Blue Water Sunrise
As long as I can remember the East End has drawn me to it like a huge magnet. Its seaside villages, picturesque bays and powdery ocean beaches may beckon throngs of visitors, but it has always been its feeling of home that keeps calling me. Back in the 70’s I recall reading an article by an author, today unknown, who described receiving a peaceful, euphoric feeling every time he passed over the Shinnecock Canal.
My first memories of the area bring me back to a trip made to my grandparents’ dairy farm in Sag Harbor. My father’s 1955 Buick carried our family over the terrain from our home in Queens, through Nassau County via Sunrise Highway and out past the pine barrens of Suffolk County. I was usually asleep pretty soundly by the time we passed through Valley Stream. Upon waking up some 85 miles further east, the sights, sounds and smells were distinctly different. Instead of the raucous blaring of car horns and dizzying bus fumes, the smell of fresh cut hay, cow manure, and honeysuckle permeated the salt air. My grandmother’s kitchen greeted us with the pleasant aroma of fresh baked cakes, breaded pork chops and fresh-cut cucumbers hand-picked from the garden.
The farm complete with Holstein cows in pasture, a tethered bull in another field, and a long barn with tractors outside was a kid’s idyllic dream. I’d pretend to help my grandfather work in the barn and listened intently of stories about cowboys who would drive each willing farmers’ cattle for a fee out to the cooler, lush green pastures in Montauk for the hot summer months. Each cow was earmarked prior to the long drive east so it was easily identified when returning again in November. I can remember commenting frequently to my grandparents that “I want to be a farmer, too!”
During the mid-1960’s Sag Harbor seemed like a lonely ghost town, especially during the winter months. Heading over the North Haven Bridge with the huge, blue gas ball and marina as landmarks, a lone pedestrian would be seen moving in slow motion across Main Street. I later became intrigued while visiting the Whaling Museum. Its huge whalebone entrance and black try pots outside seemed interesting enough, but at the time still thought of whales as fish and not mammals. Even on weekdays just about everything in town seemed to shut down early and sleep seemed to come early out east, right after the evening news. In those days the only TV stations that came in were WTIC-3 and WTNH-8 from up in Connecticut, blaring out the names of towns never visited such as Hamden, Hartford, Meriden and New London. I was used to watching all of the NYC stations in Port Jefferson, so just having two stations to choose from on a 13 inch black & white TV seemed downright depressing. Watching the deer come out of the woods at dusk was much more exciting, each looking like one of many silent soldiers awaiting the start of a battle.
Before heading east, my father and I would usually stop at TSS to pick up hooks, snap-swivels, and sinkers. Already in the car and sitting ready for action were two prized fishing rods and reels. Five hours later we’d be pulling in flounder and blowfish from the Long Wharf, where over one-hundred years before whaling ships pulled up after hunting deep sea leviathans. To this day, I still get the urge to hum the words to “Brandy” by the Looking Glass every time I’m in this nautical nook of the village.
No trip out east would have been complete without first stopping at the fishing boat tied up next to the Shinnecock Canal to buy some clams, flounder and an eel. A weathered older man with a well worn fishing cap would weigh each item and then place them in a brown paper bag for the short ride to Sag Harbor. Driving toward North Haven the sunlight flickered through a thick canopy of green trees, huge trunks of which held the story of long ago when an earlier generation may have climbed their lower branches. Nearing our destination we pulled into the familiar, long driveway with weathered stones of quartz, granite and gneiss crunching beneath, and followed the weathered fence posts stretched with rusted barbed wire to the back door.
Often we’d take a drive out to Montauk where signs at Gosman’s Dock announced deep-sea charters for the Cricket II and Monster Fishing. In later years later I’d spend hours of time fishing on one of the Viking Fleet’s vessels looking to bring in the pool winner of the day. Rounding the point at Montauk, one could only think of early sailing vessels en route to Sag Harbor, full of sailors from around the world and the items they brought with them such as scrimshaw and other items from faraway. On Friday night, we’d watch from the expansive front porch of the farmhouse, complete with white wicker chairs, the endless parade of cars rushing in blurred fashion toward the South Ferry. On Sunday afternoon, the direction of cars reversed as they’d make their return trip from Shelter Island to points further west. It would soon be time to leave and say goodbye. My grandmother would flick the back porch light off in repetition as we headed down the driveway. After finally edging southward on Ferry Road I would exclaim “Watch out for deer!” as the car headed off into the darkness of the night.
A stop at the Oasis adjacent to Long Beach to pick up a pack or two of Lucky Strikes and a pack of Mary-Jane candies was ritual, before rounding the corner at Lenny’s Casino (later the Salty Dog). The whoosh of each passing car seemed somewhat tranquilizing. Again, I would usually be asleep by the time we went through Hampton Bays, waking up face down with the pattern of the Ford Galaxie 500’s back seat ingrained on my cheek, soaked in sweat and wanting to get into my waiting bed.
As a kid, spending summers in the Hamptons was always fun, crammed with endless days at the beach with WLNG blasting from an eight transistor RCA radio, humid nights eating cotton candy at fire department carnivals and trips to the 5 & 10 variety store for new flip-flops or a toy boat for the beach. A special treat was heading out to the Bridgehampton Drive-In for a double-feature. Once there and set up with a scratchy sounding car speaker, the next 3½ hours consisted of rolling the car windows up and down to either fight a fogged up windshield or an over abundance of gnats and mosquitoes.
One summer I spent a month as a camper out at St. Regis Camp in Northwest Harbor. Playing sports during the day, row boating and watching movies at night after canteen were all great fun. At night we’d watch the sun go down over the Peconic Bay and later read comic books with our flashlights. Years later, we’d head out on campouts to nearby Cedar Point Park, enjoying swimming, fishing, and exploring the beach near the old lighthouse.
The new found freedom of riding my silver ten-speed from Southampton to Sag Harbor provided for a great time to explore the less traveled back roads of the Hamptons. These blacktop pathways provided postcard-like scenes of rows of corn, potato fields, grazing cattle and stationary tractors waiting in the distance for a future harvest. Along the way, hilly asphalt roads lead past the Bridgehampton Race Circuit, small cottages and cabins, and finally a superette almost sitting out on the long and winding Noyac Road.
Many years later while biking past Long Beach in late summer, I overheard a conversation between a young boy with blonde hair and his mother as they were walking back to their car. The boy was reluctantly being pulled away from the beach by his mother’s arm, his hand tightly gripping a yellow beach pail and shovel. He asked if they could come back again tomorrow. His mother replied hesitantly “Yes we have to leave now, but will come back again soon. Maybe…well maybe tomorrow.” By the look on the kids face that answer was good enough for him. The sun was setting fast over Noyac Bay and the sky was forecasting fare weather for the following day.
All that remains are sometimes creased square Kodachrome photos of all those sunny, summer days gone by, their hues of greens and blues fading fast. The smiles and laughter of family reunions, barbeques and beach parties remain as great, yet distant memories of the past.
Out in the Hamptons there is always a great sunset on the horizon with a blue water sunrise soon to follow. It still keeps calling me home.