Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 40 Issue 19 • Sept 8 - 15, 2010
now in our 40th season

Waiting for the Hurricane

by Robert P.Barsanti

Another hurricane has passed us by.  A week ago, off the coast of the Bahamas, it roared at Category 4 strength.  Near the Georgia coast, it whipped the waves with 135 mile-an-hour winds.  Then it flew up on a fade towards Nantucket.  In the middle of the night, it sliced wide right, lost its winds, and got stuck in New Brunswick and settled, finally, in Labrador.

I root for hurricanes.  I watch them form as invests, hope they become better organized into depressions, and then let the whirling commence.  I don’t want to see my roof cartwheeling to Hyannis, nor do I want to bail floodwaters out of Lower Orange Street.  But, I would be willing to trade a day or two of inconvenience for some brown and gray oceanic power.  Let a gray, rising sea God whisk us back to 1970…but not this time.

What this hurricane spared us in destruction, it rewarded in amusement.  The children loved it.  When the storm waves overtopped the barrier beach at Miacomet and flowed into the pond, the kids rode their skim boards down the sheet of water.  Others lay in the fingerdeep current and let it slip them down the sand.  My boys enjoyed playing with the flashlights and the candles.  We drove around in the pre-storm panic and visited stores.  I let them beg for water wings. “What if the island floods?” they cried.  “Think of the children!” And then they giggled. 

The storm amused the adults as well.  The TV trucks came, nosed about for future debris and award winning video, then squatted and waited for the houses to fall in.  The last of the summer visitors lined their cars up for gasoline, and backed up to the Boy’s Club on Sparks Avenue.  Presumably, the hurricane was going to build a highway.  They also bought the grocery store empty of milk and ice cream, both equally useful in a power outage.  Our Lady of Lilly stood in the card store, shocked that they had run out of D cell batteries.  “How dare you!” she declaimed, “How dare you!”

It was easy to overreact.  New Orleans, Katrina, and the Superdome remain fresh in our memories.  No one wants to explain to the Coast Guard helicopter crew why he decided to stay.  So downtown covered their windows in plywood, the sandbags came out on Broad Street, and they set up the cots at the high school.  At home, we found the flashlights, put all the candles and lanterns on the kitchen table, filled the bathtub with water, and dropped the storm windows.  Then we waited. 

And we are still waiting.  In the morning, the trees were thrashing about and the car was hub cap deep in a puddle, but it was a hurricane measured in blowing leaves, not blowing roofs.  The morning held electric blue skies, retreating clouds, and roaring waves.  We were in swimsuits after lunch.  The island lost no houses, no power, and no lives; summer was the only thing missing.

It went fast.  On the day before the storm, the humidity beaded up on the refrigerator and dripped from the windshield.  We wore shorts, t-shirts, and counted down the minutes until we got to the pond.  There was still time for one more surf session, for a kayaking trip up the harbor, a dinner on the beach, or a night under the stars.  And then, the fog blew away, a Canadian front pushed through and brought the school year with it.  Out at Cisco, the storm erased the footprints and sloped the beach for the winter.  The swimmers and the surfers had migrated back to the playing fields and the beach was given to sea clams and seals.  The boys and I went to the pond one last time.  Only this time, we huddled under the water for warmth then got to the candy room before it closed for the season.  We will have to wait nine months for it to open up again. 

We wait for a lot of things to come to us or to happen for us.  We wait for the sun, we wait for the summer, we wait for the fog to burn off.  We wait for lunch, we wait for the end of the day, we wait for retirement.  We wait for the hurricane.  So much of our lives are enjoyed, but endured while we wait for the dramatic grand finale.  And then it will be good. 

A hurricane might change our lives; it might force us to live in a Fitchburg Days Inn for months.  But most of our lives don’t change in a dramatic night of wind, rain, and wave.  Instead, life pivots at a moment of pointless happenstance.  You hold your cup of coffee at the kitchen table when the phone rings.  Your mother did not meet your father on the bridge of the Titanic, but at the pain reliever section of Island Pharmacy.  A thousand small things led her to be in the aisle at that moment: a thousand similarly small things led him to be there as well.  And they were ready and willing for the pivot to come.  Coffee became a date that became, eventually, you.  The moment when it all changed could just as easily be an overcast day in November or a partly cloudy day in early April as it could be on the day of the Hurricane we all wait for. 

A friend of mine decided to stop waiting for the hurricane and made one himself.   The night after the storm, he told his children that the electric company had to recalibrate their chuzzlewits and power was knocked out to the island.  Then, in the dark, they lit the candles, played the board games, and ate the emergency candy bars.  When the children were too tired to stay awake, they gave them all flashlights and sent them to bed.  No one asked why the clocks weren’t flashing.  But, perhaps, this was the night when everything changed.


Nantucket’s most complete events & arts calendar • Established 1970 • © © 2019  Yesterday's Island •