Down the Rabbit Hole
The 50th Dan’s Papers Anniversary issue took me down the rabbit hole of remembering years gone by on the East End and inspired me to write this story. I invite you to come along with me on my journey that starts by going back to the way it was in 1968.
This was another similarly controversial year. During the summer months we would drive to Shinnecock to escape the heat and find refuge from the turbulent times. Noisy window fans would wake us up at the break of dawn before we’d start packing for a day at the beach. Besides the ordinary beach supplies, there were sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper, cherries in Tupperware, homemade lemonade, paper cups, and napkins all packed in Scotch Koolers. However, the best meal of all was breakfast cooked on the beach! On our hibachi we’d fry bacon and eggs on folded tin foil with toasted English muffins and fresh perked coffee in our little coffee pot. We’d wait and watch the glass perking until it turned brown. All was prepared while the fishermen on the wharf were commenting and drooling.
Back then we were young enough to lug ALL the beach supplies to our blanket, so the trips back and forth from the car weren’t too strenuous. Besides, back in 1968 the Shinnecock Inlet had a tidal pool on the bay side that was ideal for mothers with young children. The kids would play in the shallow water and while we watched them we’d sit on the rocks to splash ourselves if it got too hot.
Once my young son found a twenty dollar bill in those rocks and he decided to buy a lobster at the fish market nearby. Unfortunately he choose to name it “Sammy” on the way home, so there were some tears and explaining to do before we could have a lobster dinner that night!
As my son got a bit older he loved to go fishing. He’d walk along the docks and make friends with the fishermen who were always impressed with aromas of our early breakfast feast. Sometimes we’d offer them a cup of coffee. They would give him pointers about the correct lures and bait to use for the fish that were running. Then we’d go into Cavanaugh’s to shop for these items to add to his tackle box. It was the equivalent of going to Toys R Us. (Wow, that’s changed too!)
Back then, Cavanaugh’s was a Shinnecock icon. His cedar shingled building defying years of sand blasting by storms. The interior décor was stuck in the 50’s with pine wood paneling and a fireplace that warmed us on cold damp days. The same dusty figurines were displayed on the mantel year after year, and a payphone was available just in case you needed to call someone. Mr. Cavanaugh was elderly then and forever it seemed. He was a ladies man and I think he had a crush on my Mom. He’d wink at her and flirt, but she thought he did that to every woman. We always felt obligated to buy something in his store or restaurant because back then he had the only bathroom for miles around!
Time passed and my son became quite a good swimmer thanks to my Mom. She was a strong ocean swimmer and taught him a respect for the sea currents. I, on the other hand never learned to swim very well. I was too old when I did live near the ocean. She would take me out into the waves and hold my hands while we’d jump under or over them. That’s about all I had the courage to do. I would watch them swim alongside the wharf after she instructed my son not to go beyond the pole that marked the channel to the inlet. I think that pole is still there. For me weekends at Shinnecock at the oceanside beach were easier – less packing, basking in the sun, and more beachcombing.
Now, 50 years, later the Shinnecock parking lot is built on fill where our tidal pool once was. Kids are taught not to talk to strangers, and playing games on cell phones is more fun than fishing. We’ve learned that basking in the sun causes skin cancer, and beachcombing often consists of hospital debris finds, or other litter. The fog horn still blast on foggy days and the wharf still extends on both sides of the canal. More fishermen crowd the wharf eagerly wanting to catch fish for their dinner. Parking spaces are limited now and folks have a hard time accessing the beach without municipal permits, or membership’s private beaches. Payphones are nonexistent as everyone has a cell phone.
The amount of beach between the waves and the road comes and goes depending on the weather. The wind might blow sand so hard that it covers sections of Dune Road. Sometimes there might not be much beach at all, or the steep cliffs make it too difficult to get the shore. The Shinnecock Inlet endures, and the beach erodes in spite of the Army Corp of Engineers attempts to change nature’s course.
Cavanaugh’s ghost haunts this end of Dune Road. Now it’s a young adult party place with loud music drowning out the sounds of the sea. Dan pointed out many places that have survived on the East End within 50 years in his anniversary issue. I can still drive out to the East End and reminisce. Silver’s is still there, although they no longer sell cigars and magazines, but they still serve the best clam chowder ever. The great grandson of the original Ukrainian owner runs the business now. I remember talking with his great grandfather about traditional Ukrainian recipes as we share the same ancestral background.
The New Moon Café in East Quogue was an Italian restaurant that we’d occasionally stop in for dinner after a beach day. We’d eat outside on their deck under a grapevine arbor. My son would tease my Mom with the tiny green inch worms swinging from their webs under the vines. She would yell and jump off her chair, terrified of bugs, and we’d all laugh.
Remember Gene’s Famous Sausage and Pepper Hero’s on Montauk Highway? The building is still there. Every time I drive by I remember the long lines of folks standing outside in the hot sun waiting for their order. I can smell them now on the grill. There was something special about that bread that made them so popular. I guess just like “Cronuts” they lost their popularity, or did something happen to the owner?
My Mom has passed away, and my son is now a grown man who gave me a granddaughter who is now in college on a swimming scholarship. Life goes on. Some things change, and some things remain the same for those lucky enough to enjoy the East End, but our memories last forever.