A NANTUCKETER VISITS ROCKPORT, TEXAS
Last year, I wrote an article about seeing Nantucket through the fresh eyes of my friend Kathryn—a visitor from Texas--who had never been to Nantucket before. Now the tables are turned, and I am visiting her in the beach town of Rockport, Texas. I am seeing another part of the world with my Nantucket eyes, and it is a very intriguing process.
On Nantucket, I am out on Eel Point. I am never lonely nor do I ever feel isolated, but people do not drop in unannounced on a regular basis either--although I would welcome that! Kathryn lives in a very small beach community where people constantly drop by and move from house to house. There are about sixteen houses in this small enclave. Almost everyone bought a summer house here when their children were small. As the families generally were here every weekend and all holidays, the kids grew up together. The adults grew up together as well. Now all those children are grown—most with families of their own--and little-by-little, the parents have retired. At least half of them have sold their primary homes and moved full time to their beach houses. These are people who have known, loved, and supported each other for decades. There are no deep secrets here—perhaps no secrets at all. They have all seen and shared each others joys, despair, tragedies, and successes. They have agonized together over children who have had problems, over deaths of friends, and over illnesses. They have celebrated their own successes and those of their collective children. They have always been available for each other, and they still are.
I am staying in the home of one of Kathryn’s friends—in fact, one of her very best friends. This friend died suddenly after falling down some stairs a few years ago. It broke the hearts of almost everyone in the community. The daughter inherited the house, and she comes several times a year with her husband and children, but she was willing to let me use the house since I am Kathryn’s guest. Yesterday, several friends of Kathryn’s and I had lunch at the house. In honor of the friend, Kathryn read the funny, moving, touching “reflection” that she had read at the funeral. We laughed, and we cried, and we knew her spirit was with us. This is the depth of the friendships in this community—something I have never had before because I have always been on the move throughout my life. I envy these women who have such strong bonds of love that they transcend time and place.
Like Nantucket, Rockport is a seaside community. The harbor is full of boats. The difference is that Nantucket harbor is most often full of yachts, while Rockport harbor is home to a host of oyster and shrimp boats. This is not to say that there are not many working boats in Nantucket and lots of yachts in Rockport. It is more that in Rockport, the majority of the boats at this time of year are working boats. The abundance of sea food is apparent in the prices. An oyster dinner will cost a great deal more in Nantucket, where shucked oysters may cost upwards of $3.00 an oyster, than here where one can get an oyster for less than $1.00. We went out to dinner the other night, and I had a dozen fabulous oysters for $9.99. There are two kinds of shrimp in Rockport waters—both equally delicious. One is a giant shrimp—great fried—and the other is a small, sweet shrimp—best eaten plain with the taste savored.
While there is currently no snow in Rockport, it is unseasonably cold despite bright blue skies and sunshine. But this weather is short lived. Tomorrow, it is supposed to be in the 80’s, and I can’t wait! Here the landscape is bay, boats, and palm trees, which compete with giant live oaks bent sideways by the wind. The juxtaposition is stunning.
Life is casual. So far there have been few formal invitations. People just drop by—sometimes with a bag of oysters to cook on the grill—and other times with a last minute invitation to come for the Alabama/Clemson game on TV and hotdogs. I often make a big deal about cooking elaborate dinners in Nantucket; here dinner just comes together in minutes—everyone contributing whatever is in their frig, and all of us doing the cooking. It is casual, unpretentious, and I love it!
While Kathryn has a fabulous big white truck with luxury seats, most of the time, we take the golf cart. In Rockport, golf carts are even allowed on the roads. Each evening, we take the ritual ride that Katheryn’s husband Cecil loves. We do a loop along the water to Kon Tiki—a small resort on the tip of the bay. As we drive, Cecil, who loves nature, now counts the trucks or trees instead of watching the sunset. Cecil has Alzheimer’s, and he thrives on routine. He is a lovely, sweet man. Just looking at him, you can tell how handsome he once was. He still has brilliant, piercing blue eyes and beautiful, thick white hair. It isn’t easy for Kathryn. Cecil, once a brilliant psychiatrist, is challenged, but she has unending kindness, patience, and compassion. In turn, Cecil frequently says how much he loves her. Katheryn is fifteen years younger than Cecil, and it is incredibly hard to watch someone you love slowly disappear. Cecil gets nervous and sad if Katheryn is not present, so right now her life is pretty circumscribed. Still, Cecil is enjoying life. He tells wonderful jokes, feed the squirrls, throws the ball to their dog, Ellie, and still enoys a good football game. In fact, he won the bets on the recent Alabama/Clemson game. Each day, we spend about six or more hours working on Katheryn’s book. Sometimes Cecil joins us and listens as we read aloud and revise. It is fascinating to see the moments when he really connects with something—and sometimes there are striking moments of lucidity when he does.
This is a community where the women have known and loved each other for years. Some of them even went to college together. I have never been among a tighter, more loving and caring—and funny!—group of women. Most are alone now—widowed—and they all take care of each other. I have moved a lot in my lifetime. I went to twenty-two different schools between kindergarten and high school. I have never held on to people and relationships. When I moved—which was often—I lost people. As I see these women who have such deep histories with each other, I am both awed and jealous. I long for these deep roots, this enduring sense of connection. In fact, the closest I have come to developing it is on Nantucket—and I hope that my friends in Nantucket will form this wonderful web of love and caring that I see here.
SO, enough for now. I am sure that my next article will continue to elaborate on the extraordinary experience that I am having in South Texas!