Sunday, June 16, 2013

Nantucket, summer, ties that bind & being the lighthouse

In Maggie Shipstead's novel "Seating Arrangements" the family summers on the fictional island of Waskeke, a place not unlike Nantucket or Fisher Island where, I was told yesterday by a Boston friend that "wealthy young New Yorkers come for the weekend with their family and black nannies whom 'they insist dress up in French maids' costumes'." He says this wryly, half rolling his eyes. We're sitting under my plum tree which is nearly touching the deck from the weight of its fruit, adorned in pink ribbons to keep the squirrels away (you may call me eccentric but, touch wood, thus far it has worked). And we're discussing the similarities between Maine and Norway (rocky coastline, blueberries, wildflowers, fish, a solid seafaring populace, unafraid of wearing fleece). These are people I don't know and yet I know them. In the fall, our children will be at the same college. The man and my ex-husband were at the same college together, and the woman is someone I feel I've met before, although I haven't. She is elegant and small and smiles easily and we are drinking tea as if it's the most natural thing in the world, this pretty woman, her husband, me and my ex-husband, whose life I cannot extricate from my own however hard I try, as there are ribbons and ropes and memories and ties that bind us. Even a peripheral tour of the house reveals stories of our life together -- a painting bought here, an ornament from Tokyo, the view from our house in Norway shot in a panorama by him one night after dinner when it was still light (as it is till 11 or 12). The new memories are being formed and I'm aware of an objectivity creeping in that wasn't there before.

I explained this on the phone to Marta, my friend who lives in Concord. "You are not free until you are entirely unbound from the other person" she says and I know that she is right, but I can't imagine where I will put these 29 years, in which particular room in my head they will be stored. But this newfound objectivity is a good sign; no doubt of that. I am fond of him but I do not ache for him as I did, for our life together. "Are you happier now than when you were married to him" Marta asks. And I realize I am. Profoundly so.

On Nantucket it is customary to name houses, amidst the ghost walks and clam bakes and bicycling. I'm tempted to fly there now and start an Instagram feed of house names. It's quite wonderful. And apparently there isn't an archive of them. Yet.

One thinks of families living in houses for generations on places like Nantucket and Waskeke, and even Tjome, the island we go to in Norway. Houses with names are houses loved by generations and generations of children, retaining the memories of each one. In Maine, my friends visit a cove where they went as children, where their parents and grandparents went as children, and where their children will go with their grandchildren. There is a sweetness to that -- coming back each year to a familiar place filled with familiar people and a collective memory. In two weeks time we will be in Norway, on the island we love, with the jellyfish and the crabs on the jetty and my Norwegian family, and the houses that aren't named and are hardly numbered. We revert back to the life my grandparents had -- lazy days on boats or sunbathing, the collecting of the newspaper from the mailbox, vaguest memories of bikes and the shortcut through the woods to the grocery store, of stopping on the side of the road to buy Norwegian strawberries, red and sweet and just beginning to mascerate. And there is the old badminton set that's been year for forty years, and the grass that has to cut in order to play, and the roof we stand on to pick the sour black morello cherries, and the rock we throw the fishbones on for the seagulls, next to the flag which has to come down before sunset.  There are herrings and hardboiled eggs, dried smoked ham and tomatoes, sweet brown goats cheese and knekkebrod, and picnics on the hard gray granite rocks of the skerry island that guard the coast.

Isn't this the best time of the year? I drove through LA on Friday to a dinner in Culver City. It was eight o'clock and the sky was pink and the air was just slightly warm and I thought, this is it, just before the summer solstice, the time to be here in the City of Angels. The air is thick with optimism, and what could be. To be honest, it's the time of year when it would be splendid to have a boyfriend, to hike with early in the morning and read books under trees in the afternoon and giggle insanely over supper under lightened skies.

You know, just putting it out there. Trying to make new memories and all that.

Happy Father's Day.

Oh, and this book, by the way, is great: Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead.

And one more thing:
Be the Lighthouse.
"You are a lighthouse, so nobody else can wreck near you. That is the one thing in life you have to do. Spread the light. Be the lighthouse. So every journey, every destiny, every distance will be safe."
-- Yogi Bhajan 11/87

1 comment:

LPC said...

I love your writing.

I love northern maritimes.

And I loathed that book. I felt she, as an outsider to the culture, mocked the men I know. I wanted to throw it against the wall. The white wall.

Here's to all future boyfriends.