by Michael R. Dickerson
Our community was wealthy with young ones in the 60’s. Everywhere you could turn bikes, ballgames and laughter pervaded. All those kids running around like a pack of wild Indians and not one had a lick of sense! We were blessed at that age, in that era, with mirthful, mischievous freedoms reminding me of days of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. “An adventure a day keeps the doldrums away”, Carleton Kelsey (village historian, librarian, teacher) would say after school or Saturday mornings at his library which was housed in a hundreds years oldNew EnglandCape. I loved the tiny, cosmopolitan reading house over which he kept vigil. He was reminiscent of caricatures of Old New Englanders as depicted in vintage films. His accent and affect were from a different place and time. He reminded me of Ethel Barrymore portraying an eccentric,New Englandspinster doling wit and wisdom with a Cheshire cat grin to young, impetuous and confused lovers. Her scene always ended with a close up of the ragged, worn face, still pixie like with amusement at her own process of thought and humor. Carleton had that. He too was amused with his own obtuse thoughts and how often they confounded people around him!
I went to visit because Carleton knew all the secrets and where the “bodies were buried”! He knew about my family tree (from the mid 1600’s), our history and generations of exploits. Stories of a family filled with “drunks, nuts and odd ducks”, were hurtful, embarrassing! Often disturbing and hard to hear, I did see many being true. He shared numerous wonderful, colorful stories of my loved ones. I laughed and concurred with his observations. Those tales were touched with a nod to the absurd. I perceived no malice in the telling; rather a childlike inability to censor. I seemed an “odd duck” and “ahead of my time”, to Carleton. I was openly pleased with that.
Free spirited and exuberant, my friends and I often ended in hot water for adventures borne of curiosity and creativity. Our imaginations and intellects were unbridled due to the vastness and nature of our liberties. Miraculously, I had been left in the charge of a Grandmother who loved and appreciated us as magical creatures. She took time to watch and listen. Understanding the nature of good old fashioned mischief, she added to it a healthy dose of encouragement. Nonsense was welcome if it was absent of malice. It was the 1960’s. Adults were behaving badly after all, so our innocent plundering was usually met with a chuckle and a wink by authority.
Summers on The South Fork, were uncharacteristically hot and arid during my childhood. TheGulf Stream, which vacillates East and West on its’ long journey North, had for some years clung closer to the East coast than usual. Due to the heat, school closed early this year. Boredom crept in and friskiness was on the rise.
Upon waking this Saturday, the sun shown already too powerfully, too early, and drew water from the earth as a fog, dense and steaming. Tommy, my affable and pleasant chum and I left our houses before adults and siblings reared. We tip toed out our back doors and set our courses for a day filled with activity and exploration. Separately, we traversed “the tracks”, a bed of ancient rotting timbers called railroad ties, on which two parallel steel rails carried trains for over one hundred miles. Glistening from decades of polishing, the weight and friction of wheels under engines and cars not only smoothed the steel but flattened and polished copper pennies often left on rails by local children. They became abstract works of art. Anticipation was dizzying as the whistle was heard from a mile away. It seemed a century as it eventually came into sight and slowly crawled into the station. The wheels halted, coming to rest on the coins. After the train pulled out, urchins scavenged wildly, scrambling to find their treasures. There was nothing neater than the medallions this formed. Some Dads drilled holes in them so their kids could wear them and show off.
Tommy and I often hiked to the rickety one lane bridge atMontauk HighwayandCranberry Hole Roadin Amagansett. We used the rails as a superhighway, traveling from Amagansett to Montauk andEast Hamptonon a whim. Dodging and tripping despite the regularity of their placement, it was not unusual to fall onto the ties and shred ones knees and hands on the jagged rocks below us. Periodically, we would happen upon a large, heavy spike among the debris which created this obstacle course beneath our feet. These spikes were considered cool, were esteemed and traded. Arriving early, we sat in the shade and trashed talked everyone from local police to teachers, family and friends. Even our reverend was not exempt. We expected several other “Intrepid Adventurers” (the name I had coined for our core group of active and creative oddballs) to join us. We waited quite a while. Maybe it was too early even for them.