Beach House Diaries: Welcome to the Neighborhood

man in Ford pickup truck

It all started with my truck -- or, to be more precise, it started with my truck's refusal to start. Although those of us who love waterside hideaways tend to see them as enchanted places where everything automatically goes right, the truth is that beach houses are not immune to mundane problems. Things can -- and often do -- go wrong.

Last Friday, as I embarked on a girls-only weekend on Pictou Island, my aging rust-encrusted pick-up offered proof.

Pulling out from the wharf I passed farms and fields, giving the island's signature two-fingers-barely-lifted-off-the-steering-wheel wave to everyone I saw en route. I drove by the church and the community center, reaching the very edge of my property when, in one of those classic "so close and yet so far" moments, the truck unceremoniously seized -- in the process, blocking the island's only road and leaving me, well, fill in the expletive of your choice.

I must sheepishly confess at this point that I know nothing about trucks. While I can pop the hood in a pinch, I am completely befuddled by the endless variety of caps, cables, plugs and dipsticks beneath it. At home this has never posed a problem. But AAA doesn't provide emergency assistance in the middle of Northumberland Strait and the nearest garage is a long barge-ride away on the mainland. I was now left to my own devices.

I cajoled and I cussed, neither of which the truck responded to. I wracked my brain trying to remember who the patron saint of auto repair was. I mentally thumbed through Harry Potter hoping to recall an incantation that might make a mechanic appear. Then it dawned on me that in a little community like mine -- one which could, perhaps, best be described as a cross between Mayberry and Woodstock -- the only magic word needed was "neighbor."

Anna arrived first to give me a hand pushing the truck out of the road (anyone who thinks angelic-looking teen girls are helpless has NOT met Anna). Chris turned up next to diagnose the problem, followed by Dave who came, as if on cue, to try rectifying it; then, to resolve any interim transportation issues, Gretchen promptly supplied a beautiful spare bike complete with the sort of vintage wicker basket that begs for bouquets and baguettes.

The first thing that struck me about all of this was the wherewithal that Pictou Islanders -- particularly the handful who live here full-time -- routinely display. Aside from an eclectic jack-of-all-trades skill set, they have a stockpile of useful items that the average beach houser lacks. (Do I have a quart bottle of olive oil? Yes. Do I have gallon drums of motor oil? No.) Plus they demonstrate a degree of resourcefulness that would make MacGyver blush.

Such self-sufficiency is born, at least in part, out of necessity. After all, the islanders can't exactly drop by Walmart on a whim. Yet nature, too, plays a part because folks who consciously choose to live in isolated spots like Pictou Island generally relish their independence. Knowing this made my second realization all the more amazing: namely that, despite their own DIY approach to life, they remain so willing to help out the rest of us when the occasion arises.

Paradoxically, islanders also understand more deeply than anyone that "no man is an island" but rather "a piece of the continent, a part of the main:" in other words, a member of the community. I certainly benefitted from that in the wake of my truck troubles. As an indecisive drizzle turned into torrential rain, I actually lost count of the number of neighbors who said "just call whenever you need something," and I look forward to returning the favor.

In the meantime, suffice it to say that within a matter of days my pick-up was again moving -- and I was genuinely moved.

Next:7 Tips for Being Neighborly at a Beach House

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Each week writer Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb will report on summer beach house life from her vacation home on Pictou Island, Nova Scotia. Follow along for a glimpse of the shore, plus tips on what to pack, how to entertain guests and how to relax at your own beach house.
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