Going Up Street
There were city kids and there were local kids and we played together during summers on the North Fork. There wasn’t much difference between us, except we’d say we’re going to the village, to the dock, to the beach, wherever, and they’d say they were going up street. We lived at the end of a lane in Southold, so most of the places we went to were up the street. It was logical, except my brothers and I were from Queens and we hardly knew what was up and what was down; we were told to stay off the street. Eventually we learned to say it their way.
Summers in the fifties on the North Fork were a kids’ paradise. The moms’ mantra was get out of the house and don’t come back ’til supper. What kid would say no to that? In the morning, my two brothers and I would get together with the other kids on the lane and decide the plan for the day. Say it was a trip to Goose Bay to fish from the wooden bridge that crossed over the creek.
First we had to catch the bait. Two kids holding each end of a towel and dragging it through the water could nab enough minnows for an entire day of fishing. Some days the boys decided to dig for worms, but that was the day I would peel mussels off the pilings and use them instead. No threading wet, squirmy worms on a hook for this city girl.
We’d tuck a peanut butter and jelly sandwich under the jar of bait, tie a fishing rod across the handle bars and ride up street. I never remember carrying anything to drink. On the way, we’d work our bike wheels to and fro, and crunch armies of potato bugs as they crossed the roads from one field to another. I remember how the bridge smelled when we arrived: melted tar mixed with damp seaweed and wet marsh.
It was a given that anyone fishing off the bridge reeled in hard when boats passed under. The bridge was narrow so you’d press your tummy against the rail. Passing cars, would slow down to ask what we were catching. It was usually porgy or sea robin. One hard and fast rule was to clean the fish before we brought them home. The lawns around Goose Creek are green to this day from all the fish heads we tossed on them.
Our lane was full of boys, so sometimes they’d plan something I didn’t like. They’d go after squirrels with BB guns, or hunt pheasant with bows and arrows. I’d stay behind and make dolls out of shells and pipe cleaners. Of course that violated the get out of the house rule, so I’d be sent up street on my bike to mail a letter at the post office, or maybe, if the farmer had plowed the potatoes in the neighboring field, I’d be given a bag to fill with the tiny ones that slipped through the plow. Often I’d grab a towel and a Nancy Drew mystery and go to the beach by myself.
Sometimes the plan was for all of us to spend the day at the beach. A towel, a sandwich and a tire tube were all the accouterments we needed. If we were lucky, someone rolled down a big tractor tube. We’d jump off the dock and race to the raft, chase horseshoe crabs, and have seaweed fights while ducking behind our tubes. We were never given spending money, so we collected bottles for the deposit and saved for an occasional hot dog at the concession stand or ice cream at the drug store up street. The second part of the moms’ mantra was you never eat out. There weren’t many places to eat out anyway. The only pizza available was the frozen kind in the supermarket.
On rainy days we’d set up in the garage and make boats out of wooden orange crates. Finally realizing they always sank, we switched to making rabbit traps out of the crates – the kind you prop up and stick a carrot into. I don’t know what we would have done if we’d actually caught a rabbit.
Sometimes when it rained we’d go to the big town – Riverhead. It had a movie theater and a five and dime with a counter. This was the rare occasion in which we were allowed to eat out. Still, we didn’t like rainy weather. We knew the bay would be full of jellyfish the next day.
There were two channels of television, one from the city, one from Connecticut. Both specialized in test patterns. So at night, in the hour between supper and eight o’clock bedtime, we’d sit on the screened- in front porch and count the cars. Whoever got the closest won. We knew the first to guess one or two would be the winner. I remember sitting out there listening to the crickets. When I started to hear lots of them in a darkening sky, I got sad. When the sky wasn’t light any more at eight and the crickets got especially loud, it was nearing September and time to go back to the city to school.
Our summers on the East End gave us bragging rights. Who but us knew people by the names of Porky, Possum, Bones, and Blowfish? And for awhile we’d tried to get the Queens kids to say “up street” but we lived in the middle of the block and it got too confusing.
Summer would come around again, but even in paradise, kids grow up. One morning, before we even had time to decide the plan for the day, mom came up with the dreaded words, “summer job.” I think it was after she heard us talking about the kids who made out in cars behind that den of iniquity with the unsuspecting name of “The Apple Tree.” By this time we were in our early to mid-teens and mom figured work would keep us out of trouble. She wasn’t entirely right.
The youngest brother was sent to a farm up street to pick raspberries, where he ate more than he picked and came back with belly aches. The other brother worked at the supermarket where he learned to smoke cigars with the older kids on his break. I went to Bohacks in Greenport where they needed small-sized kids in the meat department. I didn’t know why until the end of the week when they sent us inside the meat trough to scrub it out with Brillo pads. Big kids didn’t fit. I hated that job and the following summer got a better one as a lifeguard at a small resort pool in Greenport. I liked the all-you-could-eat buffet and would almost sink to the bottom of the pool after lunch.
Once I started working, those days off became special. I’d grab my beach towel and my baby oil mixed with iodine for a darker tan. Being older now, I’d take some Russian writer’s tome instead of a kids’ mystery. I thought of myself as a serious person and went to the beach to contemplate the mystery of life.
For me, kids’ summer paradise was officially over when I was in college and had to get a job that paid more. Usually it was in the city, way up street.
But paradise is not lost. Now, fifty years later, I’m surprised at how little the East End has changed. The potato fields are planted with sod or grape vines, both nice to look at. There’s more traffic, but better restaurants, too. The beaches remain the most beautiful anywhere.
I still go to the same beach for a swim. However, what’s changed is I don’t grab a towel and a book and jump barefoot on my bike. I fill a folding swivel-wheel shopping cart with a beach chair, an umbrella, a big sun hat, a bathing cap, number 50 sun block, reading glasses, large-print reading matter, and a cooler filled with fruit, a healthy salad and a big bottle of water. Wearing sturdy walking shoes, I lug my cargo slowly to the beach. When I’m settled, I wriggle my bare feet in the warm sand, let the bay breezes waft over me, watch the gulls swoop, and breath in the damp seaweed-laden air. Sometimes I close my eyes, revel in the mystery of life and dream of going for an ice cream – up street, of course. ___