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Essay
Volume 39 Issue 8 • June 25-July 1, 2009
now in our 39th season

Fifty-One Weeks

by Robert P. Barsanti

So, I was sitting at the airport on Sunday with Son Number Two.  The waiting room was choked with travelers looking at their connections, herding their terriers, and wearing their hats backwards.  Son Number Two was focusing the entirety of his attention on a lemonade.  Then on Calvin and Hobbes, then back on the lemonade.

“Dad,” he asked. “Why are we here?”

It’s a question I had often pondered.  In June, both money and windows remain tight.  The corporations that bet on the island are looking for their payback now.  They short staff the nurses at the hospital, run too few planes to the airport, have too few employees for propane, banks, phone, electric, and cable, then charge the island premium.  For a little boy, the movie theater is a fairway, the miniature golf course has gone condo, and the water slide is an historical trivia question.  We have no go karts, no skee ball, no zip lines.  So, like a good father, I punted his question out of bounds.

“Because it’s our home.”

He nodded and slurped the remains of his No Longer Nantucket Nectar.  “But, Dad.”  He said.  “Why are WE here?”

Son Number Two has gotten larger during the nights.  His shoes come in  boxes without puppies now.  He can hit line drives into center and right. He doesn’t need his pizza cut up, his cartoons read to him, or special bendy straws for his milk.  Sometime after Little Einsteins and before the Red Sox game, he grew from a boy to a son.  He deserved the answers a father should give.

“I’ve thought a good bit about this, son.” I put my book down and settled into my answer.  “And, I don’t think its all that complicated.”

“It’s a lot easier to think about what we are not here for.  We are not here to read, forward, and post the memo.  We are not here to tweet, comment, IM, or “w00t.”  We are not here to wring out “more efficiencies from the supply stream” or “to revisit the mission statement.”  We may find ourselves stuck in air-conditioned rooms, wearing a tie, posting moronic phrases on big sheets of paper and tacking them up on the wall.  But that is not what we are here for.

“We are here to bear witness.  Every day, the island shows us wonder  upon wonder until she bores us with spectacular regularity.

“We’re here to body surf a head-high breaker at Cisco, to bike to Madaket, and to walk the Sankaty Bluff.  We’re here sail close to the wind and far from home, and then to bring it back by the lights on the Congregational Church.

“We’re here to watch the purple fog roll in from the east, shroud Sankaty in silence, and then hang five feet over the Polpis Road.

“We’re here to drive the green on sixteen, play one off of Skinner’s Barn, and lose a bogie in the high rough only to find the eagle in the bottom of the cup.  Golf is prayer to a cruel God.  Enjoy his gifts, they don’t come often.

“We’re here to feel the heavy hit of a bluefish taking the hook, the weight of a striped bass held by the gill, and the buttery taste of it cooked over charcoal.

“We’re here to watch the wood ducks migrate off the south shore, the crabs wave from the puddles, and red winged black birds fight the hawks away.

“We’re here to set a campfire out at Miacomet, watch the sun set, the constellations reel through the night, and sun finally rise over Sconset.

“We’re here for watermelon creams, butterscotch brownies, cheese specials, Cheesy Syd bread and Madaket Mysteries. (but not now, son.  Later.)

“Too many people get too tied up in themselves, their bills, and the view from the front seat of the next door neighbor’s Escalade.  They cause pain when we’re here to ease it.

“We’re here to hold chairs, doors, jackets and then, get kissed for no reason at all.  We are here to assemble the jungle gym, set up the Christmas Tree, mend a flat tire, and change the oil on the car.  We’re here to give someone a hand, a lift, or a tow.  Karma follows you like a hungry dog.

“We’re here to call Mom, call 911, and call the pretty girl who snorts when she laughs because everything is a lot more fun with her.      

Trust me on that one.

“We’re here to give directions.  You’ll be a lost tourist, too.

“We’re here to tip well, arrive early, and leave before the lights go up.  Rocky has a home, too.  We’re here to wave like the Chief, smile like Reverend Ted, and shake hands like Charlie.

“We’re here to remember.  We stand on the shoulders of giants; they are six feet below us at every step.

“We’re here to be humble in victory, gracious in defeat, and indefatigable in competition.  But you can pump your fists like Tiger, dance like Papelbon, and stand like Papi.  For three seconds.  Then act like you’ve been there before.

“We’re here to speak our minds. We’re here to read the letters in the paper, and then write a few back at em.  You have read, you have written, you have thought; you have the tools to fight.  And if you don’t, those Ranneys will run roughshod over you.

“We’re here to forgive mistakes, even if it is an eyesore.

“No one lies in the hospice relishing the new transitions he put in the last quarterly report Powerpoint.  No, our last wordless flight will be the feel of well struck putt as it ambles its way into the hole.

“Lots of men spend their hours planning on getting the perfect car, the perfect, wife, and the perfect house.  They chase the perfect wave and never stick around for the good ones that roll in right around five o’clock when the wind shifts.  Some people work fifty-one weeks a year, to spend one week here.    We work fifty-two weeks to stay here. “

I paused, dramatically.

And I said. “Does that answer your question, son?”

And he said. “No, not really Dad.”

And I said “No?”

And he said.  “They cancelled all the flights a half hour ago.”

(With apologies to Rick Reilly)

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