When I was a kid (that's me in the red sweater), we spent one blissful summer with our trailer parked at Pelican Point in Half Moon Bay, California. My mother bought a tide chart and we would get up in the skinny hours of morning, the stars still blinking, and take out flashlights so we could make our way down the overgrown trail to the beach to find treasure. When we were done with our treasure hunt, we would pack up for the day, hit the Half Moon Bay Bakery for milk bread and donuts, and drive over to Martin’s Beach where my step-dad would take on the ocean with his smelt net.
Some days were sunny and my mom could barely keep our wiggling bodies still enough to apply the awful zinc oxide to our noses and shoulders before we would run down the beach in search of sand crabs and sea glass. But other days were overcast, thick with mist that speckled our hair and made us shiver in our sweatshirts. On those days my step-dad would rig up a strong canvas between two poles to keep the worst of the sea breeze out, and I would curl up in my beach towels and read. Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, whatever books I could get my hands on. But that particular summer, my Pelican Point summer, was when I read Nantucket Summer by Phyllis Green.Long out of print, it’s a story about a young girl who goes to Nantucket Island with a woman and her young son. The husband rarely visits, the woman is slowly going crazy, and it's all wrapped up in a ghost story.
There was something about reading a book about summer, in the summer, that heightened the experience. Perhaps because I had more words at my disposal, Phyllis Green’s words, to describe the feelings of the beach and being ten years old. The sun shone brighter somehow, hotter, and the salt in my hair and on my skin put me right next to the main character. I was IN the story, not just reading it.But it went deeper than that. I felt Adriana’s feelings about leaving her family to care for a small child on Nantucket because the mother of the child was emotionally unstable. I found myself relating to this girl who wanted to solve everyone’s troubles, but didn’t know how. For the first time, I came face to face with mental illness in a book and realized what might be going on in my own family. Best of all, it was the first time I realized I wasn’t alone. Or crazy for feeling that something might be wrong.
Summer was a magical time for me as a child. Full of freedom and discovery. But I will never forget that one summer where I got a glimpse of the bigger world and my place in it, which somehow made things less scary.
All because of a book.