Dear Rose and Harry:
I would have answered your letter sooner except that I have been in the hospital for the past three months here at the National Institute of Exotic Diseases in Washington getting shot full of needles and having rubber tubes run through me by heavy-handed but dedicated young medical researchers.
Would you believe it? I have picked up a case of babesiosis, a disease so rare that only a handful of cases have so far been reported. Five of these, including yours truly, originated on Nantucket this year. It comes from a tick bite. A very special kind of tick, which is peculiar to the island. I am delighted to hear you are thinking of coming to visit next summer, as this means you will have a good chance of seeing one of these truly unique ticks.
There is really nothing to worry about, however, since the disease is so rare that medical science is not yet sure it is fatal in every instance. I am told that if I do not die within the next three months, I will be allowed to leave the hospital, and after six more months I can go back and get all the needles and rubber tubing pulled out of me.
In that case, I ought to be in good shape to greet you both when you get to Nantucket in June. The doctors say I will probably hurt all over for another year or two, but I just laughed at them. What is a little hardship to a Nantucketer? Why do they think Nantucket is always called “The Gray Hardship of the Sea?”
Between us, Harry, you were very smart to turn down Art’s invitation to summer on the Vineyard this year. I went there once and had a terrible time. There was no hardship at all. I went to the beach in August — in August, mind you! — and didn’t even get run over by a car. In Nantucket, my friends couldn’t believe it.
“What’s the thrill in going to the beach if you’ve got no chance of being run over by a car while sunbathing?” everybody asked.
In Nantucket, you don’t go to the beach to get a suntan. You go to get tire treads across the torso. I bet you and Rose will come back with a beautiful set of tread marks that will be the envy of the office.
The thing about Nantucket, you see, is that there are so many cars in the streets that the overflow has to drive on the beaches. The street in front of our house is packed solid with cars all summer long, burning gasoline and edging towards town at the rate of a rush hour traffic jam in midtown Manhattan. The air will really get that cough of yours back in tip-top condition. When the fog settles in, as it does six days out of every seven, it’s like being stalled behind a diesel in the Lincoln Tunnel. If Rose’s lungs are still weak, you might consider packing a respirator.
Speaking of packing, it would be a good idea to bring your life’s savings, as people who come to the island without money are punished by deportation, and your money can run out pretty fast in Nantucket.
The Raymonds visited us for a weekend this July and naturally offered to take us out to dinner. We warned them about restaurant prices, but they insisted, and of course, when the bill came Jack didn’t have half enough to cover it, so he and Gertrude were deported first thing next morning. Jack has been a little sore ever since because I didn’t offer to pay the balance of the bill, but it would have been a bad host, I figured, who interfered with his house guest’s natural duty to buy at least one dinner out.
What’s more, I was already picking up the oil bill to keep both of them warm after they complained that it was terribly cold for July. They didn’t want to sleep in their clothes, like real Nantucketers, or put a couple of dogs in bed with them for the body heat, so I ran the furnace. Do you have any idea what oil costs on Nantucket? I offered them two dogs apiece, but no, they had to have the furnace on. They couldn’t stand the fleas, they said.
Harry, this is strictly between us as old friends, but the Raymonds are not the kind of people who can enjoy Nantucket. They are like the Wootens who visited us for two weeks a couple of years ago. It was a typical Nantucket summer. Rain for 10 days in a row.
We had all been confined to the house so long that our tire treads were fading and, what with the exhaust fumes from the traffic jam accumulating in heavy damp layers, poor Mimi had been in a respirator for three days when Jim came out of his bedroom all covered with vapor one night and complained that there was moss growing in his sheets.
We tried to calm him by getting him into a game. We had already worn out the Monopoly board, the Scrabble letters and the Old Maid deck and were moving on to Russian Roulette, but Jim didn’t have the Nantucket spirit. He insisted on leaving the island right away as he had developed some strange growths on his chest which looked suspiciously like mushrooms.
Well, to make a long story short, we packed up both Wootens and took them to the airport. Nothing had flown for days, and the weatherman said it would be 72 hours before there was a chance of decent flying weather, and even then, of course, all flights were booked solid for the next three months.
So we took them to the ferry and, of course, all the ferry reservations had been sold the previous January, and there was no space available until the summer of the following year.
Wooten would probably have turned into one of the lushest mushroom cultures in America if I hadn’t had an inspiration. I suggested he take us all out to dinner, and he was deported first thing next morning. And you know what? To this day he hasn’t send me a word of thanks.
Am really looking forward to seeing you both next summer. In the meantime, I’ve enclosed a native Nantucket tick in the envelope containing this letter. If you don’t find him, look around carefully, as he may have dropped out when you opened the envelope. Check especially in the hair behind the ears. That’s where they like to bite.
Your old pal,