Christmas at the Point – A personal memoir of John Sheehan as retold by his daughter
Christmas at the Point A Personal Memoir of John Sheehan as retold by his daughter, Catherine Battista. “Oh by gosh by golly,” the radio sings. “Another Christmas without Molly,” I think bitter sweetly, rhyming in my mind as an olde holiday favorite fills the cab of my car. I wake up that morning full of anxious energy. I jump into my 1969 Dodge Dart and gun it for East Hampton – my breath blowing clouds of icy smoke in the early morning December air. My mechanic, the “Great” John Salemmo, said that her body might fall off bit by bit – but the slant 6 engine would run forever. A bit like me, I guess. Body keeps falling off but my engine just keeps running. December 25, 1977 and there is only one other car on the ferry with me. I spot the driver – a pretty New York actress hopeful named Nancy Lepp. We start chatting and I bring her a beer right out of the cooler from the trunk of my car. “A little early for Bitsburger, isn’t it?” she says with a smile. But we each pour our beers into a plastic red cup and drink anyway, enjoying the moment and relishing the stillness of the early morning. “Season’s greetings and cheers!” we both practically shout with an uncanny giddiness as we watch the shoreline come into view. My cooler is nearly full of Bitsburgers but there is still enough room for a roast chicken and a ring of shrimp for later. As there should be. I camp out on the East Hampton beach for most of the day. It is freezing but I don’t care. I drink the beers slowly and savor the salty flavor of the shrimp on my lips. I suck on the chicken bones. As the sun sinks into the sea, the ocean waves conduct a symphony that I could listen to forever. I wake up, wrapped in a warm sleeping bag. At some point in the night, I must have retrieved it from the Dodge. Or perhaps some angel took pity on me while passing on by. I take a slow stroll along the beach and watch the sun come up – small and pink in the gray Long Island sky. I drive around for a while until I spot a fancy hotel. I only have a few dollars in my pocket but I decide to try and snag a room. It’s the off season and maybe there will be space for a poor artist like me. By some miracle, the hotel concierge takes pity on me and I am escorted to a large well-furnished room with a walk out deck and a view of the ocean. For the first time since the war ended, I feel a moment of peace. I notice some fisherman out on the shore hauling in their catch. I go down to them and trade some of the remaining beer for fresh clams. I buy a bag of pretzels, some mango juice and a little knob of rum from a gas station. I sit out on the deck of my room and scoop snow into another red cup. I pour the rum and mango juice on top, munch pretzels and slurp up clams – raw from the shell. I let the cold wash over me. I feel alive. My mind starts to wander back to my Catholic school days in Brooklyn – when life’s biggest challenges were remembering the Latin words for Mass, keeping my baseball glove properly oiled, and not staring too much at Maryann O’Connor in her tight green uniform. I sit outside until the sun goes down. I try not to think about tomorrow. I pour some more rum into my cup. Perhaps if I drink long enough, everything painful will go away and everything perfect about this place will remain. I see a paint chip that has flaked off from the railing onto the deck. I pick it up and put it into my pocket and for some reason, find comfort in knowing that it is there. I doze off and when I wake up, I spot the lighthouse on Montauk Point. The light passes on and off across the Atlantic – a guide for sailors hundreds of years ago. I watch the silent hum of the light as it spins across the sea, calling men home. I no longer feel drunk as I watch it. I close my eyes and pray. Drawn by the light from the Point, I pack up my things and head to my car. I drive back to the city. Resolved. Ready. It’s time to go home.