Postmark Shinnecock Hills
By Sally Walsch
Coming out to the Hamptonsfrom a 4th floor walk-up in the Bronx was a journey of mammoth proportions to a 10-year-old city girl who only knew sidewalk hopscotch, fenced playgrounds, stoopball, and manhole covers serving as 2nd base. Suddenly my parents decided to embrace “the country.” To me it was “the sticks,” a.k.a. the edge of the earth. Sure, it was pretty, but what preteen appreciates nature.
My dad had been talked/advised/coerced into buying a corner lot on a hill, on a dirt road, in the “Hamptons” by his Aunt Madeline who was closer to being his mom than an Aunt. Dad’s mom died when he was 12, so when Aunt Madeline “advised,” he listened. Summer vacations and weekends from then on were devoted to completing the 2-bedroom shell of a house that Dad had a contractor build on that vacant lot just to get him started. The lot cost $500 and the shell cost $6,000. The lot was about five parcels down from Aunt Madeline and Uncle Henry.
There were only a few houses on “the hill,” as we called it, and as an only child, it was necessary to find things to do to keep out of their way. Being a girl, I was not being encouraged to swing hammers, use saws or nail up drywall. “Go be a kid,” was the directive. But there were not many kids around to play. No cable yet, so no TV (only one fuzzy-bad-reception channel fromConnecticut). These were “pre-iTimes” (pre-Internet, pre-iPad, pre- iPhone). So I sat and read, worked on jigsaw puzzles and “recharged my battery” as Dad would say. He had no idea how profound that battery statement would be to me now.
When really antsy, I went for walks with my Granduncle Henry. I was a novelty to my Aunt and Uncle who never had children of their own, so they were thrilled when we came out from the city to work on the house. (They should have been, it took us hours to drive here).
Down a dirt road from our dirt road were railroad tracks. Uncle Henry introduced me to putting a penny on the tracks to be flattened by the train and putting my ear to the track to listen for approaching trains. The track was relatively straight where I played so using my eyes to watch for oncoming trains was preferable to laying my ear on the dirty rail. Plus, I was a city girl so it took me awhile to be sure that a third rail wasn’t part of this railroad system.
After a while, I got the lay of the land so Mom and Dad didn’t mind if I wandered off as long as I was home for dinner. These were innocent times when poison ivy, raspberries and blueberries were the most wild things you’d encounter in the woods. Trains were rare, so walking and balancing on the rail was a fun activity. One day, on a railroad hike, I saw a structure off in the distance. It was a wood building with a round castle-like peak. I didn’t see any movement near it but wondered why it was so close to the tracks. Being at the limit of my adventurousness, I didn’t go further and when I returned home I told my folks about it over dinner.
It must have been Aunt Madeline who told us that the building was a Post Office. She got her mail there during the summer using the General Delivery, so I offered to go fetch the mail for her. My parents drove me toHills Station RoadoffMontauk Highway. We pulled up next to the structure and they told me to go in. Sure enough, there was a flag flying outside like a real Post Office and it didn’t seem too scary with my folks nearby. I jumped out of the car and ran ahead of them, up the two or three steps onto the wood planked porch and clomped to the door. I was shy, but curious enough to open the door and walk in. The inside looked like a pioneer’s log cabin at first. There was a free-standing stove with a long black pipe to the ceiling behind some old furniture and two white-haired women.