Montauk, who whould have thought?
Ah, summer in the 1960’s, on Long Island couldn’t have been any better for a ten year old. School was out and I was staying up late watching Johnny Carson, and sleeping in. Days were spent running around the neighborhood with friends until the street lights went on or until someone whistled or called for you to come home.
Most of all, as I did every summer, I was looking forward to the yearly vacation with my family.
I couldn’t wait. I was counting down the days and dreaming of what fun I would have in the Poconos. We had gone there every year since I was five. Two weeks at a time the first couple of years but then down to one week after my father changed jobs.
Then it happened, one night over dinner, my parents broached the subject of vacation. This conversation took a turn I never expected. This conversation did not include the plan for when we were leaving nor what we were going to do while we were there. No this conversation was, “We’re sorry honey, but as you know you father is out of work and we can’t go to the Poconos this year.” Sure, I knew that my father was out of work, but my ten year old mind never registered that money was tight and vacations were costly. My mind was racing; I did manage to process some words, beach, cousins, Montauk and something about an RV. I think I passed out after that.
Two weeks later I was in the car with my parents heading east from Seaford. The great thing about living on Long Island is you can do day trips on the weekend, Freeport for lunch, Jones Beach for the day, Port Jeff, all great places with things to do. But Montauk? I was pretty sure that from what I had heard about Montauk, which wasn’t much, was, it was the end point of Long Island. That’s what its claim to fame was.
But there we were pulling into Heckscher State Park. What the heck? Remember I wasn’t paying attention so I had no I idea what I was in for. Sure enough we pulled up in front of a large RV that would be our home for the week. It belonged to my mother’s cousin. Okay, I thought, so we are staying in a large tin can located in a large parking lot. Stepping inside it was the usual set up if you are familiar with an RV. I wasn’t, so, as you can imagine, I was not thrilled with the whole bunk bed/ table combination. I really thought the whole bedroom/bathroom/shower unit was the real highlight. I was miserable. What would I do out here?
Once everything was unloaded from the car and put away, we went outside and made our way down to another RV. This one had a large awning that extended from the side with outdoor furniture and a barbeque set up underneath it. My mother knocked on the door and out came her cousin and her husband. We were invited to sit down and relax while they prepared some drinks and snacks. Great, I thought, I get to hang around all week with adults. After sitting there for what seemed like an eternity drinking my lemonade, I heard a commotion. It sounded like a wild pack of wolves howling in the distance. Dust kicked up from an unknown path signaled their arrival. Once the dust cleared, there appeared in front of me, six boys and two girls ranging in age from seven to fourteen years old. Cousins I was to find out, cousins I didn’t know I had. Holidays were always spent with another side of the family so I had no real idea about this bunch. But there they were a rag tag group of kids that had trouble written all over them.
After some quick introductions with names I was never going to remember I was off, running after them down the dusty path from which they had appeared. I had no idea where we were going, all I knew was I was running off on some kind of adventure. Finally they came to a sudden halt. When I caught up, someone put their hand up to stop me from going any further. I soon found out why as I gazed out over the ocean and more importantly down at the cliff below us.
Taking it all in, I realized I was about to have my first and hopefully my last, near death experience. I was asked if I had ever been “cliff sliding.” Pretty sure that I had not, it was explained that we were going to sit on our butts and slide down the sand path that ran down the side of the cliff to the beach below. “Hello I don’t think so,” was my answer. My experience when I went to the beach was that I lay on the sand on a towel and walked into the water. But before I knew it, there they went, one at a time hooping and hollering as they slid down the cliff. Which left me, and one of the girls, who obviously concerned with my well being, stayed with me. After giving me some pointers, and swearing I would be fine, I sat down. I will never forget looking out over the ocean from that view. There it was, spread out in front of me; huge waves the likes which I had never seen before, crashing down on these large boulders. No, this wasn’t Jones Beach or Zach’s Bay, this was some serious water.
I had no choice, I could hear them calling to me from the beach. I had to do it. I turned around and looked back at the smiling girl behind me and all I heard was, “go for it!” And I did, I pushed myself off like you do on a slide and took off like a rocket. Wind and sand hitting my face, hair flying all over the place and before I knew it, I screeched in for a landing. Screams of congratulations followed. Once I realized I was all in one piece I stood up, only to be knocked down by the girl screeching in after me. Standing up we began laughing hysterically. After that we all took off running down the beach and onto new adventures.
Over the next week I did things I had never done before. We explored dunes, sat up in a tree house, had beach fires at night and sang songs. We went into the wonderful little town of Montauk that held so much history I couldn’t get enough of it. I learned about Chief Wyandanch of the Montaukett Indians who had made this land their home. How they had survived for so long by making land deals with the colonists for protection against other tribes in the area and how those deals ultimately resulted in their losing their land. It was amazing to find out how many town names in the area and all over the island, had been derived from the Indian tribes that made this land their home. Wyandanch, Shinnecock, Mattituck and more, all part of the Indian nation that held this land long before any colonist ever discovered it. So much history right it my own back yard, I would go on to write many school reports on this subject.
We went to the lighthouse where we learned of its history and where I truly realized we were at the end of this island that I loved.
On the way home my parents asked if I had liked this trip better than going to the Poconos. I had to fess up that yes I had, it had been the best time, Montauk, who would have thought?