Our New England Holiday journey kicked off in Newport in a rented seaside cottage on a fabulous property called the Castle Inn. As we approached our lodging for the evening, I blessed the advice received from a coworker and turned the metal key into our lock to survey our surroundings. We were greeting with a bottle of champagne as well as a fog horn that randomly went off in sudden bursts, announcing the sea to its newest guests. That night we drank plenty of wine, held each other close, and fell asleep to the sounds of the fireplace crackling, the tide ebbing, and the foghorn wistfully blowing.
We arose to the aroma of the sea and the brisk cold of the salt air. Sadly we packed our belongings and loaded the car, off to the foregone era of the gilded age. The Cliff Walk is a collection of estate homes along the eastern shore of the town that combines the natural beauty of the coast along with the history of a period of pronounced stature in our country. We snapped pictures, approached vistas, and stared longingly at fabulous sprawling properties. The most glorious of them all was the former Rockefeller estate, which we happily toured along with a cadre of other tourists. As Newport grew smaller in our rear view mirror, I could only imagine what the mysterious island of Nantucket held in store for us next.
Before we shipped off of Cape Cod and into Nantucket Sound, we made sure to survey the roots of our nation at Plymouth Rock. We gently eased into town and settled in for breakfast at Persy’s Place. We washed down our eggs with coffee and strolled over to the Plymouth Rock landing area. It was an elaborate display of American pride that had been passed down from generation to generation. The “Rock” was displayed with a commemorative plaque as well as a sign speaking to its significance. As I looked around the town, its worn and gritty appearance was a stark contrast to our American folklore. A feeling of sadness overwhelmed me and it was mixed with an intense sense of curiosity. On this very spot, hundreds of years ago, I wondered what both sides of this well known story had been thinking as they looked upon one another.
Not worthy of sea legs, I hastily washed down two Dramamines prior to our high speed ferry leaving Hyannisport for fabled Nantucket Island. Nantucket has been labeled many things and the origin of the name comes from the combination of a variety of Algonquin words. I awoke in a stupor, drowsy from the effects of the medicine, as the ferry drifted into the island. As we embarked on our island journey it felt like we were transported back to a simpler life. Time seemed to stand still, worries faded away, and the jolly spirit of the holiday season was alive and well throughout the quaint town. We made our way to the local general store to prepare for a quiet dinner and walked into town towards our little cottage just off the docks.
As she slept off the effects of a peaceful ride, I sparked up the grill to prepare our romantic dinner for two while sipping fine wine. I carried the steaks out to medium-rare them to perfection, and did not think twice as I flipped the lid of The Weber Grill over. I was met with a roaring fire as oxygen fueled an already raging inferno. My first concern was that the grill, now engulfed in flames, would cause the propane tank to explode. I rushed back to the front door and of course had locked myself out of the cottage. I pounded the door to no avail, until finally she answered with a puzzled look on her face. I frantically pushed past her and fumbled with the faucet to fill a pot of water, intent on dousing the flames now raging like an out of control forest fire. I doused the grill with a wave of cold water and was immediately met with the backlash of a small grease fire, but was able to put the fire out. I had burned my hand, and now resorted to cooking the steaks for our dinner in the stove.
We had noticed the industrial strength fire alarm in the living room as we entered and thanked our lucky stars that the small fire had not tripped the alarm. We now attempted broiling the steaks to perfection and when upon opening the stove for the first time to check on their progress, we were met with enough smoke to engulf the small cottage in a nanosecond. The fire alarm whirred to life and we were met with a piercing ring and a blinding, flashing light. Within minutes we heard a knock at the door as we scrambled to turn the damn thing off.
“This is Captain Maaaatin from the Nantucket Fiy-ah Depaaatment. Is everything ohhh-kay in thaaar?”
We spent the next couple of minutes explaining our predicament while he laughed and shook his head. The man was straight out of New England lore, with a thick accent, broad shoulders, and a hearty laugh that drew you into his captivating presence.
“Thought you folks mightah hadda problem with the Webaaa Grill”
We relented and told him that story too and he slapped down hard on his knee, laughing. I couldn't believe our luck as we were face to face with one of the most genuine articles I have ever been around. We traded jokes and laughs and he left as quickly as he had came into our lives. Not before leaving us with this treasure:
“You all be careful and Happy New Yaaah!
The next morning we ate breakfast in town at a small diner off the cobblestone streets decorated for the Christmas Stroll. We passed Murray’s Toggery Shop with its famous Nantucket Reds, toured the Nantucket Historical Association and the Whaling Museum, and admired the beauty of the small seaside town in its entire splendor. We spent the afternoon trading craft beer tips and distillery secrets with the owners of the Cisco Brewery. We drank too much beer and spirits, laughed a little too hard, and gambled with money we were happy to lose. The locals were happy to have us and us them. I would recommend the brewery to anyone looking for a taste of local charm and an afternoon of ballyhooing where you learn as much about the local inhabitants as you do about yourself.
New Year’s Eve was filled with touring, more leisurely walks, and a dinner for two at a fine local establishment. We counted down the last remaining hours of the fine year at the Chicken Box, a local bar considered an institution. We mixed with locals, sloshed through spilled beer, and made plenty of friends. The live music pierced our ears and we mingled with fishermen, tourists, teachers, locals, and odd lots. We walked home, grinning at our good fortune. The past few days had been an immersion into island life during off season time. The locals were much more amenable to share their treasure with two tourists from the mainland and we certainly took full advantage.
The following morning we shook off our hangovers and continued to explore the island. A flyer advertised the “Game of the Year” on New Year’s Day pitting The Nantucket Whalers against Martha’s Vineyard Vineyarders. There was no way we were going to miss this. We settled into our seats and the buzz of the town was alive and well within the small ice rink. The cold air inside the arena was refreshing as we warmed ourselves with hot chocolate. The accents were thick and the crowd was boisterous. We were treated to a spirited New Year’s Day tradition between two hated rivals.
Fights broke out on the ice and arguments ensued in the stands. We took it all in, happy again to be immersed in the local culture of the island when the locals could relax and be themselves, not worried about making it happen during the crush of the summer season. We cheered hard for the local team, but alas it was not their day. The Whalers succumbed to their bitter rivals and we exited the rink excited to play a part in the historic game.
As we lay together in bed fighting off impending sleep, we recanted our brief journey through New England and our wonderful time in Nantucket. We were sad to see the gray morning come and as we packed our things to catch the early ferry, we vowed to return at some point in the future. We made our way to the docks as heavy fog engulfed the harbor and its participants. We sipped our coffee and looked at others coming to the same grim realization that we were confronting. We were leaving this majestic place, many of us not knowing when we would be returning. I fought the urge to jettison all of my obligations on the mainland and settle in for a life riding the roller-coaster of the seasons on this island off the coast of Cape Cod. Off in the distance, shrouded in a cloak of mist, the fog horn blew with little to no emotion, reminding me of where I was and where I was going.
To my home.
Walking off into the sunset….Max Joy.