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2001-02-09 - 2:14 a.m.

"Nantucket On My Mind"

I THINK I'VE GOT IT.

Lying in bed, reading an essay "Nantucket On My Mind" by David Halberstam I think I may have pinpointed exactly when my desire for travel first took root in me, when I no longer faced travel with apprehension and sadness at leaving my friends but embraced it, longed for it; I think I've discovered when I developed wanderlust.

Growing up, traveling with my family basically involved our annual summer trip to visit my uncle in Maine. We'd usually go for a week or 10 days, and my sister and I always looked forward to it. We love it up there. But we'd always talk about how much fun it would be with our friends. When we were young and went up there, my uncle was single; then he got married, but for a few years until they had Kate, then Christine, Jess and I had to entertain ourselves. So going to Maine became routine, I felt comfortable there. It didn't seem like "travel," in the sense I think of it now.

We'd also make regular Memorial Day weekend trips to Cape Cod, to stay with a college friend of my mother's and three other families, all the women being classmates at Rutgers in the late 60s/early 70s. With other kids there our age (though I was the oldest, by a year), it was a different kind of trip, but still seemed routine, familiar. I felt at home there too.

Our first real family trip was a week in Florida when I was in second grade, but I remember few details of that trip. My Dad couldn't even go, because he had to work, so my mother, sister and I went down to visit Mom's aunt and uncle. We went to Disney World, but it was so long ago, Epcot wasn't even finished yet. Then, in 1990, the summer after I finished 8th grade, the four of us went to California. We spent two weeks there visiting two of Mom's cousins and an uncle, and had a great time. We went everywhere: San Diego, L.A., up the coast to Monterrey, San Francisco. A wonderful trip, and I loved it out there and couldn't wait to go back.

But it still didn't instill in me a desire to travel to other new, unseen places. I didn't yet wonder about Chicago or Texas or Arizona.

That all came in the fall of 1991. That summer, in June, right after school let out, Brian and I were invited up to Nantucket with Will and his family. They owned a house up there with another man and often spent a week or so during the summer there, as well as other times during the year, when they weren't renting the place out. It was my first time away from home for any extended period of time my first vacation without my family. And I loved it.

I loved island life, of walking downtown, of sunset picnics and fires on the beach, of body surfing and boogie boarding off Jetties or Surfside or whatever beach it was. I liked how I thought it was weird that there was no fast food out there, to think it strange that McDonald's was unavailable. I loved walking the docks in the harbor at night, of reaching the end of one and seeing a boat named "Alexa Ray" and thinking, "Huh, Billy Joel has that song, 'Downeaster Alexa'" and then going back the next night and seeing that part of the dock guarded and realizing it was Billy's boat. It was fun being there amid the throngs of tourists, vacationers, summer residents a great way to start that summer.

But what really got me was in the fall, when we almost went up again, a short trip over a long weekend to close the house up for winter. Brian and I never did go I think Will's father went himself but just the thought of it, the idea of wandering empty cobblestone downtown streets in the late autumn cold, of seeing the island in the offseason attracted me. I knew what Nantucket was like during the popular time, I knew what all the fashionable, wealthy people saw and liked. I wanted to see what the locals saw, how the natives lived when they got their island back.

It never happened, but I wish it had. I still do, in fact.

That's when it all started.

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