The International Writers Magazine: John M. Edwards sums up the New England island of Nantucket in one word: Whales.
Tucking in to Nantucket
John M. Edwards
When I was a kid with my family on the New England coast, at a protected and isolated vacation spot called “Salter’s Point” (now near mythical to me and impossible to find on a map), my Grandpa Bob pointed out into the ocean to an island called Nantucket, where he said there once lived the world’s greatest, and richest, miser: Hetty Green.
Now despite Hetty’s inherited wealth of millions upon millions, the stubborn old grayhair refused to spend any of it, and ate miserable gruel out of a rusty steel box in her mansion every day. This was confirmed by no less an authority than The Guinness Book of World’s Records.
Even though I had no interest in meeting the reclusive Hetty, I did want to visit this mysterious cloud-shawled island, basking in the glow and myth of its whaling-ship past, odoriferous of Melville.
In our New Englandy mansion straight out of “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” my parents, looking quite comfortable playing cards and drinking gin and tonics on the porch with Billy Youngren or Bill Sharp or Hugh Rosanne, while my sister studiously tried to tap out Ludvig von Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” inside, said it was too far away. The clippership in the bottle and the smell of Lemon Pledge ™ and pine were utterly entrancing.
So I confined myself to playing “tent” with my friend “Smiley” and “Shawn” on our personal rocky beach, collecting pieces of colored sea glass, cockamamie shells, and the occasional Sand Dollar.
Rather than rereading Stevenson's “Treasure Island” (with its liminal deathspell inside), I’d like to hunt for buried treasure myself. I kept looking over my shoulder out to the ocean to that rock-solid shark-toothed-shaped isle, wondering what it must be like. The allure of nearby Nantucket was irresistible.
More important, it was here in our Salter’s Point manse that I saw my first episode of Rod Sirling’s “The Night Gallery”--the episode where an earwig enters some poor slob’s auditory canal and burrows its way to the other side, but the doctor informs the patient in its penultimate line, ”Unfortunately, this earwig was a female, and a female always lays eggs!” NOOO!!!
It was not until years later however that I actually had a chance to return to Salter’s Point and go to Nantucket for the very first time.
Luckily, I have cousins in Cape Cod.
And recently I was about to go out to Nantucket with one of the charter boat excursions controlled by their next-door neighbor. Monomoy seemed like a no-nonsense laid-back sea captain with an ancestral Quint-like squint, who not surprisingly in these parts, where family lines go back in time to the Mayflower pilgrims, had an entire island named after his family.
On the boat ride out there, I was urged not to smoke in the salty open air and stared out at a cold slate-gray sea that was surprisingly calm and flat. Very Lovecraftian:
“We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through the black abysses... and in the lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory forever.”
--H.P. Lovecraft, “Shadow Over Innsmouth”
What is Nantucket really like?
Oh-ho, so you still really think I have probably never been there?
© John M. Edwards November 2011
Bio: John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus). His work has appeared in such magazines as CNN Traveller, Missouri Review, Salon.com, Islands, Grand Tour, Escape, North Dakota Quarterly, Richmond Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and North American Review. He recently won a NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Award and a Solas Award. He lives with himself in a loft in New York City.