Every town is made up of overlapping communities engaging with each other out of economic necessity, and the obvious fact of their physical proximity, but without including each other any more than is needed. Huge cities and small towns are divided into neighborhoods named geographically on the maps, but by the sort of people who live in them in the local jargon. Serious issues of social justice abound, but occasionally there’s some degree of entertainment in observing, and thinking about the stories that could be told about what is observed.
Our visits to Nantucket are like that. Each year we spend a few weeks on the island. It’s a place where the overlapping communities are more starkly obvious, easier to describe. It has a year round population of about 11,000. Summer crowds boost it to 50,000, and there are several thousand seasonal property owners who come and go.
Mid summer high season brings tens of thousands of visitors onto a very small island. Some are day trippers, others stay a few days, a week, or maybe two. They’re the cash cows that keep the economy humming, and they tend toward four types: very wealthy; ordinary wealthy; wannabe wealthy; and gawkers who enjoy watching them. Obviously there’s something to draw them, and its here in abundance: beaches, trails, bike paths, history, quaint downtown, art, museums, farms, great food.
In their midst are off island property owners who visit seasonally, most renting their houses to tourists during the high season. Many are interested and invested in the well being of the island, involved in local affairs as they are abl. Others are just investors.
Permanent residents tend to be reasonably prosperous, but not wealthy, Some live on island from April through December, but get out during winter while they can, where they can. Others stay. Those who stay consider themselves the truest of real Nantucketers. The more generations they can claim as islanders, the more real their claimed status as the truest of the true.
Underneath is a layer of year round professional workers who are needed, but not likely to stay for more than a few years: doctors, nurses, teachers, clergy, etc. They neither belong nor not belong, always welcomed, but not always included more than politeness demands. Under them are year round private and public workers holding up the infrastructure: police, fire, public works, plumbers, electricians, contractors, realtors, property management, and so on. Some claim generations of island ancestors. Seasonal workers staffing restaurants and shops are recruited from all over, with a heavy emphasis on Eastern Europe and the Caribbean. Construction workers appear to be mostly Caribbean working for locally owned outfits. Theirs is not an easy life. Housing and life in general are very expensive. Affordable and workforce housing are in short supply. Rooms of dubious quality and overcrowded apartments are the rule. Finally, and surprising to many, the resident black population dates to colonial times with the right to claim admission to any of the other communities while maintaining their own.
Where do we fit in? I suppose we’re among the gawkers, although we try to be as inconspicuous as possible. We really do enjoy it, especially in our normal seasons of spring and fall when everything is open, but the summer crowds have not yet arrived or already left. We spend wonderful days with our oldest daughter and husband, who own a house here. There’s nothing like an island out in the North Atlantic, thirty miles off shore, with all the weather that brings. Granddaughters, now grown, are sometimes on island. We walk everywhere, ride bikes, enjoy fine meals, and my wife, an artist, has spent several months over a couple of years as an artist in residence, giving her the credibility to be featured in a local gallery (Robert Foster Fine Arts, look it up).