Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 37 Issue 11 • July 5 - 11, 2007
now in our 37th season

Declare Independence

by Robert P. Barsanti

I stood on the corner of Federal and Main on Thursday with the latest real estate listings under my arm and a sad look of recognition on my face.  Coming down Main Street the wrong way were two loaded bikes.  The first held a toddler and a mother, the second held an infant in a yellow trailer and a father. The Gentlemen in Blue stopped them at Union Street before they got to check out their health insurance coverage. 

Pimney Trimtab, the old eavesdropper, poked my arm and asked “Are you down for the weekend or for the season?”

“I’m doing 25 to life,” I told her.  Ice cream in hand, she drifted away, trailing two lightship baskets down Main Street. 

It’s very easy to get cynical in July.

The Fourth of July sounds a mill whistle across the island.  For those of us who live out here on this barren sandbar, the Fourth is more of a dependence day than its opposite.  “Our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” have been pledged to these summer visitors.  With 89% of the real estate owned by off-islanders, almost every single January resident of the island gives a tip of the cap to those who come down for the golf and the fireworks this weekend.  Their money plows the streets, heats the schools, and sends us to Aruba for a week.

We don’t have to like it.  We can develop a special callous for the summer; I could expect nothing but the worst behavior in the parking lots and restaurants of the town.  It’s their island now.  They paid for it.  And if they want to order us to cut grass lower, cook the spaetzle, watch the kids, and get out of the way of their cars, they can probably do it.  We are the hands in their mill.

Nantucket was never a big fan of the Declaration of Independence anyway.  When the Declaration of Independence made its way to Nantucket on July 16, 1776, Kezia Coffin probably spoke for many islanders when she wished the founding fathers were “strung 50 feet in the air before they had suffered so far to bring about their wretched and ruinous plans.”  We were dependent on England beforehand and they enriched us; independence was the path of ruin.  Dependence was so much easier on everyone.  “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” doesn’t pay the piper.

But before we go harrumphing off into the moors with our sour grape salad and a great big cooler of “What Used To Be” Tea, perhaps we should think a little bit more about the Nation of Nantucket.  Nantucket has argued about seceding from either the state or the nation several times.  Our unwritten rule about the mainland is “out of sight, out of mind.”  We don’t particularly want to join another country but want to form our own.

While that may seem treasonous in our fourth year of the War on Terror, it isn’t really such a bad thing.  We have chosen to live out here; others choose to cash in their lottery ticket and retire to another beautiful, but less expensive place.  Their houses are pictured in the weekly papers.  If we are hands at the mill, we chose our places and want to stay.  And it is a spectacular mill. 

Visitors and residents alike should declare independence this July; it’s time that we got back down to “self-evident” truths.  We seem to have gotten the unalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” down, so maybe we can go back and master the idea that “all men are created equal.”  The visitors and the islanders could both profit from it.. 

For the summer residents, I suspect this might be difficult.  If you divide the world into the employed and the employers, the wallet gets between the “all men” and “created equal.”  Then, you can further separate between “Members” and “Guests” and finally into “Benefactor,” “Patron,” and “Friend.”   The “General Admission” folks don’t come up on the radar. 

Islanders are no different.  The world divides neatly into echelons based on time served.  You can start with day-trippers, work through renters to the summer residents.  The lines get much more distinct among the winter residents.  One January makes you a year-rounder, but a decade can make you a Nantucketer.  A life-time on-island denotes “islander” while only grandparents can make “a native.“  As Pimney explained to me one afternoon, “Just because the cat has kittens in the oven, don’t make them biscuits.”  

We have got to get rid of this ziggurat of division on island.  We all choose to pay the price and stay out here because of the “Quality of Life.”  Everyone knows that gas is cheaper someplace else.   We are the responsible for our independence, not anyone else.  If we want to cast off the yoke of oppression, we have to do it.

I think a start has been made in the sports car set.  Mini-Coopers have been popping up on this island like deer.  Several times a day, you can watch one of these steroid enhanced go-carts zip up Orange Street to places beyond.  And when one passes another, the two drivers wave at one another.  Uncle Oswald refers to this as “The Brotherhood of Expensive Cars,” and he has a point.   It is nice to congratulate each other on owning a car that can park on a manhole cover and hit 150.  But a wave is a wave; it affirms a bond between two people and it removes levels.

If Mini owners could wave at each other, surely H2 and Escalade drivers could as well.  Perhaps Explorer drivers could wave to other Explorer drivers, and we could have the beginning of a movement.  The Yates Gas truck will wave at the Explorer who will wave at the Jaguar who will wave at the Range Rover who will wave at the Pinto.  As the drivers move out of their cars and walk along the street or the beach, perhaps they will nod to the same people they wave to.

Now, the lion will not lay down with the lamb, and we will not be hearing ‘Kum-Bay-Yah” from the Nantucket Golf Club or the Angler’s Club anytime soon.  Declaring that “all men are created equal” does not mean that all house lots are.  However, a little of the Bruce Watts wave on everyone’s part will help us all remember that, unlike New Yorkers and Vermonters and Bostonians, we belong to the Nation of Nantucket. 

(With thanks to Mary Miles for introducing me to her old friend, Pimney.)


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