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Walking back from Straight Wharf after lunch, we encountered these two precious little girls in their Vineyard Vines clothes, their Jack Rogers sandals, a lightship basket purse and their fabulous straw hats–and hat boxes–from Peter Beaton. They were delighted to stop and pose for pictures, for they were modeling today, walking the streets among the tourists arriving on the ferries, passing out Peter Beaton business cards.Nantucket hat man's car

I knew about Peter Beaton, because I have seen his red classic convertible filled with distinctive black-and-white striped hatboxes every summer. Last summer, I finally found my way to his little shop down a garden path at the rear of a commercial lot in the historic district.

Today I was reminded not only of the hat man but also of all the children of Nantucket. Along with the island’s obvious philanthropy, the children were the first thing I noticed when I arrived two years ago. Driving up Main Street from the airport on a Sunday afternoon, I saw groups of children everywhere–little girls window-shopping, little boys on bikes and skateboard–no parents in sight. I immediately sensed that this must be (a) a remarkably safe place if parents let them roam free, and (b) a place where people return every summer, where children make friends.

Cheri shared her experience this morning. She was sitting on her balcony having coffee when a group of very young children on very small bikes raced by. She looked for parents behind them, but there were none. About 45 minutes later, the same children passed by again on their way back presumably to wherever they were staying. They had been turned loose on the streets a block from the ocean, perhaps to go buy homemade doughnuts at the Children’s Beach cafe.

Amazingly old-fashioned, safe, small-town America, a vanishing species.

Photo: I pixelated the girls’ faces in PicMonkey to protect their privacy. Though they gave permission for me to photograph them, their parents did not.