Common Ground

Written By: Tom Gass

I like people who plant flowers between their hedge and the road, or rather, I imagine I would like them. In the curious migration that sometimes accounts for the modern settlement of what English pilgrims once called Good Ground, former monarchs flit from city skyscapes in order to cocoon within hedge-rows of crisp green leaves pinned to trimmed pricking twigs like crinkled sawbucks stuck to the tips of bayonets.

Few are ever met ambling beneath the pleach of dappled light in gatoring lanes. Fewer, walking the sun down the beach at Little Plains. But some few, thoughtful to cultivate high-mowing tufts of purple brachts, do extend an arching hand roadward in lavender and foxglove.

This place. This achingly lovely place at the earthly end of lengthy Long Island connects the mind to a community where wit would express the wisdom won of luck and effort. Here, conversation should tickle like the clear frizzant wine piped through the public fonts of Frascati. Here, experience should be shared and considered, in a manner that celebrates the concept of consideration whose root aims at something to do with stars. And here, “laughter” should be “learnt of friends” as was hoped and remembered by a boy who never reached our time of life.

Vainly I look for these friends in the commerce of reciprocal contributions to worthy causes sponsored by auld and new acquaintance (which lends a decidedly less than erotic meaning to the term: Friends with Benefits).

There, I find vanity — often in myself.

I find some who are not good company, thinking too much of having arrived, while forgetting that they are now what they have become while getting to where they were going.

And so, with a shoot of bobbing speargrass set in my back teeth; and so, ruminating upon the tides of accumulation and distribution — “such interchange of state . . . . increasing store with loss and loss with store” as observed in Shakespeare’s sonnet sixty four; I walk into a thrift shop in Hampton Bays.

There I do make a find.

The wristwatch bought that day was less valued because it was marred, inscribed on the back: E.W. Anibal from Class of 1948. I googled him. Earl Anibal won $75 at Hamilton College in 1907 for a paper on The Future of the Protective Tariff System in America. An Oral History Project posted the reminiscence of a man who, as a boy, came to know Mr. Anibal during the Great Depression. It happened when his parents lost the house and his father stayed behind to find work while his mother moved with the two children to relatives a hundred miles away. His sister had spent three years in a contraption called an iron lung and was wheelchair bound and so had not been allowed to attend the public school.

After dinner on that first night, he remembered, when interviewed at age 82, that his Aunt called the Supervising Principal, Mr. Anibal, and then put his Mother on the phone. “Well, it seems you have a problem on your hands,” she heard on the other end of the telephone. “You see it’s already late, and you’ve got to get your daughter to my school in time for her class at 9:00 in the morning.”

Mr. Anibal of course became a familiar sight to the family. He had a long neck with a large Adams apple and wore a bow tie. The elongated rectangular wristwatch probably suited him and the collection taken up by the high school seniors, who had been born in the first year of the terrible crash that rumbled through their childhoods, must have inspired full participation. It was a LaCoultre.

. . .

There should have been someone to give it to.

Maybe a teacher.

Maybe a young person who had caught a break.

Maybe someone who needed to be reminded to give a break to others.

And the more I thought about it . . . maybe there is something to be known about every man and every woman that would make this gift watch just right for him or just right for her.

And that’s what I’m looking for, through the hedge-row.