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Why Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard Need Family Counseling

Yet Neither of Us Gives A Hoot In Hell

The Islands are twins separated at birth. That was a long time ago; ten thousand years ago, to be precise, when the Laurentide Ice Sheet started slip-sliding away.

Clueless travelers assume the two Islands have everything in common. Whaling captains! Pirates out the ying-yang! Cedar-shingles! Quaint little $59-million cottages! Frosty winters! Pop-up shops! Alcoholism! Jobless rates! Rich twits in summer! (Theirs are Republican, ours Democrat.)

But in spite of being twins – well, fraternal, our squirt of a bro across the channel is only 14 miles long, we’re 26 miles tall – and in spite of being tagged in every guidebook in the whole freakin’ universe as The Islands, as in The Cape And Islands, our response to one another across a mere 12 miles of roiling seas is a gawping yawn.

Oh, some therapeutic minds have tried to call this yawn a cover-up for rivalry, even hostility. Amateur Freudians point to the annual November high school football game, pitting the Whalers against the Vineyarders for the Island Cup. And during that joust in which either their kids come here or our kids go there, we do care, madly, deeply – even those sports-allergic types like me who wouldn’t know a football from a late-gleaned squash. We care so desperately that, should we find ourselves in Cronig’s when the final score is announced, we let fall that heirloom tomato on sale for $14, and hold our breath. This is bigger than the Academy Awards when, let’s just say hypothetically, George Clooney is up against Javier Bardem.

It soothes our nerves that our Vineyard boys always win. Always. Nantucket publicists have floated an urban myth that their boys occasionally sink ours. In fact, they insist that over the long haul of this Rose Ball on steroids, Nantuckers have racked up more victories. They pin these ridiculous stats to a few contests held just when the Laurentide Thingie was coming apart, and all actual documentation was iced over.

But mostly our mutual indifference is deep-set. Most Vineyarders, whether native or whashashore, rarely or never visit Nantucket, and vice versa. We don’t think about each other. Ever. Case in point: A few years back I read an article in a local magazine about the War of 1812 as it effected Martha's Vineyard. When news reached our shores that a truce had been declared, an Edgartown ship was launched to Nantucket to deliver the news. My first thought was, “Really? Couldn’t they have found out from someplace else?” . . . After that, I got into it, the way we do: What if our boat had sailed with a full orchestra behind the mizzenmast? Then, right when the schooner reached Nantucket, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture could have blasted forth, with cannons kabooming?! Just a thought. . . .

But there’s something darker, more sinister at work with the twin-set of Islands. So dark that columnists, bloggers and old-fashioned diary-keepers alike dare not speak its name or, er, diagnosis.

Are you ready for this? Some of the more sensitive among us, and I answer “present!” in this roll call as a person identified by friends and family as a person “too sensitive to live” (and they say this when they’re being kind); some of us on rare visits to The Other Island, start to shake, rattle and roll. We’re Annie Hall on the kitchen floor with the lobsters, combined with Janet and Brad up at the Rocky Horror mansion.

Here’s my own sad story: Over the course of 37 years of visiting and then living on Martha’s Vineyard, I’ve traveled to Nantucket for a total of three times. Three exceedingly brief times.

First trip: It was 1978 and my then-husband, Marty, and I decided to embark on an over-night to Nantucket, just the way you’d visit Chappy or Chilmark, to get a feel for the environs. We flew over on New England Air, rode a taxi into town, walked around for an hour, hour-and-a-half, then turned to one another. “Are we done here?” We flew home.

Next time, baby Charlie was a year-and-a-half old, and Les Leland (of Leslie’s), invited us to swoop over to Nantucket on his small plane for a bite of lunch on the harbor, then maybe a stroll around town, perhaps dinner back on the harbor, then a Rhapsody-in-Blue moonlit flight home. After lunch we turned to one another, “Are we done here?” Baby Charlie said, “It thucks!”

Finally this past September, I lucked into a writing assignment for a luxe sleep-over on Nantucket, all expenses paid. I had a one-bedroom suite all to myself, with a sunken Jacuzzi tub, a reading nook set into an old tower, and two giant flat TV screens which I totally, brutally ignored. (This is why I’ve never held onto a boyfriend. Or a husband.) I felt like Grace Kelly. I was overjoyed. I had broken the evil Nantucket spell. Until . . .

Until the next morning when I awoke with endless hours to kill before the high-speed ferry carried us home at 4 p.m. Anxiety clutched the valves of my heart just as the witch in Hansel and Gretel tested her prisoners for bake-ability. I got up, dressed, and decided the only way I could stay ahead of the fear and loathing was to start walking and keep walking.

I pounded those ancient cobblestones. I plowed east and west along the gorgeous harbor. I ate a muffin here, egg salad sandwich there, a bowl of roasted red pepper and leeks chowder (all right, already, Nantucket food is even better than ours, who cares?)!

Luggage in hand, I showed up for the ferry an hour before it shipped. As the vessel wafted into shore, a crowd of Nantucketers debarked, having spent their own previous night on the Vineyard. They looked relieved to be home. One of them joked, “Nice place to visit but. ...” 

I handed the bursar my punched-out ticket from the day before. “Nice try,” he told me. My return ticket could not be found. “Can I – can I – can I -- buy another one?” I asked in a squeaky voice. He shook his head. “Ship’s leased for a private party.” “I know! How do you think I got here?” He shrugged. “Stow-away.” I rummaged some more in my purse, finally found the blessed lost ticket.

Never in the history of travel, or what little of it is conducted over the Muskeget Channel and between the Lost Twins, has anybody every been happier to be seasick for hours on end as the ship lurched and plunged, and waves slurped over the topside windows.

Nice place to visit but. ...

Michael West November 26, 2012 at 11:56 AM
I've always enjoyed visiting Nantucket, but I always have this feeling that there is something just a little bit Deliverance or Salem witches about the place. It feels like that place in Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery," gleefully sinister, twisted and dark. I'll take this island anytime.
Holly Nadler November 26, 2012 at 12:14 PM
Michael, perhaps we all have an Isolation Quotient. I had to adjust mine in my early days of living here, but it was manageable. But 30 miles out to sea? I don't think so. I could see it being useful for a gangster on the lam. Just as long as he brought a suitcase full of cash with him.
Chip Coblyn November 26, 2012 at 03:49 PM
My Beloved Isle is admittedly expensive, but Nantucket is EXPENSIVE; NO BARGAINS NEED APPLY. My wife and I felt that unless We hightailed it out of there fast (within a couple of meals) we would run out of cash and end up in the stocks--which I'm sure they have waiting in a garage near the harbor to be hauled out and used on unwary MV deadbeats. Payback for all those football losses no doubt.
Cynthia Mascott November 26, 2012 at 06:11 PM
I supposed if you were to live there and make friends it would seem more welcoming. Having said that I only know a handful of people who have said they visit there regularly. On the other hand I always seem to find ppl w/MV ties. I have also met people in LA who have never heard of either Island. I, of course, write them off as idiots.
Holly Nadler November 26, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Chip, well said! I didn't get a chance to write about any of the good parts of Nantucket, but one of them is that the place was founded by Quakers! I'll take a Quaker over a Puritan any time! So no stocks. Except the ones filed by your broker.
Thomas Borning November 26, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Funny article, although Tchaikovsky wrote the 1812 overture. :)
Holly Nadler November 26, 2012 at 11:49 PM
Snap! I knew that! Thanks, Thomas.
ALISA ROMAN November 27, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Holly, Nantucket was in My experience, vastly more interesting for me as the wife of a sitting Judge...back in the day...The cases took a bizzare turn ...Winter boredom can be deadly...
Margaret Carroll-Bergman (Editor) November 27, 2012 at 11:11 AM
Corrected! Thanks!
Tuckernuck Jim November 27, 2012 at 01:53 PM
My family is from Tuckernuck -- half of my honored ancestors are from Nantucket, half from the Vineyard. So there has been some truck between us over time.
Holly Nadler November 27, 2012 at 02:40 PM
btw, after reading Ahab's Wife a few years back by sena jeter naslund, I thought I'd LOVE my next visit to Nantucket -- maybe even move there one day (or at least spend more than one night) -- but, alas, I can't break through the evil spell of thinking I'm on the "wrong" island!
Hugh Jorgan November 29, 2012 at 01:47 AM
I am a 10 year washashore resident of Nantucket, and a bicycle tour guide who works on the Vineyard a lot in the spring and fall. I can honestly say that the more time I spend on the Vineyard, the more "island envy" I get. MV has Aquinnah, a LOT more countryside, 6 different towns, Oak Bluffs, and it's only 45 minutes from America. Nantucket is fun, but as you mentioned it is even more ridiculously expensive, less to see and do, and much more of a hassle and expense to get to/from. That being said, I'm not spending any winters on either island ever again... I will also say that I do take an annual trip with a group of friends to MV. We dress like idiots, and play the part of obnoxious the summer tourists that we despise. It's a fun social experiment, I would suggest it for any resident of either island to give it a try. See you in the Spring!
Holly Nadler December 01, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Hugh, you rock! You should definitely spend more chill time on the Vineyard!

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