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In This Place

A Crowd on Main Street

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Mary Bergman
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We didn’t know it then, that it was the last normal day. It was different than the last warm day of summer, which you know is coming even if you can’t pinpoint it exactly. The last normal day snuck up on almost all of us There are hundreds of days like this in the course of a life, a moment that marks everything as before and after.

It’s almost funny, to think about now, the particulars of the last normal day on Nantucket. Of course, by normal day, I mean before we began to live with the realities of the pandemic.

There are moments in my life here where I can’t believe I am living in the same decade as the rest of the country. On the last normal day, I met up with two friends at the soda fountain at the pharmacy after work. A friend in Washington, DC had asked if I might be able to mail her a thermometer, there were none left at any of the pharmacies she had checked in the city.

Under the hammered tin ceiling of our pharmacy, we ate homemade ice cream, despite the cold. You make your own fun out here. Old men who had once been young enough to eat ice cream on a frigid day drank weak coffee and leaned against the counter. I eyed the hand sanitizer bottles in the travel section and bought two pocket-sized containers. Just in case.

A woman pushed open the door, excitedly hurrying into the shop. “Somebody just drove into the fountain!” she shouted. And, because there was nothing else happening on that quiet March day, every person in the pharmacy spilled out onto the cobblestones.

Sand blew through the streets like tumbleweeds. This was the single most exciting thing to happen on Nantucket in weeks and everyone had come down to watch. An HVAC truck had driven right into the antique horse fountain that stands in the middle of lower main street, the low angle of the winter sun temporarily blinding the driver.

The fountain, still adorned with flowers and ribbons from the prior year’s Christmas Stroll festivities, had toppled over, its lantern smashed. In the fall, hand-painted wooden signs lean against the fountain, announcing Whaler’s football games. In the spring, it’s packed with daffodils carefully cultivated by the Nantucket Garden Club. We watched as DPW workers arrived, surveying the scene. The photographer with a zoom lens and a reporter from the local paper soon followed. The police showed up to block off the area with yellow caution tape. Cars drove slowly past, filming the carnage with cell phone cameras. It was an episode right out of of an Arlo Guthrie song.

I watched the DPW haul away the fountain on the back of a flat-bed truck until the sun had completely set. I couldn’t have known it then that this would be the last normal day. But something compelled me to stay there, part of a small crowd. The last time I’d be part of a crowd.

Once again, it is March and the days are getting longer. When the wind is still and the sun is bright, there is a feeling of real possibility in the air. My sister, a teacher, and my brother in law, a grocery store worker have both received their first doses of the vaccine. My nephew has come to learn the sandy streets of Nantucket from a year’s worth of video calls. The boat still leaves every morning at six thirty. The tide rises and falls.

And the fountain was returned to its rightful place, just last Thursday.