8th August, 2019, 08.00 am.
Well you probably remember from my previous blog that it is now the 8th August and the replacement of my knee joint. I am not looking forward to it (understatement) but sometimes you just have to do things for long term benefit. So as I will be offline for a little while, leaving with a short summer story, which I wrote recently. Enjoy!
AN island girl is always an island girl. The one I was born on was a bit larger than a normal one, but still an island just the same. There was and still is, something a bit special about an island, a piece of land, no matter how large or small in the middle of one of the world’s vast oceans. This planet was not called the Blue Planet without reason, as the majority of its surface consists of oceans, deep and mysterious, holding secrets still waiting to be discovered.
The smell of the sea was something I knew from my birth. That salty, briny smell you feel filling your nostrils, particularly when the wind blew from the west. The aroma of seaweeds that often grew by the shore. The beaches made from shiny pebbles or sand, fine or coarse. The pebbles look especially nice when washed by the gentle sea, their surfaces rubbed silky smooth by the waves. From gentle to rugged coastlines, each and every one different from another.
The island of my birth was the United Kingdom. A kingdom made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Miles and miles of coastline surround this island, one side of it on the North Sea, the other the Atlantic Ocean. I remember as a little girl when we stayed with our relatives in Sussex during the summer holidays, that my mother always wanted to go to the sea for a day. She would pack up the car with towels, a beach blanket, some foldaway chairs and then a big basket for our picnic, which would usually start with breakfast on the beach. I can smell the aroma of methylated spirits, as she would light her little primus stove. Then the smell of sizzling salty bacon and eggs in the frying pan. She would place the loaf of bread under her arm, cut it thickly and then spread with Lurpak butter. It’s Danish butter would you believe it, but creamy and salty. Oh, I can almost taste it now; an egg and bacon sandwich and then followed by a cup of frothy milky sweet coffee from a silver thermos. I don’t drink coffee a lot now as an adult, but that coffee, on that beach, was just magnificent.
Then we would spend the day, lazing in the sun, dipping in the sea and the best time would always be later in the afternoon when the tide came back in over the warm sand. We would not leave until the sun was setting, as my mother also always had a large thermos can filled with some sort of stew, tasty meat or chicken, potatoes and vegetables and even though we ate from plastic picnic dishes it tasted the very best ever.
I was always fascinated with the shells and pebbles I could find, small pieces of driftwood, particularly from the Atlantic shores and one time I remember we filled a plastic bag with fine pebbles from a beach somewhere in Wales I think. It was just like very coarse sand and we filled one of my father’s empty Dimple whisky bottles and made it into a lamp. My mother made the shade, I remember it well. Yes, beach holidays, beach days, it was all part of my growing up. At home I kept a collection of shells and pebbles, which I had taken home with me over the years. Sometimes I would paint them with clear nail varnish, so that they looked wet.
Many years later on when I lived in The Netherlands, I was on an island again, on the south west coast. A lot of the country has been reclaimed from the sea, so there are not a lot of big crashing waves, like you find in England, particularly on the southern western coasts, but more like gentle lapping waves. The sea goes in and out, but the entire coastline is protected by magnificent sea barrages, built after a disaster in 1953. A lot of the coastline was submerged under water, following a huge spring tide flood, when lots of people lost their lives, as the sea flowed inland. I was not born then, but I remember when I came to live in this country that the first of the largest sea barrages (called the Delta Works) was opened. Never would the sea reclaim the land again. The barrages would make sure of that.
So the four islands on the coast were surrounded by lakes, sweet and salty water mingled together called ‘brak’ or in English ‘briny’. The islands were joined by large bridges and dams, which often opened during the summer months to allow boats to pass. Sluices that controlled the flow of industrial barges making their way to and from the sea. Often it reminded me of the Florida Keys, not as posh and definitely not the same kind of weather, but from the air, it was very similar. If you flew into Rotterdam Airport from London, you would pass over the chain of islands and it always looked spectacular from the air. Cows and horses grazed on the archipels dipping their feet into the cool water. Often lazy seals would be sleeping on the small beaches and porpoises following the boats as they sailed through the waters.
Just off the coast of the North Sea are large sandbanks, where huge tankers lay in wait to enter one of the biggest harbours in the world: Rotterdam. But the thing that struck me the most was the colour in this region. The fact that the sea meets the sky and on summer days, that almost cornflower blue colour of the sky and the turquoise of the sea. Spectacular sunsets over the North Sea and because the entire area was not that built up compared to other places and bigger cities in this small country. The stars at night were just magical.
Yes, an island girl I was, the sea was in my blood.
WHEN my father was working in the United States of America for the IMF or some similar organization, it was the first time that I visited Boston. He had planned a family holiday; well just my mother and me, as I was an only child, on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts called Nantucket. My mother had tried to make a lot of excuses not to go, thinking that being away on a small island for a month, where there was not a lot to do (she thought) would be so boring. But my father was insistent and we flew off to cross the mighty Atlantic to Boston. He was waiting for us at the airport and drove us along towards the coast for about 60 minutes to a place called Hyannis. This is where the ferries left for Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Cape Cod (and I always thought that this was an amusing name) is not an island like many people think it is, but a peninsular off the Massachusetts Atlantic coast, often referred to as the Eastern Seaboard. The two states of Massachusetts and Maine are the final two before the Canadian border leading on to New Brunswick and the Bay of Fundy. I noticed as we travelled along that very first time that a lot of the names sounded so familiar, the same as many places we had visited in England. Falmouth is in Cornwall, and Barnstaple in Devon. Obviously named by explorers who had discovered America many centuries ago. They called this area New England, of course.
My father ensured that we were able to catch the ferry and bade farewell saying he would be joining us in a fortnight. So off we set, my mother and I and our suitcases into the unknown. My father had rented a small beach cottage for us close to the main town in Nantucket. We were overawed I think was the right word, this was such a long journey for us, the first we had ever done and then going on by ferry to an island, somewhere in the Atlantic? The ferry stops first at Martha’s Vineyard before going on to Nantucket Harbour. Approaching the island the first thing we smelled was the heady scent of roses, also complimented by the salty sea air. It was the 4thJuly 1965. American Independence Day and lots of people travelling to the island for the holiday week. The American stars and stripes flag was everywhere to be seen and the whole island had an atmosphere, alive with a festive feeling.
As we disembarked and took the ‘little hop on hop off’ bus to the main town to collect the keys for our cottage, I found myself in love with this island immediately. Beautiful houses, with outer walls of cedar shingles, which had turned to a pearl shimmering grey in the salty air. White doors and window frames and all surrounded by trellises filled with rambling roses, honeysuckle and hydrangeas in the borders. It is quaint and pretty. I could see that my mother was impressed to.
Everyone was so friendly, we were taken to our temporary cottage for the next four weeks and it was just beautiful and all decorated in pale pastel colours and so different from the more stiff English style.
We had guidebooks and lots of suggestions about what to do whilst on holiday in Nantucket and that same afternoon we hired two pastel coloured bikes with wicker baskets on the handlebars, to explore the island whilst we were there. The best bit was that we had our own personal path to the beach. And a pretty garden to enjoy too. This was our introduction to dining each and every single day ‘al fresco’ as the weather was perfect too.
It is not a big island only 26 miles long, with several beaches. Jetties Beach is shallow and you have to walk miles out to find water deep enough to swim in, whereas Surfside Beach is rough, where big Atlantic rolling waves come in. Where surfers can be seen any day, whatever the weather. I remember well, the thrill of lying on a body board waiting for the biggest waves, which would carry you right back to the shallow sand.
I had not expected my mother to enjoy it so much as she was normally a quiet reserved person, but she loved the American friendliness and soon we would be waving to people we came to know during our time there. We cycled all the way to Brant Point, to see the famous lighthouse and then across the scrubby moorlands from one beach to another. Always with a picnic in tow when we found somewhere we wanted to stay for the day.
I think it was one of the best holidays ever, that is the way I remember it and my mother who was very fond of fish, found herself experimenting with lobsters and clams for our dinners or lunches in the garden. We often got invited out to join other holidaymakers or locals who were so generous. I found a large group of friends and it was safe for us all to go off whilst the mother’s sat drinking tea in the shade, exploring on our bicycles. My mother had introduced a lot of her new found American friends to the concept of English Afternoon Tea, thin cucumber sandwiches and Victoria Sponge cakes, filled with local jam and thick cream. Her newly found American friends taught her about the American counterpart of fine teas, Radish and Argula Sandwiches. I can almost taste them as I write.
Nantucket was not only a farming community but also fishing one too. The fresh fish, scallops, clams and lobsters were just delicious and whilst we were there, we tried everything, including the oysters. although I never got used to swallowing them whole with a mouthful of salty sea water.
It was a fun holiday and we had a good time too when my father joined us as well. He was used to the ‘American way of life’ by this time and as my mother always said: ‘he could talk all day to people’ which he did.
It was a shame when the whole month came to an end and we had to make our way back home, back to the chillier weather in England and getting ready for a new term at school. Often at night I would dream of Nantucket and I just knew that one day I would go back.
I cannot remember which birthday it actually was, but one year I got a present from my summer neighbours, a book called ‘The Nantucket Table’.
It had come all the way from the USA, my neighbour had been there for a business trip and just happened to see it in a bookstore and knew, that I had talked one summer about my memories of Nantucket and in particular about the blueberries that grew wild there across the rugged moorlands. The name Blueberry Pie itself, just conjures up ideas and thoughts about America, being an all-time favourite dish over there which everyone knows and loves.
Those summers were such fun too, when they would arrive for 6 whole weeks as the children finished school. We would all be a whirlwind of activities from their arrival to departure. Trips to admire the roses in the Zeeuwse Rosentuin (Zeeland’s Rose Garden) in Kats and come home with a boot full of new roses to be planted in our respective gardens. Catching small crabs in the harbour with pieces of string with chunks of ham attached to them. It was surprising how quickly you filled your bucket, but these were not edible ones and it was fun to watch them scurrying back to the water across the jetties at the end of the afternoon. Lazing about in the hot sunshine under the shade, whilst the children all swam in the lake. Exchanging piles of books, which were all read during those summers.
Trips out on their luxury motor boat, and sipping glasses of chilled pink rose, as all the children splashed about in the water, begging for just one more ride with the jet-ski boat. Oh what summers they were, the weather was always good, at least in my memory. Family barbeques in the garden. Jam jars filled with night-lights, which we had all painted shades of blue in the summer afternoon sun.
That summer we made recipes from the ‘Nantucket Table’ for my birthday, in late August, which always marked the end of summer holidays. So many memories came up of my parents, long passed and that summer in 1965 in Nantucket. We made the famous Tart Lemon Tart (why they call it that I don’t know) and also the Peach Melba tart. Drinks of mint julep. It is astonishing how just a taste of something can revive such vivid memories.
Later that same summer I made pots of fresh fruit chutney, from the book, made with peaches, melons and apples, mixed with onions, raisins, currants and hot chilli peppers.
Oh Nantucket, how well I remember you and it would be quite some while before a return visit actually came to fruition. So much changed after my summer neighbours sold their house, all the children had grown up now, had partners and even children. But happy memories all the same.
IT was several years later when I found myself alone for the first time in my life. No parents anymore, the children all grown up and living their own lives with their own families. My husband gone too. It felt strange to put it mildly. I was still living in my little house by the sea and even though I had help these days with the garden, it was a wonderful place to live.
Several joint replacements had made me fit and well again. It was mid June when I decided to take a trip back to the Rose Gardens at Kats, which had grown enormously over the years from a small nursery to a large concern. Busy each and every day, as the roses were famous. They are proper roses with a rich perfume and not like shop bought ones, which had no scent at all.
I parked and paid my entrance fee and meandered around the gardens, admiring the huge trailing roses, which were now completely covered walkways. I was bending down to smell a particularly vivid red and white one when someone called my name. At first I did not react, which I suppose is not really normal, but thinking it must be someone else with the same name. But then someone touched my arm. Straightening up I was looking into the face of someone I had lost touch with a long time ago.
I had often asked myself over the years how it is possible to suddenly lose touch with people who we have been so close to? I don’t know the answer apart from the idea that sometimes paths go off in different directions.
My first question then was: ‘What are you doing here?’ I mean how stupid is that, obviously the same as me, admiring the roses with perhaps the idea of buying some.
I just stood there and looked and looked into such familiar eyes. Even though I could not think of one single explanation why a friend/loveship had just fizzled out. Well actually it had been so much more than just a friendship and here we both were, standing by huge bushes with roses, almost searching for something to say. But nothing was really needed in retrospect. Just looking was enough.
Later on that same afternoon we sat in the ‘orangery’ drinking rose petal tea and eating some delicious chocolate cake, talking almost non stop. Telling our stories over the past few years, when our contact was much more regular and then telling the stories about both our current situations.
The afternoon just flew by and we had to made our way quite quickly before the nursery closed, to collect the roses we had both ordered.
‘Do you have plans for dinner?’ he asked.
WE just simply moved ourselves from one table in a restaurant to the next. The ‘Katseveer’ was a well-known Michelin star restaurant on the shores of what is called the Oosterschelde. The sun was just about to set across the water. It was a perfect end to a perfect summer’s day. It is really strange when you have not seen someone who you have been so close to, many years ago, that the conversation just picks up as if you saw one another yesterday.
Time had been kind to him. His once dark chocolate brown hair now tinged with grey at the temples. Those dark matching eyes, now wrinkled at the edges, still looked the same. He had a short beard, which seemed to be the fashion these days with men. Virtually everyone had one!
We spent the next few hours telling the stories of our respective lives, about what we had done in life, about our families and to be honest I would have never imagined ever, bumping into him here again, in the garden centre of all places.
He had been away from The Netherlands for many years, working abroad, but had returned a couple of years ago. In a similar situation as I was, families grown up and coping with the idea of being alone again.
He was slightly older than me, I could not remember how much exactly, but I knew I had always been the younger of the two. Of course the conversation started about the time when we had met. It was quite a chance meeting, at a local bowling match when I had been asked to make up the team. I had no idea at the time that it was a competition, having only bowled once in my life before. But you know those moments; beginner’s luck and I played well and then looked across the room at the most handsome person I think I had ever seen.
My eyes just could and would not leave his face and he was staring at me in the same way. We got talking of course and it turned out that the people in my little group, knew the people in his. This was the beginning of a relationship that went on for more than 3 years.
I had only just come to live here and been very lucky finding a modern flat in a sleeper town just outside of The Hague. I worked in another town and drove there every day in my English mini, which I had brought with me. It was the same vivid yellow colour as Mr. Bean’s mini, which he later became famous for.
My new friend lived on the coast in a block of flats overlooking the sea. Kijkduin; a small seaside suburb of The Hague and it was not long before I was spending evenings and weekends with him. We had a huge circle of friends, so there was always something to do. He was very fond of dining out and drinking good wines, so I learnt a lot from him. It was the second summer of our relationship during a holiday to the Provence in France, that he asked me to marry him. Of course I said yes.
Oh what a holiday it was too. We had driven down to the Provence into the intoxicating region where lavender grows in great abundance. Its perfume fills the entire region and looks magnificent. It gives the Provence a sort of relaxing sleepy feeling, which I am sure comes from the scent of all the flowers. Essential oils are made here and I remembered that my mother used to collect the flowers from our garden in England. She would dry them and then sew them into little lace edged sachets to put in drawers and cupboards. I think somewhere in the things I have from my family home that there might just be one of two of them still in the boxes. Intricate lace edgings to little pockets, which she would embroider too.
We were staying in a very typical French chateau like hotel and I just happened to wander out into the late afternoon sunshine when the locals all start to play the French national sport ‘Jeu de Boules’. Never understood the pleasure really in throwing some silver coloured balls in an enclosed gravel area, but the French are passionate about it! I asked if I could join in, having never ever played before. The old Frenchmen guffawed with laughter. Just imagine that a young English girl wanted to play and they were intrigued, their wizened, bronzed faces breaking into laughter.
I cannot offer any explanation why, but each and every ball I threw onto that gravel ended up in exactly the right place. My friend, who had heard the laughter from the open windows, had come out to watch too. In the end I won, I did! They were all perplexed – beginner’s luck I think again.
We wined and dined in the finest restaurants and it was on one of them that he produced a beautiful diamond ring, went down on one knee (in front of everyone meaning that I blushed from head to toe) and asked me to marry him. It was a very happy special moment.
We came home and all our friends were delighted. We celebrated with a large party at our favourite Indonesian Restaurant in The Hague. Life went on, commuting from one flat to the other. I cannot exactly pinpoint the moment that there was a change in our relationship. From being really modern and easygoing, suddenly he became over possessive and mistrusting. I had a busy and demanding job working at a large pharmaceutical company in Delft, which meant that the normal 9-5 hours never applied. Often I would ring before I left to say I was on my way, but heavy traffic would often make me later than he expected. He began to ask me where I had been? Why was I late? The whole point was, he suddenly didn’t trust me anymore and there was absolutely no reason whatsoever why he should not. Eventually, it was the beginning of the end of our relationship and I broke off the engagement in the New Year. Just could not cope anymore. Broke his heart and mine too, we had been together for so long, but being a free spirit like I am, I just knew I would never be able to cope with such possessiveness long term.
As easily as we had drifted into one another’s lives, it was over. I never heard another thing again. There were no discussions about the why’s and wherefore’s. Just heartbroken silence. I felt so incredibly guilty. But did not know why?
I moved on, met someone else, got married, had children and only one time did he briefly come back into my life. Quite by an extraordinary chance too. Something to do with patents and trademarks and a long phone conversation, as my papers had suddenly arrived on his desk in Munich of all places. I recognised the voice immediately and we caught up on one another’s news. It was quite surprising how often in fact our paths had almost crossed. We both had two children, born at the same hospital, same year within days of one another. How we had just not bumped into one another there in one of the corridors I don’t know. I had stayed in Holland and he had gone to Germany. Both of us had married Dutch nationals..
It was one conversation only until many years later, suddenly in a rose garden, one sunny afternoon.
After the dinner at the Katseveer and I cannot even remember what I ate, we talked so much, the evening came to an end. We exchanged telephone numbers and made promises to keep in touch. As I left to go to my car, he kissed my cheek; it was a strange sensation after such a long time.
I did not hear anything more from him at all and several months later a year had passed by. I looked back on it as a moment when all the pain and sadness that had remained in between us; his disappointment, my disappointment, the choice I had made at the time, his broken heart was finally cleared and healed between us. That had been the purpose of us meeting up that afternoon. I truly believed that.
THE following summer I decided that it was time to return to Nantucket. I gave myself the present of spending some time there for my 65thbirthday. It was very easy on Internet to book a cottage for 2 months and book flights and connections and all of a sudden the day arrived and I was on a flight from Amsterdam to Boston. Re-tracing my steps made all those years ago with my mother, albeit it from London that time.
What a lot has changed since the first trip I made there all those years ago. The flight time for instance a non-stop 8 hours, which meant with the time difference only 2 hours, had been lost in the day. Hyannis was a much larger place than I remembered, busy and grown a lot and now the ferry was a fast one, arriving in Nantucket 30 minutes after departure. Nantucket had changed, but not a lot, apart from the fact that there were more houses, big and luxurious, as it had become the summer playground for many rich and famous people. I had arranged to spend the first couple of days at the White Elephant Inn, to get used to the island again and then move on into my own cottage for 8 weeks.
This time around being so much older, I delved into the past of the island itself. Nantucket, despite the fact that it is so small has a big history, which goes back many centuries. Back in the mid 1800’s it had been famous for whaling, and luckily something no longer carried out. The island had a rich culture of farming and fishing and many top fancy restaurants In New York loved the local scallops. But in all the years since I had been with my mother, the most economic growth had been, that Nantucket had become an island for vacations and many wealthy people built holiday homes on the island. The main town street lined now with shops with designer names. Trendy boutiques and restaurants and cafes. But still those familiar grey shingled houses, with their white doors and windows looked the same, they were just bigger and better now.
The heady scent of roses filled the air everywhere you went. The flowers on Nantucket are truly amazing. I have never seen so many ever as they line the doors and windows of every home. Neat grass lawns surrounded with borders of hydrangeas and other floral wonders are a real sight to see. Honeysuckle grows along garden gates, clematis trailing up the walls. Nearly every house has a pool in the garden too.
But basically as I discovered during my first week, a lot of the island was as I remembered it. I hired a pastel colour e-bike this time around and explored the island cycling off to Madaket, Sconset and Cisco. One day all along the peninsular to Great Point and the lighthouse there. The island was busy with many people here on holidays and I soon found myself waving again to people and saying hello to them in the shops. I was often invited to join them for meals or days out on a boat.
It was one morning when I had gone to collect a lobster at the quayside for dinner that evening, that I was just putting my shopping into that same wicker basket on my handlebars, that I heard someone call out my name. As I turned around, I dropped my shopping in shock. There he was again. Out of the blue on Nantucket!! I had moved into my own little cottage a few days previously.
Over coffee at one of the little café’s that Nantucket is so well known for, we talked. I was just amazed that he was here too. It was my stories from the past that had enticed him to visit the island, whilst his health permitted and before he got too old to travel. To be honest he did not even look a day older than that afternoon we had met at the Rose Gardens.
At first I could not believe the coincidence that we would meet again here in Nantucket of all places! I never even got around to asking him, and he did not ask me either why we had not been in touch. We just made an appointment to have dinner the next day at the Inn where I had been staying myself only a while ago.
As I left with my lobster and bicycle it just seemed incredible to put in mildly that we were both here on this tiny island in the Atlantic. That evening sitting in my temporary garden, watching the sun set slowly across the ocean, as the lobster sizzled on the BBQ, I thought how amazing it all was. I wondered what is the message and why have we met again, here of all places, having not heard a single word since our one off meeting that time?
I felt unsure, whether I should go or not to the appointment we had made for dinner the following evening. But this was a small island and if I did not, we would of course, eventually bump into one another again.
I think basically I was a bit scared of how this scenario was going to play out.
I did not sleep well that night; my thoughts were haunted by too many memories. I was awake very early, it was just getting light and I got up, got dressed and went on my bicycle to Surfside Beach. The sun was just rising as I stepped into the waves. Tingling fresh! The water felt cold, which is not strange really being the fact it is the Atlantic Sea. But it felt invigorating as I walked on deeper and deeper into the sea. The large waves, which always came in groups of seven, enabled me to jump up and over them. The beach itself was deserted apart from one or two keen morning swimmers arriving. I came out of the water, dried off and cycled back home, stopping to collect some fresh bread. My mind felt clearer for the exercise and over breakfast I wondered if I was on the verge or reigniting a love affair that ended nearly 40 years ago. Did I actually want that? I did not know the answer. Just knew that he felt familiar, he was actually very nice and what’s really wrong with a little bit of holiday romance? But is was more the coincidence of the events that was making me feel uneasy. And roses seem to be the connecting theme. As there are wonderful roses in Nantucket. They are literally growing on every house, trailing everywhere.
I spent a leisurely day, not doing a lot, taking a shower and washing my hair at the end of the afternoon. After a lot of deliberating on which dress to wear, set off on my bicycle to Brant Point. The Inn I knew well myself too where I had stayed.
He was waiting in the Reception. Standing there, looking incredibly handsome in a relaxed kind of way. My heart was pounding already!
We went into the bar and ordered pre-dinner drinks. He still remembered my fondness for champagne!
We ate outside on the veranda overlooking the sea. It was yet another lovely balmy early evening, which Nantucket can be so famous for. The sun began to sink slowly towards the horizon.
I was (well actually being honest not) surprised how easy the conversation was. It was as if we were re-discovering ourselves, talking about all sorts of topics, from food, to sport, to favourite books and films … just a normal exchange of views. By the time the dessert trolley arrived I was feeling totally relaxed having had a couple of glasses of wine in the meantime. He smiled remembering my terrible sweet tooth, deliberating on what to choose. In the end I went for the Puzzle Pudding, just because the name is so nice. I think you could compare it to Clafoutis, fruits in a batter mixture. The blueberries and raspberries grow locally and melt in your mouth like a sudden burst of summer.
He had sat back in his chair observing me, I could feel it. Then he said: ‘you haven’t changed at all really, just a bit older and wiser’ but you are still the same girl I knew all those years ago’. I felt myself blush and he touched my arm sending all sorts of shivers up and down my spine. This was so surreal, sitting here together, all these years later.
I suppose it was not really the brightest of ideas to accept the offer of a ‘nightcap’ back in the bar. I knew that any more alcohol would mean that it was not sensible to cycle back ‘home’ in the darkness.
Of course the inevitable happened and he asked me if I would like to stay over. He did have a spare bedroom, if I was worried about anything. But what was there really to worry about, it was just as if I had been transported back through time, to our relationship … even if our bodies had matured incredibly by age. It was as if he read my mind and said: ‘got a bit older since last time’. That made me laugh out aloud, because it was exactly what I was thinking myself and all my ‘wobbly bits’ which I preferred to keep to myself.
Well you know what they say about the ‘best laid plans’ well I can only tell you this, forget it. They sailed out of the window immediately we stepped into his room. It was the suite, larger than the normal rooms, but the same cathedral open ceilings reaching to the rooftop. He took me in his arms and kissed me and believe me I was completely lost. Lost back in bittersweet memories, the bitterness having been caused by me, having broken off the relationship at the time. But it felt familiar and good.
He led me to the main bedroom and to the huge bed. As I sank back on the soft pillows, he slipped the straps down from my dress and I was very aware that within seconds of being dressed to undressed, I was completely naked. I remembered his touch well, he was after all an excellent lover, and we both stepped back into the familiarity of each other’s passion and desires.
I slept well for the first time in ages and woke to see him still asleep next to me.
AFTER our passionate love making, she fell asleep quite quickly and I sat and watched her from the chair opposite the bed. The rise and fall of her chest, her hair, which was almost white now, spread across the pillows. Her suntanned arms were just one mass of freckles, it was hard to distinguish where one ended and another began. Kisses from the sun, she called them, I always thought and wondered, how would it feel to be the sun and kiss her body all over, leaving the freckles as confirmation that I loved every single bit of her. Always had, despite the fact that when she broke off our relationship, I truly believed I would never dare to love another woman again. But I did over time and it is true; time heals, eventually.
When we met a while back in the rose garden, my initial reaction had been one of shock. I absolutely had not expected to bump into her just like that. I remember when we had just broken up I saw her one day, walking towards the beach close to where I lived. She was engrossed in a conversation with another man. I could have walked up and said ‘hello’, but the pain was still too intense for me to even try. I asked myself if she already had a new relationship. Was she so fickle that she already had a new partner, whilst my heart still felt as if it had shattered? I stopped thinking about it in the end, it was just too painful.
My life went on, but deep inside I still thought of her every now and again. It could be something simple, a song on the radio, or the mention of a place where we had been together. I am not sure why I did not pursue her more when we had met a while back. It was not as if I was afraid, I had grown up a lot since those early years. Raised my daughters who now had lives with their own families and had given me the joy of grandchildren. Losing my wife was tough for sure, but I was sensible enough to know, for her, it was a kind release from her illness.
After the initial sorrow and pain of being alone again, I started to eventually pick up my life again, not really at the time having any intention whatsoever of meeting someone else. I could not be like that, I had loved my wife dearly and we had had a very good life together, so it seemed almost disrespectful to her memory to start anything new.
But that moment in the rose garden, some flame reignited in me, those feelings that I had for her, rose within, just like the blooms in this garden, to the surface again. Of course she looked older than I remembered but she still had that same movement how she walked and how she would often flick her eyes before a smile broke across her face. Oh that smile, it was intoxicating. I felt drawn into it completely, right from the first moment I had glanced across the room at her, as she literally threw a heavy bowling ball down the lane, and jumped up and down in surprise as she got a strike. That smile, I knew I was going to fall in love with her, right then and there.
As I watch her sleeping, there is a slight smile on her lips. The evening was wonderful and I truly admit it was not my intention at all to ask her to stay. I almost want to chastise myself for admitting this; because of course I still felt that desire in me for her. But I had not wanted to rush anything, just enjoy and savour the moment of actually meeting her again, here on a small island in the Atlantic. Was it destiny? Was there some unforeseeable force pulling us back towards one another. We were both free. Oh it would have been devastating if she had not been.
The touch and feel of her skin, her perfume and her passion. It was like a return. Being given back something precious that has matured so perfectly. I sat and watched her for a while, thinking what have I done in my life to deserve this second chance with her? Does she want one with me? She is and always was, a true free spirit and I had always bitterly regretted the fact that my own possessiveness had driven us apart. I don’t know why I behaved like that at all, it was not that I didn’t trust her, it was more my own lack of self-worth, always fearing that I was not good enough for her. She was worth only the very best. We had a lot of fun together and I always blamed myself for losing her.
The sky was starting to turn light, the first rays of the sun breaking into another new day here on Nantucket and I slipped back into bed beside her. She rolled over and put her head on my shoulder. I put my arm around her, under her pillow and pulled her closer. I felt the softness of her hair against my face. I loved her; I always had and had never stopped. She was my everything and I prayed to the universe, or God, or whoever is up there, to grant me another chance to spend my time with her.
When I woke up again, I could smell freshly made coffee coming from the kitchen area of my suite. She came across the room on her slender legs with a tray and placed it beside me, and then folded her legs gently underneath her and sat down on the bed. ‘Breakfast in bed’ she said, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Her hair was still damp and she had obviously already showered. As I moved gently across to kiss her, I could smell the spearmint on her breath.
Where do we go from here?
WE just slipped into a natural routine with one another, just as if time had stood still and we were a couple once more. We met some really nice people who invited us to go out sailing with them. They loved our story and their boat was called: The Miracle. I remember how enthralled they were as we told them about us and laughed when they remarked, this was indeed a true miracle that coincidence had brought us back together. The friendship was cemented and we would often dine with them, or go out for days sailing on the Atlantic Ocean. I used to sail a lot, but this was so different. The vastness of the water, the stronger waves and currents. Enthralling, but sometimes scary at the same time. We all loved it.
By this time, he had moved out of his suite at the Inn and into my summer home. It just seemed silly to go back and forwards spending nights here and then there. It was relaxing, it felt comfortable and of course we had many nights of passion together. Summer was drawing to an end, a lot of the tourists had already left and the idea that we too, would be leaving soon, hung over us like a sea mist.
Often we would sit out in the garden on the swing facing the sea. Watching the sun setting and talking. It was as if we needed confirmation and reassurance that what we were re-commencing was right. I sometimes thought really coincidences don’t really exist, things just happen that are meant to be. We both told our families who were flabbergasted to say the least. I think they too, fell in love with our story. They certainly were happy that we had both met again. ‘Everyone deserves a second chance at happiness’ my daughter had remarked.
The final week approached and then out of the blue, he said: ‘shall we try and stay on for longer?’ We had become so settled in our daily routine. One morning whilst browsing the little local bookstore, I came across the book I had been given many years before: ‘The Nantucket Table’. I bought it again and looked through the recipes, a lot, of which I had made over the years. The fresh fruit and vegetables in Nantucket were wonderful and not to mention the daily supply of fresh fish (which we both loved) and lobsters, scallops, clams and such like. One evening I made the famous Tart Lemon Tart when our friends came over for dinner. It was a real trip down memory lane.
Luck was on our side, we could rent the house for another month, and so I changed my air ticket online, and told the family that I was going to stay on. He did the same. Some days we caught the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, which was slightly bigger than Nantucket, took our bicycles and spent the day there, catching the last ferry back.
It was really idyllic there was no other word to describe it. We often took a picnic to the beach and lazed away either in the sea or on the sand. My skin had turned a golden brown. My hair had gone completely white in the sun and of course, with the boutique shops here, there were wonderful things to buy. A bit of a nautical theme, but lovely just the same. I decided that when I got home I would make a special wooden sign, you saw them everywhere here, with phrases about island life – like ‘my idea of heaven – the beach’ and such like. I thought it would be fun to make one myself as opposed just to buying one here, not to mention the idea if trying to fit it into a suitcase.
Eventually the final week came and within days, our stay in Nantucket was coming to an end and it felt heavy to say the least. Neither or us wanted to leave and we booked a table at our favourite restaurant to bring this amazing holiday to an end. Over the meal he suddenly said: ‘I have a surprise, I bought the summer house today!’ I nearly fell off my chair in shock! ‘What?’ I asked. ‘How did you manage that?’ He had set everything in motion earlier that week and whilst I was browsing around in a shop he had slipped off to sign the paper work. ‘I thought we would like to come back and also our families could come for holidays’. It sounded an absolutely perfect idea and took all the edge off feeling any sadness about leaving away immediately. We would be coming back. We, yes, we, that had a nice ring to it.
Journeying back to Europe meant that we arrived home and autumn had begun. In retrospect I thought, how we had perhaps missed the best fall ever in New England on the mainline, but no worry really, we could do it next time around especially as we now had a house ourselves on Nantucket.
We arranged for both families to meet and everything just slipped into a natural rhythm as if it was meant to be. A couple of weeks later we talked about the idea of buying our first house together. We had never got around to doing that last time. I put my house up for sale, he did the same and within a week I had a serious buyer and an offer. I would be sad to say goodbye to my home after all these years, but it was time to move on.
I felt very happy, as if things were finally being put right and we found a beautiful new house on the edge of a lake. It was three storeys, all glass and very light inside. It could be ready in a couple of weeks and we sat with the public notary and both signed the purchase documents.
It was a lot of fun choosing things for our new home, we agreed on virtually everything and used a lot of colour schemes we had liked so much in Nantucket.
Often in the evenings I would ponder the thoughts about the why’s and wherefore’s. How it had been possible that a chance meeting by the roses had lead to where we were? I think it was destiny that our paths crossed again, it was such synchronicity. Maybe it works that way with true souls and lovers?
Jill Kramer 2019 © 08.08.2019
Images: Private Collection Jill Kramer, Pinterest, Google Images.
I don’t know who wrote this amazing quote at the end, but I love it! Nantucket does not need to be anymore than itself. Hope you go sometime!