1900….”A Moment in Time”

Written By: Edith Lester  Smith

The year 1900, a baby boy is born in Amagansett; on the north side of the Highway, just as you enter the Hamlet of Amagansett from Pantigo. The house sits back from the road on a long piece of land. Smoke curls from the chimney as the fireplace tries to keep the house warm. Mother and Father keep the children in the two front rooms so they stay warm. Father has been up early, he put more wood in the fireplace before the children are awake. They sleep snuggled, a few children to each old metal bed, mattresses made of feathers and handmade quilts piled on; they are nice and warm.

Mother has nursed the baby and gets ready to start another cold day. She opens the family bible and writes his name, William Joseph Lester; born January 30, 1900.

The old cook stove is stoked up nice and hot. The bacon sizzles, rendering its fat and is browning up nice. The children are hungry and the men will be in soon for a hot breakfast. She uses bacon fat and fries bread, there is beach plum jelly and the children eat their bread with smiles on their faces. The small shack sits in the back yard, the bait shanty, a small wood stove in one corner. Cod fish tubs stacked outside, waiting for their turn to be filled. The men in the shanty sit on wooden crates made from old fish boxes, cigars in their mouths, the smoke travels up around their heads. The smoky bait shanty, is warm and out of the harsh winter day. This morning he will open the skimmers they dug yesterday afternoon, so they can bait cod fish gear later. Large fish hooks loaded with bait are attached to the twine. The twine is placed in a circle, round and round the tub until it is full. Father gets a hook in his finger. Blood is all over, he snips the barb off the large hook and pulls it through his finger. He wraps a handkerchief around his bleeding finger and continues to bait the gear. They are a tough bunch of men but soft and good natured.

It’s early morning just before sunrise, they head to the ocean. The weather is clear, not much of a surf on, they have good weather to fish for the cod. They launch their small dory into the dark winter sea, sprays from the crashing wave’s freezes as it hits their faces. As they row the twine is set. Icicles hang from the brims of their hats, their noses and eyelashes frozen from the sprays of the winter sea. With a little luck and with Gods wish they will have a few cod to ship to market, not to mention fried cod fish with boiled potato for dinner. The cold months pass and its early spring, a time that the haul seine net will be strung across the yard to be mended, a new bunt is being sewn in. The men work swiftly and with the skill of a seamstress to repair and create a work of art; the haul seine.

The boat, a small dory is painted and the spring fishing will begin. The team is hooked up and the boat is loaded on a wagon to travel the mile and a half to the beautiful almost untouched shore of the Atlantic Ocean. It will be placed in the sand waiting for the men to load the net the next morning and push it off into the cold spring water of the sea.

Spring fishing, the crisp fresh smell of the salty ocean air. You can smell the bluefish that are almost jumping out of the surf, weakfish and yes striped bass. Haul seining has been a way of life for generations. It’s 4:30am and the team is hitched to the wagon, the haul seine was loaded on the wagon, as soon as they finished mending it the afternoon before.

Father feeling in a very happy mood that spring is here and the nets are ready to go. He stops and picks a wild flower and puts it in the lapel of his jacket. As the men arrive to hit the beach, he is razzed by them about his flower. Captain Posey; father’s new nick name is born that very early spring morning. The men climb on the wagon and they are off on the first day of this seasons fishing. The sun slowly starts to rise in the east, another beautiful day on the east end, in Gods’ Country.

The men rush to load the net into the waiting boat. The set is running to the east and there is a good swell on the sea. Skills handed down from generation to generation and not known to many. The dory is pushed into the surf.  The men jump into the dory, it’s timed to the second,  the oars are set and they are off rowing into the ocean in the early morning light, the sky and water aglow with the orange and yellow of a new day.

The boat rows back near the shore, the net all set in a large horseshoe shape, they wait for the swell of the next wave and ride it to shore on the sandy beach. The boat is pulled up on the beach. The net is slowly pulled in, hand over hand. The current pulling and pushing it, with help from horses, the net arrives on shore. The bag closing up on the school of blue fish. There will be something to ship to Fulton Market on the next train to the city.

The flies buzz around the yard, nets are drying and fragments of fish attract the flies. The summer is here and the small hamlet of Amagansett is stirring with summer guests arriving daily from the hot city. The boarding houses are full. A young girl with a horse and wagon picks up a load of visitors and takes them to the ocean for a fee of 10 cents. Bathhouses have been freshly painted and our summer guests will change into their swim dresses and swim trunks. Umbrellas line the beach with a splash of color.

The fishermen continues his trade with the horse, wagon and dory, on the beach, in the middle of the summer guests. They all watch with interest. They are all in hopes of fresh fish for their dinner at the boarding houses in town. Life is good. Mother with help of the older children, tends the small garden. The tomatoes are ripe and it is time to get full use of the summer kitchen. Mother blanches the tomatoes and peels them. They are placed in jars and set into a water bath to seal them on the hot stove. Mother has been busy the last few days, mustard pickles, beach plum jelly, and canned tuna. It will be a long winter so lots to canning to do. As soon as the mess is cleaned up, the laundry that was washed and hung out earlier that morning to dry, needs to be bought in and folded. The baby cries, mother must stop to feed her child.

Years pass, William has grown; his father has taught him and his brothers everything they needs to know about their way of life on the west end of Amagansett. The nick name Father was given years before remains strong. The Posey Boys of Amagansett, the most famous of all the surf men on the east End of Long Island. William had many brothers and sisters, 11 all together a very large brew of children. They all grew up and worked in the west end of Amagansett on the little road Cross Highway. AKA: “Poseyville”. William is teaching his sons. The cycle has gone on for years, the ocean has treated the surf men well, these men are truly the finest kind.

The Year 2015, a baby boy is born. The ocean and bays of the East End of Long Island are still there with the power and bounty that they hold. No more do they set the cod fish gear in the cold winter sea, no more do they push the dory into the sea. A way of life destroyed by rules and regulation, by the big politicians and sport fishermen that felt it was their right to the stripers.

The young boy hears of the old ways and dreams of launching the dory into the surf. The summer guests still arrive by the thousands. The beaches are so crowded. The beautiful untouched beaches of yesteryear only a memory in the stories that were passed down.