Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 37 Issue 16 • August 10 - 16, 2007
now in our 37th season

The Luxury of August

by Robert P. Barsanti

My father is in Italy this August.  He is visiting his sister, touring Tuscany, having drinks on the Piazza San Marco in Venice, then cruising the Adriatic.  He will eat the finest gnocchi, he will see Aida in a coliseum, he will drink wonderful local wines, he will spend the inheritance and he will enjoy every moment of it. 

For him this trip, and his other recent European trips, harken back to vacations his father took him on.  They would load the Cadillac on a trans-Atlantic liner, sail to Genoa, and drive around Italy.  Once he was married and with children, the Grand Tour got shelved for my mother and her ideas of a practical and cheap vacation camping on Martha’s Vineyard. 

My mother loved beaches, although she hated swimming.  On the calmest beaches, on the most windless days, she could be encouraged to enter the water for a gentle float and paddle about.  All the while, she wore goggles, bathing cap, ear plugs, and nose plugs.  Otherwise, she sat in her beach chair with its green and yellow umbrella and read trashy novels.  She hated Italy and the Sommelier Luxury that went with visiting there.  She would rather drink Gansetts under her umbrella and watch her children fling crabs at each other. 

One morning, my mother and I left our campsite and pedaled eight miles to Oak Bluffs and East Chop Light to watch the sun rise.  Neither of us anticipated the distance and we missed the sunrise by a good half hour.  But we enjoyed the view, enjoyed our accomplishment in spite of ourselves and our miserable bikes, and enjoyed each other.  Before we left, she snapped several pictures of Queen Anne’s Lace by the side of the road, then she took me to breakfast at the Black Dog. 

My mother saw Queen Anne’s Lace as a rare wildflower.  On vacation, she would stick a few sprigs into water for the picnic table. Later, she would press them into her books.  Those pictures she took that morning on East Chop were blown up into eight-by-tens, framed, and hung in the living room.   After she died, the pictures were replaced.  Now, after my father has sold the house, I suppose they only live in my memory. 

Queen Anne’s Lace also lines the path to Sesachacha beach.  I thought of my mother as I trailed my two boys to the beach one Sunday morning in August.  One boy ran trailing a boogie board behind him.  The other followed and tried to jump on the board so that his brother would drag him.  When he eventually succeeded, both boys fell into a giggling heap, only to be beset by an affectionate basset hound. 

Eventually, we established a base camp and then ventured into the tepid, still bathwater of the pond.  The boys splashed each other mercilessly, then dunked each other.  They impressed their father to either carry each on his shoulders, or to lead them in a game of “motorboat” or “rocky boatride” and, finally, to heave them into the air for a wet landing. 

After forty-five minutes of amusement, I returned to the sand and the relative peace of the beach chair.  The boys joined other Lost Boys in building the perpetual sand castle on the banks of the pond.  They put in a race track and a heliport. 

We were deep in the luxury of August.  A breeze blew off the Atlantic, ruffling the water and swaying the beach grass.  Far to the south, a line of plum colored smoke rose up in a distant fog bank.  Over the mainland, big, puffy, fair weather clouds blew out singly over the water. The dragonflies paused in the beach grass.  Constellations of terns swooped over the water.  Others darted, then hovered, then dove after silvery fish. 

Four swimmers had left the beach for the far shore and were now coming back at an easy, loping pace.  Seven or eight families lined up their tents and towels over the sand.  One enterprising group of young girls set up a table near the entrance for lemonade and chocolate chip cookies.  The ladies with the big hats worked the blackberry bushes close to the road.  I bought a cookie, opened my book, and watched the construction.

The island spends the month of August drunk on sunshine.  It is a month without questions or diets or budgets.  We read the newspaper or watch the news for heat waves, hurricanes, and horrors while we eat striper and shake the sand out of our flip flops.  The secret we smile at one another is that we are born lucky; lucky to be on this island at this moment with these people. 

Most of us realize that August ends.  The wind comes down from the northwest, blowing Labor Day with it.  Classrooms, offices, and snowstorms await.  The run of good luck that has led us to this beach will fade into overtime, heart-ache, and boredom.  Our day at the beach will disappear into the mush of yesterdays.  Next year, the boys will want a surf beach. Next year, we may be working.   Next year, all of us may not be back. 

My mother and I didn’t ride out to East Chop again.  Time, tide, bills, and family conspired against us.  We had other moments, of course, and other Augusts, but none of them were out at dawn with the Queen Anne’s Lace.  The Luxury of August cannot be stored or transferred or recreated or relived; it rushes by us in a torrent.  It only remains in photographs, waistlines, and  the half-remembered echoes we leave our kids after we have crossed over the bar.

My father may hear his father in Italy, somewhere.  He may hear him in the roll of the ocean liner, the roar of the car, or in the clink of the wine glasses in a roadside trattoria.  I hear my mother in the breeze over Sesachacha.  She brings the puffy clouds, ruffles the water, and tells me to have another cookie.  It’s August.

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