By Linda Nemeth
In the summer of 1953 my parents decided to take a 3700-mile road trip “back east” with my maternal grandmother, my brother and me in tow. This was at a time before super-highways, when one would drive across mountains on narrow roadways without guardrails, overlooking drop-offs of anywhere between one and six thousand feet or more. Most cars carried water bags strapped across their hood ornaments should the dreaded vapor-lock occur crossing the deserts or at very high altitudes. Air-conditioning was non-existent, so as my brother and I inched closer and closer to the open windows, there was the repeated reminder from our parents to keep our arms and heads inside the open window frame, so passing transfer trucks wouldn’t cut them off.
The constant twisting and winding along those roadways “wreaked” havoc for anyone who was susceptible to getting carsick. When possible, my father would quickly and patiently pull over to a slightly wider area in the road to accommodate the dozen or more episodes my grandmother and I would abruptly announce. One time in particular left a vivid visual memory, as my grandmother’s dentures, at one of those quick stops, were ejected with projectile force. It was the only time I remember laughing while feeling so ill.
The best part of this trip is my memory ofShelterIsland. Growing up inNorthern California, swimming was relegated to pools, lakes and rivers. I had never experienced swimming in an ocean or bay, as Pacific waters are so cold that it was a challenge to run into the surf and let the waves rush against your legs as long as possible before running out screaming from the icy cold and into a warm towel. It took a good ten minutes before the aching would leave your ankles and feet, and then of course, we would run back for more. The air, being dry and breezy was no help in the warm up process. Arriving onShelterIsland, we traveled to Louis’ (Crescent) Beach, where my mother, a native, aka. a “hairlegger”, and her extended family always congregated during the hot humid summers. The water was amazingly warm…and “swimmable”! Given little inflatable orange life preserver with which to swim, we were in our glory. The beach sand was so hot that one would have to run into the water just to have a comfortable and refreshing cool down.
Several of my mother’s relatives lived in different parts of the island and each day and night presented a different adventure. Seeing a stairway leading underground to a cellar was a little creepy and new to me since we had ranch houses without basements. Oh, but what relief from the heat! One afternoon some members of the family were fishing on a small pier and pulling up these strange creatures they called puff fish or blowfish. Incredibly, when they were released from the fishing lines and dropped onto the pier, they blew up to huge spiny balls flipping all around, while we ran and screamed in anticipation of one bumping into us. With no streetlights, the stars glowed brightly and fireflies lit up the lawns and wooded areas by the seeming millions. All of the cousins would run, their arms outstretched, trying to catch enough of these fascinating insects, to create a lantern in a bottle. The excitement was palpable. In the dark, we could all run barefoot and roll around carefree on the grass, at a time before the horrible tick infestations and Lymes Disease. Humidity held in the day’s heat, allowed everyone to enjoy the outdoors late into the evening without a sweater or even a long sleeved shirt. However, that same humidity was no comfort at bedtime. Familiar with climbing into bed at night and snuggling up under a blanket in a dry climate, it was quite a surprise to find my body sticking to the sheets and tossing off all of the covers.
One of my mother’s uncles had his home and restaurant, The Harbor Inn, together in one building. There were no other businesses there, just a lot of grassy land and a home or two nearby. The atmosphere was that of a large family dining room with many many tables and a bar to one side. After dinner all of the children just went outside to play without a fear. It is my understanding that this building still exists as a local gathering place.