By Violet Turner
Joe and I drive downSouthampton’sMeadow Laneso I can show him where the poet lives. Before we get there we see a boardwalk meandering through the marsh out to a small bayside beach. Joe hurries towards the water; I am captivated by a dense thicket of jade leaves offering up abundant clusters of beach plum blooms. Pitch pine branches intertwine, their hardy needles competing with darting dragon flies urgently coupling. We’ve been talking art all day, and I try to frame this image into a still life, but the dragonflies are too frenetic to be contained even by my imagination.
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I moved toLong Islandwhen I was eight, forced fromBrooklynby the division of what my mother called her “mismarriage.” The summer of 1965 we journeyed past the “Big Trees” on Southern State toSayville. Harry, my one armed grandfather, puffed on his stubby Phillies Perfecto cigar and sang Irish folk songs, his pale blue eyes dancing mischievously about. My grandmother, Violet, for whom I was named, stared stoically ahead.
I was lost. Terrified at night by maniacal buzzing in the black woods behind my grandparent’s house, I’d burrow deep within my blankets. “Crickets,” my mother said. “Their song is good luck, but don’t kill one—it’ll turn all your luck bad.” When she saw my expression she added: “You should be happy you’re living in the country. It’s safe, not likeBrooklyn.”
I wasn’t fooled. Summers past, my sisterCandiaand I would scoop and fling jellyfish at each other at Blue Point’s Corey Beach. The player stung most, lost. Those “healthy days in the sun” left us so burned we’d compare pieces of peeled skin to see whose was largest. Safe?
It pained my mother that she’d unwisely chosen our father; she needed to convince us—and herself—that our displaced lives were better now than before. But mine wasn’t. I’d been content sitting on our brownstone stoop, staring at the one tree that quietly grew from a circle in the sidewalk.
During heat waves,Candiaand I crossedWinthrop Streetto PS 92’s playground, where a stone monument blasted water so that all the neighborhood kids could cool off together.Long Island’s alternative was individual sprinklers, swaying finely fanned sun-shower streams onto soft, sodded lawns. Undeniably,Brooklyn’s excited throngs were certain to send someone hurtling to the cement, but those skinned knees were expected.Long Island’s variation was insidiously deceptive. Lulled into complacency, one random step and a yellow jacket’s venom would pulse into my foot. Chattering trees, menacing insects, soulless nights on silent streets. I was living in hell.
Then, in the midst of despair, Grandpa would announce: “We’re going toSouthampton.” Each spring, as theHamptontourist season budded,Candia, Grandpa, and I drove my grandmother to theIrvingHotel, where she remained for weeks “doing the books.” As soon as she disappeared into the elegant, white vestibule, our fun began.
We might continue east toMonumentPark.Candiawould stand on the small hill, between the real cannons, leading her troops to victory. I’d follow the thick black chain around the park’s periphery—hypnotized by the pattern of the links, intimidated by its weight, but intrigued too. When I asked Grandpa the chain’s purpose, he enigmatically answered: “Slaves made it.” A different time he said it secured a ship’s anchor. Both answers led me into labyrinthine musings.
Another favorite was “the statues” in Westhampton. Casa Basso’s dirt parking lot was a curious sort of playground. There were the two towering Musketeers, stabbing skyward; the golden lion; a lady in a bird bath, a bird perched on her finger. The statue that most fascinated me was hidden down a gully. Obscured by ivy and brambles, a half-naked man held a bare breasted woman in chains. I’d stare, as if my intensity would lead them to divulge their story.
Then we’d go crabbing. Grandpa stored metal cages in the trunk—and we’d inch ourselves down a precarious cliff to the water. Standing on a sliver of land, we’d bait the traps and wait. I’d name my crabs and make up stories about them, but during the exhausted trek home, I’d suffer knowing my new friends would be boiled alive for dinner.
Occasionally, we’d detour downMontauk Highway, past the Shinnecock Indian Reservation—to a real tepee. Candiaenthusiastically ran in and out of it, over and over; I followed, bewildered.