Golf Balls and Gloria
Daddy, look…there…I see one! Perched high up on the shoulders of my father, I had a perfect view down through the long, thin spears of the meadow grass beneath his feet. The object of our search was a small white orb, actually many small white orbs. That summer of 1957 in Westhampton Beach, we were on a search for golf balls.
Our summer house on Potunk Lane bordered the Westhampton Country Club. The cricket-filled meadow behind the house paralleled the first fairway of the golf course. I had learned that when the members of the club started out on their round of golf, they placed their brand new, just out of the box, sparkling white Titleist ball on the tee, carefully lined up their club, and took a swing. But that ball often had a mind of its own. As it was making its ascent down towards the green, much to the consternation of the golfer, the ball often sliced far right directly into “my” meadow.
Being a particularly enterprising seven-year-old with an accommodating father, we would traverse the meadow each Saturday morning hoping to find a few treasures. The balls would be plucked from their grassy nests, then brought home and washed, examined for any defects, and sorted into baskets—good, better, best. Conveniently, my mother owned The Beach Craft Shop on Main Street. She sold mid-century modern home goods à la Crate and Barrel (before there was a Crate and Barrel). The shelves were filled with white mugs, Chemex coffeemakers, orange lacquerware, straw placemats, and, yes, golf balls. The good mother that she was, she allowed me a foot or so of space on the register counter to sell my golf balls. I carefully arranged the baskets each day, to show off the Titleist brand and to put the very best ones on the top. I have no doubt that many of the wives of the gentlemen who had hit those stray shots purchased back those same Titleists for their husbands (or themselves). Such a bargain…50 cents for an unscathed ball, 25 cents with a little smudge or ding, and 10 cents for those that really had taken a beating. As an impulse point-of-sale purchase, my golf balls were a hit.
What did a seven-year-old do with such a strong and steady stream of summer income? Well, in Westhampton Beach in 1957 I did what any self-respecting person would do…I walked down Main Street just a few steps from my mother’s shop to Gloria’s (or Seeley’s as it said on the awning over the front stairs). Gloria’s was a five and dime, a museum, a newsstand, and a village gathering space all rolled into one. It was every child’s dream place (and a bunch of adults as well I am sure). Here were Archie and Veronica comic books. Here were crayons and Cracker Jacks. I remember a cat. Here were hula hoops, ice pops, and candy. Oh, the candy! Chuckles, Red Hots, and Milk Duds. Bazooka Gum, Jaw Breakers, and Necco Wafers. And of course, here was Gloria. Slightly terrifying, but also comforting in her presence day in and day out, Gloria presided over the cash register with a friendly ferociousness. From her perch behind the newspapers, her hand would reach out, taking my hard-earned golf ball quarters and dimes slowly counted out in exchange for a carefully considered summer treat. Looking back now, I’m not sure which was more thrilling – making the decision about what to buy or actually possessing the object.
Once I had made my purchase, I would walk back home along Westhampton’s Main Street, careful not to step on any sidewalk cracks lest I “break my mother’s back.” I’d pass the movie theatre, with its colorful posters out front and the huge marquee overhead that provided a bit of shade on a hot summer day. Next came The Patio restaurant where sometimes we would go all dressed up and enjoy a special occasion dinner. The expanse of green lawn in front of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church at the end of Main Street signaled I was almost home. I carefully crossed the street and then settled down on the front porch swing to turn the pages of my comic book or gobble up my candy. Ah, the simple joys of childhood summers in Westhampton Beach.
Gloria’s is now an up-scale coffee shop (or at least it was the last time I was in Westhampton). My parents have died. Our house was sold to the Country Club. I have yet to take up golf. But I often wonder whether there is a little girl who still makes her summer dreams come true searching for wayward golf balls in the back meadow on Potunk Lane. I hope so.