private conversation—“and look at this beautiful place, don’t you feel like we are in a Turner painting—all wild and white-capped water meeting grey- blue sky.”  My daughter, the artist.
“A seal! A grey seal. Look at his spots!” she cried, pointing west. Even at almost twenty years old, this sight thrills her. It still thrills me, too.
She gets it. I know my young Nantucketer, having been here every summer since she was three months old, will take good care of her two old Grey Ladies as they continue to move through time. Someday she will moan and groan about the changes still in her future, the eventual loss of things and places she knows and loves. But right now she is in her clementine colored kayak floating on the glassy surface of Polpis Harbor, soaking up the sun, breathing in the salt air.
Let me have Lizzie, it’s her turn now. Isn’t that why you’ve come back, to give her to me?
I watched her, this younger version of myself crisscrossing a dripping paddle back and forth over the boat's bow and heading out into the Sound.