Summer vacationers in the Ocean State are all too familiar with the verb, must. The word must is the compelling force that propels vacationers to set daily agendas based on what they’ve heard about “must see and do” local attractions. FaceBook grazers are inundated with vacation photo posts, “it hardly ever rains here at the beach, golf course, or hundred year old coastal cottage.” Narragansett Beach photos challenge FB “friends” to play “Where’s Waldo” and identify their friends frolicking among hundreds of people jammed together in the sunshine and fresh salt air amidst a plethora of sand buckets, beach towels, life guards, surfers, sunglasses, boogie boards, and gallon jugs of SPF 50 sunblock. The message is clear, we must be having fun! Rule number one of family vacations is: to really have fun together you are obliged be here with us ALL right now! We must make memories!” Here must is used as a synonym for “gotta”.
Ah, the magic of grammar.
Many coastal residents refer to the word, must as a noun. Those living close to bodies of water, whether fresh or salt, are familiar with the moist scent that that distinguishes mildew from the pungent odor of it’s pal, mold. For example, locals wax nostalgic at the Autumn Equinox when a beach cover up is found at the back of the closet. They give the article a quick sniff, quickly recognize the musty scent and exclaim, “I so miss summer at the shore!” Must is born of high humidity, heat, coastal weather in general.
From late spring through summer, the ever-so-slight scent of must is an accurate predictor of upcoming family reunions, unsubscribed time to catch up with friends, and lazy days of beach reading. Just a quick whiff of must sets off a tingle of anticipation – must is the oracle summer. Of course, as those who are blessed to own seaside homes know, the fungi that compose must are hard to deter and get rid of – like summer visitors. Sometimes the only way to treat either is by pickling them (vinegar for the fungi and White Russians for the guests).
Visitors to the coast are welcomed by hugs that envelop the greeting with the slightest hint of must. It’s often thought of as salt air. Within that instant, tiny microscopic specks of a scented fungus fly from the Greeter into the Arriver’s sensitive olfactory nerves. The visiting sentinels pick up the chemical signature of mustiness. This triggers the Arrivers autoimmune system’s first responders, histamines. They defend the visiting body with copious mucus production that culminates with a series of sneezes designed to strategically expel the invaders. Exclamations of “It’s wonderful to be here – we must make an agenda” are followed by a quick pocket check for a twice-used wad of tissues.
Must, the New England term for mildew, is found in every coastal home whether its appointed with trendy quartz counters, or cluttered with overstuffed wicker chairs. Musty colonies thrive on tee shirts crammed in the bottom of beach bags, canvass totes, and tennis socks. Must finds comfort living in shoes that were purchased in cute boutiques, toted home in fancy bags with rattan handles, and then casually tossed into dark closets. Must thrive when soft rains fall and humidity soars.lo
Vast communities of must claim colonial squatters’ rights. Over time, coastal residents learn to cohabitate with fungal colonies. Their noses are numbed and allergies tamed by the musty scents of summer. Let’s face it – coastal residents and visitors are a lot like mildew and mold. During the summer they jam-pack beaches, choose harbors teeming with boats, swarm to restaurants with sea views, and congest traffic. They are everywhere. I’m good with that. Humidity comes with sunshine and rain – it’s a bargain made with nature to live in a coastal climate. I’ve been known to tell my guests as their noses crinkle upon my welcoming hug, “Oh that smell! Salty! Briny! Musty! Love it ALL! Savor the breath of the sea!” My guests sense that the seashore has halitosis. Yet, in rhythm with the tides, they breathe in and out. Mustiness is at the core of coastal living. As is sunshine, families, friends, and, you really must try the local chowdah.