Amphibians on the Beach
Amphibians on the Beach by Linda Pashley Murray (July 12, 2013) Not all early English immigrants arrived in New York first. Some took off for the Caribbean, settling in Barbados first. Such were the ancestors of Errol Watts and Laurie Gooding. The two restless young men would leave Barbados and travel to Ellis Island and move to Brooklyn NY around 1918 in hopes of making their fortune. They married sisters and started their families. They served in the United States military. They got jobs, bought houses and became citizens. Their children married and soon Errol had grandchildren. But something was missing. They missed the clear salty sea breezes, the sun on their backs and the sand beneath their feet. So they took the family for a Sunday drive all the way out to Montauk Point to see the lighthouse and to picnic at Hither Hills State Park. They just loved it. They loved it so much and having that adventurous entrepreneurial spirit, they thought other people might like to visit it too. There were few places to stay out on the beach other than camping at Hither Hills. So they pooled their savings, kept working, pooled some more savings, kept working and around 1951, they purchased acreage in Amagansett from Montauk Highway south all the way to the ocean. And as was customary with houses and property in England and Barbados, their dream property was named -Sea Crest. Building the original Sea Crest motel became a family endeavor, and week ends and vacations were spent by Errol, Laurie, their wives Iris and Elma, their children and their spouses, now grown and married, and a couple of grandchildren in this endeavor. While this work occurred there was only one place to stay for us-the pristine and isolated beach. What a glorious time this was especially for us kids. The only thing you saw was ocean, sand and seagulls, the fisherman and trawlers passing on the horizon, the dunes. That was it. There were few people and even fewer houses. All the men had done their military service and were quite familiar with the equipment, so they provided us with the greatest tents and camping equipment that Army/Navy salvage could provide. This is where my story begins. You see, I was Errol Watts first born granddaughter and so at the ripe old age of about five I made the journey with my parents and other cousins all the way out to Montauk from our post- war Levitt house in Wantagh, N.Y. We did this almost every weekend and holiday and vacation while they were working on “the motel”. What a truly glorious time for us kids. We woke up excited and anxious to start out. Mom and Dad had packed up the old Buick the night before and I was already dressed in my bathing suit, sweat shirt and sneakers. I could not wait to get there. We fell asleep and woke up when Dad called out ”Hey, kids, THE BIG DUCK” We woke up looked out the window at that amazing Big Duck and knew we were half way there. The next sign we were getting closer was the sighting of old windmills, then a big dark green pond and finally those glorious twin radio towers which meant we were five minutes away from The BEACH!! We put our stuff in the big musty smelling Army tent, had some breakfast and then we kids ran off into the water and down the beach and the adults got to work on the motel. That day was magnificent. We could go in the water (“Watch out for the undertow”). The waves were perfect for body surfing- crystal clear yellow –green, and warm, and nothing but blue sky. There were shells and driftwood for the picking and great sandcastles to build and dunes to explore. We got whistled back to camp for a delightful light lunch of homemade ham and cheese sandwiches, oranges and Cokes. The adults went for a refreshing swim and took us out past the waves and over our heads and then we all road the waves back in. We kids learned to swim in those Amagansett waves and had no fear. At dusk the sunsets was memorable (“look how big and red the sun is”). This was the time to rest, have some ginger ale (the adults added a little Mount Gay) and read a book or play checkers on the blanket. The men got a little mock cricket game going and the women got the burgers, and beans and potato salad ready. The corn and potatoes were wrapped in foil and thrown into the fire. After dinner we broke out the marshmallows and put them on the end of long sticks (“Blow on it or you will burn your mouth”). Soon it was got dark and the waves were lapping quietly at the shore (“Hey look that’s the Big Dipper”). Dad would move us kids to the kid tent and as we snuggled into our Army surplus sleeping bags we drifted peacefully (“Move over, you are on my side”) to sleep. “ HOLY HELL!! THEY ARE LANDING ON THE BEACH!! THE AMPHIBIANS ARE LANDING!! GET THE KIDS OFF THE BEACH!!” We got dragged out of our sleeping bags and half carried and half dragged up to the safety of the dunes. The men were running toward the ocean flapping their arms and trying to wave off what ever “the amphibian” creatures were. The younger kids asked me if I knew what monster amphibian creatures were. I said “No”. But whatever it was must be dangerous and eat kids or something. We stayed in the dunes and watched. Some uniformed soldier looking people were yelling at the men and the men were yelling back and these huge tank- looking things were crawling out of the ocean onto the beach, feet from our camp. When everyone, soldiers and family members alike, got over their shock and awe, the tanks began rolling down the beach away from our camp. Then we were called down from our hiding place in the dunes. In the morning there was no trace of the amphibians except for a few tracks into the sea. The next day we learned that out the Army was running amphibious landing exercises and picked our strip of beach as the perfect spot. They did not know we were there and we certainly did not know they were coming. That was one of the best, most exciting and most memorable times we kids ever had out there. Except for the time in 1954 when Hurricane Carol put the fish in the dunes, but that is another story. Post script-The family members owned, ran and improved The Sea Crest until 1983 when it was sold to new owners.