How Dad Loved Our East end
85 years ago an eight year old toe-headed boy named Paul moved from Queens out to the east end of long Island with his Mother, Father and sister . His new home was in the quiet little farm hamlet of Cutchogue. His father commuted into the Brooklyn Navy Yard to work each week leaving young Paul to be the man of the house.
What the little boy did not know was that his country now in a great depression would in time explode into a world war and he would have a role to play in it .
Hard times with no money sent this hungry ambitious lad into the rich resources of our unique part of the world, the east end . His backyard was endless woodlands, salt marshes and saltwater creeks, bordered by the Peconic bay. This was the ultimate location for hunting , fishing , clamming , crabbing , eel spearing and harvesting wild asparagus and wild berries .
Once while running barefoot with his dog Wash, hunting for rabbits he saw an Indian arrow head, so not to lose the spot he threw down his hat to better relocate the booty upon his return. Never was the work of providing for a pioneer family such an enjoyable adventure as it was for this young Huckleberry Finn.
In an interesting twist of fate the world’s most famous physicist until Steven Hawking, Albert Einstein sailed confidently without the ability to swim in young Paul’s Peconic bay. Many have told the story of how they saved Einstein from drowning . To this day I believe my father’s story. He was a senior life guard instructor and docked his sailboat 1000’ from Einstein’s favorite walking beach where he kept his small sailboat “Tineff” and often took it out on the bay.
I asked my father “Did you help Einstein get back into his boat when he had fallen out?” He said, “Yes, I did.” and I believe he did. I joked with him for years on a spin off Winston Churchill’s Speech. “Never have so few done so much for so many.” He didn’t handle praise well so I loved to kid him with it.
Pearl Harbor happened and now America’s in the war. This young volunteer finds himself on the deck of a Coast Guard supply ship in the Philippines . He and his teenage mates cold, nervous, shivering lay sleepless on the deck fearing a torpedo attack . And then it happened. Some lost their lives. After a long night clinging to wreckage four weary young men were finally rescued. Back in Southold high school Barbara Silleck, valedictorian and Editor of the school newspaper typed “Local boy, Paul Stoutenburgh, ship torpedoed in the South Pacific. What she didn’t know then was that fate had plans for she and this young hero.
When Paul met Barbara there was another explosion, this time a wonderful kind. They met, married and had three children. He became the special kind of inspirational teacher in Greenport high school that motivated and built confidence in young people. Years later many students would come over to our house having built successful lives, strangers to us they’d whisper quietly and say things like “ Your father is a great man. If not for him, I might not have straightened out my life.”
Dad never lost his deep-seated appreciation for our natural world on the east end. Many years we enjoyed the South Fork’s ocean beaches where we camped at Hither Hills in Montauk enjoying the beauty of the walking dunes, the pounding of the surf and the busy shorebirds.
We would spearfish in Long Island Sound for black fish, fluke, flounder, blues and stripers. The brave ones pulled lobsters from under massive rocks and we never went home without delicious pearl mussels . Many times we’d cook our catch right there on the shore boiled in saltwater….. umm. I can almost taste that feast still.
Our lives were very full. Most summer days off work were spent gathering food for dinner much like Dad had years before. Hard Clams, soft clams and Blueclaw crabs were often on the menu. You couldn’t find a spot in the bay without blowfish. Blowfish were everywhere. Scratch their belly and they would blow up into a perfect snow white ball ready to pop.
Oh how Dad loved to sail. He had many sail and power boats. Most were a Dutchman’s dream, bought cheap in need of a lot of tender loving care. Dad dove at the challenges vigorously. Often our leaky 38’ wooden boat affectionately named The Awk would take a left at Nassau Point and then east to points unknown; the Ruins in Gardner’s Bay, the abandoned fish factory in Napeague and the old sea plane site in Montauk. These were just some of our adventures. All the while eyes were looking over the water for terns working above bluefish looking for pieces of their leftover carnage.
In retirement many years later in much more reliable sailboats my folks with lifelong friends would adventure to the Islands off the end of our Long Island to Block, Fishers, the Dumplings, Marthas Vineyard and Cuttyhunk with other ports to our north in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. He sailed/paddled his Grumman canoe around Robin’s island, Shelter Island and Gardiners Island always fishing and clamming for dinner wherever they could. Some said “kinda crazy”. I say “crazy like a Fox .”
My father and mother wrote a Nature article about our east end – one article each week for 50 years enlightening people about the outdoors, to the true peace and tranquility our beautiful east end has to offer. Working with Nature Conservancy Dad saved 100s of acres of important natural wetlands, farmlands and forest lands for us and our children’s children to enjoy.
Paul gave over 200 lectures on the benefits of saving and preserving the paradise we live in. I once heard him referred to as a $&# do gooder. How can people think like that? I thought to myself “where would we be without these $&# do gooders?
My father was involved in most if not all local “do gooder” groups; Nature Conservancy, Peconic Land Trust, Hallockville, etc. Our town’s Wetlands Ordinance was written in our living room. A young and wise friend spoke at my Father’s memorial. He said,” Paul Stoutenburgh spent his lifetime saving our unique paradise. He was also a person who got out there and enjoyed it every day he could”.
To you who read this, I wish many adventure-filled days on our beautiful East End like the ones my father held so dear.
Sincerely Roger Stoutenburgh