My Driver was a Battle Hardened World War II United States Army Captain
The rhythmic thunk-thunk of our tires hitting the concrete expansion joints heading east on Sunrise Highway would always lull me to sleep on my mothers lap on cold winter Friday nights. Should I be awakened by a turn in the road I might get a glimpse of the Big Duck. This signified we had crossed that imaginary meridian where in our world east meets west. It was our land ho moment despite four tires gripping the pavement in our early 60’s Buick. At long last I would be carried into a home considered by today’s standards as stylized in “Early Amish” decor. My mother would do her best to scrounge up some crackers and warm the bed, but weeks of the furnace being throttled back meant the East End’s bitter cold winter’s grip would last for hours and any leftover crackers were beyond expiration. The mice had the run of the house for a few weeks but now they also made a retreat to their respective weekend home. We were in Barnes Landing circa 1960s—and loving it!
Along with my parents, about five other Greatest Generation couples decided around the same time to carve out a community at the “top of the hill” over looking Napeague Bay and it’s mysterious jewel Gardiners Island. There they would raise their families in a lifestyle that they, depression era children and World War II veterans never had. They were men and women that dedicated their lives to their family. Men and women ready to make the sacrifices once again to afford a lifestyle that would give their children a lifetime of memories in an environment nature had sculpted for beauty and enjoyment. They became stewards of the hill and all its’ children. No, their lawns weren’t meticulously landscaped—being one part grass, three parts sand. Driveways, one part sand, three parts crushed shells. Window screens and screen doors although patch like an old seine net served their purpose—fresh air! Ashtrays and soap dishes were of the largest clam shells we could find. A hint of Wedgwood blue around the shells edge made it more coveted for display. The blue hue flicker in a living room window would invariably be a TV straining to capture the weakest of signals emanating from our unseen Rhode Island neighbors. While Neil Armstrong took one small step we took one giant leap to orient rabbit ears tipped in foil in a vain attempt to eliminate electronic snow on our Zenith. This was living in a weekend/summer home on the Eastern End of Long Island.
During the summer months, our mothers dutifully maintained order over the hill. Each’s authority was commensurate amongst all the children—no question! Although we had free rein there was a price to pay should we stray from a few ground rules. Judgment would usually be handed down on a Friday night when the fathers would return from their five day hiatus. Sentencing could be influenced by the number of martinis served prior to the prosecutors opening statement. Or in the case of boys, how funny the story will be at the next parents cocktail party…as long as no animals were harmed. These particulars usually helped the accused. The judge would usually hand down sentencing punctuated with a wink and a nod.
Although the parents didn’t obsess over their homes, they had an obsession with the community. Periodically, should my father see litter in the community he would conscript an army of neighborhood kids, commandeer a neighbors open trailer and circumnavigate the neighborhood while his soldiers rode in the back and dragged anything out of the woods that mother nature didn’t put there. We were warriors riding in our two wheeled open-air garbage scow, driven by our battle hardened World War II United States Army Captain. “Boys mount up” came the call from the Buick. When the trailer was brimming with debris it was off to our bounty—the town dump—our enchanted wonderland! “Watch the rats!” With those three words we were off climbing mountains of treasure. Forty-five minutes to an hour later we had the trailer filled with our spoils ready to take home. Wheels for go-carts, wiring for robots, fishing rod parts and junk that we had no idea what it was. Of course our Captain wasn’t immune from the art of reprocessing. Chairs missing cane, lawn mower parts, old screens to fix older screens and junk that he had no idea what it was—but wouldn’t admit it.
The last of the great fathers has recently been laid to rest. The rhythmic thunk-thunk of the road is a distant memory now. Our land ho moment now poetically is a deer sculpture gazing at the heavens in some nondescript field. I’ve crossed that imaginary meridian hundreds of times, more recently visiting my children who are maintaining a beachhead in Montauk during the summers for as long as they can. See, we’ve had to let the home go at the passing of my mother. It wasn’t as painful as I imagined since I was able to have my children experience what I was given albeit twenty-first century cocoon style. Shortly after the sale I happen to run into my mothers neighbor at the last gas prior to the gazing deer and that first of three important left hand turns. It was a chance meeting. Although I felt at peace with the home passing to a new family and didn’t hint I was troubled. This mother apparently read something different in my eyes. With all the authority she still had, she looked me in the eye and said “it’s done, move on, there are more adventures out there”. It was sound sobering advise that only a protective Jewish mother could give this stubborn Irish Catholic. It felt good, I was comforted in a way. I was proud resuming my journey thinking Barnes Landing still had a hold on me but I could let a part of it go now. Evidently a Barnes Landing mothers authority can still comfort me—no question!
Due to the dedication and sacrifice of a few my road is paved smooth now. The memories are happy. Proudly displayed in my home are mementos from a past era. Some of which being junk I don’t know what it is—but won’t admit it. Here’s to the founding members of Barnes Landing. Be assured your sacrifices have been appreciated by two generations so far—we loved the journey!