“Stay at a B&B for two nights and get the third night free.” The promotion was on the back of a cracker box, and Nantucket was one of the places listed. It was the spring of 1994, and I had a fantasy of celebrating my third wedding anniversary right after Labor Day on the island. I knew Nantucket at that time of year because my long-term partner and I had discovered it one year when we went for Labor Day. We stayed a few extra days and felt the whole island exhale after the final summer holiday. The awkwardness of my visits to the island with my ex kept me from suggesting a honeymoon on Nantucket. But maybe it was OK to go now.
We stayed on the third floor of the Carlisle House on North Water Street. Neither of us remembers much about our first visit, but we both know we said, “This is the first annual.” And this year was the 25th annual. We haven’t missed a year.
Although a quarter century is a long time, in some ways it all seems like just one vacation. The many long walks on the beach, the bike rides to Madaket and Sconset, sitting on the bench at the top of Main Street, walking along the wharfs — all merge into one. The days of this one fused vacation are bright and sunny with a cerulean blue sky. There’s a light breeze and just a few wispy white clouds for effect. The temperature is in the mid-70s. There were exceptions, of course. This year our little island celebrated our anniversary by giving us the worst weather of any trip so far — clouds, wind and rain. But we still loved being there.
We’re in our late 70s and we don’t bring our bicycles anymore. We used to travel the full length of Massachusetts from the Berkshires with two bikes on the back of the car. A favorite moment of each annual visit was walking off the Steamship ferry wheeling our bikes. We always take the slow ferry even now. The ride gets us ready for the long-anticipated annual visit and, on the return, it helps us prepare for going home.
The meals fuse, as well. We always eat at the Centre Street Bistro — a tiny jewel of a restaurant with great food, good prices and balletic service. Another “must” is Something Natural, an outdoor sandwich shop that has been there since my very first visit. We select a few of our favorite restaurants for dinner each year to round out the gastronomic part of the vacation.
In the early years, we stayed a little out of town at a B&B that was originally built by the Vanderbilts. Then we moved in town, mostly near Brant Point. For the past 12 years, we’ve been regulars with Thea Kaizer at the Brant Point Inn. When we arrive each year, she says, “Welcome home.” It feels like that after all these years.
Until recently, we chose a special activity each year. Once we rented a Jeep and drove on the sand to Smith Point. Other years we rented a tandem bike or sailed on the Endeavor. Now, somehow, there’s more to do than we have time for in our meager five-day stay.
So, what has changed in all these years? Thanks to the historical commission, almost nothing in town. Some restaurants have come and gone. The movie theater, Dreamland, left and came back magically transformed. The sidewalks seem more uneven, but maybe that’s us. But outside of the main centers, it’s a different island. We can see that as we approach on the ferry. Where there were once just a few houses on the shore, now there are many. And on the parts of the island we seldom visit, the change is intense.
And the prices. We laugh at the old joke that the billionaires have pushed out the millionaires, but dinner entrees are over $40. Really? Truthfully, our annual visits are out of our price range. We keep returning because we love it so but, one day, just the cost alone might keep us away. We hit our goal of 25 years, but now what? Nantucket is a walking island. I can’t imagine visiting if I can’t stroll for hours on the beach or walk comfortably to and from Main Street. So now, as I do with skiing, it’s one year at a time. We threw our pennies overboard as we passed the Brant Point lighthouse heading for Hyannis this year. This is a time-honored action that is supposed to ensure the traveler’s return to the island. We plan to head back next year, shortly after Labor Day. Wish us clear skies.