Plunging Into The Atlantic With Joe Biden

Nov 9, 2020

For some reason, I enjoy diving into frigid water in winter.

Ten years ago, I was on Nantucket for Thanksgiving, visiting a friend. She mentioned the annual Cold Turkey Plunge to benefit the library, and I was all in.

My friend said that people dress up in goofy costumes to race into the water, so I packed a plush turkey hat that I happened to have.

Sure enough, when we arrived at the plunge, there was a crowd of people in costume. I remember one family dressed as characters from the Wizard of Oz. The dad was Dorothy, complete with pigtails and beard.

I popped on my turkey hat and lined up. That’s when I noticed a couple of men near me. They weren’t whooping and hollering like everyone else, and they appeared unusually intent.

When someone next to me called out, “Mom — could you hold my towel?” I turned to see a woman I recognized. It was Jill Biden. Beau Biden was the towel-passer, and we got to talking. I asked him when he was going to run for national office, and he smiled. Then we exchanged emails.

And those serious guys? They were Secret Service surrounding Vice President Joe Biden, who was chatting and laughing with locals. Residents knew the Bidens frequently spent Thanksgiving on Nantucket, and enjoyed a friendly rapport.

When the signal came, we threw off bathrobes and splashed into the water. I lost track of the Bidens and the Secret Service. It was all a rush of cold salt water and adrenaline.

Later that weekend, we stopped into a neighborhood restaurant for lunch. Who should be at an adjoining table? The Bidens.

Although I felt we now had a bond, I didn’t intrude. They were obviously enjoying each other and a shared plate of french fries. But when they finished and got up to leave, Beau noticed me and winked.  

Funny thing: For such a frigid event, the Turkey Plunge will always remind me of the warmth of that family. Their naturalness with each other, their easy way of talking to people, and their delight in plunging into the Atlantic that cold November day with the simple, uncomplicated joy of being alive.

Martha Ackmann is a writer who lives in Leverett, Massachusetts. Her latest book is "These Fevered Days: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson."