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Volume 39 Issue 9 • July 2-8, 2009
now in our 39th season

Gift Outright

by Robert P. Barsanti

The first Farmer and Artisan’s market of the year happened on Saturday.  It was a decidedly low-key affair, as Nantucket celebrations go.  No celebrities were on hand, no one had cordoned off a member’s only section, and no one had an auction.  Instead, a few pickup trucks wheeled into the parking lot, tables were set up, and goods were laid out.  This spring has been decidedly more helpful for the artisans than for the farmers.  As a result, it was a market rich in pots and weak in plants. 

Still, over fifteen hundred folk came to the market.  They puzzled over the knitting and the pottery, poked at the rhubarb, and, perhaps, took home a few things.   The sun teased its summer presence for a few hours, confusing the customers and artisans alike.  The raincoat weavers and polar fleece harvesters frowned for a few brief sunny moments before the fog rolled back in and thunder crept up from the south.  But while the sun lasted, everyone enjoyed being at the Farmer’s Market with a million dollar view. 

It should be a good summer for the market.  Situated between the two ferries, it will attract its share of curious tourists looking for a bargain.  Moreover, islanders will come downtown for a turn among the tom-toms and the tomatoes of summer.  Some of them will even be venders.  Once upon a time, 23 farms fought for their economic life on this island.  It doesn’t take much to think that some enterprising soul on Surfside Road will look at his backyard full of zucchini and think that a Saturday morning with a basket and a folding chair might be a better idea than pickling.  We might see 23 “Do It Yourself” Burpee farms again. 

Moreover, the market has the finest location of any farmer’s market in the state. While you squeeze and sniff the melons, you can look out over Easy Street Basin to the refined heights of Monomoy and Shimmo.  This wasn’t the plan, of course.  Had one of the more recent owners of the Dreamland had his way, the lot would hold a 298 seat restaurant; a restaurant that, like many of the others downtown, would have served Angus beef, a variety of spaetzle, and very few diners this year. 

All sorts of get rich quick schemes dried up in Easy Street basin.  The vast infrastructure of the whaling business, complete with ropewalks, warehouses, taverns, and inns burned here one hot July night.  The theater itself left its Quaker roots to become a hat factory, and then a hotel before settling into a century of showing movies.  The famous railroad with its rusted engines, washed out tracks, and intermittent service ran down what is now Easy Street.  The 298-seat fine dining restaurant is just the latest financial dream to wash up among the flotsam and jetsam.

Sometime in the last decade, people forgot that lots of money has been lost out here.  For every dollar that got earned whaling, fishing, or massaging, another five got lost in sunk boats or silk worms.  Poverty has been the rule on Nantucket, not the exception.  You don’t have to go all that far back into the mists of time to find families who made it through the winter on scallops, deer, and unemployment checks.  Not only were blue-collar millionaires reasonably rare in the past, so was year-round work.  There is a good reason why men could spend months sitting in shacks on the south shore waiting for dead and dying whales to wash up.  No one needed them to tile a guest bathroom in a nautical theme. 

Recently, there has been a lot more to do out here than wait for whales; with a little bit of energy and spirit, you could take home a fortune.  This is an easy island to love if you’re rich.  Everyone throws their doors open for you then.    You get invitations to benefits, great tee times, and good seats at the Circus.  Your vegetables come to you cleaned, steamed, and with a demi-glaze that the chef learned at Cordon Bleu. 

Many people, from all walks of life, came out to take part in this great feast. Realtors, lawyers, and shamans came over on the same boats that brought teachers, carpenters, and taxi drivers.   They applied themselves, worked hard, made some serious bank and sent it back to wherever their homes are.  Now that the Gulfstreams have left, the feast has ended and every edible animal has been plucked from the ponds, they leave Nantucket by way of Easy Street. 

And they are going. 

Those who stay aren’t here for the champagne showers and heavy Perrier mists.  Those who stay know that everything is about to get a lot more dear.  The bills will get higher and the hours and the pay envelopes will get smaller.  Shop owners are finding their way back behind the counter, contractors are back to being carpenters, and the kitchen gardens are growing once again. 

Those who stay aren’t staying for the salaries or the soirees.   They are here to catch the waves at low tide off of Cisco.  They are here to pull in stripers off of the Miacomet Rip.  They are here for the first wink of a sunrise over Sconset and the Atlantic.  They don’t take from the island so much as they give to it.  They are here because they love the place: rich or poor, sick or well, good times and bad. And if they have to be poor to live here, they will.

Love is more give than take.  To love this island, you need to give a lot.  You need to coach, to roof, to sell raffle tickets, to pick up trash on weekend mornings and to watch the neighbor’s kids.  You are going to have to work, hard, at a lot of jobs that don’t give out paychecks or promotions.  You don’t get to take that trip down Easy Street.
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