Nantucket the subject of author’s new book

By Page H. Gifford

     Anyone who has ever visited Nantucket Island, recalls a picturesque fishing village steeped in history, clapboard or shingled houses, with widow walks and colorful manicured gardens and cobblestone streets lined with boutiques and restaurants with names reminiscent of its Quaker-Puritan roots and its 19th-century thriving whaling industry. It is the quintessential New England coastal village, a blend of its maritime past and legends with the progress of present-day modernism.

“Nantucket became one of the great whaling centers of the world and many of the world and the buildings and architecture still exist from that time. You can still walk Nantucket Center and its cobblestone street and be surrounded by two-hundred-year-old banks and lovely retail stores and, just around the corner the Athenium, perhaps one of the most beautiful and historical libraries in America,” said Bigelow.

In his new book “Waiting on Nantucket, Season of 78,” Alden Bigelow as his alter-ego Norton, recalls his experiences living alone on the island for a year with his only companion, his dog Mystery.

“I have had a lifelong affection for the island of Nantucket. Who could not fall in love with an island 30 miles out to sea from the coast of Massachusetts, only 14 miles long and less than 4 miles wide, yet offering 55 miles of some of the finest and most pristine beaches anywhere,” said Bigelow. “My family began coming to Nantucket in 1964, bought some land in the uninhabited moor off Cliff Road. They built a small cottage and it became our summer vacation home for more than 50 years. It was a magical getaway we came to enjoy every year.”

Bigelow was not only drawn to its charm but like many, also to its history, which is something locals take pride in preserving. “Nantucket is steeped in history, most notably going back to 1654 when the Quakers discovered it, only to find more than 500 Wampanoag Indians already living there and whose friendship and prowess helped the white settlers survive their first winter there.”

He says though Nantucket Center has not changed that much over the years, the influx of summer residents and tourists, up to 55,000 a summer, sometimes swamp the natives who live there year-round and number approximately 5,000.

“But since tourism is now a major part of Nantucket’s commerce, the locals have learned to adapt quite well. You will find some of the world’s best restaurants, some quite pricey, to serve anyone’s appetite. Although there are crowds everywhere, you can always find a private beach if you know your way around,” he said. “I have many favorite memories of Nantucket that go beyond the beauty of the beaches, the uniqueness of an island nation. All the beaches, all the sailing, the big boats, and little boats, the many hideaways.”

Bigelow’s book strips away the touristy facade to show the essence of the people who inhabit it year-round — those rugged New Englanders who can endure the harsh, bleak winters in solitude. People like Mr. Reed, who is the owner of the Chicken Box, a confident man, wearing his Greek fisherman’s cap, and sporting a closely cropped beard, and a pipe. Robert, a tall, African-American built like a brick wall who worked for Mr. Reed, became Norton’s “family” while on the island.

“I have long wanted to write a book about Nantucket, but life and other work, other books, got in the way. Finally, three years ago, I plunged in. I wrote about the full year I spent in Nantucket in 1978.” He adds that 1978 was the year he made his escape from his mainland job and life to see if he could write and get lost in the magic of Nantucket and overcome a recurrent depression which had taken over his life.

He spent that year in Nantucket, working as a waiter, getting to know the island inside and out while finding himself.

“Nantucket is forgiving and welcoming to seekers, rebels, and those who just need to get away for a while. Most of the characters in “Waiting on Nantucket” are based on real life people, a few are composites, but the events by-and-large are true, not all, but all designed to offer a larger truth.” He refers to the suspenseful stories surrounding rape, suicide, murder, and the famous Chicken Box brawl. Bigelow’s writing is character-driven and the characters are always vivid and convincing, making the reader wonder where the line is between reality and fiction.

“It is true for example, that in 1978 once again, Nantucket’s Red Sox nation was in a frenzy. They were consumed by the inevitability of the Sox winning it all. As we all know now, the dreaded Yankees got in their way once more.” He adds that he used the rise and fall of the 1978 Red Sox as a kind of amusing timeline of events while living in Nantucket.

‘I hope that my readers are entertained, and become acquainted with the fantastic and unique beauty of this island. There is also another underlying theme which runs through the book, that of learning to deal with and manage one’s depression.” He says that anyone facing sadness and depression or any other deep-seated maladjustment, could not find a better place to lift their spirits than Nantucket. For him, it was magic, a healing moment in his life. “It welcomes and accepts you as you try to learn and get through any inner challenge you face and you will probably have a good time despite yourself. The orphan island of Nantucket will heal you.”

The book is available on or

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