Summer on Nantucket

by L. James Hammond
© L. James Hammond 2003

When I was a kid, my family spent summers on Nantucket Island. My brother, my sister and I had friends in the neighborhood, kids who came to Nantucket for a week or a month or the whole summer. We made friends so easily! Anyone who was our age was our friend and was included in our games.

During the daytime, we played a game called “capture the flag”. A rope was laid across a field, and the team on one side of the rope would try to imprison members of the other team, and would also try to capture the other team’s flag and bring it back to their side of the rope. You could imprison members of the other team by dragging them across the rope, or by tagging them when they made a dash for your team’s flag. And those whom you took prisoner had to sit on a fence at the back of your territory until the end of the game.

Flirtations and romances sometimes diverted the older kids from our games, and those of us who wanted to play had to beg the romantically-inclined ones to participate. And sometimes I was commissioned by one of the older guys to relay to my sister an invitation to walk with him on the beach.

Once a year we had a “sleep out”, and all of us would carry sleeping bags to a hollow in the dunes where there wasn’t any dune grass. We’d dig a pit, build a fire, and cook some food. One of the older kids would strum a guitar and sing. When we were “sleeping out”, we woke up early and our sleeping bags were damp with dew and there was sand in our hair.

Around our house were a lot of rose hip bushes, which produced, at a certain point in the summer, a fruit called a rose hip, which is about half the size of a golf ball. We’d pick rose hips and store them in pails and pots, in order to throw them at people. We removed their stems, so that they could be thrown with greater velocity. They have a hard outer shell, so they sting when they hit you. We’d climb onto our roof with our collection of rose hips and crouch behind the crest of the roof, and when a car or a bicycle came by, we’d open fire. My grandmother always reproached us for throwing rose hips, since she thought rose hips should be used for making jam and jelly.

One of my favorite activities was biking downtown for an early-morning pancake breakfast, or a late-afternoon milk shake at the pharmacy, or a loaf of bread from the bakery. If my friend was feeling lazy, and didn’t want to ride, I’d let him sit on the back of my bike. If we reached town early, Main Street was quiet, except perhaps for a street-cleaning machine. Sometimes the restaurant wasn’t open yet, so we’d spend an hour riding around the bandstand, or biking on back streets. A breakfast of pancakes and water cost 60 cents. My sister, who was a waitress herself, said we should leave a tip for the waitress. To earn money, we’d offer to work around the house — wash dishes, empty garbage pails, etc.

I liked to make the big, 10-mile ride to Sconset. All summer, I’d ask people to ride to Sconset with me, and perhaps once a year my mother or my brother would say yes. I liked the challenge of the long ride, and I liked to put miles on my odometer. Eventually, I reached my goal of one thousand miles.

When the weather was good, we’d go to the beach and swim and lie in the sun and ride the waves, provided that the waves were big enough to ride. After swimming, we’d warm up by lying in the sun, and when we’d been lying in the sun for a while and had gotten hot, we’d go back in the water to cool off.

Every day we checked the waves to see if they were suitable for riding. Usually the ocean was flat, and the waves were too small for riding, but after a storm the waves would be huge, and they’d come way up on the beach. You couldn’t ride waves like those, they might throw you on the sand and toss you around; we called that getting “boiled”. Occasionally the waves would be just right for riding.

When we left the beach to go home, the sand was sometimes so hot that it was painful to walk on. To reach our house, we had to walk along a row of boards that we called a boardwalk, though actually it was just boards that had washed up on the beach, and that someone had laid down. I knew the properties of each board: some were heavy and lay firmly on the sand, others were light, and they’d fly up on one end when you stepped on the other end; some were smooth, others were so rough that you’d get splinters from walking on them. My grandmother always extracted the splinters.

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