By Diane Jeffrey
In 1951 the war was well behind us and at five years old I barely knew that it had occurred, if not through vague references by grownups of my father who had served in the Army Air Corps as a B24 radar man and was inevitably shot down and became a POW in Germany. Dad was forty one when I was five having enlisted at the late age of thirty two, leaving his role as head of household for his sisters and a new wife. Three younger brothers were fighting in the Pacific and Europe. They and his country needed his help and unlike so many wartime families, all four returned from WWII without a scratch and his marriage to my mother, at times thrived and always endured, for sixty three years until his death at the age of ninety five.
Flying! What was it that permeated my father’s being to the extent that no sooner than he returned from the war, surviving a burning and plummeting bomber, he began to rent and fly small planes from Spring Valley, New York exploring the Hudson River valley and then, prophetically and fortunately, Long Island? On a clear spring day, he and a friend rented a single engine sea plane and flew eastward across the Hudson, to Long Island Sound and then hooked around Orient Point to fly over and see for the first time, Gardiners and Great Peconic Bays. They were stunned by the bucolic beauty of the lush farmland and shorelines weaving intricate patterns of inlets, creeks and natural harbors. The unspoiled and uninhabited Robins Island appeared beneath them and just as they were gazing at the array of wildlife, the plane’s engine sputtered and died.
The flyers immediately turned from aviating sightseers to trained pilots and within seconds “dumped” the plane safely in Great Peconic Bay, a half mile from shore and ironically what is Mattituck’s tiny airport. This time however, my father knew as they were going down, that he was soon to be in paradise, not prison camp. Climbing from the cockpit onto the pontoons, they spotted a boy on the beach and urgently yelled “Help, Help!” The kid looked back at them and shouted “Get off and walk. It’s low tide and up to your knees.” When later recounting the story my father said “Boy, did we feel stupid.”
This was the discovery of Mattituck and Marratooka Point, where my parents rented and eventually purchased from Parker Wickham, one of the eight cottages which stand, now precariously, on a spit of sand bordered by Deep Hole Creek and Great Peconic Bay. It is the haven where I have spent all or part of every summer with the other Point families now in our fourth generation, some of us living as far as Chicago and Boston, and others maintaining their winter homes in Mattituck a mile away.
Not much has changed in sixty years and we hope that it remains so. Vineyards were once potato fields, gin martinis and rye manhattans have evaporated, replaced by wine or vodka and time spent for some of us is less frequent. But our memories remain as vivid as the sunsets when we as children, not consumed as is our fourth generation with organized activities, would spend ten hours a day in a dingy or sailboat, exploring creeks and climbing the dunes on Robins Island. We would eventually succumb to our hunger and then into a boat induced, rocking slumber as the sun set over Deep Hole, and would awaken to it rising from the bay in gargantuan splendor, never tiring of this sacred summer ritual.
The simplistic summer life and friendships that are Marratooka Point remain steadfast and true. And as we, in the second and third generations, often lift our glasses at sunset, (mine a chilled Beefeater martini), I give a silent tribute to my father’s ashes in Great Peconic Bay. “Thanks Dad. I too am in heaven. I am in Mattituck”.