My First “Crush”
Three sunburned, water logged kids knocked on the “Clam Man’s” door on Deep Hole Drive in Mattituck. The tangled bushes surrounding the cement house were intimidating enough, as Keith, Willie, and I practically stopped breathing waiting for the thick, heavy wooden door to open. Willie’s whispers of how he thought the Clam Man looked like a deranged cousin of Santa Claus only added to our sense of trepidation. But a promise was a promise, and Mr. Clam Man agreed to pay us for any clams we brought him. We got clams, and the Super Secret Spy Club needed dough! It took less than fifteen minutes for the three of us to pluck two-dozen clams with our bare feet in Deep Hole Creek.
Finally, the heavy wooden door opened slightly. Dark, brown eyes peered at us through the crack. Feeling nervous and a little awkward, I held up the fresh bag of clams for him to inspect. He stared at us for a long moment while sweat began dripping down our faces from the heat of August. Gosh, it was so hot, and that dip in the creek earlier has worn off already! After what seemed like a lifetime, he briskly took the bag of clams from us, and hurried back into his damp cement house. Standing outside the door we silently wondered exactly how much he’d give us for our small loot of clams.
I recall seeing one thick, pale arm reach outside the door and a single quarter being pressed into the palm of my hand; twenty-five cents for two-dozen fresh clams. A muffled, “Thank you” could barely be heard as the door shut.
We seemed to think as one, as my brother Keith, our neighbor Willie, and I proceeded walking toward New Suffolk Avenue on our destination to Mattituck Airport. We walked with one thought in mind: the cold soda machine. The only soda machine that existed in all of Mattituck and Cutchogue combined. Heck, probably the entire East End! Just the thought of that refrigerator door opening, blasting cool air on our sunburned faces was enough motivation to keep moving.
Passing the tip of Deep Hole Creek, we couldn’t help taking a quick detour down the hidden path to stop awhile in the deserted, falling down shack that served as our Spy Club headquarters. Watching all the snappers jumping like crazy in the creek had us grabbing for fishing poles, and casting a few times before continuing on our journey. Halfway up the path, Willie tightened the rope on the tree that anchored our trusty rowboat. The “Red Baron” was always standing by ready and willing to provide Spy Club members with incredible summer adventures.
As we approached Marratooka Lane, Keith and I just shook our heads when we spied white potatoes lying in the farm field. We rolled our eyes knowing that after a day at Marratooka Beach our dad will stop here, and shoo all ten kids out of the VW van to pick up the leftover potatoes for dinner.
Feeling the quarter burn a hole in my pocket just as much as my throat was burning from thirst, I glanced toward Willie. I wonder if he knows my favorite soda, and if he’ll insist we pick that one? Finally, six pairs of eyes caught sight of the silver and white Airway Drive road sign. A collective sigh of relief was audible from our fatigued little group as the resident prop planes of Mattituck Teledyne Airport came into sight.
As we stepped on to the rarely used runway, it was hard to articulate why a previously boisterous bunch of kids suddenly turned solemn. We only knew the same thing happens when we sneak around the Old Burying Ground late at night. We stood for a moment taking in the half empty Hangers and forlorn prop planes that could provide us with many adventures, but the drive to get to that soda machine overshadowed any other thoughts.
One quarter, one soda, three kids. I honestly did not know which we yearned for the most: a cold bottle of soda, or the blast of air that came along with it. We could barely breathe as I reached into my pocket and carefully dropped our only quarter into the slot.
At last, the soda machine door opened and three sweaty kids pressed their faces together in the small, cool compartment that provided such a heavenly relief from the intense heat of our long trek.
We were nearly delirious at this point as Willie yanked free one glass bottle from the open stack. Each of us wanting the soda just as much as the other, each having earned this moment just as much as the other. Blue eyes looking into mine, Willie directed the cold bottle of soda toward me. I smiled and took the first sip of my favorite orange Crush soda. All I know is, the feeling of that ice cold Crush soda dripping down my throat is one that will never be forgotten, nor Willie.